Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 6, 2023

Review: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Heavenly"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
November 4, 2023
by Beverly Dane

This SSO concert, titled "Heavenly," brought guest conductor Nicholas Hersh as guest to the podium. At first, it seemed unusual that there was no featured guest soloist, it  became apparent that the “guest soloists” were the stunningly beautiful pictures provided by the Springfield Science Museum to accompany and accentuate the musical pieces.

The opening number, "Helios Overture" by Carl Nielsen was inspired by the Greek God who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. The quiet opening notes portrayed sunrise, built to a crescendo for mid-day, before returning to the quiet peacefulness of sunset. A full horn section trumpeted the day.

Hersh and SSO were magnificent, matched by the stunning pictures of our sun on the big screen behind the orchestra. Maestro Hersh noted the connection of the photographs and music, saying, "The music gets a little weird, like Stanley Kubrick "2001"weird.”  Ethereal voices floated out and down from the upper balcony as Nikki Stoia directed the unseen Treble Singers of the Springfield Symphony Chorus in an eerie, haunting melody.  Audience members certainly felt the music, in a sense, flying over the sun, with the Northern Lights casting out to light the path.
The second piece played in four movements was Mozart’s "Symphony No.41," commonly known as the "Jupiter Symphony" for the sheer scale and complexity of the work. SSO was up to the challenge.

Excitement for the third piece was palpable as one could not help but notice the large array of percussion that were, up to this point, unmanned. Like unopened Christmas presents waiting to be played, drums, bells, tambourines, cymbals as well as two harps would take part in Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”.

The opening “Mars, the Bringer of War” brought to mind John Williams’ cinematic score "The Imperial March" (Darth Vader’s theme) with powerful brass fanfare and marching rhythm sounding the opening. “Venus, the Bringer of Peace" was more serene featuring flutes and violin. The harps, and violin flew through Mercury, “The Winged Messenger,” which brought us to “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” and “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”.

These movements were accompanied on the big screen behind the musicians by astounding pictures of the planets from the Webb telescope.  Maestro Hersh previewed the Outer Planets by saying in his pre-concert talk, “Then the music gets a little weird, like Stanley Kubrick's '2001' weird." Ethereal voices floated out & down from the upper balcony as Nikki Stoia directed the unseen Treble Singers of the Springfield Symphony Chorus in an eerie, haunting melody.

This is the first of two matinees this season for SSO. The Symphony is hoping to attract families that may be able to attend a matinee instead of an evening performance. From the sound of the applause during Paul Lambert’s introduction, it hit a home run in attracting older patrons that enjoy the Symphony but do not like to drive home in the dark. The next matinee is on Saturday March 9, 2024 when the orchestra presents "Fantasias" at 2:30pm. 

Although the audiences misses Maestro Rhodes, we have been lucky to have so many talented and inspiring conductors to watch this last and current season, with Maestro Hersh certainly included in that talented group.