Symphony Event Melds Talents of Alum and Students

November 16, 2022
Submitted By: Office of Marketing and Communication

When John Jesensky ’07 conducted a Halloween-themed performance with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, other members of the University of Hartford community hit the right note, too.

Current students of the Hartford Art School, as well as an alumna, created illustrations of characters represented through the music, which were then projected on a screen behind the musicians. 

The symphony performed “Tales of Halloween” at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford Oct. 29, with favorite Halloween classics and original pieces by Jesensky, a Hartt School alum.

The effort bridged HAS students, past and present, as well as a Hartt alum, in a unique opportunity that gave current undergraduates the hands-on, real-world experience of working with a client, while elevating Jesensky’s show with beautiful and compelling visual elements.

“I realized that ‘Tales of Halloween’ wouldn't be whole without the kinds of illustrations we all marveled at while reading fairy tales as a child,” Jesensky says. “I only had the pleasure of visiting the building where most of the Hartford Art School's classes took place once during my time at Hartt, but I can still remember the feeling of being in a room full of blossoming artwork. It was a no-brainer that the right person to work with had to be someone (or multiple someones) who lived in that same space.”

Enter HAS graduate, Marissa Madonna, and current HAS students. They immediately got to work and brought Jesensky’s visions to life, as they created visual depictions of each character at different moments in their stories to accompany the music and narration.

Bill Thomson, professor of illustration and chair of visual communication design, had suggested Madonna for the project, and offered students from his junior acrylics classes the opportunity.

“It was a very nice collaboration, and our students enjoyed it very much. The subject matter was a lot of fun for them, and they really enjoyed exploring and depicting creepy folk tales from around the world,” Thomson said. “I attended the symphony, and it all came together seamlessly and beautifully.”

For his part, Jesensky understands how valuable it is for students to put their classroom skills to work in a real-world project.

“I related to that idea on a personal level, as my first experiences composing music for a real client were daunting, and I had always wished there were more chances for creative students to be placed in safe, but professional work environments while still in training,” he says.

In one illustration created for “Tales of Halloween,” a tree-toppling monster emerges from the woods to chase away visitors sitting around a fire; in another, mythical beasts scare off an unwelcome being encroaching on their territory.

“One of my only requests to the student-artists was that I wanted them to be uniquely themselves—I was looking for a variety of visions, styles, and interpretations,” Jesensky adds. “They truly delivered some astounding works!”