Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 10, 2009

Springfield Symphony Orchestra

65th Anniversary Concert
Symphony Hall, Springfield
by Shera Cohen

In the distant future, it is possible that audiences will recall the SSO's 2008/09 season as one of its best in decades. In particular, the Grande Finale, will be marked in the symphony program books as a banner concert. Apparently, it wasn't enough to just schedule "Carmina Burana" – which is oftentimes the sole selection on many orchestras' programs. SSO, Maestro Kevin Rhodes, et al, started the evening with Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (aka "2001, A Space Odyssey").

The Strauss work commenced with a rumble of music, swelled, and later ebbed and flowed. Percussion on one end of the see-saw balanced with harp strings on the other. Several tease endings preceded the ultimate closing in this long and big piece. Rhodes was always in command of his musicians, one-half second ahead of every note in his instruction. The man and his team worked in perfect synch.

Looking at the stage after intermission, one could see the orchestra spilling out to both sides, complete with two pianos. The setting became a three-quarter thrust arena with the SSO, its Chorus (tenors, baritones and bass), and South Hadley Children's Chorus center stage; the SSO Chorus and Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus' sopranos stage right; and the latter two groups' altos stage left. The soprano and alto sections sat and stood in the logue, creating a physical and musical vastness to the upcoming "Carmina Burana."

From the first loud and harsh bang of drums to soft and southing strings, lush songs of the soloists to the largess of the 300+ chorus, "Carmina" is and always will be a standout piece. Carl Orff's "Carmina" offers constant contrasts in musical styles, tones, and moods. At times dramatic, then humor follows. Trumpets blast pomp and circumstance, then strings flow operatic. To tackle the difficulty of this marvelous, exhausting, awesome, and sometimes strange epic, is a huge task. "Carmina" is in the proverbial class by itself, with the reputation as one of the most illustrious choral/symphonic works of the 20th century. For the full house at Symphony Hall, their immediate standing ovation applauded more than music, but an experience.