ORONO — One thing is certain about performances by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra: Music Director and Conductor Lucas Richman asks a lot from the players, and they deliver.
On Sunday at the Collins Center for the Arts, the program comprised four pieces — three from the 1880s and one world premiere — none of which are among the easy-listening, top 40 of classical music. It’s a testament to the musicians’ artistry and to Richman’s leadership that the afternoon’s concert was satisfying and at times thrilling.
Johannes Brahms’s “Tragic Overture” was up first. Written in 1880 as a sort of response to his more familiar and upbeat “Academic Festival Overture,” the piece is quintessential Brahms. Built on three themes that echo motifs from other works of Brahms, it is not especially tragic in nature, but certainly is dramatic.
From the opening two chords of exclamation from the full orchestra — the score calls for the largest orchestral forces used by Brahms — Maestro Richman led a well-paced performance. The horns and woodwinds played important roles, but appropriately, the conductor asked the entire orchestra to stand for recognition at the work’s end.
The Violin Concerto No. 3 of Camille Saint-Saëns also was written in 1880 and is a showpiece for the composer’s gifts for melody and orchestral color. Sunday’s soloist, Rachel Lee Priday, boasts an impressive resumé of concert and recital performance. She played the opening theme in the violin’s low register powerfully and easily tossed off the work’s challenging pyrotechnics, playing almost constantly, with only a few measures of rest during the entire piece.
The orchestra was more than an accompanist, punctuating and responding in partnership with the soloist.
The first performance of Lucas Richman’s “Her Light” opened the second half of the concert. Commissioned by Eloise Ricciardelli in honor of her daughter, Cassandra, the piece is constructed on a nine-note subject spelling out the name “Cassandra” as the pitches C-A-E-E-A-G-D-D-A. Lasting no more than about 10 minutes, Richman’s treatment began with a broad, cinematic statement from the full orchestra, followed by repetitions of the theme from throughout the ensemble. An accelerando to the work’s end was highlighted by a brilliant brass choir.
Written in 1885, Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor is considered by many to be the composer’s finest symphony. Dvorak’s music reflects both personal tragedy (a footnote in the score’s second movement refers to “the sad years”) and his strong feelings about the struggles of the Czech nation.
After a long, somber opening, a beautiful theme reminiscent of Brahms took over. Repeated rhythmic gestures and more heroism from the brass provided accents, with contrasts of mood propelling the performance.
Fine details from the woodwinds evoked the singing of birds and hunting calls. Passages of poignant melancholy were interrupted by flashes of frustration. A meandering and sometimes stormy finale ended in a triumphant D major chord.
The audience made its way out into the chilly evening feeling musically nourished and looking forward to the next performance.