Bangor Symphony Orchestra Conductor Lucas Richman’s own composition “In Truth” was a highlight of the orchestra’s opening concert last Sunday afternoon.

Bangor Symphony Orchestra season off to a thrilling start

ORONO — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra got off to a rousing start last Sunday afternoon at the Collins Center for the Arts, with a program of Americana, beginning of course with “The Star Spangled Banner,” which the audience stood for and sang along to lustily.

Then it was off to the wide-open ranges with three movements of Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s delightful “Pioneer Dances.” These were so evocative of the old West, one almost expected “Bonanza” character Ben Cartwright and his boys to come galloping down the aisle. Of particular note here was the lively xylophone and other percussion instruments played by Cindy Bastide in the Allegro Vivo, which set the fun mood for the piece in great style.

Proving that musical composition is as much imagination as inspiration, Coolidge (1913-1981), whom one might have expected to have spent her youth barrel racing by day and square dancing by night, was actually an East Coast gal, hailing from the Boston area and then New York City. But her musical knowledge of American folk themes runs deeply through this piece as well as the influences of Copeland and Ives.

Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak’s robust Symphony 9, “From the New World,” which filled the second half of the BSO program, is another case in point of a composer coming from a different musical culture and acing not just the familiar sounds of America but the soul of the place.

In fact, the plaintive Largo movement, which contains what is popularly known as the song “Going Home,” is almost as much of an American anthem as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

BSO conductor Lucas Richman was struggling with a bad case of laryngitis Sunday evening and in his opening remarks sounded alarmingly like Harvey Fierstein, but he nevertheless kept his orchestra at a lively, often thrilling pace with this iconic composition and at times managed to make his entire string section play so softly one could have heard a butterfly land on his baton.

But the newest and most exciting musical adventure of the evening was Richman’s own original composition — “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth,” with guest pianist Jeffery Biegel. When the conductor explained the thought behind the three movements of his piece, titled “To One’s Self,” “To One’s World” and “To One’s Spirit,” and how it was about the soul’s inner journey and finding one’s metaphysical place in the universe, it all sounded a bit New Agey and precious and one almost expected them to roll out a Moog synthesizer or perhaps a sitar instead of a grand piano.

But surprise, surprise his composition — starting with a clarion trumpet fanfare — was every bit as robust, focused and “American” as any of the other pieces played that evening. With a very bluesy Gershwin-esque theme running through it, the composition was multi-layered and textured; at times melodic and romantic at other times dissonant, dramatic, challenging and fragmented with so much going on — including some clattering percussives — it was easy to lose one’s way. That seemed to be the point, actually, and let’s face it, who hasn’t been there.

But again and again, Richman returns to his core theme — da-da-dee,dum,dee dum — and it was like seeing a light through the forest leading us back to something familiar and safe. Biegel’s commanding piano also was a well-lit pathway through this lovely, evocative piece and both he and the composer received a well-earned standing ovation as did the whole orchestra for interpreting this and the evening’s other compositions played so beautifully.

All in all, a great way to start the symphony’s 120th season, which will continue Nov. 22 with a concert of Beethoven & Friends featuring violinist Elena Urioste. For information about the rest of the season and ticket reservations call 942-5555.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.