In the 2007/2008 school year, our SymphonyKids Educational Outreach programs reached almost 28,000 schoolchildren from 175 schools in 143 communities through 233 presentations. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video must be priceless! Our SymphonyKids DVD is available to teachers, administrators, and parents interested in bringing our programs into their students' school. We've posted the video here to reach the widest audience possible. To bring one of these fun and educational groups into your school, call Eleanor Long in the VSO office at (800) VSO-9293, ext. 14, or e-mail her at Eleanor at vso.org (replace "at" with @ when e-mailing). Don't let finances be a boundary! We have subsidy money available to help you defray the cost. Other financial resources employed by schools in the past include parent organizations (PTO, PTA, etc.) and small grants. It's easy to book, so contact Eleanor today! Keep reading!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
This past weekend, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra toured with its annual Holiday Pops concert to three communities around the state: Barre, Burlington, and Rutland. "Suite Dreams" was the program theme this year and, among the holiday classics we all know and love, it explored music inspired by dreams. In conjunction with the Young Writers Project, shephered by Geoff Gevalt, poems were solicited from young writers that evoked winter imagery, namely that of ice skating, to lead into a performance of Waldteufel's "The Skater's Waltz."
Here are the six winning poems:
by Kestrel Grevatt
Charlotte Central School, Grade 6
On the spot.
My dream goes
Skating in circles,
My dream goes
Grazing the ice.
My dream goes
I am skating,
"The Skater's Waltz"
by Hannah Domas
Rochester High School, Grade 9
"Sweet dreams Mom," I say.
"Sweet dreams," she answers back.
I lie in my bed,
with the covers tucked around me tight.
Slowly, I look around my room--
At the ceiling,
with the small chip in it,
right above my bed,
At the old white desk in the corner.
Then I look out the window.
The dark, cloudy night sky
drapes everything in shadow.
Just then, the gray clouds part
and the moon is revealed,
The face scarred with craters,
like an old battle-worn soldier.
A glistening shine catches my eye:
The willow pond,
with its frozen surface,
dazzles in the moonlight.
And suddenly I'm not in my cozy bed,
but out on the ice,
with snowflakes whirling around me.
I look down and find that I have skates on my feet,
their sharp blades shining brightly.
I do a few laps,
just to warm up.
Then I take my pose,
in the middle of the ice.
I hold my breath, waiting.
The music starts.
The French horn sounds slowly,
Four long notes,
and still I wait.
Then the flutes come in,
going up the scale,
like twittering birds.
And the violins answer,
going down the scale.
Then the violins and flutes repeat,
getting faster and faster,
until the two are merged.
They abruptly end,
the drum and cymbal crashing together.
And I'm off as the French horn sounds again,
Gliding to the long, deep, crisp notes,
I'm barely touching the ice at all,
floating above the surface.
by Eleanor Blake
Charlotte Central School, Grade 5
You are weightless,
Your body has
drifted to an
just your soul
The world around you
is wearing a coat,
a white blanket,
that seems to be
A feeling is thrust
pounds of joy.
But the beat
of your heart
your skates are off
the world has started again.
You are left
without your skates
“The Skating Pond”
by Bethany Sullivan
Mt. Mansfield Union H.S., Grade 11
Snowflakes melt into droplets
Suspended on the wool fibers
Of red mittens.
Stinging fingers buried inside
Grasp at another mittened hand.
A blue glove pats the girl’s back--
She’s never been skating before.
But the boy strides backwards,
Arm extending as he tugs her after him,
Coaxing, a laugh in every syllable.
She follows, catches on,
And soon stands on sturdy legs,
Taking ambitious strokes.
Snowflakes pirouette from a young, gray sky;
The sun seeps behind the mountains,
Pooling on the horizon
Like melted butter
On Christmas morning pancakes;
Snow, like confectioner’s sugar,
Collecting in the boy’s hair
As he skates in strong strokes,
Both laughing out
Breath misty on the lively, crisp air.
