Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 24, 2018

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Opening Night

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
September 22, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

To open Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary season and his own 18th season as its music director, Kevin Rhodes noted in the program book, he planned a concert of three 20th-century “American classics” and a 21st-century piece by “a young American composer…who is really going places.”

That would be 37-year-old Adam Schoenberg, a native of western Massachusetts now teaching at Occidental College, whose “Go” launched the formal program after a spirited singalong season-opening “Star-Spangled Banner.” The catchy pop sensibility of this seven-minute piece, which, the composer wrote, begins with “a revving effect” and ends with “a sprint to the finish,” delighted the capacity audience and drew exuberant playing from the SSO under an animated Rhodes. The same manic energy produced an equally fine performance, to honor the composer’s centennial year, of the ebullient overture to Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 musical “Candide.”  

Norman Krieger
Making his third appearance in the same piece with the SSO since 1997, American pianist Norman Krieger then gave a masterful account of what Rhodes considered “THE American piano concerto,” and the program notes called “the first large-scale jazz composition in a traditionally classical form,” George Gershwin’s 1925 Concerto in F. Krieger was playful in the opening Charleston-based “Allegro,” sensual in the “Adagio” blues nocturne, and mercurial in the rondo-style finale. Rhodes and the orchestra supported him with matching intensity.

The program closed after intermission with “what is widely regarded,” according to Rhodes, “as the best symphony ever written by an American,” Aaron Copland’s third. Composed between 1944 and 1946, its four movements progressed from a meditative “Molto moderato” through a turbulent “Allegro molto” and a troubled “Andantino” to a jubilant finale based on Copland’s own popular 1942 “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Under the maestro’s kinetic baton, the musicians delivered a stirring rendition of this colorful 40-minute score.

Before the Copland, Rhodes explained that concertmaster Masako Yanagita is recovering from a recent injury and thanked assistant concertmaster Marsha Harbison for ably substituting. While appreciating this depth of talent in their SSO, the audience audibly extended the message of hope that Rhodes found in the symphony to Yanagita for her early return.