Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 20, 2011

Masterworks Series: No. 6

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
March 17, 2011
by Terry Larsen

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra initiated a new era in its illustrious history with the hiring of Carolyn Kuan, its ninth music director. If this concert is any indication, her tenure will be marked by vigor, innovation, and great musical reward for this fine orchestra and its devoted audience. The program may be a hint of what is to come, a mixture of old and new - led with clear gestures and a surety of command remarkable in a person of 29 years.

Kuan and the HSO ushered the audience into the world of "minimalism" with John Adams' The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra), a concert piece drawn from his opera Nixon in China. Its short cells of musical data, driven by relentless repetition and melodic inversion, result in a sense of "phase shifting." This compositional method produced a shimmering effect that is not so different from the sort of perpetual motion found in the works of Bach; however, the style can be a shock at first hearing…in this case, a shock of delight as gauged by the enthusiastic response of the audience.

Barbara Hill, Principal Horn, took center stage to play Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major. Hill played with crisp technique and immaculate intonation, a slender vision of russet hair and gown, stage lights gleaming off of golden horn. Every turn, dynamic nuance, and rippling virtuosic passage effortlessly soared above a perfectly balanced orchestral foundation. Mozart's lyricism, harmonic compass, and balanced melodic phrases provided a notable contrast to the opening selection.

The final piece brought the audience to familiar territory as the series of musical vignettes found in Mussorgsky's beloved Pictures at an Exhibition spun through the hall. Once again, Kuan led with sure control of each moment. From the opening declaration of the brassy Promenade, through the final triumphant portrait of The Great Gates of Kiev, the kaleidoscope of orchestral timbres required by Ravel's orchestration were deftly delivered by the HSO.   

This rewarding debut bodes will for the future of the HSO and its audience under Carolyn Kuan's direction!