Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s “Mozart and La Mer”

On Nov. 10, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra premiered the second program of its 2017-2018 Masterworks Concert Series, “ Mozart and La Mer.” While the Opening Night of the Symphony featured the music of Beethoven and the Japanese composer Kanno, November’s performance saw strict adherence to the classics. The program featured Berlioz’s Le Corsaire, Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto, Debussy’s La Mer, and a surprise encore of Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso.
Le Corsaire, one of Berlioz’s most recognizable and flamboyant scores, was played expertly by the HSO. The exciting piece was a welcome start to the night. The next performance was a loyal interpretation of Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto composed during his time traveling through Italy. The piece highlighted the performance of HSO Concertmaster Leonid Sigal, who served as the night’s soloist. Sigal, a violinist particularly well-known for his phrasing and articulation, lived up to his reputation, emitting a sound that soared over the rest of the orchestra.
Debussy’s La Mer, the highlighted symphony of the night, stands out as one of the French composer’s most beloved pieces. The first movement showcased a slow and deep sound reminiscent of the depths of the ocean and concluded triumphantly on the movement’s well-known finale. The second and third movements presented different changes in pacing and sound, again evoking notes that were inspired by the sea. Overall, the HSO’s interpretation was both dreamlike and dramatic, clearly reflecting Music Director Carolyn Kuan’s close attention to the nuances of the score.
To the delight of the audience, the night concluded with an encore performance of Alborada del Gracioso, a Spanish-influenced piece by Ravel, Debussy’s French contemporary. The piece, as explained by Kuan, is meant to demonstrate a morning of passion between two lovers forced to part ways. Ravel’s fast-paced, light-hearted music demonstrated the technical skills of the HSO as well as the full versatility of each section of the orchestra.
For Carolyn Kuan, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s youngest Music Director, the 2017-2018 Masterworks Series has somewhat strayed from the music that earned her recognition in the classical music community. Kuan is commonly regarded as a particularly talented interpreter of twenty-first century, avant-garde music and is known for championing the works of up-and-coming composers. Additionally, Kuan, who is of Taiwanese origin, is famous for her renditions of Asian music. This was demonstrated by her presentation earlier in the season of the music of current composer Kanno, introducing Hartford audiences to the shakuhachi and the koto, two traditional Japanese instruments.
However, the HSO’s 2017-2018 season features a relatively traditional program, and “Mozart and La Mer” was a clear example of this. Despite her reputation for lesser-known music, Kuan tackled four of music’s most famous traditional composers, Berlioz, Mozart, Debussy, and Ravel, expertly and loyally. While her versatile conducting style showed, Kuan dutifully remained close to the traditional scores. Hartford audiences clearly enjoyed the concert and the leadership of Kuan, as each performance ended with a standing ovation. Now in its 74th season, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra remains one of New England’s premiere musical organizations. While the HSO often sticks to the classics of Mozart, Debussy, and Berlioz, it offers a wide variety of music through its various series. “Harry Potter in Concert,” which featured the music of the Harry Potter soundtrack played alongside the movie, was a specific hit amongst the Hartford community.
Masterworks, the HSO’s series devoted to promoting the works of traditional classical music, runs from now until May and offers exciting performances of a diverse collection of composers. “Mozart and La Mer” presented a lush and impressive interpretation of music’s most beloved composers.

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