Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 6, 2015

Opening Nights: New World Visions

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
October 1–4, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

The HSO website calls the weekend of concerts opening their 72nd season as showcasing “music by composers who were inspired by diverse musical traditions and genres to create visionary new works.” All three pieces on the program fit this description in sometimes surprising ways.

It opened not with a traditional overture but with John Adams’ “Shaker Loops,” a 25-minute score in four movements for strings, which “shake” as they oscillate between notes and suggest the motion of Shakers dancing at their worship services. In this early example of musical minimalism, featuring repetition of slowly changing chords, the HSO strings shimmered with a radiant glow in the slow “Hymning Slews” movement and throbbed with passion in the thrilling finale, “A Final Shaking.”

Digital artist Christopher Gerson enhanced the often spellbinding music with video projections of light over water and other outdoor images through the course of a day. 
Caroline Goulding

Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto #1 is such a warhorse that it’s hard to hear it as the “visionary new work” it may have been in 1868, but 22-year-old American soloist Caroline Goulding played it with a youthful swagger and conviction that made it sound new again. Her tone was rich and vibrant in the opening “Prelude,” soft and poignant in the lovely “Adagio,” bold and heroic in the lively “Finale.” Called “precociously gifted” by Gramophone magazine, this rising star should have a bright musical future.

A full-blooded account of Dvorak’s ninth, or “New World,” symphony closed the concert after intermission. Inspired by African American and Native American music that the composer heard while working in New York during the 1890s, this “visionary new work” suggested a previously unexplored direction for American composers. While Kuan’s tempos were mostly conventional, she and the musicians brought fresh depth of feeling to the familiar “Largo” and rare urgency to the last two movements.

Ever ready to surprise her audience, Kuan led the HSO in the traditional season-opening “Star-Spangled Banner” at concert’s end, where it risked no clash with Adams’ opening serenity and served as a rousing encore. This is a maestra with potent imagination.