Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 10, 2014


Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
through June 8, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

Carolyn Kuan
As the exclamation point after its title suggests, the goal of HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan in designing this program must have been not only to dazzle her listeners but to end the orchestra’s 70th anniversary season on a high note.

The trumpet fanfare that opens Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” got the concert off to a rousing start. This is one of several Italian melodies the composer heard when visiting Rome in 1880 and quoted in this musical memento of his trip. The HSO and Kuan deftly rendered the piece’s shifting moods, from the somber main theme after the fanfare to the exuberant closing tarantella.

In complete contrast to the high spirits of Tchaikovsky’s curtain raiser, the program continued with the radiant “Flute Concerto No. 1 in G Major” by his favorite composer, Mozart. Principal HSO flutist Greig Shearer was the mellifluous soloist, and his colleagues supported him with a delicate performance of classical poise.

After intermission, this quietest selection on the program was followed by the loudest: the Hartford premiere of up-and-coming American composer Mason Bates’ “Alternative Energy for Orchestra and Electronica.” In opening comments, the Maestra explained its four movements (depicting energy sources at different times and places), and orchestra members demonstrated such exotic sounds as a car muffler and a hubcap (Kuan praised principal HSO percussionist Robert McEwan for finding them in a local junkyard).

Despite some harsh moments of clashing dissonance, this colorful score is compulsively listenable, and electronic sounds from a laptop enhanced its drama. The huge orchestra played it with flair, and the near-capacity audience loved it.

Closing the program was its crowd-pleasing title piece, Ravel’s “Bolero.” Like the jazz bands that inspired the composer in the 1920's, all the musicians stood to play their solos. Later, 10 members of the University of Connecticut Drum line marched onto the stage from throughout the hall, each playing the same ostinato rhythm on a snare drum with which the music had begun.

The HSO has in Kuan an inspiring leader who draws memorable performances from her orchestra and a canny programmer who educates and entertains her audiences.