Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 4, 2019

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Scheherazade and American Women Composers

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, Massachusetts
February 2, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Watching Maestro Kevin Rhodes conduct is always entertaining, and on Saturday night, he and the orchestra provided a program rich in musical texture and artistry.  Rhodes’ articulate and sometimes humorous introduction to each of the pieces helped connect the evening’s selections to cultural history and the evolution of women composers’ influence in composition and musical expression.

Joan Tower’s “6th Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” opened the program with a pulsating, bright sound.  Though her six Fanfares collectively became known as a feminist retort to Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the “6th Fanfare” was written as recently as 2016, making Tower one of the two contemporary composers featured in the concert.   Tower’s “Sequoia” was a lovely contrast to the earlier piece, with its rhythmic expression of the majestic sequoia tree growing toward the sky.

A stunningly ethereal “blue cathedral” by Jennifer Higdon completed the contemporary works with a musical story created as a response to the grief she had about her brother’s untimely death.  Performed throughout the United States over 1,000 times last year, this piece integrated Chinese bells and musicians playing water-glasses (a glass harmonica) for a stunning sound that uplifted the heart.

Bal Masque, Opus 22, by Amy Beach was composed in 1894, and provided a link to the romantic style of Rimsky-Korsakov, featured in the second part of the evening’s fare.  In all of the evening’s offerings, many of the extraordinary musicians of the symphony had lush solos and demonstrated the exceptional quality of musicianship so prevalent in the SSO.

Based on the symphonic poem Scheherazade, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed a musical telling of the story of the Arabian Nights. Scheherazade, the concubine of a Khalif who slept with each wife and then killed them, told a story every night to forestall her own killing. In this piece, Maestro Rhodes energetically conducted as Concertmaster Masako Yanagita and her violin “told” the story while different sections of the orchestra picked up the theme for each of the four tableaux in the Suite.

The well-deserved standing ovation showed that the audience appreciated the artistry of the evening.  Notable too, was the number of very young audience members who seemed excited by what they had just heard, as well as the murmurs of audience members who were clearly moved by the evening’s entertainment.