Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 25, 2016

Battle of the Batons

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
January 21–24, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

The “battle” in this program title refers neither to the labor dispute between HSO musicians and management that was resolved just days before these concerts, nor to winter storm Jonas, which forced a rare cancellation of Saturday’s concert, but to a competition among three young musicians for the orchestra’s new Assistant Conductor position. Each led two pieces on the program, one with a featured HSO principal soloist and one with orchestra alone.

Valentino, Crust & Kerry Boyles
Principal Bassist Edward R. Rozie, Jr., opened with a rousing account of two movements from the second concerto for double bass and orchestra by 19th-century Italian composer and double bass player Giovanni Bottesini under the energetic baton of Adam Kerry Boyles. Robert McEwan next performed a haunting solo in the first movement of French composer and percussionist Emmanuel Sejourne’s jazzy 1999 concerto for vibraphone and orchestra, sumptuously led by Andrew Crust. Concertmaster Leonid Sigal closed the first half with a virtuoso rendition of Saint-Saens’ familiar "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" under the balletic direction of Patrick Valentino.

Based in Boston, and also a composer, Valentino followed intermission with a grand but lively reading of the "Overture" to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Also based in the Boston area and active as a choral and solo singer, Boyles next led an unusually flowing account of Debussy’s "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun". Based in Montreal and Colorado and also a music writer, Crust ended the evening with a colorful and vibrant presentation of the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s "Prince Igor."

The musicians responded beautifully to all three different personalities with polished and enthusiastic playing. While each conductor had a distinctive way of communicating his intentions – Valentino with kinetic energy, Boyles with technical precision, and Crust with fluid grace – any one of them would be a fine addition to the HSO roster.

The generous spirit of HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan, who had just taken a voluntary pay cut commensurate with that of orchestra members to reach a contract settlement, seemed to fill the Bushnell’s Belding Theater with new hope for the bright future of this essential ensemble.