Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
May 3, 2014
by Michael J. Moran
For the celebratory close of SSO’s 70th anniversary season, Maestro Kevin Rhodes noted in his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book that he wanted to include music by his “two favorite American composers” in the first half of the concert and to close it with an “unjustly neglected masterpiece” by “one of the most popular composers” that he and the SSO have championed.
He opened with a lively account of William Schuman’s exuberant “American Festival Overture,” which the composer began with three notes reflecting the boyhood “call to play” with his New York City friends. The entire orchestra “played” with controlled abandon, but the large percussion section (which remained for the other two works) seemed to be having an especially good time.
Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” written in 1965 for the cathedral choir in that English city and sung in Hebrew, featured perhaps the youngest soloist ever to appear with the SSO, 10-year-old boy soprano Dylan Cranston. A three-year veteran of professional choral performance, the Trumbull, CT native sang Psalm 23 with clarity, sweetness, and confidence. The men and women of the Springfield Symphony Chorus accompanied him with a robust and exhilarating sound in excerpts from five other Psalms. Chorus Director Nikki Stoia joined the orchestra and singers for a well-deserved ovation.
After intermission, Rhodes led the SSO in a loving performance of the “Springfield, MA debut” of Rachmaninoff’s third symphony 78 years after its world premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. As the maestro also wrote in his “Reflections,” it completed the SSO’s presentation of all that composer’s major orchestral compositions over the past few seasons. Their affinity for Rachmaninoff was evident in the warmth and affection of their playing, which highlighted the composer’s melodic genius, even if less inspired here than in his greatest works.
That Rhodes and the orchestra are a match for the ages was confirmed when SSO President John Chandler announced before the concert that the Maestro’s contract had just been extended for three more years. The cheering audience has much musical magic to look forward to.