Monday, October 8, 2012

Hartt Sinfonia

Up until this year, Hartt had one orchestra, devoted mainly to repertoire from the 19th century up to the present day. With so many talented young musicians, and so little time with them, it was incumbent upon me to create programs that would make good use of the many instrumentalists studying at Hartt.

It reminded me of a similar problem I had as music director of the Hartford Symphony, but for a different reason: until the orchestra moved to the Belding (a smaller hall at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center) in 2008, doing Haydn symphonies was not feasible. Music from the Classical period was never meant to be played for 2,800 people.

Now, with a second (and smaller) ensemble, Hartt can finally address orchestral music from the classical canon and stretch out in both directions - towards late Baroque/early Classic, as well as that of the early Romantics. We call ourselves Sinfonia.

The Sinfonia debut featured an overture by Haydn, a symphony by Beethoven (no. 8), and two works that each could be called 'sinfonia:' Mozart's Symphony no. 32, and C.P.E. Bach's Symphony in D. Both are symphonies in name only, because they play out more like an Italian Sinfonia - typically an overture with a slow middle section.

While the technical demands of the classical repertoire are not as great as the music of Strauss or Shostakovich, there is an element of transparency that is very exacting of the players. There is no place to hide, no thick textures in which one can disappear. When you play Mozart or Haydn, there is no anonymity, and that can be a bit scary.

Our program featured four conductors - two pros, and two students. Kalena Bovell and Ena Shin distinguished themselves in their respective conducting debuts; both began studying with me just one month ago. Edward Bolkovac brought enormous energy and erudition to the Mozart.

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There were two elements to this program that were great moments in teaching, and by saying that, I am not intentionally patting myself on the back! Sometimes, good things happen by accident, or divine providence . . . take your pick.

Early in the rehearsal process, the players were clearly more comfortable with the Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but the C.P.E. Bach began as an anomaly. In early rehearsals, the students seemed to be asking, "do we play this like elder Bach? is it baroque, or classical, or a hybrid of the two?"

All good questions - - - - - definitively answered on Friday evening.

One more thing - it has become increasingly clear to me that my students need to perform more. And again, the Hartford Symphony story provides a foreshadow:

The move from the large hall to the more intimate Belding theatre presented another challenge - fewer seats necessitated more concerts. (Previously, we played the program twice.) Presenting the program four times forced the ensemble to become better, and artistically more interesting. On successive nights, I could try different things, and the players were very responsive.

A week ago Friday, Sinfonia performed at the Hartford Club downtown, in the round, surrounded by up to 100 guests. What fun we had! But more importantly, when we repeated the program on campus, the players were looser, and more confident. I was proud of them on both nights, but even more proud of how much they had learned in the interim.

How many times have you said, 'boy, I'd like another shot at that?' On Friday night, we got it, and it showed. Bravo, Sinfonia!

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