Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 7, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks In-Depth

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT

December 4-9, 2020

by Michael J. Moran


The third program in the HSO’s monthly “Masterworks In-Depth” series of virtual conversations about music they would have played this season at concerts cancelled by the Covid pandemic will be available on the HSO web site through Wednesday, December 9, at 5:00 pm. Led by HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan, this 65-minute webinar focused on two of three pieces originally scheduled. 


This month’s concert was to feature some of her favorite music from Act I of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” including the battle of gingerbread soldiers and mice. Kuan noted that while the complete ballet wasn’t widely performed until half a century after its 1892 premiere, the familiar orchestral suite derived largely from Act II and published six months earlier was instantly popular. Recalling that she conducted the full score for New York City Ballet, she showed colorful video clips from their production, which morphed cleverly into a concert performance by the Rotterdam Philharmonic under an animated Yannick Nezet-Seguin.  


Speaking with Kuan via Zoom, German-born choreographer Miro Magloire, who founded New York-based New Chamber Ballet in 2004, marveled that Tchaikovsky “wasn’t happy with” his music for “The Nutcracker,” whose creative ‘rhythms and harmonies” Magloire finds “endlessly fascinating.” Discussing how he found his “voice” in dance, he stressed that since choreography is “an orally transmitted art form,” his work is always collaborative with both dancers and live musicians. 

Italian-born pianist Alessio Bax, who would have performed Grieg’s piano concerto with the HSO this month, next told Kuan via Zoom that his career started with a “small electric keyboard” he received at age seven from his parents. He echoed Rachmaninoff’s description of Grieg’s as a “perfect romantic concerto,” with “not a note wasted.” Bax also expressed his pleasure in playing chamber music with friends like violinist Joshua Bell, whom he partnered at the Bushnell last January.  

Kuan never mentioned Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture “The Tempest,” based on Shakespeare’s play, which the HSO had programmed this month and which she elsewhere called “even more dramatic, noble, and beautiful than his famous Romeo and Juliet.” But a delightful video clip of Bax and his wife, pianist Lucille Chung, playing his arrangement for piano four-hands of Piazzolla’s “Libertango” offered lively compensation.