Symphony Orchestra's Free Concert Mixes Medley Of Musical Styles
Carolyn Kuan's First Full-Length Concert As Music Director Runs Gamut From Hip-Hop To Beethoven
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
September 25, 2011
HARTFORD —— Never before had a hip-hop artist shared the stage with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra at the Bushnell, but Sunday proved to be a day of many firsts.
Carolyn Kuan's first full-length concert as the symphony's music director was a free concert for the people, with popular pieces from "The Nutcracker" and Beethoven setting up a medley of performances that flouted tradition.
The Baltimore beatboxer named Shodekeh managed to blend a harmonica with his vocal percussion and got a standing ovation.
In another surreal scene, UConn's 100-member marching band performed the university fight song in the aisles of the ornate Mortensen Hall.
There was even a juggler.
It was billed as "Picnic in the Park," but event officials decided Friday night to move the show from Bushnell Park to the nearby concert hall under the threat of wet weather. Sunday turned out to be mostly sunny and summer-like, although the park grounds were muddy.
Just as well, said Carrie Hammond, the symphony's interim chief executive, because the rain location allowed the public to "hear the orchestra in its home."
An hour before the 2 p.m. start time, the line to enter the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts stretched down the Capitol Avenue sidewalk, reaching the Trinity Street intersection. Not since the 1930s, when the Hartford Symphony Orchestra was created with federal funds under FDR, had it performed a free public concert of this scale, Hammond said.
Mothers and fathers came with their kids, joining grey-haired regulars. There were experienced shouts of "Brava!" at the conclusion of soprano Amanda Hall's solo from the opera "La Traviata," as well as 17-year-old concert violinist Sirena Huang's take on Tchaikovsky. But also, the sound of a small child crying in the back during Beethoven.
"She's 2," Kyle Waters of Plainville explained as he soothed his youngest daughter, Erin, after carrying her outside the hall. It was her first concert.
The orchestra's new maestra, a native of Taiwan, first came to the United States at age 14 to attend high school in western Massachusetts and then Smith College as an undergraduate. Now 33, Kuan is the first woman to lead the orchestra, picked early this year out of seven finalists who each guest-conducted with the Hartford symphony.
A former associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Kuan has been described as vivacious, playful and contemporary.
All of which seemed to be reflected in Sunday's outsized production that began with Mayor Pedro Segarra introducing and hugging Kuan before a crowd that grew to an estimated 2,500 by the intermission.
Kuan curated a sampling of performances that served as previews for her inaugural season, from 33-year-old Shodekeh — a one-man vocal band who will be featured in a "Brahms and Beatboxing" concert in January — to Jason Pipitone's juggling. A "Cirque de la Symphonie" show is planned for later in the winter.
Kuan also cast an open call for local singers to perform with the orchestra for Sunday's concert, drawing more than 160 people, symphony officials said. Called the Hartford Symphony Community Choir, the group was anchored by students from Simsbury High School but included singers from churches and schools around Greater Hartford.
They were scheduled to conclude the show with Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
The city of Hartford and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving's Richard P. Garmany Fund were the major concert sponsors. The Bushnell also donated its space for the event.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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