By Mark G. Auerbach
After experiencing the rock concert exhilaration of the recent MOSSO: Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra concert with Maestro Kevin Rhodes, and knowing that MOSSO’s soon-to-be-announced performance roster is still a few weeks down the road, I ventured to Hartford to catch a performance of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. The HSO is our closest option for professional-quality large symphonic music performances these days, and their programming — this concert featuring music of Aaron Copland, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” and a jazz work for orchestra by Wynton Marsalis — was worth the road trip.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra both have a lot in common. Their concert halls are exquisite. The Bushnell’s intimate Belding Theatre, across the foyer from the larger hall where the Broadway musicals play, is comfortable and spacious, more intimate than Springfield Symphony Hall. Both venues are surrounded by convenient, well-lit, free parking. Both orchestras have dynamic conductors. Hartford’s Maestra Carolyn Kuan, with a distinguished career in concert venues and opera houses worldwide, came to America to go to high school at Northfield Mount Hermon. She got her college degree at Smith.
You may spot some familiar faces amongst the musicians. Violinist Candace Lammers grew up in Longmeadow. Violist James Gustafson, bass player Mark Zechel, bassoonist Yeh Chi Wang, trombonist Brian Diehl, and tuba player Stephen Perry are current or former members of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and MOSSO.
The HSO captured the rugged west with Aaron Copland’s quartet of music from his ballet, “Rodeo,” originally choreographed by Agnes DeMille, and then went smooth with Wynton Marsalis’ Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra, with concertmaster Leonid Sigal in the spotlight, and Stephen Perry on sousaphone. The second half of the program opened with the vibrant Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” a pulsating tour de force and crowd pleaser equally at home in the classical and pops realms. Laura Karpman’s “All American” celebrates the music of American women composers. It’s a new work, written in 2019 to open a Hollywood Bowl pops concert. Karpman has versatile credentials, writing for film operas, and ballet, and a slew of Emmy Awards for her work. “All American” is exciting.
The Copland and the Bernstein pieces were created for dance, or in the case of the latter, dance sequences in a powerhouse of a dance musical. The Marsalis piece is cool and jazzy, and the Karpman piece conjures up Americana with every rhythm in the kitchen sink. Great program choices, performed with style to an enthusiastic audience.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks Series continues on Dec. 3-5 with a program showcasing the music of Tchaikovsky and Grieg, featuring Maestra Kuan and pianist Gabriela Martinez. Program highlights will include Grieg’s incidental music from the play “Peer Gynt,” and Tchaikovsky’s Act One finale of “The Nutcracker.” The Pops presents its annual Holiday Cirque Spectacular, a mix of holiday music and acrobatics, on Dec. 11. For details: www.hartfordsymphony.org.
Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents “Bernstein and Copland,” Carolyn Kuan conducting. Leonid Sigal, violin soloist. Program: Copland: Four Dance Episodes from “Rodeo”; Marsalis: “Blues and Hootenanny” from Violin Concerto in D Major; Bernstein: “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story,” and Karpman: “All American.” Nov. 6. The Bushnell Belding Theatre.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theater at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He has worked for arts organizations nationwide, and reported on the arts for print and broadcast. Mark produces and hosts “ArtsBeat,” “Athenaeum Spotlight” and “On The Mark” for WCPC, Channel 15, and WSKB-FM 89.5. He’s a regular contributor to Pioneer Valley Radio and a member of the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association.