The assistant takes up the baton at symphony’s evening of Masterworks



The assistant is becoming the chief this weekend at Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

Adam Boyles, the assistant conductor at HSO, is taking up the baton this weekend to lead the ensemble through “Choral Fantasy and Mystical Songs.” This will mark his first time conducting one of the HSO’s Masterworks evening. It also will mark his first full year at HSO.

The evening includes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80,” “Haydn’s Te Deum for the Empress Maria Therese,” Beethoven’s “Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op. 80,” “Choral Fantasy,” Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite),” and Vaughan Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs.”

“The theme of the concert is really about celebrating the student/teacher relationship, something I felt very appropriate for a time when graduations are all around us,” explained Boyles in an email interview.

“Beethoven studied with Haydn, although it was a rather strained affair due to Beethoven’s temperament and Haydn’s busy schedule,” said Boyles. “Before the First World War, Vaughan Williams studied with Ravel, and their relationship gained in strength until Ravel’s death in 1937. Ravel, as Vaughan Williams had hoped, transformed his pupil’s compositions, giving them a lightness and harmonic interest that had been lacking.”

“The concert opens with the wonderful Academic Festival Overture of Brahms, a piece written as a gift (by Brahms) for the University of Breslau upon being awarded an honorary doctorate in Philosophy,” said Boyles. “The work is filled with quotations of German student songs which the composer would have heard during the summer he spent with Joseph Joachim at the University of Göttingen.”

Asked what he enjoyed about these pieces, Boyles said, “The Brahms is a real showpiece for the orchestra, and is probably his sunniest work from top to bottom.”

“I encountered the Haydn once during my undergrad, and thought at the time ‘Why doesn’t this piece get done more often?’” said Boyles. “It is as if the best choral moments of The Creation or The Seasons are concentrated into a 10 minute gem.”

“The thing that sticks out about the Beethoven to most people is the similarity of its main theme with that of the 9th Symphony’s ‘Ode to Joy’ theme,” said Boyles. “While true, the thing that’s even more interesting to me is the experimental nature of it all. There’s no comparable work involving these forces prior to the Choral Fantasy, and given the unusual speed at which he wrote it, it is a unique, daring work.”

“What’s not to love about anything by Ravel?” said Boyles. “A complete genius, no question. Ma mere and his opera, ‘L’enfant et les sortilèges,’ are the most perfect musical works to depict the fantasy of childhood. His view always seems from the child itself, not from an adult’s sentimentalized viewpoint.”

“Vaughan Williams,” said Boyles, “seems to be an eternally underrated composer. ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ hot on the heels of his study with Ravel, are powerful in their emotional directness, and deceptively simple to the ear though there is a lot of complexity under the surface.”

This will be, as noted, Boyles’ first Masterworks concert. He gave himself a simple mission statement when pulling together the program.

“My job is to get out of the way and let the music do the talking,” said Boyles. “If I do my work right, people will forget I’m even there.”

For the audience members coming to the concert, Boyles said “the feelings themselves (evoked by the music) are going to differ person to person, piece by piece, and I would rather not bias such things ahead of time. Aside from that, I hope the audience feels that the HSO, Hartford Chorale, and soloist, Alexandre Moutouzkine, gave the best possible presentation of each work. If we do that, one cannot help but be moved.”

“Choral Fantasy and Mystical Songs” will be presented by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Tickets start at $33; $10 for students with ID. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900.

Adam Boyles

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