It’s the final performance of the 2015 Springfield Symphony Orchestra season and the 71-year-old group has put together a timely show, The Rite of Spring with Spencer Myer on piano. Buses for retired living communities line the street outside. Inside Symphony Hall, the smell is all Jean Nate. The musicians are dressed in finery: the men in tuxes, the women in black dresses and slacks. The audience dressed for the orchestra, too. Conservative frocks for the women and sport coats for the men.

Photo by Thomas Bergeron

Like any good scene, it’s a place to be seen. I’ve been a journalist in the area for more than 10 years, and there are many familiar faces in the crowd. I think I spy Brian Hale, executive director of Springfield’s Bing Art Center. I shout-cough “Brian” as I walk by, but he doesn’t move. Maybe it wasn’t him. It’s 15 minutes before show time and the line for the bar is surprisingly short, maybe six people deep. Wine and beer for $6, but at least you can bring it into the theater instead of having to pound it before the show starts. Tickets to tonight’s performance are $20 and while the will call line is backed up, the purchase line — “Cash only” — is moving fast.

The lights flicker and the stragglers clutch their tickets and head into the hall to search for seats. Ornately decorated in Greek Revival style, the hall, which is at about three-quarters capacity, is a stirring sight. People marvel at the craftsmanship in the painting and carving, as well as in the iron work on those glittering chandeliers.
The orchestra is tuning up. Musicians rehearse their favorite and most challenging passages before it’s time to begin.

I am reminded of being in those seats on the stage, joking with the girls in the flute section or the boys on the tuba line to calm my nerves before a performance. I picked up my first instrument at age 7 and made making music a daily part of my life for 20 years. Writing eventually subsumed my art time, but even now, whenever I am near a stage I can feel the potential energy arcing below the floor boards. I can breath in the decades of staff paper, prop dust, and sweat and reconnect with my fierce need for self expression — and applause.

Maestro Kevin Rhodes steps up to the conductor’s stand and the orchestra opens with some Wagner. The overture to Tannhäuser is a delicate, lilting piece that at times crashes like waves on the rocks. Perhaps you’ve seen it performed by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in 1957’s “What’s Opera, Doc?” I’ll admit that’s how I was familiar with the masterpiece.
In the audience, it is mostly quiet except for the occasional cough, soft whispers, and the couple behind me who earn a stern stink eye.

The pianist plays a surprise solo. He wraps with a staccato pounce on the keys and the audience leaps to its feet in applause and whoops of approval. I’m surprised to hear whoops at the symphony, but man, Myers nailed it.

It’s gotten hot in the hall. I flip off my shoes and place my feet on the cool cement floor. A few seats down a man with dark frames and a white beard, thinning hair and red sweater sits with his back erect and eyes closed, a slight smile at the corner of his lips.

At intermission, people pour out into the cool night air through a delta of lobby doorways. In the lobby, people with sweat beading on their brows nudge their way through a jagged arpeggio of conversing friends and long lines for the bathroom and bar.

I’ve got another glass of chardonnay and it’s back to the hall for Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a celebration of the violent, messy side of birth and creation. The melancholy bassoon leads a wary path through the darkness and mayhem of the brooding melody. The rhythm, at times, punches and slashes its way upstream, blooming music in my brain.

After the show, I get lost in the hall’s many staircases, but eventually make my way to the Mahogany Room to say hello to a friend I haven’t seen in years; Thomas Bergeron, principal trumpet for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. He’s still wearing his tux, but he’s swapped out his tails for a leather bomber jacket. In the room, where members of the orchestra meet up with family and friends after the show, he’s speaking with some jolly musicians while two girls around age 13 eye him and twist their programs into rumpled cones.
“He’s very nice,” I say, “you should talk to him.” They titter. “Oh, no. He’s talking to people,” says one with red cheeks. “Can you believe he’s here,” she says to her friend.
I can. Bergeron, a South Hadley native, has always been a talented musician. He taught me how to blow brass back when we were teens playing together in the drum corps. I put my hand on his back and Bergeron turns, his face bursts into a smile as we hug. I want to say congratulations on all your success and thank you for a friendship I still cherish, but all I can muster is a crushingly obvious, “That was awesome.”•

— Kristin Palpini,