Bravo, SSO!


The Springfield Symphony Orchestra just announced the programs for its upcoming 2014-15 season.  And I’m here to tell you that the lineup of seven classical concerts coming to Symphony Hall (Springfield, that is) over the next year is among the most exciting ever.  Kudos to Music Director Kevin Rhodes and the SSO management.

What should so excite about a mere seven concerts, when the “big” orchestra down the pike is performing many times as many over the same time, not to mention the upcoming Tanglewood season?  Well, for one thing, I believe that one’s music, like one’s vegetables, are best when fresh and local.  The SSO is an invaluable asset for the area, worth supporting and cherishing.  For another, the “local” band is no slouch; indeed, as anyone who’s heard them recently knows, they’re pretty damn good.

And heck, maybe it’s the professional music programmer/presenter in me, appreciating a job well done under serious constraints of budget and scheduling.  Pulling off seven classical concerts per season for an orchestra like the SSO, and doing so at the highest artistic level, poses challenges unlike, and in some ways greater than, those faced by an orchestra like the Boston Symphony.  As Kevin Rhodes describes it, “Orchestras like ours, meaning orchestras playing between 6 and 10 classical programs per year, are on a very different internal and developmental clock than orchestras with a more full-time type of schedule. It takes us several seasons to play the quantity of repertoire that one of those larger organizations might get through in a year.  Add to that the fact that there is a Grand Canyon-sized gulf in the difference between playing that many concerts within nine months verses 36 months in terms of collective growth, and I think one begins to see the minor miracle that the Springfield Symphony is.

“The way that these musicians coalesce into a cohesive ensemble within 2 days of rehearsal when they haven’t seen each other in a month or more compared to one of those other orchestras who come back together after 1 day off following a concert is indeed truly miraculous.”

Now though, as Kevin and the orchestra start their fourteenth season together, they’ve reached what he describes as a new era.  “We have now reached a point of both mutual familiarity and experience whereby a virtuoso concert such as our opening night (September 27), featuring Bolero, La Mer and Pictures at an Exhibition, all works we have played together over the years, is something we can plan with confidence. If this was our 5th or 10th year together, that would be a chancy proposition, but now we know we can do it.”  I love this program — three old chestnuts, to be sure, but which add up to an absolutely fabulous wallow in orchestral richness.  If this program were a meal, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have tried to ban it.

Then on the second program (October 11), impressive young violinist Caroline Goulding will take the solo on a work whose inclusion on the series, for all the work’s beauty, could still be considered daring, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel” (watch an excellent performance here). Those who’ve never this haunting, lyrical work live should prepare to be moved.  Combine the Berg with two of Tchaikovsky’s Shakespearean tone poems, the well-known “Romeo and Juliet” and the great but seldom-played “The Tempest,”and you have a concert to enrich the mind, heart and soul.

I could go through each concert program this way, but let me instead point just a few highlights:  UConn professor Kenneth Fuchs‘s evocative “Out of the Dark” along with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (January 24), a thoughtful pairing of Bernstein (the Piano Concerto-like Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety”) and Beethoven (the “Pastoral” Symphony) on March 14, and to conclude the season on April 28, a thrilling bout between two Russian heavyweights:  Rachmaninoff (Piano Concerto No. 2) vs. Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring).

There’s an essential rightness to each program, as if the works were meant to be heard together.  This does not just happen.  It takes imagination, inspiration, and of course, the right orchestra to pull it off.  Back to Kevin Rhodes for the final words:  “All throughout the season one will find these kind of mixtures which we simply could not have done prior to this precise point in time. In an era when many of my colleagues are seemingly constantly wishing to “move on” to a new community, I am quite thrilled and delighted to have such an incredible musical family as the Springfield Symphony and such an appreciative musical home as the Pioneer Valley!!”

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