THE ARTS ETC

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SPRINGFIELD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Kevin Rhodes, Music Director and Conductor

Jeffrey Biegel, Piano

Springfield Symphony Chorus, Nikki Stoia, Director

HOLST'S

THE PLANETS

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

Prometheus, Choral Fantasy

William Bolcom (1938 - )

Mr. Biegel

Springfield Symphony Chorus

 

REVIEWED by DONNA BAILEY-THOMPSON


I can imagine Kevin Rhodes (aka Ed Sullivan) cracking his knuckles, rocking on his feet, and announcing, "Tonight we've got a really big shewwww, but first, I want you to meet someone who popped out of Walt Disney's desk drawer when Mickey wasn't watching -- The Sorcerer's Apprentice!"

If the Apprentice was a Sorcerer’s legacy, woe betides the Sorcerer because he’s stuck with a goof-off who has learned just enough about trickery to be dangerous. The saving grace is the music imitating half-baked spells and a Goofy-like idiot whose cadence suggests lumbering about while telling himself, “I can! That is, I think I can!” In the background, there are strange potions teetering on windowsills before toppling into a mud puddle which swells into a flood while a harp drips (that last embellishment is not my interpretation).

From there, the evening’s program became serious, dark, and to any unaccustomed ears, strange, even noncomprehensibly strange. Blame one of the SSO’s favorite guest artists, Jeffrey Biegle, whose quest for “a companion piece to Beethoven’s Choral fantasy – a work of short duration but requiring large forces (piano, orchestra, chorus)....” has been accomplished. During the pre-concert chat, at Maestro Rhodes’ request, pianist Biegel demonstrated the depths of the work, literally and emotionally (and both almost impossible to separate).

I was captivated by the strange, abrasive chords struck by Biegle in the deepest register of a thundering concert grand, grotesque killer chords that coupled with Lord Byron’s Prometheus evoked horror. Forget music! No melodic phrases caressed the savage beast. Instead, we were privy to Prometheus’ physical despair as he experienced torture around the clock, thanks to the revenge of his jealous brother, Zeus. When one is Prometheus, chained to an enormous bolder 24/7, whose liver is ripped out of his body every night and miraculously healed the next day ready to be torn out again, one cannot expect the supportive mood music will be Rhapsody in Blue.

The Springfield Symphony Chorus under the direction of Nikki Stoia contributed sounds that could be used in a remake of A Space Odyssy and/or Planet of the Apes : they went from attempts to communicate through grunts and groans to piercing noise and ultimately intelligible words.


Composer William Bolcom has written a disquieting piece that he sees “as a perfect metaphor for our time. ... We are now all Prometheus, chained to our rock of technological dependence; there is no question that our unprecedented advance has given the world enormous benefits we have no desire of relinquishing – nor should we – but we are enjoined to see the dark side of this bounty.”

Although I prefer to be seduced by Tchaikovsky's music, I appreciate being exposed to the bizarre, especially when musicians are messing around within the lower octaves while listeners try to attune to the "unattunable." From another perspective, consider the source of this pedagogical presentation. Do we trust the teacher? Many do through independent study, others blindly, and probably most from sounds that please. Their dissimilar paths converge: they bless the SSO. Programs do not materialize by turning on a faucet. The man at the helm is Kevin Rhodes. During his 10 years as the SSO’s Music Director, has he led us down a garden path by exposing us to musical danger, musical infectious diseases? Hardly. He’s introduced us to different sounds which, for some, stir them too far away from their comfort zone.

Eavesdropping during Intermission proved to be great fun. “I thought Springfield stood for anything but now I know they don’t.” A non-scientific poll indicated 20% stood to applaud Prometheus while 80% remained glued to their seats before bolting for the lobby and the curative powers of Intermission.

Ahhhh. The familiar is on tap for after Intermission. Holst’s The Planets owes its inspiration to astrology and alchemy. From the Program notes by wordpros@mindspring.com, these insights: Holst was influenced by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Elgar. The seven movements are arranged “according to musical, not astronomical, criteria.....and do “not correspond to their orbital distance from the sun.”

“Mars, The Bringer of War” lived up to its description – a brisk marching tempo accented by snare drum. Without the evidence of wounds and death, musical war stirs but is sterile.

“Venus, The Winged Messenger,” a celestial beauty, is honored by sweet strings, soothing cello echos, culminating in a gentle descent into full darkness and the arrival of twinkling little stars.

“Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity” – rather than use its huge dimensions to dispense intimidating bullying, Jupiter played cute with bucolic tranquility. The Program notes said, “This movement bears little relationship to the Greco-Roman king of the gods.” Ah, honesty, where is thy sting?

“Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”-- Holst believed this the best movement – the echoing chimes suggested pools of still water. I wondered, “Where are the rings?”

"Uranus, the Magician” borrowed from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Brass and drums became militant. Were we off to another war?

“Neptune, The Mystic” supplied melodic delights that graduated into the heavenly sound of wordless female voices coming from – where? A corner at the back of the stage or wafting from backstage itself, through a door slightly ajar? Sometimes we don’t need to know all the details. Sometimes we give ourselves over to wondering and savoring.

Of course the audience stood! The Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s 68th Season, 2011-2012, automatically became history.

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SSO’s 2012 - 2013, 69th Season

CLASSICAL CONCERTS 

Opening Night
Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Peter Serkin, Piano
Liszt, Bartok, Brahms

Electrifying Russian Music
Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Ralph Votapek, Piano
Borodin, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky

Scheherazade
Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 7:30
SSO Percussionists
Grieg, Zwilich, Rimsky-Korsakov

Mendelssohn & Mozart
Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Caroline Goulding, Violin
Mendelssohn, Mozart

Passion, Love, Murder and Mayhem - It’s Opera
Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Guest Vocalists

Gershwin & Rachmaninoff
Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Alexander Ghindin, Piano
Gershwin, Piston, Rachmaninoff

Mozart & Beethoven
Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Springfield Symphony Chorus
Guest Vocalists
Mozart, Beethoven