Carnival colors, captive
In strings of lights,
Twine around the pond,
Glowing like candles,
Flames of joy vibrant
Against the twilight sky
Sprinkling forth its dusting of flakes,
Tumbling past eyelashes
And rosy cheeks,
Past tight-bound, sharp skates
Cutting into smooth ice,
Leaving a trail of shavings.
Red mitten releases blue glove
As the girl attempts a spin
But tumbles, coming down hard
To the smooth, shining surface,
Cold through her pants.
As she sings out with laughter
He gives his hand
And they skate on
Through the sparkle of the evening
As the soaring pair,
In close-wrapped scarves
Knit by grandmothers in far-off rocking chairs,
Light as the joyful chimes
In a bright winter waltz,
Clear like sharp January stars
As bursts of happy color
Clustered in the patterns
Of warm sweaters,
And spread through the evergreens
Delicately laced with snow.
Floating like a feather
In soft chickadee shades
It drifts gently,
Close to home,
But not quite touching
by Colleen Shouldice
Mount St. Joesph’s Academy, Grade 9
My window is open.
I wake up smelling the clean crisp air all around me.
I put on my sweat pants and sweatshirt,
Grab my skates and I am out the door.
I run to the pond,
I lace up my skates--
Making sure they do not break--
I race all around till I am warm,
I grab my stick.
All of a sudden the pond turns into an arena,
I feel great.
Then I hear a ringing.
I think to myself, oh, it’s time for the zamboni.
Then I hear, “Colleen, time to get up!”
I realize it was only a dream.
by Cally Braun
Charlotte Central School, Grade 6
Twirl, twist, turn.
I am lifted into
The swirling clouds.
Blades flashing silver,
I catch a glimpse
Of white wings
Through the night.
Twirl, twist, turn.
On the wind.
I am spinning
Among the stars
Across the sky.
Twirl, twist, turn.
I am skating.
Twirl, twist, turn.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The VSO has a variety of gifts for that special music lover on your list, all specially priced for the holidays. "Christmas in Vermont," our newest recording featuring the VSO Brass Quintet and Counterpoint, will provide the perfect backdrop for your holiday gatherings. From water bottles to embroidered hats, the VSO Store will provide you with stocking stuffers and special surprises for everyone on your list. Visit our VSO Store today! Keep reading!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
“Suite Dreams” is the title of this year’s holiday program, hosted by VSO chorus member and psychiatrist John Helzer. A tongue-in-cheek look at dreams and music inspired by dreams includes excerpts from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, the Nutcracker, and more. Katie Jordan, French horn, is the featured youth soloist, and Anthony Princiotti conducts. Here are interviews with John and Katie.
Dr. Helzer is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont School of Medicine and is Director of the Health Behavior Research Center. His early career was at Washington University in St. Louis, but he loves the mountains and has a passion for skiing, so the marriage to Missouri didn’t last. His other non-academic interests include food and wine, tennis, and music. He sings with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus and other local choral groups, and is a member of the VSO’s Champlain Valley Board of Trustees. He lives in Charlotte.
VSO: What is something your colleagues don't know about you?
JH: That I own Switzerland.
VSO: Do you have a pre-performance ritual? How do you deal with nerves?
JH: As a singer, my only rituals are to hydrate like crazy (resulting in frequent trips to the men's room) and bring a pocketful of Halls Mentholyptus to the performance. The way I deal with nerves is to perform only in ensembles rather than solo so that nerves aren't a problem. When I played trumpet in school I got terrific performance anxiety before solo recitals resulting in dry mouth making it very hard to play the trumpet! I greatly admire Katie Jordan playing her concerto on stage, but I wouldn't trade places with her for anything! Granted, the VSO Pops will be a solo narration but I'm only reading, and I will have Vermont's best back-up band.
VSO: If you could be Maestro for a day, what would you program?
JH: Dawn Upshaw doing a concert of music by Osvaldo Golilov and staged by Peter Sellars. (One can always afford to THINK big.)
VSO: If you had pursued your love of music as a profession, what do you think you would be doing?
