Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 8, 2011

Barber, Schuman, & Rachmaninoff

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
November 5, 2011
by Michael J. Moran

SSO President Kris Houghton drew appreciative cheers when she welcomed the audience, many of whom had been without power at home for much of the previous week, to a warm and well-lit Symphony Hall for a concert that included one of conductor Kevin Rhodes’ “favorite pieces” and an “out of body experience” for 25-year-old Korean-born pianist Joyce Yang.

The program opened with Samuel Barber’s most popular piece, the Adagio for Strings, arranged by the composer for string orchestra from the slow movement of his string quartet.  Rhodes led a performance that was deeply moving for its simplicity and restraint. The strings sounded rich and full from the hushed opening to the powerful climax and the quiet conclusion.

Rhodes' told his audience that most would next be hearing William Schuman's Symphony No. 3 for the first time. The Maestro asked orchestra members to play specific themes, thus providing a helpful road map through this “uncharted territory.” The taut and incisive rendition of this 1941 composition perfectly captured the “optimism and perseverance in overcoming great odds” that Rhodes identified as its guiding spirit. While brass and percussion were most prominently featured, the strings again played wonderfully, and the symphony’s closing peroration was particularly exhilarating.   
Following intermission, Joyce Yang’s stunning appearance in a floor-length sleeveless red dress reinforced her thrillingly romantic interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor. Her flowing tempo at the opening became more lingering and then quickened as the first movement developed, with Rhodes drawing some portamento from the strings before the soloist’s powerful cadenza. Yang’s reference to the piece in a recent interview as an “out of body experience” was supported by her precise and strongly physical technique, when she almost lifted her body off the bench at climaxes in all three movements. Rhodes led a scrupulously balanced accompaniment, with woodwinds and horns unusually audible.  

After receiving a standing ovation from the audience and a bouquet of roses from the Maestro, Yang extended the mood with an encore of Rachmaninoff specialist Earl Wild’s sumptuous arrangement of Gershwin’s "The Man I Love".