Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 20, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Rhodes on Beethoven

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
November 19, 2020
by Michael J. Moran
With Symphony Hall closed by the Covid pandemic, the SSO has not played live since March 7, 2020. But led by Music Director Kevin Rhodes, its musicians quickly launched a weekly “Homegrown” series of short videos performing in their homes which are available for free streaming on the SSO web site. They’ve now launched a new three-program series of “90-minute virtual lecture/music events” via Zoom.
The first program featured the Maestro on “Great Beginnings and Endings in Beethoven’s 9  Symphonies,” with SSO Education Director Kirsten Lipkens projecting Franz Liszt’s two-piano scores of the symphonies and playing excerpts from concert recordings, all but one by the SSO. Bursting with his trademark exuberance, Rhodes clearly conveyed how the revolutionary impact of these masterpieces still resonates in this 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth.  
Kevin Rhodes
Presenting the opening and closing notes of Haydn’s last symphony, his 104th, as a “normal” symphony of the era showed how far beyond his teacher’s model Beethoven’s first symphony moved just five years later. Unlike the “regular…no surprises” Haydn 1795 opening, Beethoven began his first symphony slowly, almost tentatively, before shifting “with no pause” (where Haydn stops) into a faster theme. Rhodes showed how Beethoven’s use of this organic "one thing gives birth to another” technique set all his symphonies apart in multiple ways from those of his predecessors and contemporaries.
While providing fresh insights into all nine symphonies (for example, how Mahler’s first reflects Beethoven’s fourth), the Maestro showed particular affection for the sixth, or “pastoral,” symphony, which he called his own “favorite to conduct.” Noting Beethoven’s inscription “Recollections of Country Life” above the score and his explicit titles for all five movements, Rhodes portrayed the piece as “an emotional journey” and reveled in the abrupt but seamless transition from the “Thunderstorm” movement (“so much fun!”) to the peaceful finale.  
Engaging support from Lipkens throughout the program, including an entertaining Q&A session with the live audience, kept it flowing smoothly through its 90-minute length. Upcoming events in this series are: “From the Heart of the SSO: A Musicians Panel” (November 23); and “Entering Bach’s World,” with music educator Andrew Leonard (December 2), both at 7:30 pm.