Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 6, 2022

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Breaking Beethoven"

Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT 
December 2-4, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

BRKFST Dance Company
Leave it to canny programmer and HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan not only to put
Beethoven and breakdancing on the same concert but together in that composer’s arduous “Grosse Fuge,” with which she and the orchestra’s strings daringly opened the third program of their 2022-2023 “Masterworks” series. It was an inspired choice, as the athletic group and individual movements of the eight-member Minnesota-based BRKFST Dance Company, founded in 2014, made the daunting 16-minute score, even in this lucid performance, easier for the audience to follow. 

The next piece on the program, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR)’s 2010 “Dancers, Dreamers, and Presidents,” was a more natural fit for the dancers. Inspired by a brief 2007 dance between presidential candidate Barack Obama and Ellen DeGeneres on her TV show, this eclectic 21-minute tone poem drew on the Haitian-American composer’s background in rock, hip-hop, and jazz. The white-hot ensemble, enlarged by a drum kit and synthesizer, and amplified with audacious BRKFST choreography, joyously realized DBR’s vision of “instruments…combining, layering, and ‘dancing’ with one another.”     

HSO Artist in Residence Quinn Mason, a 26-year-old African-American composer and conductor based in Dallas, Texas, then introduced his 2020 piece “Immerse,” which he called “a study in texture” influenced by Messiaen. The committed rendition by Kuan and the orchestra of this meditation, which also reflects the sound world of Copland, offered a quiet contrast in instrumental timbres to DBR’s blazing colors. 
The program closed with a vigorous account of Beethoven’s rarely heard 1802 second symphony, whose sunny disposition belied the anguish he was feeling at the time from a rejected marriage proposal and the onset of his deafness. The opening “Adagio Molto-Allegro con brio” was brisk and bracing, the “Larghetto,” graceful and flowing, the “Scherzo: Allegro,” playful and boisterous, and the “Allegro Molto” finale, an exuberant race to the finish line. 

Speaking early in the concert, Kuan explained pairing Beethoven with breakdancing as a way of reaching out to everyone in the HSO’s potential audience and thanked her listeners for supporting this programming strategy. The diverse make-up of the enthusiastic overflow crowd suggested that she and the HSO are helping to build a healthy future for classical music in America.