The Bangor Symphony Orchestra combined a new work, a one-of-a-kind concerto and the intense beauty of a beloved ballet for its most diverse and best program so far this season on Sunday at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono.
“From Firebird to the Future,” the fourth masterworks concert, began with the unusual pairing of a dulcimer and the string section, flew into a fascinating piece about the challenges and the rewards of visiting new places and landed on the wings of a magical bird. It was a magnificent and fascinating musical adventure.
The concert began with “Blackberry Winter.” Composed in 1997 by Conni Ellisor, it is the only concerto written for the dulcimer. Named for the unexpected cold snap that converges on the South in late spring when the blackberries bloom, the piece sounded like the slow reawakening of the soil in New England.
Maine-based musician Pam Weeks played the dulcimer with precision as the strings soared around her. “Blackberry Winter” perfectly blended the sounds of Appalachian folk tunes with the orchestral beauty of the strings.
The piece in turns delighted and surprised the audience.
Composer Jessica Meyer suffers from wanderlust so it seemed only natural that she would set her travel experiences to music in four movements titled: Just Go; Ambling; Before Sunrise; and Trouble, then Paradise. “The Air of New Places” won the 2020 Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Composer’s Award. Last fall, the symphony opened its season with the 2019 winner, Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion by Renaldo Moya.
Meyer uses every instrument in the orchestra, but especially the percussion section, to accompany her in planning and executing a trip to a place where exciting places and people are experienced.
The composer seemed to end her trip in trouble and paradise in the lair of “The Firebird,” the final piece on the program. The suite is based on Igor Stravinsky’s ballet about a magical bird. The Russian composer’s demanding and exhilarating piece was scheduled to be performed in the spring of 2020 but was scuttled due to the pandemic shutdown and reprogrammed for this season. The orchestra poured all its passion into the complex and evocative score that soared through the Collins Center and hovered over concertgoers.
Conductor and Music Director Lucas Richman’s decision to begin with the dulcimer concerto, move into Meyer’s musical travelog, then plunge into the intensity of “The Firebird” took the audience on a magical, musical journey. It was an adventure full of thrilling surprises and a highlight of the 126th season that won’t soon be forgotten.
“From the Firebird to the Future” is available for streaming at bangorsymphony.org.