The sounds of New Orleans jazz boogied into town Sunday in the form of Robert and Terry Rohe. Bob Rohe, who is 90, retired last year as principal bassist for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, but before that 25-year tenure, he played with the New Orleans Symphony for 30 years. The time down South deeply influenced his work as a composer. Last year, he retired but returned to the Maine Center for the Arts yesterday for the first time as an audience member for the opening concert of the BSO season. In a surprise ceremony honoring his work as a musician, composer and cello maker, Rohe was called to stage. Terry joined him.
There he received accolades from Susan Jonason, BSO executive director, and Maestro Xiao-Lu Li, as well as a prolonged standing ovation from the audience. But it’s likely the greatest honor came when members of the orchestra performed a few minutes of Rohe’s jazzy composition “Passages,” which he wrote in 2005 for his wife, a New Orleans TV personality and well-known devotee of that city’s cuisine. She was onstage with him when the music began and, at 89 and reliant on a cane, she still managed to shake her booty.
Those few minutes might have outshone the rest of the program had the orchestra not opened with an inspired rendition of the national anthem and followed it with an excellent reading of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture,” Op. 36. Maestro Li went for every dramatic color in the piece. His upbeats leapt high. His slows eased to the finish. This is one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s big works. And Li gorged on the gusto.
Yet there were moments that came from places more profound.
The trombones added a dignity and a kind of low sound that could only be called heart. And the tuba was somehow charming.
Guest soloist Alexandre Moutouzkine stayed with the big mood in the second half with a pounding version of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famed Piano Concerto No. 3.
With more flourish than feeling, the young Moutouzkine showed mighty talent, even dash, that undoubtedly someday will lead him to find more of the nuances, narrative and joy in the Rach 3. Where his virtuosity sometimes carried him away to a cloud of speed and volume, the BSO gracefully stepped in with elegance and romance.
The program also included Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” as much part of the day’s Russian lineup as it is identified with Halloween. Not much happens – or happened – in this climb.