Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 3, 2011

Music of the Ballet

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
by Terry Larsen

In his program, a gala celebration of SSO Music Director and Conductor Kevin Rhodes' 10th anniversary with the ensemble, Maestro Rhodes drew on his extensive experience conducting more than 700 classical musical theatre performances in Europe by programming music from the ballet.

The concert opened with Khachaturian's Saber Dance from Gayane, a well known piece from a seldom performed ballet. This war dance has been "covered" for use in such diverse genres and milieus as jazz, disco, punk, heavy metal, the Andrews Sisters, the Harmonicats, the circus, and the Ed Sullivan Show. Although a suitably upbeat opener to the event, this flashy piece is so familiar as to have become a caricature of itself, and might, therefore be easily dismissed. Thankfully, the SSO saved this chestnut by its spirited performance. Delibes' ballet Coppelia, a great success in 1870, provided a lovely waltz for contrast to the fiery opening number.

A promenade of Russian folk melodies paraded through the hall dressed in the many colors of the orchestra's families of instruments as employed by Stravinsky in his 1947 revision of music from Petrushka, a ballet written in 1910 and choreographed by the legendary dancer Nijinsky. Compositional techniques used in Petrushka foreshadowed music heard in the ground breaking ballet Rite of Spring, which received its riotous premiere in 1913. Once again, the orchestra was at its best, capably rendering the multitude of passages written for a variety of subsets of instruments and soloists, including a wrenchingly beautifully played solo flute performance.

After intermission, Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty awoke, to the delight of the gathering, its grand walls of brass sonority, formidable percussive events, and sweeping statements by the strings providing the foundation for the story as narrated by Rhodes between sections. The audience roared to its feet in appreciation.

Afterward, many concert goers packed into the Mahogany Room to express their gratitude to Rhodes for his decade of leadership and artistry.