Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 15, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks In-Depth

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
October 9-11, 2020
by Michael J. Moran
Carolyn Kuan
Like all organizations in the arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra has been forced by the Covid pandemic to pivot its programming from live to virtual. While live concerts are scheduled to resume in January 2021, three cancelled fall 2020 concerts are being replaced by online programs about the music that would have been played at those concerts. 

The first in this “Masterworks In-Depth” series was presented last Friday-Sunday on what was to be the opening weekend of the HSO’s 77th season. Essentially an expanded version of the half-hour pre-concert talks led by charismatic Carolyn Kuan, now beginning her 10th season as HSO Music Director, this 75-minute webinar could hardly not be both entertaining and informative. 

Kuan began by discussing Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” which was to open this HSO program of music by American composers. She played video excerpts from a 1980 concert performance under Leonard Bernstein, with the composer narrating on his 80th birthday. Kuan then introduced actress Nilaja Sun, who has appeared at Hartford Stage and would have narrated Copland’s piece, with video footage of her career. They reviewed portions of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches in the text and their meaning to Sun as a 21st-century African American woman.
Next, Kuan introduced American composer Laura Karpman, whose 2019 “All American” overture was also on the program, with documentary footage about her career composing music for concert halls, films, and even video games. Karpman said she hoped to “amplify women composers” with this piece, which includes brief quotes from songs by early 20th-century composers Emily Wood Bower, Mildred Hill, and Anita Owen.
Kuan skillfully facilitated an enlightening conversation with Karpman and Sun about Bernstein’s score for “On the Waterfront,” also scheduled on the HSO program, while playing several brief excerpts and showing clips from the movie. She closed with “Somewhere” and “America” from the film of Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” from which the “Symphonic Dances” were also scheduled.
Like this one, the next Masterworks In-Depth program, November 6-8, will include live chats open to HSO subscribers on Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm, and the webinar recording will be available to anyone between 8:00 pm Friday and 5:00 pm Sunday.