JH: I often have a dream that I get born again but with an adult perspective and a mature love of music. How would I conduct my life? First I'd start violin lessons on a small violin then as my fingers got big enough would start piano lessons. I'd start vocal lessons early and sing in a children's choir. As I got larger, I'd take serious lessons on the cello and continue the piano. If my voice made it through the transition into adulthood, I'd work to become an opera singer. If not, I'd work to become a conductor. If I didn't turn out to be good enough to have an international career, I'd go to medical school. (You said I could have 9 lives, right?)
VSO: What is on your holiday wish list this year?
JH: It's a special gift for my wife, but I can't tell you what it is because she might read this.
Katie Jordan began playing the French horn in 4th grade at Mater Christi School in Burlington, where she studied with Barbara Heath. She has been involved with the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association for seven years, and is currently principal horn in the VYO. Since fall of 1999, she has studied privately horn with Alan Parshley and piano with Paul Orgel.
In September 2007, Katie appeared as a soloist with the Vermont Youth Orchestra, and on NPR’s “From the Top,” which was recorded in Randolph for a December 2007 broadcast. She participated in the 2007 MENC Eastern Division Honors Band in Hartford, Connecticut. She has been the principal horn of the New England Music Festival Orchestra for two years and Vermont All-State Music Festival orchestras for three years. Katie won second place at this year’s Vermont Young Musicians Award Competition in Waitsfield. She also won scholarships at the 2005 and 2006 Vermont All-State Festivals, and won the Northeastern Horn Workshop High School competition in March 2006. For the past two summers, she has been invited to participate in the National Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Music Institute at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. During the summer of 2005, she participated in the Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar at Boston College.
A high honors student, Katie is a senior at Vergennes Union High School where she participates in concert, marching and jazz bands, under the leadership of Susan O'Daniel, and the chorus and select chorus, under the direction of Karen Jordan. She also accompanies the middle and high school choruses. Katie performed the roles of Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance and the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. She is the daughter of Alan and Karen Jordan, and lives with them and her brother, Christopher, in Charlotte, VT.
VSO: Have you experienced a funny, memorable, or shocking concert experience? What happened?
KJ: My most memorable concert experience occurred my freshman year of high school. The Vermont Youth Orchestra traveled to New York City and performed in Carnegie Hall. I had the chance to play principal for the concert.
VSO: Do you have a pre-performance ritual? How do you deal with nerves?
KJ: I try to complete breathing exercises before a performance and avoid eating anything. The nerves recede after a while.
VSO: If you could be Maestro for a day, what would you program?
KJ: I'd program a reading session of the Strauss tone poems...of course we'd have to switch out musicians due to the taxing nature of the pieces.
VSO: If you weren't on the road to becoming a professional musician, what do you think you'd be doing?
KJ: I'd probably be reading novels and acting in plays. I love to perform in musicals.
VSO: What is on your holiday wish list?
KJ: I haven't composed my wish list yet, however, I imagine it will include some lovely Hetman lubricants for my instrument. Keep reading!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Don't miss our special holiday raffle! Win this beautiful Victorian-style dollhouse crafted by Dr. Jim Stackpole of Burlington. Valued at $1,000, it could be yours this holiday season for as little as $1. It's the perfect gift to bring magic into your special little one's holiday this year. Tickets will ONLY be sold during three VSO presentations: the Saturday, December 1 Masterworks concert at the Flynn Center in Burlington, the Friday, December 7 Holiday Pops concert at the Barre Opera House, and the Saturday, December 8 Holiday Pops concert at the Flynn Center in Burlington. Raffle tickets are only $1 or get 6 tickets for $5. Good luck and happy holidays from all of us here at the VSO! Keep reading!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez began her studies at age seven and since the age of eight has appeared in solo recitals and with orchestras in concert halls around the world.
Legendary pianist Claudio Arrau heard Ms. Perez perform in her youth and described her as a “pianist whose technique, musicality, and intelligent approach to the music she plays made a profound impression on me. It is not possible to find a young artist today better equipped with all the necessary qualities that my school of pianists requires from a performer.”
