Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 13, 2013


Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
January 12, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Two familiar masterpieces bookended the local premiere of a work by a leading contemporary American composer in the third classical concert of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra's season. The programming skills of Music Director Kevin Rhodes made the old warhorses sound new again.

The program opened with four selections from Grieg's incidental music for Ibsen's "Peer Gynt." Placing "Ingrid's Lament" from the standard second orchestral suite before three movements from the first suite commanded the attention of the well-filled house, after which "Morning Mood" was a calm interlude, "Anitra's Dance" a light diversion, and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" a rousing finale. The orchestra played with warmth and flair.

Next came Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 2003 piece "Rituals" for five percussionists and orchestra. Thirty percussion instruments arrayed in five "stations" across the front of the stage were introduced and demonstrated by the soloists. The Maestro added that the title of the 25-minute work reflects the ceremonial importance of drumming in many cultures and eras. The titles of its four movements - Invocation, Ambulation, Remembrances, and Contests - suggest the wide range of sounds produced by the various gongs, cymbals, bells, drums, and other instruments played with amazing dexterity against a colorful orchestral backdrop. "Contests" in particular gave the soloists their chance to sound like rock stars, and the audience loved it.   

Those extra percussionists came in handy for the exhilarating account of Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite "Scheherazade" that followed intermission. Inspired by the Arabian setting of the stories told by the title character in its four movements, the brilliant orchestration sounded even more exotic than usual in the wake of "Rituals." Rhodes' flexible tempos and careful balances highlighted the surprising intimacy of many quieter passages, and concertmaster Masako Yanagita played "Scheherazade's" recurring theme with heartfelt sensitivity. 

Along with Rhodes and the orchestra members, no one is more responsible for the SSO's current artistic excellence than retiring executive director Michael Jonnes, who was honored for his distinguished 15-year tenure here by a proclamation from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno before the concert and a special reception in Symphony Hall's Mahogany Room afterward.