The Bangor Symphony Orchestra on Sunday displayed all of its skills and shortcomings in one concert at the Collins Center for the Arts.
Its performance of Serge Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Benjamin Hochman was electrifying. Lucas Richman’s “Polonaise for Podge,” commissioned by the children of 90-year-old Albert “Podge” Kossler, was charming. The youth orchestra’s performance with their elders of Johannes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” was full of verve and hope.
Yet when the orchestra got to the Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, the players appeared to have run out of gas, a problem the orchestra seemed to have overcome under Richman’s baton. The maestro’s style of conducting Sunday was much more animated during the final piece; it looked like he was pulling every note from the players as a dentist might have pulled teeth during the composer’s lifetime. Brahms died in 1897.
Somehow, that lackluster performance barely tarnished the impact of the entire program.
Hochman’s performance with the orchestra was absolutely thrilling, and it will be remembered as a highlight of the BSO’s 124th season. The piece, which took Prokofiev a decade to compose, is considered to be one of the most technically and physically demanding concertos of pianists. Hochman made playing it look easy as his hands seemed to lightly dance up and down the keyboard. Soloist, conductor and orchestra became one in a riveting performance.
A highlight of every season is the original piece Richman composes as part of the symphony’s annual fundraising auction. Most often, Richman is asked to write a memorial to a loved one. This year, Kossler’s family decided to surprise the former pharmacist and trumpet player with a polonaise as a birthday gift. He turned 90 last month.
A polonaise is a slow dance of Polish origin, in triple meter, consisting chiefly of a march or promenade in couples, according to dictionary.com. But Richman’s heavy use of the brass, wind and percussion sections made “Polonaise for Podge” sounded more like Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” than a Polish dance. It was wonderful and a fitting tribute to Kossler and his generation.
During his nearly decade-long tenure with the BSO, Richman and his staff have revived and expanded the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestras. The program now boasts 100 participants. More than 30 members of the youth program’s Philharmonic Orchestra performed Brahms’ overture Sunday with the seasoned BSO players.
Seeing Megan Cormier, a member of the youth orchestra, standing next to 85-year-old Billy Miller, who joined the orchestra in 1957, in the percussion section brought tears to the eyes of some longtime concertgoers. The energy the young performers brought to the concert hall was infectious showed there are young people eager and able to perform.
Richman, who first conducted the piece when he was 16 years old, beamed with satisfaction during the bows. A vital piece of Richman’s legacy will be the number of northern Maine students who embrace classical music and become supporters of, and perhaps, become players with, a symphony orchestra.
The Bangor Youth Symphony Orchestras will perform at 4 p.m. Dec. 8 at Hauck Auditorium in Bangor. The Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s next concert will be at 3 p.m. Jan 26 at the Collins Center for the Arts. The program will include a piano solo by conductor Lucas Richman. For information, call 207-942-5555 or visit bangorsymphony.org.