VSO: As a professional musician, you probably don't find yourself at home too often. What item(s) must be packed before you can leave home?
Vanessa: A good inspirational book, my music, toothbrush!...also my passport....
VSO: Do you have a pre-performance ritual? How do you deal with nerves?
Vanessa: Well, I like to sleep on the day, and eat bananas (I need them in the green room, too). If I am well rested, I feel that I can deal with anything.... I guess with the nerves I am kind of used to dealing with them. One just learns to channel them the right way, focusing on the music. I feel it is good to have a bit of nerves, it adds excitement to the performance.
VSO: If you could be Maestro for a day, what would you program?
Vanessa: This is a hard question. There are many works, but Beethoven 7th and 9th would be amazing....
VSO: If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing?
Vanessa: I love make up! So maybe some kind of stylist. I also used to want to be an astronomer.
VSO: What's your favorite aspect of Vermont? If you haven't ever been here, what are you looking forward to?
Vanessa: I am looking forward to performing there very much, working with Maestro Princiotti...and getting some great Maple Syrup. Keep reading!
The horn call that opens this overture is sheer magic, and it’s not a coincidence! In the action of Weber’s opera, these three notes are a magic summons to the Elf-King Oberon to rescue the hero, Sir Huon. Huon has been sent on a perilous mission with his chief protection a magic musical instrument.
Weber was among the most imaginative pioneers in the evolution of orchestral color which characterized the Romantic age. In the Overture, the solo horn-call is answered by muted strings, iridescent flutes, and clarinets—all sounds associated with Oberon’s elfin world. A scarcely audible fanfare, as of mysterious, distant trumpets, is marked to be played “as softly as possible.” A tutti crash introduces the fiery Allegro on themes of Huon’s adventures. Rushing violin figures forecast the triumphant escape of the lovers, Huon and his Princess Reiza. The horn-call and elf music return briefly, suggesting Oberon’s intervention. A clarinet sings a love melody from Huon’s first act aria. More quotations from the opera, including a lusty, stamping rhythm associated with the two elves, Puck and Droll, enrich the development. The exciting conclusion is based on the melody from the famous aria in which Reiza exults, “My husband, my husband, we are saved!” Keep reading!
The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok showed his musical gifts from a very early age. After careful tutelage from his amateur pianist mother, at age 13 Bartok made his earliest forays in the realm of composition. Four years later, although accepted into the Vienna Conservatory of Music, he elected to attend the Budapest Academy instead. His early interest and influences centered on the music of Wagner and Richard Strauss, but his great life work (along with his colleague Zoltan Kodaly) was to collate and transcribe the folk music of his native land. Inevitably the melodies and harmonies were assimilated into his own compositions. In 1940, Bartok and his wife left war-torn Europe to live in New York. Despite his being awarded a grant to continue his research on Yugoslav folksongs, and some success concretizing, finances were precarious. Bartok had already written two piano concertos by this time, but--partly because of the need to supplement his income--he started on a third. It soon became evident that his health was so poor, this work would be performed by his wife, as a legacy. He finished all but 17 bars of the Third Piano Concerto by the time of his death. It was completed by a friend, and performance details were added by Eugene Ormandy, who conducted the first performance. The work was immediately acclaimed, and has become a staple of the concert pianist’s repertoire throughout the world.
Elements of folk influence and mainstream classical tradition mingle in this at times powerful at times playful work. There are three contrasting movements. The first, Allegretto, opens with a beautifully relaxed and rhapsodic melody accompanied by gentle murmurings from the strings. The music progresses seamlessly to a whimsical ending. The second movement, intriguingly titled Adagio religioso (Bartok was an atheist), is characterized by serenity, as the strings create a hushed atmosphere sustained by the simple chords of the solo piano. Perhaps Bartok was recalling the hymns of his adopted continent, as Copland did also in his Appalachian Spring. A central section is marked by scurrying interjections from solo winds and xylophone (insect chirpings? bird calls?) before the mood of calm returns. The finale (Allegro vivace) is a headlong rush, full of brilliant rhythmic and melodic ideas bounced between orchestra and soloist. Hard to believe this delightful, blithe composition was penned by a dying man! Keep reading!
