Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 14, 2016

An American in Paris: World Winds

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
June 9-12, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

While the title for these concerts came from the famous 1928 program opener by George Gershwin, the subtitle appears to have come from Argentine-born Osvaldo Golijov’s 2007 “Rose of the Winds,” here given its Hartford premiere. Woodwinds begin the finale of the program closer, Rachmaninoff’s 1940 “Symphonic Dances,” but the varied character of these three pieces is justification enough to bring them together.

Gershwin’s symphonic poem got the evening off to an exuberant start and gave all sections of the orchestra a chance to show off. Percussion and brass had a particular field day, with special kudos to principal trumpet Scott McIntosh and principal trombone Brian Diehl for their jazzy solo spots. Kuan had the entire ensemble sounding jubilant and looking joyful.

Golijov’s piece is a concerto for orchestra and four instruments rarely featured in classical
Christina Pato
music: kamancheh, a traditional Iranian violin played by Kayhan Kalhor; klezmer clarinet, played by David Krakauer; Galician bagpipe, played by Cristina Pato; and accordion, played by Michael Ward-Bergeman. Its four movements incorporate several Christian and Jewish musical themes and many exotic sounds, including a vocal ritual for the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe recorded in Chiapas, Mexico, and culminating in a stunning chorus of ten shofars, or ram’s horns, played by the HSO brass section.

The flashiest soloist was Pato, whom Yo-Yo Ma has called a “rock star,” and who enhanced her dramatic playing with shouts of enthusiasm, but the other three were equally committed, nowhere more so than in a riveting five-minute improvised encore.

The three “Symphonic Dances” were Rachmaninoff’s last work, and while they reflect his familiar melancholy temperament and Russian heritage, they also speak in a more twentieth-century language than most of his earlier orchestral music. The opening movement features the only saxophone solo in his work, and it was played with soulful beauty by Carrie Koffman. Glistening percussion gave all three movements a modern-sounding edge, and Kuan handled the tricky tempo shifts throughout the piece with masterful sensitivity.

This program brought a challenging season for this indispensable ensemble to a brilliant close and a hopeful future.