The Maine Campus
By Kaylie Reese
September 11, 2011
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BSO begin season with guest Koh

Renowned violinist electrifies Collins Center crowd with emotional performance

The Bangor Symphony Orchestra premiered its 115th season Saturday at the Collins Center for the Arts with newly-appointed conductor and music director Lucas Richman, along with a captivating guest violinist, Jennifer Koh.

A prolific concert recitalist, Koh has played internationally and is well-known for her ability to bridge traditional classics with contemporary pieces, which creates a new means of insight to two seemingly unlike styles. One of her recent recordings, “String Poet,” received a Grammy nod for Best Chamber Music Performance.

Ari Mintz for The New York Times

After Richman held applause of gratitude to concert sponsors, he gave a brief overview of the evening, saying, “We are featuring dramatic masters to begin the season.”

The BSO musicians gently settled, postured themselves and began the night with Mozart’s Overture, “Cosi fan tutte,” translated as “So Do They All.” This is one of Mozart’s last operas and among the most frequently played in history.

The theme of drama was evident by the juxtaposition of delicate lines contrasted with full-bodied tones. One melodic theme continued to become layered as it circulated around the orchestra. This theme was transformed each time another group featured it, allowing it to build toward a theatrical end.

After a brief shuffling of chairs, the audience and orchestra waited. Then, out walked Koh in a stunning red dress and metallic silver shoes, a striking contrast to the uniform black attire and staging.

After she tuned her nearly 300-year-old concert violin, Koh stood stoically at the front of the orchestra, preparing herself.

The orchestra postured and began playing Max Bruch’s Violin Concertino No. 1 in G minor, opus 26. For the first part, “Vorspiel: Allegro moderato,” the orchestra began by setting up a dismal call, to which Koh answered in solo.

The stoicism of the call instantly melted away as she embodied the sincerity that her voice, the violin, was begging for. She commanded attention as her plea was unrestrained — there was no excuse for not believing the story she told.

As the orchestra filtered in, accompanying her melody, the plea eventually turned to a struggle, a passionate melancholy. Suddenly Koh was playing in solitude again, dropping into delicate, somber resolve.

The attitude suddenly changes in the “Adagio,” though it was no less fervent than before. Koh’s lines projected a confident air — a story which, though it was a world away from the previous appeals, still reflected back with glimpses of the prior theme.

The “Finale: Allegro Energetico,” resembled a dance. Koh’s song rejoiced with the excited accompanying orchestra to share in the celebration. The theme was graceful with a playful justice strewn in and reflected a hint of folk-like whimsy.

As the intensity of the piece grew, Koh’s eyes were tightly shut as the moment overtook her. She even stomped her foot at times, as if reinforcing her enthusiasm, though it seemed involuntary. By the end, a strand or two of broken horse hairs from Koh’s bow freed themselves and danced along, only to be quickly taken care of.

When the piece was finished, it received a near-instantaneous standing ovation. The applause sustained itself as Koh left the stage and returned several times. Koh then uttered something over the applause and the audience settled down.

She tuned and began to play an encore.

Although each note was crisp, they flowed together fantastically as a collective, making it all the more compelling. Each note stood independently, yet when heard as a whole, each note became equally dependent upon each other.

After a brief intermission, the BSO finished out the evening with Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, opus 68. Although Brahms felt shadowed by Beethoven’s virtuosity, he adored his brilliance. A theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is evidenced in Brahms’ First, as a means of homage to the symphony master.

Brahms provided a wall of harmonious sound to finish out the dramatic theme of the evening. Transcendent strings or floating melodies were grounded by an underlying slow, solemn, droning beat. The sound fluctuated in volume as it built intensity through this dynamic effect. Brahms’ ability to demonstrate majesty and grandeur through his music was certainly evident throughout the symphony.

The concert ended with another standing ovation. The stylistic diversity and drama of the music was truly a testament to the talent of the BSO.

Their next concert, “Totally Beethoven,” will feature guest pianist Benjamin Hochman and is scheduled for Oct. 30 at the CCA.

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