September 18, 2020

Istomin splendid as BSO starts 95th year

Music review

The Maine Center for the Arts resounded with applause Sunday as the Bangor Symphony Orchestra opened its 95th season with guest pianist Eugene Istomin. Patrons filled the concert hall and listened intently as the BSO filled the air with Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture, Op. 124 and Piano Concerto No. 4 in G. Op. 58, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 47.

The orchestra, under the direction of Werner Torkanowsky, got off to a slow start with the Consecration of the House Overture. The piece moved from a slow section to a fugue, and the slower section lacked the poignancy and energy that marked the rest of the evening. The performance was competent and fluent, but not spectacular.

When Eugene Istomin joined the BSO for the Piano Concerto, the evening took flight. Istomin is a pianist extraordinaire, and his exquisitely lyrical and amazingly complex style brought the BSO to life. With meticulously pure sounds, Istomin strolled through trills and surprisingly jazzy chord progressions that were breathtaking and splendid.

The concerto, which Beethoven premiered himself in 1808, has the feel of an improvisational number, and Istomin worked beautifully with this responsibility. He moved from sentimental to serious without ever touching melodrama or indulgence, and his playfulness at the keyboard never compromised the grace of the composition.

His obvious rapport with Torkanowsky — and with the BSO — made his guest performance even more delightful to watch and hear.

The final number, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, was a powerful performance by the BSO. In the first movement, the brass section was noticeably weak, but the piece only gathered strength as it moved onto the haunting introspection and teasing irreverence of the other movements. During this final piece, the BSO was truly spectacular and exhuberant, and the audience rewarded the players with proud applause and a standing ovation.

After the concert, BSO patrons gathered in the Bodwell Dining Hall for hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Before cutting a commemorative cake, several BSO officials addressed the crowd. President Deedy Schiro said the “BSO is primed to meet the challenges of a new century” and encouraged supporters to be “united, active and connected with each other.” Schiro also read a letter from the White House which forwarded “hearty congratulations” to the prestigious BSO from President and Mrs. Bush.

Torkanowsky thanked his predecessors, Miles Morgan and Peter Re (both of whom were in attendance), for their work with the BSO. The achievements of the orchestra were only possible, he said, because the previous conductors had set an example of a commitment to excellence. Torkanowsky called the BSO a “cultural force in the community” and said it was not entertainment but a “life enforcing quality.”

Dr. Robert Clukey, chairman of the BSO 95th Celebration Committee, and Bruce Munger, president of Casco Northern Bank (the concert sponsor), also addressed the festive patrons before joining Torkanowsky and Schiro in cutting the cake.

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