Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 23, 2021

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Brahms’ Last Hurrah

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
February 18, 2021
by Michael J. Moran


Kevin Rhodes
photo by John Robert Williams
Since Symphony Hall was closed by the Covid pandemic almost a year ago, SSO Music Director Kevin Rhodes and his musicians have presented a weekly “Homegrown” series of short videos performing in their homes which are available for free streaming on the SSO web site. They’re now also offering a series of “90-minute virtual lecture/music education events” via Zoom.


The fourth program in the series featured the Maestro examining the fourth and last movement, marked “Allegro energico e passionato,” of the fourth and last symphony by Brahms, written in the key of E Minor and premiered in 1885. Host SSO Education Director Kirsten Lipkens projected the full orchestral score on the screen and played excerpts from the orchestra’s live performance of the piece in November 2019 to illustrate Rhodes’s comments.


Exuding the same enthusiasm he displayed in an earlier program about Beethoven’s symphonies, the Maestro noted that this movement takes the unusual form, more regularly used by Bach, of a passacaglia, or continuous variation, often over a bass line but here played at some point by almost every section of the orchestra. It was fascinating to see and hear how the notes on the page translate into the sound of the SSO as Rhodes described the changes of mood between musical bars and the different numbers of notes Brahms used in each bar to achieve a variety of emotional effects.


Though always using language easily understood by non-musicians, the Maestro called for frequent audience feedback to make sure everyone was following him (they were). Words like “diminished chords,” “fermata,” and “marziale” never trumped phrases like “incredible feeling,” “super-dramatic,” and “fast notes going all over the place.” Answering a viewer’s comment in the Q&A session on the movement’s “abrupt” ending, Rhodes added that the rare minor key close (where the symphony began) is “sober” rather than “flashy,” like the typical symphonic finale.


Lipkens provided strong facilitation skills and engaging technical support throughout the evening. The next program in this series will be held on Thursday, March 4, at 7:30 pm and will feature SSO Principal Cellist Emily Taubl on “The Art of the Audition: From Conservatory to Career.”