Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 12, 2023

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Tchaikovsky & Pride"

The Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT 
June 9-11, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Carolyn Kuan
The HSO and Music Director Carolyn Kuan closed their 2022-2023 “Masterworks” series on a festive note, celebrating Pride Month with a program of a classic popular symphony and two world premieres, both commissioned by the orchestra. 

It began with a white-hot reading of the sixth symphony, the last completed work by Tchaikovsky, who, as Kuan noted in opening remarks, “struggled with his sexuality,” and died mysteriously a week after conducting its premiere in St. Petersburg, Russia, in October 1893. From a vivid “Adagio-Allegro non troppo,” a glowing “Allegro con grazia,” and a brilliant “Allegro molto vivace,” to a devastating “Adagio lamentoso” finale, Kuan drew playing of deep conviction from her musicians, which fully reflected the Russian translation of the symphony’s nickname, “Pathetique,” as “passionate.”      

Next came an exciting account of HSO inaugural artist-in-residence Quinn Mason’s short rhapsody, “She Dreams of Flying,” dedicated to Kuan, whom he calls “one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.” It featured an offstage trumpet, played evocatively by HSO assistant principal trumpet John Charles Thomas, who was gradually joined by his colleagues across the ensemble in this “tribute to persistence and inspiration.” Their warm advocacy for the piece suggested the pride they took in collaborating with their creative partner. 

The concert ended with a heartfelt rendition of “Stonewall 69,” a suite from English composer Iain Bell’s 2019 opera “Stonewall,” which was commissioned by New York City Opera and premiered there under Kuan. The colorful first movement, “Downtown, tonight,” introduced several characters in the opera; the dramatic second, “No…just NO!,” depicted resistance to a June 1969 police raid on Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn that launched a national gay rights movement; and the peaceful finale, “The Light of Day,” portrayed, in Bell’s words, “a sense of hope and emboldened responsibility to effect change.” The music’s visceral impact was amplified by visual artist Yuki Izumihara’s historical and abstract images simultaneously projected over the Belding Stage.      

With engaging live introductions to both world premieres by their composers, this program was a personal triumph for Kuan, who not only welcomed members of the LGBTQ+ community to the hall but also emphasized the uniquely healing power of music to bring people together.