Thrilling is the only word that aptly describes the opening concert for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s 127th season under the baton of maestro
Lucas Richman. It was big. It was bold. It was boisterous. And it featured a stunning performance by 20-year-old cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing, who wowed concertgoers with more than her sublime interpretation of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. Chicago native Ali-Landing’s performances have been captured on video since she was 6 years old. Viewers can watch her grow up and her playing mature in videos on YouTube. She also has appeared as a guest on “From the Top,” a public radio program that features young classical musicians.
One of them shows her speaking to a group of students.
“Typically, when people imagine a classical musician, they think of an older white man, an Asian boy or a South Asian girl,” Ali-Landing told a group of students when she was 16. “Probably at the bottom of that list is a little African-American girl.”
Nothing about Ali-Landing seemed “little” on Sunday. Her passion for the music, her precision in bringing it alive and her outgoing personality owed over the audience just as the wide skirt of her bright brocade red dress cascaded from her hips to the floor. It was so visually stunning that concertgoers said, “Wow,” as she walked on stage.
All ears and eyes were glued to Ali-Landing as she closed her eyes, swayed slightly as she played and captured all the sorrow and joy Dvorak expressed in writing the concerto in the mid-1890s as he prepared to leave the U.S. for his beloved Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic.
Ali-Landing is a junior at the Cleveland Institute of Music and won the prestigious first prize when she was 14 in the Sphinx Competition’s Junior Division. As her star rises in the classical world, concertgoers who saw her Sunday will remember fondly hearing and seeing her perform at the Collins Center with their hometown symphony orchestra.
To open the program, Richman chose Nancy Galbraith’s “Fantasy for Orchestra.” It was a raucous and joyous piece to open the almost-back-to normal times after a season of streaming in 2020 and 2021 and shorter programs last season.
“Fantasy for Orchestra” premiered in 2003 when the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania celebrated its 75th anniversary. The composer is the chair of composition at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music in Pittsburgh. She wrote of the piece that it begins with “a dramatic and highly energetic theme stated immediately in the violins. The range of expression is wide, moving from dance-like rhythms — making use of irregular meters — to rather dreamy textures.” The composition also gave the Bangor Symphony Orchestra percussion section an opportunity to shine as the work calls for the use of gongs, cowbells, glockenspiel, xylophone, cymbals and various types of drums, including bongos and tom toms.
Richman’s selection of Galbraith’s orchestral celebration is part of his mission to bring the works of living and female composers to an audience that often is unfamiliar with their work. The Nov. 20 concert will include works by Augusta Holmes and Clara Schumann along with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.
After the orchestra pinned concertgoers to their seats with the boisterous opening piece, Richman led musicians in a moving performance of Bela Bartok’s “Dance Suite.” First performed in the 1920s, the piece features elements of Hungarian, Romanian, Slovakian and North African folk music. The piece allowed the brass and reed sections to shine, especially during the eerie fourth movement.
Sunday’s concert truly showed how much the musicianship of the orchestra has matured under Richman’s leadership. The symphony expertly captured all the beauty and boldness of “Fantasy for Orchestra,” joyfully conveyed the movement of Bartok’s “Dances” and subtly portrayed Dvorak’s longing for home while allowing Ali-Landing to shine like a beacon atop a Maine lighthouse.
The concert featuring Ifetayo Ali-Landing is available for streaming through Oct. 26 at watch.bangorsymphony.org.
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