Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 22, 2016

In tribute to Conductor Rhodes

Brahms’ Double Concerto
Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
November 19, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

In his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, SSO music director Kevin Rhodes describes this concert as “the Jurassic Park of our season, in that everything is BIGGER! Instead of the usual single soloist concerto, we have Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello” and, in Bruckner’s seventh symphony, a “cathedral of sound…an amazing work of beauty which is almost too much to take in at once…but the experience of having done so is unforgettable!”

Mark Kaplan, Violin & Clancy Newman, Cello
In an interview with The Springfield Republican, Rhodes recalled leading this concerto in New Mexico with violinist Mark Kaplan and cellist Clancy Newman, where he found “that they are of two different generations…made for an extremely rich musical pairing.” With the SSO, the same pair fully engaged in what the maestro calls “essentially a duet…that is very rare in Brahms.” Their close rapport heightened both the excitement and the poignancy of the many solo passages they exchanged, and Rhodes drew warm, vibrant support from the orchestra in all three movements. 

During remarks before the Bruckner symphony after intermission, Rhodes introduced four players of “Wagner tubas,” invented by that composer to combine the sounds of the French horn and trombone in his operatic “Ring cycle.” As Rhodes noted, they add “a unique sonority” to this symphony’s radiant second movement, an elegy to the dying Wagner, Bruckner’s musical idol.

Evoking the frequent description of Bruckner’s symphonies as reflecting the mountains and valleys of his native Austria and the resonant church organs he played for most of his life, the SSO’s towering performance of this epic work was one of Rhodes’ finest achievements in his 16-year tenure. All four movements feature strong contrasts of tempo and dynamics, and Rhodes and his musicians made the most of them. Members of the brass section may have been the stars of the evening, but woodwinds, strings, and percussion were equally adept.

That the capacity audience was riveted throughout this relatively unfamiliar 65-minute symphony and that the players have never looked more enthralled with their craft are tributes to Rhodes’ inspirational leadership. This is clearly a musical partnership built to last.