Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 11, 2022

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "American Adventures"

The Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT 
October 7-9, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Valerie Coleman
For the first weekend of its 2022-2023 “Masterworks” series, the HSO and their Music Director Carolyn Kuan treated audiences to an engaging mix of new and familiar works by four varied American composers, each depicting in some way the adventurous American spirit. They moved without pause from a lively rendition of the traditional season-opening national anthem into the newest piece on the official program, Valerie Coleman’s 2020 “Seven O’Clock Shout.” 

Written, in the composer’s words, to celebrate the “heartwarming ritual of evening serenades” which thanked frontline workers during Covid lockdowns, this exuberant 5-minute “anthem that embodies the struggles and triumph of humanity” drew playing of joyful conviction from the musicians, including enthusiastic vocal shouts in a nod to the “African call and response style” of Coleman’s heritage. 

This was followed by, astonishingly, the HSO’s first-ever performance of Ferde Grofe’s popular five-movement 1931 “Grand Canyon Suite.” Kuan led a colorful account of this cinematic score, with jazzy inflections that honored its original version for Paul Whiteman’s dance band: the first movement, “Sunrise,” built from a hushed opening to a grand climax; “The Painted Desert” was haunting and mysterious; “On the Trail” veered from an easygoing trot to the riotous bray of a burro; “Sunset” was calm and radiant; and “Cloudburst” brought the suite to a dramatic close.   

Next came the eight-section suite from Aaron Copland’s 1944 “Appalachian Spring.” Composed for Martha Graham’s dance company, the Pulitzer Prize-winning ballet portrays, according to the score, “a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early…19th century.” The HSO was spirited in the faster sections and luminous in the slower ones, including the “calm and flowing” scene that features five variations on the classic Shaker melody, “Simple Gifts.”   

Bringing the program to an exuberant close, complete with saxophones, tom-toms, and taxi horns, was a brilliant performance of George Gershwin’s 1928 paean to the city of light, “An American in Paris.” You don’t need to know every stop on the adventurous, though occasionally homesick, tourist’s itinerary to get caught up in the sweep of this vivid travelogue, which kept the HSO brass and percussionists especially happy and audiences humming all the way home.