Three years ago, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra expanded its season from five Masterworks concerts to six in order to highlight chamber orchestra repertoire and showcase symphony members as soloists.
Previous January concerts have focused on the string section. The decision to put the spotlight on the brass and wind sections in Sunday’s performance filled the concert hall of the Collins Center for the Arts with a cacophony of sound rarely experienced. It was glorious, especially for concertgoers who enjoy the loud and bright sound of brass rather than the soothing and serene comfort often provided by the string section.
The pieces were written between 1612 and 1931 by five different European composers. The flute (Jonathan Laperle), oboe (Benjamin Fox), clarinet (Thomas Parchman), bassoon (Wren Saunders) and French horn (Scott Burditt) were prominently featured. The musicians, who have performed from the back rows of the orchestra for years, played every note to perfection.
The concert began with a fanfare from “La Peri” by Paul Dukas, a short but delightful opening to Dukas’ one-act ballet. It called concertgoers to attention and foreshadowed the longer and more complex pieces on the program.
Francis Poulenc’s “Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet” featured maestro Lucas Richman on the piano. This season is Richman’s 10th as music director and conductor with the BSO. In his honor, several pieces that are “near and dear” to his heart are being performed, including the sextet.
Richman first performed the piece as a 14-year-old at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Poulenc’s work is reminiscent of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” first performed in 1924 and 1928, respectively. The sextet, which premiered in 1931, allows hardly a measure of rest for the musicians, according to the program notes. Gershwin’s scores feature some of the same frenzy.
The first half of the concert ended with Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphonies of Wind Instruments.” A short piece dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, that premiered in London in 1921, may have been based on the Russian Orthodox service for the dead, the program notes said. It is an unusual piece quite different from the composer’s well-known ballets, but Richman and the musicians successfully emphasized its subtlety and originality.
Giovanni Gabrieli was an organist and composer along with his uncle, Andrea Gabrielli, in 1612 at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The church features opposing or split choir lofts. The younger Gabrieli’s “Canzone for Brass Choir” features a musical call-and-response much later associated with American gospel music. The clarity with which the musicians performed made spirits soar Sunday afternoon, as if concertgoers were in a church rather than a concert hall.
The program concluded with Antonin Dvorak’s “Serenade for Wind Instruments.” The ensemble was joined by Noreen Silver on the cello and Edward Allman on the bass. First performed in 1878, it might be considered an homage to Amadeus Mozart’s serenades but is “infused with the spirit of Czech folk music,” the program notes said.
The musicians serenaded and surrounded the audience with a meticulous and loving interpretation of the piece. The players successfully tackled the technically challenging with precision and aplomb. Sunday’s concert proved that adding a sixth concert to feature the orchestra’s talented and loyal musicians was a brilliant idea that is well worth continuing.
The next Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert will be “The Sounds of the Sea,” featuring a new work by Lucas Richman, at 3 p.m. March 22 at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine in Orono.