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Arts & Culture
Steve Metcalf has been writing about the musical life of this region, and the wider world, for more than 30 years. For 21 of those years, he was the full-time staff music critic of The Hartford Courant. During that period, via the L.A. Times/Washington Post news service, his reviews, profiles and feature stories appeared in 400 newspapers worldwide.He is also the former assistant dean and director of instrumental music at The Hartt School, where he founded and curated the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series. He is currently Director of the Presidents' College at the University of Hartford. Steve is also keyboardist emeritus of the needlessly loud rock band Duke and the Esoterics.Reach him at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

Music in the Air: A New Season Begins

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Carolyn Kuan, music director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

A new arts season dawns. And despite the lingering cloud of the Hartford Symphony labor impasse – it originally looked like the HSO season-opening concerts might be lost, but in fact they will go on as scheduled – the new cycle brings a reassuringly plentiful supply of music, both familiar and challenging.

Here are some of the October highlights:

October 15: Dawn Upshaw, Soprano, with Gilbert Kalish, Piano

Dawn Upshaw is the first artist in this season’s Richard P. Garmany concert series at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. (Disclosure Police: yes, I am the curator of the series.)

Upshaw, as I guess I don’t need to point out, is simply one of the most accomplished musical artists of our time. And possibly the most versatile.

From her acclaimed stage portrayals of the Mozart operatic heroines, to her featured performance on the crazily popular, million-selling recording of the Gorecki “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” to her steady stream of contemporary music projects (including, just last year, a Grammy-winning CD of a set of songs by Maria Schneider), to her pleasingly idiomatic and undiva-like renderings of Gershwin and Vernon Duke and Rodgers and Hart, Dawn Upshaw has been one of those artists who have made us reconsider what the terms classical music, and classical performer, can mean.

Credit Wikimedia / Creative Commons
Dawn Upshaw.

For her recital here, she will be joined by her longtime pianist, Gilbert Kalish, himself a major figure on the contemporary American music landscape.

The 7:30 pm recital is in Hartt’s Millard Auditorium – it seats 400 but at last glance there weren’t a whole lot of tickets remaining, so don’t dawdle. Information: harttweb.hartford.edu

October 1-4: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Season-Opening Masterworks Program, “New World Visions”

As several people have pointed out to me, one way people can express their support for the HSO, and its players, is to actually attend its concerts.

To say this once again, the opening concerts, at the Bushnell’s Belding Theater, are going forward as scheduled, with the musicians performing under the terms of their present, expired contract while negotiations on a new pact continue.

Credit imgartists.com
John Adams.

The opening program, conducted by music director Carolyn Kuan, features John Adams’s crisp and atmospheric “Shaker Loops” (augmented by video projections created by Christopher Gerson) along with the well-loved Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, with soloist Caroline Goulding, and concluding with the abidingly popular Dvorak “New World” Symphony.

I don’t think any of us can know at this point what will spark the two sides to reach an agreement on a new contract, but I’m pretty sure that large, cheering concert audiences will not hurt. Information: hartfordsymphony.org.

October 10: Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra (HICO), Season-Opening concert, “Musical Atmospheres”

This ambitious upstart ensemble has become a significant champion of new music, and true to form, its season opener will include the world premiere of a new work by Connecticut-based composer Ryan Jesperson. The ensemble, conducted by newly-installed artistic director Dan D’Addio, will also play works by Joan Tower and Lauren Bernofsky.

The 7:30 pm concert is at the Charter Oak Cultural Center.

October 1: New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Season-Opening Concert

Credit Neda Navaee / michaelbrownmusic.com
Michael Brown.

Also starting its season October 1, the New Haven Symphony offers a program interestingly similar to the HSO opener: some contemporary music, a beloved concerto, and a crowd-pleasing Dvorak symphony. The concerto in this case is the Grieg Piano Concerto, with soloist Michael Brown, while the symphony is Dvorak’s tuneful No. 7. Music Director William Boughton, recently granted a contract extension at the NHSO, conducts.

The contemporary piece is the premiere of the first movement of a projected symphony by NHSO composer in residence, and Yale faculty member, Hannah Lash. The symphony is entirely inspired by the celebrated and deeply mysterious Voynich Manuscript, held at Yale’s Beinecke Collection.

There isn’t room to go into it here, but the Voynich phenomenon is fascinating. To learn more, visit the Beinecke library website.


The great English choral conductor Sir David Willcocks died last week at age 95. I have on my shelves a number of recordings he did over his long life, but none that I treasure more than the one he conducted of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Christmas oratorio, “Hodie.” The performance, recorded exactly a half a century ago, still brims with life and hope. And the piece is still the most exuberant work of music ever written by an octogenarian.

Steve Metcalf was The Hartford Courant's full-time classical music critic and reporter for over 20 years, beginning in 1982. He is currently the curator of the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series at The Hartt School. He can be reached at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.