ORONO — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s fifth Masterworks concert for the 2018-19 season on Sunday was a celebration of American composers.
The program’s first half comprised three works featuring featured popular tunes. William Grant Still’s “Can’t You Line ’Em” is a brief orchestral treatment of a chant sung by railroad workers.
Still, who has been called the “dean of African-American composers,” received many honors during a distinguished career, including three Guggenheim Fellowships.
“Can’t You Line ’Em” reflected his early experience arranging popular music. Following an introductory call of a solo French horn, the orchestra’s response was spirited and jazzy.
The world premiere of BSO Music Director Lucas Richman’s “Serenity on the Lake” followed. Commissioned by Dedham resident Lee Souweine in memory of his late wife, Ruth, the piece is a series of variations that reflect her spirit.
In a charming waltz, fragments of the children’s folk round “White Coral Bells” and a section that called to mind sunlight sparkling on water, Maestro Richman’s mastery of orchestration was on full display.
Joan Tower’s “Made in America” was commissioned in 2004 by a consortium of more than 60 American orchestras and has been performed frequently, in 2008 winning three Grammy Awards.
At Sunday’s concert, Richman led the BSO through the work’s slow opening into a series of musical episodes. A unifying theme, “America the Beautiful,” appeared throughout the piece, whose upbeat, busy street scenes and sweet moments alternated with dissonant, ominous ideas.
The orchestra gave a strong performance of the shifting moods, confidently delivering demanding polyrhythmic sections, frequent solo interjections and abundant percussion.
The concert’s second half was a continuation of the orchestra’s season-long celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, with a performance of selections from his operetta (or is it musical theater?) “Candide.” The cast of soloists was excellent, with baritone Christopher Sanders and tenor Boris Van Druff mastering multiple roles. Singer/actress Kelly Lester was a stitch as the Old Lady. The star-crossed leading couple, Cunegonde and Candide, were portrayed by soprano Amy Maples and tenor Aaron Blake. Maples brought down the house with her performance of the demanding aria “Glitter and Be Gay.” Blake’s delivery of the title role was both appropriately goofy and sympathetic, especially in the tender “Candide’s Lament.”
Given the need for the soloists to project frequent spoken lines over a large orchestra, the choice to amplify the soloists was understandable. However, it didn’t work consistently. An already confusing plotline was difficult to follow and the enhancement of the cast’s big, operatic voices resulted in sheer overwhelm from time to time.
Sunday’s performance was also the symphony’s annual collaboration with University of Maine’s University Singers and Oratorio Society, and the combined choruses shone in frequent commentary on the action, well-balanced a cappella sections and a rousing finale.