Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 20, 2017

SSO Opening Night: Prokofiev Piano Concerto

Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
October 14, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

To open the SSO’s 74th season and his own 17th season as their music director, Kevin Rhodes told the Springfield Republican, he planned a program of three musical pieces that “should take us to lots of places.”

After an exuberant sing-along season-opening “Star-Spangled Banner,” the concert proper began with a rousing take on the Overture to Rossini’s comic opera “The Thieving Magpie,” in which a servant girl is saved from the gallows when a missing spoon is found in a magpie’s nest. Having just produced an exciting drum roll throughout the national anthem, a stalwart SSO percussionist played the overture’s opening snare drum solo with equal flair, and the full ensemble nicely captured the zany high spirits of Rossini’s score.

Claire Huangci
Making her third appearance with the SSO, 27-year-old Chinese-American pianist Claire Huangci gave what she had promised and dubbed a “no-holds-barred performance” of Prokofiev’s rarely heard second piano concerto. Overshadowed by his more popular first and third concertos, the second presents formidable technical challenges, which Huangci overcame with ease. Its exotic melodies and often percussive orchestration were expertly rendered by all the musicians.

The audience enjoyed it so much that Huangci played a contrasting encore, the title theme from “Beauty and the Beast,” which she joked was “appropriate” for the bouquet of red roses she had just received from maestro Rhodes.

In another change of mood, the program closed after intermission with the second and sunniest of Brahms’ four symphonies in a tenderly affectionate rendition. From the heartfelt opening “Allegro non troppo,” through the radiant “Adagio non troppo” and the gentle “Allegretto gracioso,” to the jubilant “Allegro con spirito” finale, conductor and orchestra achieved a perfect balance of skillful ensemble and emotional commitment.   

In pre-concert remarks, Rhodes announced that each concert this season would introduce a new feature to the concert experience. Tonight’s innovation was “real time notes” during the Brahms symphony, which audience members in the balcony could follow on their cell phones as the music unfolded. The large number of young people present suggested that this 21st-century strategy just might work.