HSO's New Season Will Offer Favorites, A Few Twists

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra announced its 2017-2018 Masterworks Series Tuesday, offering music lovers a season full of traditional favorites and a few surprises.

Music director Carolyn Kuan leads the HSO through Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") and Overture to "Egmont" and Japanese composer Yugo Kanno's "Revive," a concerto for koto and shakuhachi (Oct. 6 to 8). (Kuan conducted the U.S. premiere of "Revive" with the Seattle Symphony in 2015.) The season opener, HSO executive director Steve Collins says, is a "great example of mixing the traditional Western orchestra with Japanese instruments."

Masterworks closes out 2017 with "Mozart & La Mer" (Nov. 10 to 12), which pairs Mozart's "Turkish" violin concerto (No. 5 in A Major, K. 219) with orchestral warhorses by Debussy and Berlioz; and "December Dreams" (Dec. 8 to 10), conducted by Adam Boyles, with selections from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," William Henry Fry's "Santa Claus (Christmas Symphony)," and the HSO premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon's Oboe Concerto (principal oboist Heather Taylor is the soloist).

The new year begins with bagpipes: "A Scottish Fantasy" (Jan. 19 to 21) features highlander Mike MacNintch piping through Peter Maxwell Davies' "An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise," alongside Max Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy" for violin and orchestra (featuring soloist Gareth Johnson) and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish").

Remaining highlights through 2018 include pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe exploring "The Keys to Romance" (Feb. 16 to 18); ballet maneuvers in "Stravinsky & Swan Lake" (March 9 to 11); a program of American music (including "Rainbow Body" by recent Grammy nominee and Yale professor Christopher Theofanidis) dubbed "Copland & Gershwin" (April 6 to 8); and a night of Shostakovich (May 4 to 6), with cellist Jay Campbell out in front of the demanding Cello Concerto No. 1.

The final Masterworks event, "Carmina Burana: Festival of Fate" (June 8 to 10), reunites the HSO with its longtime partners in the Hartford Chorale (led by music director Richard Coffey) on Orff's beloved cantata and Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915."

As a twist, The Bushnell will transform its lobby and outdoor spaces for "Carmina Burana," offering period entertainment (juggling is likely), food and beverages (mead, perhaps) to celebrate the original inspiration for the piece.

Overall, Collins says, the Masterworks Series represents "a return to classical programming basics with some unique nuggets thrown in. The season really demonstrates how contemporary programming can fit with traditional programming."

Concerts take place at The Bushnell's Belding Theater on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. (In 2016, the HSO reduced the number of performances for each Masterworks concert from four to three by eliminating Thursday nights.)

Masterworks programming, Collins adds, is an ongoing effort; as the opening E-flat chords of Beethoven's "Eroica" resound through Belding Theater, he'll be thinking about what happens the following year.

"You're always learning from the programming season that you're currently involved in," Collins says. "There's the potential for new guests artists or repertory that catches your eyes and ears."

HARTFORD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA 2017-2018 MASTERWORKS SERIES takes place at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford from October through June. hartfordsymphony.org

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