Emotions ran high Sunday afternoon in the Collins Center for the Arts as the full Bangor Symphony Orchestra performed together for the first time in nearly two years.
It was a rousing program chosen and conducted by Lucas Richman that featured well-known and beloved pieces of music along with the world premiere of a fascinating new concerto for piano, strings and percussion by Venezuelan-born Reinaldo Moya. The composer converted the colors from the works of visual artist Carlos Cruz-Diez into musical notes for a riveting experience that engaged the ears, eyes, heart and soul.
The piece was commissioned for the orchestra by the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation. Moya was chosen for the award from more than 335 applicants.
For inspiration, Moya turned to fellow Venezuelan-born artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, who died in 2019 at the age of 95. He was a leader in the field of kinetic and optical art, according to the foundation that bears his name.
The large-scale, colorful installations Cruz-Diez created include artwork installed at the Simón Bolívar International Airport near Caracas, Venezuela, the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines railway platform outside Paris and the walkway to Marlins Park, the baseball stadium in Miami.
Each of the concerto’s five movements began with a photograph of one of the artist’s works projected above the orchestra. The sound of the music, in a way, brought the visual pieces to life and piano soloist Joyce Yang expertly channeled Cruz-Diez’s colors and Moya’s vision for the concerto.
It began in a jazzy style reminiscent of George Gershwin but quickly moved into a staccato rhythm as the notes collided like the lines of colors Cruz-Diez set on paper. As the music moved from one piece of artwork to the next, musical patterns refracted and layered notes bumped up against each other to create delightful aural disturbances.
The final movement focused on Cruz-Diez’s most important work to Venezuelans, Moya said in his program notes. It was installed in the 1970s on the floor of the Caracas airport and represented a high point in the nation’s culture. In the 21st century, the piece has taken on a different meaning for Venezuelans amidst the country’s humanitarian crisis, according to the composer.
“It is now the iconic background to many goodbyes that occur in this airport as more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the misery and destruction found in their home country,” Moya said.
In this movement, the notes from the piano sound like tears breaking apart on the floor, the strings swirl like an approaching storm and hope retreats with the shake of maraca. It was a startling, unpredictable and gorgeous composition that brought Cruz-Diez’s work to life and made his colors tremble, dance and sing. It also demonstrated that Moya is a composer who has much to say about the human condition in the 21st century and should be listened to often.
Sunday’s program opened with a thundering drumbeat and the rumble of the kettle drums before the horns burst in with Aaron Copland’s familiar flourish that opens his “Fanfare for the Common Man.” As those first sounds pinned me to my seat, I started to weep and I couldn’t stop until the orchestra was halfway through “The William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini. I suspect I was not the only one moved to tears at hearing these musicians perform in person after such a long time. The pandemic concerts recorded without a live audience and streamed online just weren’t the same.
Copland’s piece, written in 1942 when the nation was at war, felt like a musical tribute for coming through the worst of the pandemic. The concert concluded with Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which allowed every section to shine for a few moments. Performed without an intermission, the program ran a little over an hour, about 20 minutes less music than was performed at each concert in 2019.
About half the number of people were in their usual seats Sunday afternoon for the opening concert of the BSO’s 126th season as there were when the opening notes were played before the pandemic at the first concert of the 124th. Admission this year required showing identification and proof of vaccination.
In addition to in-person concerts, the symphony is offering an online subscription to the concerts, which are recorded and made available the Tuesday after the Sunday performances. Concertgoers who attend in person also may access the online versions. Sunday’s concert will be available online through Oct. 26.
The symphony’s next concert will be performed on Nov. 21 and feature Ludwig van Beethoven’s eighth symphony and the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saans.
For more information, call 942-5555 or visit bangorsymphony.org.