Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 8, 2019

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Passionate Performances

Springfield Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
November 2, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

In his “Reflections” on the second concert of the SSO’s 76th season and his own 19th season as their music director, Kevin Rhodes cites no other unifying theme for the three pieces on the program than perhaps the best one of all – the “passion” of the performers to play them.

Continuing the orchestra’s ongoing series of works by American women composers, the evening began with Missy Mazzoli’s “Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres),” a 2016 piece which the young New York-based composer calls “music in the shape of a solar system.” Featuring harmonicas played by brass section members to make the ensemble sound, in Mazzoli’s words, like “a makeshift hurdy-gurdy flung recklessly into space,” the SSO and Rhodes made it nine minutes of shimmering, playful adventure.

Viktor Valkov
In a smashing SSO debut, rising Bulgarian-born pianist Viktor Valkov next gave a brilliant account of what Rhodes calls Tchaikovsky’s “unduly neglected” but “absolutely amazing” second piano concerto in its own first SSO performance. Conceived on a grand scale, the 47-minute 1880 piece opens with a commanding fanfare, and the vigorous “Allegro” first movement includes a huge (six-minute) solo piano cadenza. In the luminous “Andante,” concertmaster Masako Yanagita and principal cellist Emily Taubl eloquently soloed with Valkov as a piano trio. He played throughout, including the short and fleet finale, with dazzling technique and interpretive depth, forcefully backed by orchestra and conductor.  

The program closed after intermission with Brahms’s magisterial fourth and last symphony. Rhodes calls this 1885 masterpiece “perhaps the most perfect of works by the man who has no single measure which is not perfect.” From an autumnal opening “Allegro” through a quietly reflective “Andante” and a surprisingly exuberant scherzo to a somber closing series of variations over a ground bass theme, the maestro and his musicians presented a powerfully convincing rendition.

One reason why Rhodes is so beloved in Springfield was on particular display tonight. His engaging and informative spoken introduction to the Mazzoli piece, including brief snippets played by selected orchestra members, and his clear explanation of the ensemble’s new seating arrangement, kept the capacity audience at rapt attention all evening long.