The Bangor Symphony Orchestra is back after nearly a year of musical silence in a filmed performance that comes as close as is humanly possible to replicating the experience of sitting in the Collins Center for the Arts and hearing the musicians live.
There are just 22 string musicians and piano soloist Spencer Myer on stage but the sound they create together is big, bold and beautiful. There have been individual and collective challenges in getting back on stage, but this offering from Conductor Lucas Richman and the orchestra is a precious gift that shows off players’ technical skills as well as their deep, emotional commitment to the music.
“Bach to Bloch” is the first of five digital concerts to be offered through June. Each will have 50 to 60 minutes of music, a bit less than live performances that contain 70 to 80 minutes of music, according to Brian Hinrichs, executive director.
Performing in a pandemic provided many challenges for the orchestra, including wearing masks and social distancing. Musicians usually sit close together and share music stands, which allows them to better listen to each other.
But the COVID-19 gathering limits mean that just 50 people, including orchestra members, guest soloists, conductor, camera operators, engineers and staff, can be in the Collins Center for recording sessions. It also limited the musical selections Richman could choose from but, as always, he has wisely chosen music that artistically challenges the musicians and educates the audience.
This first program of the season, featuring the music of Ernest Bloch, Florence Price and Johann Sebastian Bach, was recorded Jan. 31 at the orchestra’s home concert hall on the University of Maine campus. The recording was made available on Feb. 12 and can be accessed through March 14.
This concert was the first time the orchestra has performed Bloch’s “Concerto Grosso No. 1,” Price’s Andante Moderato from her “String Quartet No. 1” in G major and Bach’s “Keyboard Concerto” in D minor. While classical music aficionados most likely know Bloch and Bach, Price, an African-American woman born in Little Rock, Arkansas, is unlikely to be familiar even to the most seasoned of season ticket holders.
Price, who composed more than 300 pieces, spent most of her adult life in Chicago struggling to make a living, according to the program notes. She composed her first string quartet in 1929. In introducing the pieces, Richman said that her work is being rediscovered and recognized as part of the American canon of classical music.
While the Price piece is the shortest piece sandwiched between Bloch and Bach, it allows all string players but the cellists to perform standing, which is how most of them practice. It is a lovely and lyrical piece that is a sweet respite between Bloch’s and Bach’s more dramatic and energetic compositions.
Filming rather than merely recording the concert gives the audience a view of Richman that usually only musicians see during performances. There also are closeups of the players that reveal the emotions they are experiencing while playing that generally only audience members in the front rows get to see.
This makes the concert intriguing visually and allows the audience to better understand the dynamics of the orchestra and its maestro. It also is a much more intimate experience with musicians than sitting in a concert hall where sight lines can be limited depending on one’s seat number in the concert hall.
But the very best thing about attending a BSO concert online is that you don’t experience it just once. Concertgoers can play it again and again for a month after it is first made available.
The $10 ticket price for access is a real bargain. Families can experience it together but the kids don’t have to sit still. They can move how and where the music takes them and see whatever images come into their heads.
While recorded concerts will never take the place of live performances or match the unexpected thrill of seeing a soloist soar on the notes of an orchestra, the BSO should consider a way to keep recorded concerts as part of its repertoire.
The next concert will include the work of Arvo Part, Rodion Shchederin and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It will be available for viewing at 7 p.m. March 26 and for 30 days after that. For information, visit bangorsymphony.org.