Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 29, 2014

Opening Night Gala

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
September 27, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

To open the SSO’s 71st season and his own 14th season as music director, Kevin Rhodes presented what he calls in his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book “three incredible showpieces for orchestra” which feature all these musicians as soloists. In doing so, the clever maestro also upended some classical programming traditions.

Ravel’s crowd-pleasing “Bolero” is usually a rousing closer, but Rhodes brilliantly engaged his audience by beginning the concert instead with this most familiar piece on the program. The opening notes of the snare drum’s steady ostinato rhythm established a slightly faster than normal tempo, and the excitement only grew as the sinuous melody first introduced by a solo flute gained instruments and volume with each repetition before reaching its “loud as possible” crescendo 14 minutes later. The SSO’s performance was exhilarating and carefully balanced.

With the audience now ready for less familiar fare, the vivid account of Debussy’s “La Mer” (“The Sea”) that came next found both clarity and mystery in these “three symphonic sketches.” The SSO’s playing was a marvel of contrasting moods in “From Dawn till Noon on the Sea,” delicacy in the “Play of the Waves,” and blazing intensity in the “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea.” 

The concert closed after intermission with a dramatic rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in Ravel’s masterful 1922 orchestration. Among its many distinctive pleasures are the opening promenade for solo trumpet, the soulful saxophone (also notable in “Bolero”) in “The Old Castle,” and the chirping woodwinds in “The Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells.” Rhodes and the SSO also captured the full majesty of the climactic “Great Gate at Kiev,” perhaps the grandest of all finales.

After each piece Rhodes singled out many individual players and whole sections of the orchestra for “solo” bows. The percussion section was special fun to watch as they scrambled from one colorful instrument to another in meeting the many demands of this program on their formidable skills. The mutual respect clearly shared by all these musicians augurs a fulfilling season of great performances ahead.