Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
April 7-9, 2017
by Michael J. Moran
Earth is the only one of the eight known planets missing from the featured work on this program, Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets,” when he wrote it during World War I (Pluto came and went later). But the ninety-years-newer opening piece, “Liquid Interface,” filled that gap by exploring “water in its variety of forms” on earth. Composer Mason Bates notes in the program book that living near Lake Wannsee in Berlin inspired him to write it.
Maestra Carolyn Kuan helpfully preceded the HSO’s first-ever performance of “Liquid Interface” with a spoken introduction to each of its four movements, and brief excerpts played by orchestra members. A 40-year-old Philadelphia native, Bates has worked as a DJ in pop music clubs and incorporates electronic elements into many of his compositions. A laptop operator seated near the percussion section produced a range of atmospheric sounds throughout the 23-minute piece.
Recorded snippets of glaciers breaking into the Antarctic extend crashing orchestral chords in the first movement, “Glaciers Calving.” The following “Scherzo Liquido” has a lighter, more playful quality. The third movement, “Crescent City,” showcases big-band jazz in New Orleans. The quiet finale, “On the Wannsee,” depicts, in Bates’s words, “a kind of balmy, greenhouse paradise.” The HSO delivered this challenging but engaging score with flair and won a standing ovation from the enthralled audience.
No greater contrast with this lush ending could be imagined than the fierce martial tread of “Mars, the Bringer of War,” which Kuan and an enlarged orchestra invested with relentless power as they launched into “The Planets” after intermission. The tranquil “Venus, the Bringer of Peace” then restored the radiant glow of Bates’s finale. And so it went through the nimble energy of “Mercury, the Winged Messenger;” the robust optimism of “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity;” the solemn grace of “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age;” the awkward humor of “Uranus, the Magician;” and the eerie mystery of “Neptune, the Mystic.”
The musicians presented this colorful suite with emotional intensity and brilliant virtuosity. The seven-member choir that fades out at the end of “Neptune” brought the concert to a magical close.