Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 8, 2013

Opening Night

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
October 5, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra opened its 70th anniversary season with a program of three works that had “optimism and excitement bursting from every seam,” as Music Director Kevin Rhodes described his goal for opening night in a program note.

After a stirring performance of The Star-Spangled Banner to mark the start of a new season and brief introductory remarks from new SSO President John Chandler and new SSO Executive Director Audrey Szychulski, the formal concert began with an exuberant romp through Shostakovich’s uncharacteristically upbeat Festive Overture. Brass and percussion members especially relished their featured roles, but everyone played with polish and good cheer.

Gilles Vonsattel
The orchestra and soloist Gilles Vonsattel next tore into the jazzy start of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with gusto. The high energy level continued through the Gershwinesque first movement and the fleet closing Presto.  But the heart of the concerto is the central Adagio, in which a dreamy waltz is introduced by the solo piano and later picked up by the woodwinds and eventually the whole orchestra. With a flowing and flexible tempo, soloist and ensemble fully realized the hushed radiance of this sublime movement. The Swiss-born Vonsattel, winner of several international piano competitions, Juilliard School graduate, and now an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Massachusetts, earned an instant standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience.

Intermission was followed by a dramatic account of a piece that Rhodes first played with the SSO when he was a candidate for his current position in November 2000, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor. After a blazing brass fanfare denoting “fate,” a broader than usual tempo heightened the contrasts among the multiple themes of the long first movement. The Andantino second movement was poignant and reflective, while the Pizzicato scherzo was delicate and playful.  Maestro and orchestra pulled out all the stops for a thrilling finale, and every section played brilliantly throughout the evening. 

Along with the welcome return of the “Rhodes’ Reflections” column to the program book, this notable opening concert promised an exciting season ahead.