Old and new music dazzle in unforgettable Bangor symphony concert

Bangor Symphony Orchestra Conductor and Music Director Lucas Richman combined music written in the 18th, 19th and 21st centuries for  a stunning concert Jan. 28 at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono.

Entitled, “Past, Present, Future: Bach and Beyond,” the performance of a new work by Nathan Shields and the performance by guest piano soloist Awadagin Pratt thrilled the audience. This concert will be remembered as one of the best ever offered under Richman’s baton in his 14-year tenure.

Shields, who teaches at St. John’s College and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research in New York City, turned to Maine’s jagged landscape for inspiration “Peregrine.”

He described the piece in the concert program as “in part a portrait of America’s wild place, particularly Maine’s Acadia National Park, where the peregrine falcon roosts. But the word peregrine also means pilgrim or wanderer, and the piece is also an exploration of the wild places in us. The music reflects this double meaning, alternating between animal ferocity and restless introspection.”

The piece is savage and serene, just like the landscape in the park and beyond. “Peregrine” so perfectly captured the experience of being in that beauty that concert goers could see the rocky cliffs, smell the salt spray and hear the cries of the falcon in flight. Shields described the piece as “raucous and contemplative” with “an explosive close” and the audience felt that intensely as people rose to their feet in gratitude.

Pratt, the only graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore to receive diplomas in three performance areas – piano, violin and conducting — played Johann Sebastian Bach, Keyboard Concerto No. 4 in A major, written in 1738, and Jessie Montgomery’s “Rounds,” composed two years ago.

The pianist traveled easily from the 18th to the 21st century capturing Bach’s dazzling arpeggios and the buoyant rhythm of that piece and the compelling rondo, or round, within a rondo that Montgomery wrote for Pratt. The composer was inspired by the T.S. Eliot’s epic poem “Four Quartets.”

While Pratt appeared to lovingly caress the keyboard in playing Bach, he seemed to attack it while performing the newer piece. The pianist also reached into the instrument to pluck the strings during the improvised cadenza. It was a rare and extraordinary performance that brought the audience to its feet and demanded a brief encore from Pratt, who teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The concert concluded with Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 in A major, which is also known as the Italian symphony because the work was inspired by the composer’s trip to that country in 1830 when he was 21. It is one of the only symphonies to begin a major key and end in a minor one, Richman told the audience. The orchestra joyously brought Mendelssohn’s experiences there to life.

There really aren’t enough adjectives to adequately capture the perfection of this concert. Pratt’s passionate performance and Shields’ lushly layered “Peregrine” took Richman and his orchestra soaring to a new level of excellence. This concert was simply awesome and unforgettable with every note played.

“Past, Present, Future: Bach and Beyond” is available for streaming through Feb. 14. For information, visit bangorsymphony.org.