Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 6, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven 7

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
October 1-3, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

After a twenty-month Covid-induced hiatus, the HSO’s first weekend of three live “Masterworks” series performances at the Belding Theater surrounded a 2019 novelty with two favorite pillars of the standard classical repertoire and introduced a promising guest conductor and a multi-talented composer/soloist to Hartford audiences.

Joseph Young
Following a rousing all-hands-on-deck season-launching national anthem, no better welcome-back opener could be imagined than Rossini’s iconic 1829 “William Tell” Overture, whose themes are familiar to generations of “Lone Ranger” and Looney Tunes cartoons viewers. Joseph Young, Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony and Artistic Director of Ensembles at the Peabody Conservatory, led a dynamic account, from a radiantly quiet beginning played by five cellos, through a turbulent brass-dominated mid-section, to a triumphal closing march. 

This joyful mood continued with Brazilian-American composer Clarice Assad’s “E Gol! (“Goal!”) for Orchestra, Vocalist, and Audience Members,” featuring Assad herself as vocalist. Its six short movements depict Brazilian female soccer star Marta Vieira da Silva preparing for a big match. Following instructions projected above the stage and coached by Assad, the audience gamely scatted, slapped their legs, and otherwise joined the musicians in sounding out the colorful score. Highlights included a spooky “Nightmare,” a serene “Meditation,” and an energizing percussion-driven “Samba Party.” Assad’s vocal improvisations were often jazz- inspired and always fun.    
The concert ended with a vibrant rendition of Beethoven’s seventh symphony. It can be hard for a conductor to bring new insights to such a familiar masterpiece, but Young did just that with the HSO. Their measured approach to the first movement’s “Poco sostenuto” opening gave its “Vivace” main theme a rare and exhilarating grandeur; their stately tempo in the “Allegretto” made it sound dreamier than usual; they revealed a playful, almost Mendelssohnian grace in the “Presto” scherzo; and their visceral power in the “Allegro con brio” finale brought the piece to a thrilling climax.   
Their next weekend “Masterworks” program, “Bernstein & Copland,” will feature HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan and HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal on November 5-7, 2021.  

The HSO requires proof of vaccination and a valid ID for entry into the Bushnell and masking at all times in the hall.