Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 8, 2021

Review: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein & Copland

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
November 5-7, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Music Director Carolyn Kuan’s first “Masterworks” appearances on the HSO podium this season found the energized Maestra and her musicians in a festive mood. No sooner did she bound onto the Belding stage to tumultuous applause than the orchestra burst into “Buckaroo Holiday,” the first of the four dance episodes from Aaron Copland’s 1942 ballet “Rodeo” that opened this program of music by four American composers. 

After pausing to welcome late arrivers through her mask (most HSO members and the entire audience were masked), she led accounts of the gentle “Corral Nocturne,” the courtly “Saturday Night Waltz,” and the exhilarating “Hoe-Down” that matched the jubilant opener in the musicians’ palpable joy at playing live music for receptive listeners. 

Leonid Signal
Kuan helpfully introduced two recent pieces by living composers, starting with the last two movements of Wynton Marsalis’s 2015 violin concerto, with HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal as soloist. Known mainly as a jazz musician, Marsalis is also a classically trained trumpeter and composer who studied at Tanglewood and Juilliard. The eclectic musical traditions of his native New Orleans pervade the sensuous languor of the concerto’s slow “Blues” movement and the rollicking ebullience of its “Hootenanny” finale, complete with hand clapping and foot stomping musicians and a march played by a standing brass line, including a Sousaphone tuba.

Sigal’s lively encore, Marsalis’ “Bye-Bye Breakdown,” for solo violin invites (and received) enthusiastic audience foot stomping.   

Next came a dramatic rendition of nine “symphonic dances” which Leonard Bernstein arranged into a concert suite from his 1957 musical “West Side Story.” The large percussion section played its huge array of instruments with special fervor, from rattling guiros and clattering woodblocks to thundering congas, punctuated by shouts from players and audience alike in “Mambo.” The visceral commitment of the whole ensemble throughout deepened the poignancy of the quiet finale, as Tony dies in Maria’s arms.

In explaining why she ended the program with Laura Karpman’s 2019 overture “All American,” Kuan cited Karpman’s intention to honor forgotten women composers in quoting patriotic songs by three of them as a hopeful note to close on, with hard-working HSO percussionists making ironically beautiful music with kitchen tools like pots, pans, and silverware.