Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 21, 2024

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Magic & Glory"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
May 18, 2024
by Michael J. Moran

The title of this concert could just as well have been “Fearless Women,” with women as conductor and soloist, and eight local women receiving the SSO’s second annual “Fearless Women Awards” for the “courage, resilience, and empowerment” they exemplify, often “under the radar,” said SSO President and CEO Paul Lambert, who honored the six awardees who appeared with him on stage before the concert.

The program opened with the Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 1791 opera “The Magic Flute.” From the solemn opening chord through the fleet urgency of the main theme, with an imposing brass interlude, Canadian conductor Tania Miller, recent interim leader of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and the SSO gave a taut and brilliant account of this lively curtain-raiser.

Rachel Barton Pine
Perhaps the most fearless woman on the program was Rachel Barton Pine, who next soloed in Jean Sibelius’ 1905 Violin Concerto. She met the work’s fiendish technical demands with aplomb, varying her tone from hushed delicacy in the soft opening notes to sharp and robust in the forceful solo cadenza. The opening “Allegro moderato” was alternately suave and tumultuous, the central “Adagio di molto,” ravishing and warm, and the closing “Allegro, ma non tanto,” a boisterous romp. Miller and the orchestra provided vivid accompaniment.

Even more astonishing was Barton Pine’s tireless virtuosity in an entertaining, often hilarious series of variations on “Happy Birthday,” an encore which she dedicated to the SSO’s 80th anniversary this year. The large audience roared its approval and delight.

The concert ended with an electrifying performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1937 fifth symphony. Miller’s spoken introduction highlighted the fraught political background of Stalin’s Soviet Union against which it was written, in a successful comeback after a devastating review in the Communist Party newspaper “Pravda” of the composer’s popular opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.”

Miller’s kinetic conducting drew from an inspired SSO: an eerie and probing “Moderato;” a klezmer-influenced “Allegretto,” with flashes of ironic humor; a haunting and heartfelt “Largo,” in which Miller put aside her baton to shape more nuanced phrasing with her hands; and a powerful “Allegro non troppo,” whose half-joyful, half-fearful closing notes remain, in Miller’s words, “an enduring mystery.”

The SSO’s next concert will be their second annual free Juneteenth “Freedom Day Concert” on Wednesday, June 19, at 3:00 pm.