Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 15, 2023

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Beauty Amid Chaos"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA 
May 13, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Matt Haimovitz
The title of the fifth and final classical concert of the SSO’s 2022-2023 season likely refers to the two pieces by Ukrainian composers on the program, as their homeland is being devastated by war. But in a broader sense it can apply to the other two pieces as well.   

Music Director of several Ukrainian and other foreign orchestras, guest conductor Theodore Kuchar, a New York native of Ukrainian descent, opened the concert with Antonin Dvorak’s 1891 “Carnival Overture.” The composer described it as a celebration of life observed by a “lonely, contemplative wanderer.” Kuchar and the SSO gave full vent to its bright, Czech-flavored spirit and the melancholy mood of a brief central interlude. 

This was followed by a joyous account of the lively “Ukrainian Dance” from Soviet-Ukrainian composer Anatoly Kos-Anatolsky’s 1956 ballet “The Jay’s Wing.” 

Israeli-American cellist Matt Haimovitz next soloed in Ukrainian expatriate Thomas de Hartmann’s rarely heard 1935 cello concerto. Kuchar has led a recent revival of interest in de Hartmann’s music, in which Haimovitz has participated. Their familiarity with this score drew an incandescent reading from conductor, orchestra, and soloist. From a dramatic opening “Andante con brio,” and a dark, Klezmer-influenced “Solemne,” to a rhythmically complex, richly intoned “Allegro ma non troppo” finale, the whole concerto revels in the composer’s gift for colorful orchestration and his love of Eastern European dance idioms. 

Although Jean Sibelius’ 1902 second symphony is often heard as an expression of Finnish resistance to Russian occupation at the time, Sibelius himself described it as “a confession of the soul.” The stirring performance closed the concert, capturing both the personal and political dimensions of the work, with a serene opening “Allegretto,” a stormy Andante, ma rubato,” an exuberant “Vivacissimo,” and a jubilantly triumphant “Allegro moderato” finale. Kuchar’s full-body conducting style (which included crouching, leaping, and audible vocalizations) elicited playing of deep conviction from all sections of the orchestra. 

Rousing applause after SSO President Paul Lambert’s pre-concert announcements of a recent two-year contract agreement between management and musicians and of an upcoming free concert on June 19, 2023 suggested a well-deserved bright future for this distinguished ensemble.