Firefly is the multimedia performance art project of Jason Brown and his creative partner and wife, Donna Decontie Brown. In March Firefly performed at Mayo Street Arts in Portland, pictured here. Credit: Courtesy of Firefly

Lucas Richman loves to keep his audience members at the Bangor Symphony Orchestra on their toes. Several times every season, there’s a first — the premiere of a new work, a piece never before played by the BSO from a little-known composer, a surprising multimedia element.

This weekend’s concert, set for 3 p.m. on April 30 at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, is no exception.

The closer for BSO’s 127th season will feature the first collaboration between the orchestra and a Wabanaki artist, Penobscot musician and multimedia creator Firefly. It will also be the BSO’s first full choral concert featuring area vocal ensembles since 2019, for a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, the “Ode to Joy.”

BSO Executive Director Brian Hinrichs first heard Firefly — a.k.a. Jason Brown, a member of the Penobscot Nation and a longtime Bangor-area artist — in October 2021, when he did a performance at the Bangor Arts Exchange. Hinrichs immediately saw an opportunity for the orchestra to highlight the work of a Wabanaki artist.

He brought the idea to both Richman and Brown and a plan was quickly hatched.

“[Brian] suggested to me that a collaboration with him could be a wonderful way for the Bangor Symphony to engage with members of the Wabanaki community,” Richman said.

For Brown, it’s been just one stop on his ongoing journey as a creator. Up until 2020, Brown crafted fine jewelry with his wife and partner, Donna Decontie Brown, as part of their Decontie & Brown jewelry and fashion line. When the pandemic hit, he began doing multimedia virtual performances of music he’d written on the side, which quickly snowballed into what is now Firefly — a multimedia art project combining traditional Wabanaki songs, dance, video art and live visual renderings.

Collaborating with an orchestra like the BSO helps to reimagine and continue the evolution of music that has been a part of Wabanaki tradition for thousands of years, Brown said.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to take our traditional music and bring it to an orchestral setting,” Brown said. “We really don’t know how old these songs are. Our people have lived here for close to 13,000 years. These songs have a lot of miles behind them and a lot in front of them. We all put our own flavor on these songs with each generation, so this is my way of doing that.”

Firefly’s piece that will be performed Sunday is called “Militakwat,” which is the Penobscot word for “it has all kinds of sounds.” It adapts three traditional Wabanaki songs: “Gwunu Dey,” a welcome song; “Tutuwas,” a women’s dance, and “Snake Dance.”

University of Maine conductor and musician Ben McNaboe arranged the three Firefly works for orchestra and chorus, resulting in a kind of conversation between Beethoven’s iconic “Ode to Joy” and the musical heritage of the Wabanaki people.

“[McNaboe] has done a magnificent job of arranging and orchestrating the music for this world premiere collaboration,” Richman said. “The inspiration comes from a very deep spiritual source and it has manifested into a beautiful musical companion to Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’”

The BSO’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 has been delayed for several years by pandemic restrictions.

Finally, though, the orchestra will be joined by the University Singers, the Oratorio Society and chamber choir Euphony to present one of the most beloved and recognizable pieces of classical music of all time. Soloists Amy Maples, soprano; Rehanna Thelwell, mezzo-soprano; Dominic Armstrong, tenor; and Benjamin LeClair, bass, will round out the ensemble.

The “Ode to Joy” will be a fitting send off for Hinrichs, who after 10 years is leaving the BSO in May to take a new job as executive director of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters.

“Some of my favorite programs have been ones where we expand our definition of classical music to include new voices, while also delivering audiences the iconic works from the repertoire that are not easily heard live in central Maine,” Hinrichs said. “This season finale really checks all of those boxes, and I could not be more proud and excited about what’s to come for the BSO.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.