By Marcia Gronewold Sly
Special to The Ellsworth American
ORONO — Wind and brass were major players in the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s 2020-21 season finale last Friday night in a pre-recorded concert at the Collins Center for the Arts. The high-quality audio and video enabled concertgoers to see the orchestra in action from vantage points not possible during an in-person concert there. While streamed concerts are no substitution for live performances, they have been a wonderful way to remain connected through music, and to celebrate the BSO’s 125 years of service to our region.
“Winds & Brass Spectacular,” which highlighted wind and brass musicians who were especially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, opened with African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork’s “An American Fanfare.” The composer is celebrating his 80th birthday this year. BSO Music Director Lucas Richman led a brass and percussion ensemble in a straightforward performance of the brief piece. A traditional and yet all-American fanfare infused with hints of jazz, Hailstork’s fanfare was an especially fitting introduction since it was released on the eve of the first national Juneteenth holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
Beethoven’s Military March in C Major, “Zapfenstreich” is a simple piece for military band. This is not the Beethoven of symphonies and concerti, which demonstrate his mastery of formal development and gift for melody. In fact, if it weren’t for the attribution, it would be hard to guess that this piece is Beethoven’s. The BSO’s performance was jaunty and upbeat, and prominently featured a percussion section that includes snare drum, cymbal, triangle and bass drum.
Charles Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie in B-Flat for Wind Instruments” is a work in four movements scored for a nonet that includes two each of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and French horns, plus one flute. Richman conducted a charming performance, with lovely solo playing by flutist Roberta Michel.
The first half of the concert ended with another fanfare, “Portrait of a Peaceful Warrior” by Kathryn Bostic. A prolific composer of music for film, television and theater, Bostic is gaining a reputation for her orchestral works. In his remarks during the pre-concert lecture, Richman described her writing as “muscular, melodic, jazzy, fluid and exciting,” and noted that the players enjoy playing the piece — all of which was borne out in the performance.
The concert’s centerpiece was Kurt Weill’s “Kleine Dreigroschenmusik,” a suite of eight movements based on music from “The Threepenny Opera.” The suite calls for an enlarged version of the pit band for the opera, with two saxophones, bandoneon, banjo, harp, and piano taking their place among the orchestra’s winds, brass and percussion. Snatches of jazz, blues, German cabaret and dance music, and now-familiar tunes that included “Mack the Knife,” were performed with humor and sass. Standouts among the solos were played by trombonist Michael Tybursky and clarinetist Karen Beacham. The suite is full of slightly off-kilter rhythms and melodies, dissonances and surprise endings that echo the collective experience of the past year-plus.
“Winds & Brass Spectacular” will be available for one month, for a modest ticket price, at watch.bangorsymphony.org. Be sure to watch the pre-concert lecture, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at producing virtual concerts and other goodies.