Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 15, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Masterworks In-Depth

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT

March 12-17, 2021

by Michael J. Moran


For the sixth episode of the HSO’s monthly “Masterworks In-Depth” series of virtual conversations about music, they would have played live this season but for Covid will be available on the HSO website through Wednesday, March 17, at 5:00 pm. Led by HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan, this 67-minute webinar focused on the major work she originally programmed - what “may actually be my favorite Beethoven symphony,” his Seventh.


Kuan began by celebrating the variety of ways, from tempos and types of instruments to sizes of orchestras, in which she’s seen the symphony performed. This range of styles was clear in several video clips she showed, from John Eliot Gardiner leading his Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra in the first movement to Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in the finale. A series of film clips using the famous “Allegretto” second movement, from 1934’s Boris Karloff feature “The Black Cat” to the 2010 hit “The King’s Speech,” was especially entertaining.


Lu Sun Friedman
In the second half of the program, Kuan spoke via Zoom with two HSO musicians - second violinist Lu Sun Friedman; and cellist Peter Zay – about their backgrounds and their experience with Beethoven’s Seventh. Born in Beijing, China, to non-musical parents, Friedman started playing violin at age 7 and moved to California at age 12. Zay was born in New York City into a musical family, grew up in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, and began studying cello at age 6 with his mother.

Both first played Beethoven’s Seventh as young adults and shared their impressions of the second movement. Friedman hears it as “almost a funeral march” but with strong “ethereal” overtones of “yearning.” Zay sees “flowers” and “sunshine” when a clarinet and bassoon duet shifts the music into a major key several minutes in. They also discussed with Kuan their pre-(and post-) pandemic work in Hartford schools as members of the HSO-based Mosaic String Trio.


Kuan thoughtfully ended the program with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of young Israeli and Arab musicians playing the “Allegretto” under their founding conductor, Daniel Barenboim, as a tribute to Beethoven’s faith in human brotherhood.