Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 15, 2013

70th Anniversary Opening Night

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
October 11–12, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Carolyn Kuan opened her third season as Music Director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra with an imaginative program of three works that featured two contrasting solo instruments.

The version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor that began the concert included not only the solo organ for which it was originally written but the full orchestra in a transcription by Leopold Stokowski. Organist Edward Clark and the brass and string players made the most of their prominent roles in this dramatic account. The Bach was followed by an unannounced but delightfully effervescent performance of the rousing Overture to Smetana’s comic opera The Bartered Bride.

Like last year, Kuan included in this opening night program not only a piece but also a performer reflecting her Chinese heritage. Wu Man was the crowd-pleasing soloist in Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra, written in 1997 for a festival celebrating the 80th birthday of the Oregon-born composer, who died in 2003. The pipa is an ancient Chinese lute with a short neck and four silk strings, and Ms. Wu was the soloist in that 1997 premiere.

The highlight of the half-hour-long concerto was the second of its four movements, called “Bits and Pieces,” with sections like “Three Sharing,” in which the pipa and principal cello and bass players struck the wood on their instruments for some dazzling percussive effects. Ms. Wu plucked her pipa with such obvious enjoyment and winning virtuosity that the enthusiastic audience called her back for a lovely traditional Chinese encore called “White Snow in Spring.”  

A highly charged reading of Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony,” followed intermission. Clark again played the Bushnell organ with appropriate languor in the lush Poco Adagio second movement and majesty in the maestoso finale. The full orchestra played all four movements with excitement and precision.

A notable result of Maestra Kuan’s educational outreach efforts to the local community was the participation in the Bach and Smetana pieces by members of the Connecticut Youth Orchestra. Prepared by their Music Director Daniel D’Addio, they blended seamlessly with the HSO.