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Hartt Brings Together 250 Musicians For Free 'Concert For The Community'

Personally, Ludwig van Beethoven wasn't much of a charmer.

"He's not the kind of guy you want over for dinner," Maestro Edward Cumming, director of orchestral activities at the Hartt School, says. "The closer you got to him, the more horrible he was as a friend. He was a slob. He was horrible to his friends. But his music grips you."

On Friday, Oct. 13, that ruffian's music unites a healthy cross-section of Connecticut institutions and residents, as Cumming leads The Hartt School Orchestra, the Hartford Chorale and a quartet of vocalists from Yale Opera through Beethoven's epic Ninth Symphony, at The Bushnell in Hartford in a free Concert for the Community in the Belding Theater at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets for the concert have all been reserved, but there may be limited standing room only.

"This is the marvelous thing about Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and specifically about Schiller's 'Ode To Joy,' the poem: It doesn't change, only our response to it," Cumming says. "We're in a very unusual time, a very precarious time in our history. It's hard to look at it objectively, because we're still in it."

Before the performance of the Ninth, celebrated pianist and Hartt faculty member David Westfall joins the orchestra for Schumann's Piano Concert in A minor. The student musicians, Cumming says, are "playing like angels."

"After rehearsal, David [Westfall] said, 'I've done this piece for 40 or 50 years now. That's the best first rehearsal I've ever had, including professional ensembles.' The students are really locked in."

Since arriving at Hartt in 2011, after a long stint as music director for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Cumming has been looking for ways to reconnect with the Hartford Chorale, which is directed by Richard Coffey.

Coffey "is a very dear friend and colleague," Cumming says. "We just kept dreaming over the years of this possibility."

A six-week window opened. Hartt Dean Elizabeth Cooper sought donors and secured a gift from the Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, advised by David Polk.

The Bushnell helped, too; the venue partners with UConn's digital media and design program. Students will be on-hand, Cumming says, to capture footage of the audience and performers.

At some point, Cooper decided to turn the concert into a freewill community event.

"You've got UConn, you've got Yale, you've got Hartt, Hartford Chorale, the Bushnell," Cumming says. "The whole message [of the Ninth] is about bringing people together. It just seemed natural."

A Concert for the Community features more than 250 performers, including solo vocalists Anush Avetisyan, Rachel Weishoff, Stephen Clark and Luis Aguilar Regaldo.

Percussionist Jean Carlo Urena Gonzalez, a senior at Hartt, will likely return to the Dominican Republic when he graduates. Friday's performance will be his first Ninth. "I think honestly the power of music is just, like, what we need in general for anything," he says.

Violinist Michael Duffett, the Hartt School Orchestra concertmaster, has performed the Ninth once before. "I realize that this might not happen again for a very long time," he says.

Duffett applauds the decision to hold the free concert in Hartford.

"It's more accessible. You get the feeling that classical music is a little bit removed from people's everyday lives."

"Beethoven's Ninth always gives me some kind of positive strength, even though there are struggles within the music," says Pin-hui Tsai, a cellist working on a master's degree at Hartt. "That's kind of a spirit of support for us to lean ourselves on."

Beethoven's music, like his personality, Cumming adds, wasn't perfect. Still, the power of the Ninth to bring people together, in community and song, is unmatched.

"He's not the greatest composer," Cumming says. "Bach never wrote a stinker. Mozart never wrote a stinker. Beethoven did. But there's something about his music, specifically the Ninth Symphony, that just grabs us and reminds us who we are and why we're here."

During the concert, Cumming expects all the planning and rehearsal to fade into the background, as Beethoven's music washes over him.

"I'm going to feel free. One of the things about a concert is that you don't have to worry about the past. You just worry about the moment and what's coming. I'll feel like I'm free, because one huge element has been taken out. You can't go back again."

A CONCERT FOR THE COMMUNITY takes place at the Bushnell’s Belding Theater in Hartford on Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public. Tickets are all reserved, but there may be limited standing room only. 860-768-4228, hartford.edu/tickets

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