Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 21, 2014

Opening Nights: Porgy and Bess

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
October 16–19, 2014
by Michael J. Moran
Carolyn Kuan

The HSO website calls the weekend of concerts opening their 71st season “a monumental journey commemorating struggle, bravery and hope (through) passionate anthems of independence.” All four pieces on the program fit this description in varied ways.

While HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan began with the traditional season-opening “Star Spangled Banner,” this lavish presentation included not only the HSO musicians but the Hartford Chorale, whose male and female voices expressed that passion for independence with explicit fervor.

The jubilant performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” that followed kept the Chorale onstage to sing in English the haunting Russian hymn “God, Preserve Thy People” at the outset and the Russian national hymn “God Save the Czar” at the end. With the large orchestra further amplified by voices, these familiar melodies sounded respectively even more somber and celebratory than usual. 

The first half of the program concluded with the HSO premiere of Japanese composer Tadao Sawai’s 1985 piece “Flying Like a Bird” for koto and orchestra, featuring, in her HSO debut, Japanese koto player Mayaso Ishigure. The koto is a stringed instrument that sounds like a zither and looks like a dulcimer. Its exotic sound and Ishigure’s virtuosity rendered the sound of flight as vividly as any instrument could. The enthusiastic audience called her back for a lovely solo encore that depicted another bird with traditional Japanese harmonies.

An exuberant account of a 40-minute suite from Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” closed the concert after intermission. The orchestra was joined in many selections by soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, bass-baritone Kevin Deas, the Hartford Chorale, and/or the First Cathedral Praises of Zion Choir.

All the musicians were in top form, with Chandler-Eteme radiant in “Summertime” and poignant in “My Man’s Gone Now,” while Deas displayed deep feeling in “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and great comic timing in “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” It was fun to watch the enlarged choir follow his movement cues when he swayed, bowed, or even jumped on several occasions.

The HSO’s new season is off to a promising and exciting start.