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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.

The Music Ticker: HSO, Garmany, Baez

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

The new arts season is upon us, and two of the area’s premier music institutions get started this week.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestraopens the new year Friday night, October 7, at the Bushnell's Belding Theater, with a program to be repeated Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Not to belabor the obvious, but this will be a pivotal year for the HSO, which weathered a lengthy and contentious contract dispute last year. The dispute, pitting management against the players in an uncomfortably public way, was primarily about money.

It came to an end in January, with the musicians accepting a four-year contract that called for substantial pay cuts.

The settlement averted a threatened shutdown of the orchestra, but many challenges remain. Chief among them is the question of whether the organization can significantly add to its endowment, a goal that all sides agree is crucial to the long-term health and stability of the orchestra.

We’ll look in on that effort in the coming weeks.

But for now, this weekend’s season opening concerts (note that the Masterworks series has dropped its Thursday night performances in a belt-tightening move) will feature Rimsky-Korsakov’s ever-popular "Scheherazade," along with the similarly well-loved "Concierto de Aranjuez" for guitar and orchestra by Rodrigo. The guitar soloist is the brilliant Croatian virtuoso Ana Vidovic. Music director Carolyn Kuan conducts. 

Over at The Hartt School, the acclaimed Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series kicks off its eighth season Thursday night, October 6, with a performance by the dazzling Prism Quartet -- perhaps the world’s most celebrated saxophone ensemble. Thursday’s concert will offer a characteristically freewheeling program, featuring music from Bach and Schumann to Martin Bresnick and Cole Porter.

Credit Jon Rohrer / Courtesy Prism Quartet
Courtesy Prism Quartet
Prism Quartet.

This first-ever appearance by the quartet at Hartt has a kind of satisfying full-circle feel to it, since the members met at the University of Michigan, where they all studied with the legendary sax mentor Donald Sinta. Several decades ago, Sinta was a member of the Hartt faculty.

The 2016/17 Garmany Series, under the leadership of its new curator, Larry Alan Smith, continues with the fabled Juilliard String Quartet on November 10, the Chiara String Quartet on February 9, and the protean group Decoda, the affiliate ensemble of Carnegie Hall, on March 30.

All concerts are at 7:30 pm in Hartt’s cozy 400-seat Millard Auditorium, and are preceded by a cash-bar reception in the lobby, beginning at 6:00 pm. 

Joan Baez at the Bushnell

Also on Thursday night (the conflict is irritating, I know, but sometimes unavoidable) the ageless Joan Baez will appear at the Bushnell, as the second stop in a 20-city national tour.

Baez, who celebrated her 75h birthday in January with a truly star-studded (Paul Simon, Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, etc.) concert in New York, is touring in support of an organization called the Innocence Project. The Manhattan-based nonprofit advocates for inmates wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

The Heavenly Jam

The Heavenly Jam has accepted two new arrivals:

Fred Tinsley, a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s bass section for 42 years, passed a couple of weeks ago at the age of 76.

Credit Courtesy of LA Phil
Courtesy of LA Phil
Fred Tinsley.

Old-timers around here will recall that Tinsley, a Hartford native, studied with the great bassist Bertram Turetzky at the Hartt School, and later joined the Hartford Symphony Orchestra while still in his twenties. He was one of the first African-American musicians to play in the HSO.

Although Tinsley was primarily an orchestral player, he also played on recordings with such jazz greats as Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon.

In addition, Tinsley was a standout football player at Weaver High in Hartford, and later at the University of Connecticut, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music.

Folks wishing to honor his memory are invited to send a donation to the Sphinx Organization in Detroit, a national nonprofit that supports young musicians of color.

Sir Neville Marriner, the unassuming, self-taught British conductor who by some calculations became most-recorded classical musician in history, died last Sunday at 92. (I looked Marriner up on the comprehensive Arkiv recording site; he has a cool 549 albums in print.)

Marriner, a violinist by training, founded and forever was closely associated with the chamber orchestra known, with almost comical elegance, as the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

The group started in 1958, playing in Marriner’s home. It later moved to the London church from which it took its name.

Marriner and his orchestra were pioneers in the early music movement, although always performing on modern, rather than period, instruments.

Millions of people knew Marriner’s work if not always his name. Notably, he and his orchestra provided the music for the soundtrack to the 1984 Oscar-winning film “Amadeus.” The album – oh, what a difference a generation makes in the record business -- sold 6.5 million copies.

Steve Metcalf can be reached at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

Steve Metcalf is an administrator, critic, journalist, arts consultant and composer. He writes the weekly Metcalf on Music blog for WNPR.org, and is the curator of the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series at The Hartt School.

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