Young players’ skill, expression shines at BSO concert

ORONO — The Bangor Symphony opened its second concert of the season Sunday afternoon with Johannes Brahms’s “Academic Festival Overture,” with the symphony playing side by side with the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestras Philharmonic players.

The overture was an appropriate choice on several counts: Brahms wrote the piece as a celebration of student life, it calls for a very large orchestra and it was the first piece Maestro Lucas Richman conducted as a 16-year-old student.

After thanking the young musicians’ parents and the Philharmonic conductors, Rebecca Mallory and Sascha Zaburdaeva, Richman led the combined orchestra in a moving performance of the overture.

A well-crafted sense of anticipation in the opening measures led to episodes of full-throttled exuberance and drama. After a rousing finale, Richman’s congratulatory handshake was with the Philharmonic’s concertmaster, Colin Aponte.

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 followed, with pianist Benjamin Hochman as soloist. From the opening clarinet solo, played softly and slowly by Kristen Finkbeiner, the concerto quickly built up a head of steam. Rhapsodic sections alternated with whimsical humor and aggressive energy, punctuated by sometimes jarring rhythms and dissonance.

Prokofiev, who played the work’s premiere in 1921, pushes the soloist to the limit, with insanely demanding runs, arpeggios and pounding chords.

Hochman’s virtuosic skill met the score’s demands, although his was a rather reserved performance of a piece that begs for passion and a sense of spontaneity.

The orchestra was not relegated to an accompanying role, but rather engaged in full dialogue with the soloist. The BSO rendered the work’s shifting moods and some fine details in a satisfying performance.

The concert’s second half began with the world premiere of Richman’s “Polonaise for Podge.” Commissioned to commemorate Albert Kossler’s 90th birthday by his family, the work was built on a theme that outlined his nickname, “Podge,” spelled out in the pitches B–A–D–G–E-flat.

The composer playfully incorporated aspects of Kossler’s life, including his involvement in music as a trumpet player that was reflected in solos played by co-principal trumpet Bill Whitener. It was a charming tribute, which the orchestra clearly enjoyed playing.

Brahms’ No. 3 ended Sunday’s program. The first movement opened confidently with full chords that established a musical motto, F–A-flat–F, which appeared throughout the piece.

After a demanding hour of playing, the orchestra seemed a little unsteady to start, but the second movement — again featuring clarinetist Kristen Finkbeiner — was nicely controlled and expressive.

The familiar theme of the third movement struck a melancholy mood. A series of energetic climaxes in the fourth movement wound down to a hushed ending.

Resonating throughout the afternoon was the joyful promise of the next generation of musicians who led off the concert. To hear more of them, don’t miss the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestras’ performance at 4 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Bangor High School.

Marcia Gronewold Sly

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