Notes by Anthony Princiotti
"To pretend all of one's life is the greatest of torments."
- Tchaikovsky, in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck, August 9, 1877
Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, and his struggle coming to terms with it, was the central issue of the composer's interior life. He felt tainted in the deepest psychological sense, and he greatly feared that public exposure of his sexual orientation would result in his complete rejection by society. In 1876, the thirty-six year-old Tchaikovsky embarked on a course of action that would reverberate throughout the rest of his life and greatly influence the musical and emotional content of his Fourth Symphony:
...is it not a terrible thought that people who love me can sometimes be ashamed of me! But, you know, this has happened a hundred times, and it will happen a hundred times more. In a word, I should like by marriage, or by a generally open liaison with a woman, to stop the mouths of various contemptible creatures whose opinion I don't in the least respect, but who could cause distress to people close to me...(letter to his Modest; October 1876)
An opportunity to act upon this plan presented itself within a year. A former student at the Moscow Conservatory, Antonina Milyukova, sent two letters to Tchaikovsky in May of 1877, declaring that she had loved him from afar for five years. They met for the first time on June 1st; within forty-eight hours Tchaikovsky and Milyukova were engaged. The absurdity of the situation was palpable. Not only did Tchaikovsky not feel any physical attraction toward his fiancé, he was contemptuous of her intellect and interests. He clearly told Milyukova that she could never expect him to love her, and that he needed a high degree of solitude not only for his work, but for his sense of well-being, conditions to which she readily agreed. The engagement was kept secret until shortly before the marriage on July 18th.
The marriage ceremony itself was a torment for Tchaikovsky, and after only a week of marriage, he found himself on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The crisis was relieved somewhat by a working vacation traveling through Russia, during which his wife stayed behind in Moscow to set up their apartment. He returned to the city at the end of September to resume his duties at the Conservatory. To Tchaikovsky's colleagues, all appeared to be well; however, the oppressiveness of his personal situation became so great that he walked into the cold waters of the Moscow River in a half-hearted attempt at suicide. It was now clear that continuing the marriage was an impossibility. He prevailed upon a friend to send a false telegram stating that his presence was required in St. Petersburg on a professional matter. When Tchaikovsky arrived in St. Petersburg on October 7th, he was a shattered man. A psychiatrist examined him and declared that he needed total rest and a change of scenery; he also said that Tchaikovsky should never see his wife again. Tchaikovsky's mortification was now total. He had discovered that it was impossible for him to achieve a lifestyle that would be socially acceptable. Worse yet, through the failure of his marriage this impossibility was now apparent for all to see.
Much of Tchaikovsky's agony found its way into his Fourth Symphony. In a letter written to his patroness and confidante Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky spelled out in detail (complete with written musical examples) the motivating concepts behind the work. While some of the images in Tschaikovsky's "program" may seem overblown, they confirm the symphony's essentially autobiographical content:
"In our symphony there is a programme - i.e. it is possible to express in words what I am trying to say, and to you, and only to you, I am willing and able to explain the meaning both of the whole and of the separate movements.
The introduction is the seed of the whole symphony (Tchaikovsky writes out the motto-theme which is heard at the work's outset). This is fate, that fateful force which prevents the impulse to happiness from attaining its goal, which jealously ensures that peace and happiness shall not be complete and unclouded, which hangs above your head like a sword of Damocles and constantly poisons your soul. It is invincible, and you will never overcome it. Is it not better to turn yourself away from reality and submerge yourself in day-dreams? (Tchaikovsky quotes the movement's second theme, a melancholy waltz) O joy! There appears, at the very least, a sweet and gentle day-dream. Some blissful, radiant human image hurries by and beckons you away (he quotes another waltz-tune, this one in a brighter key): How good this is! How distant now sounds the obsessive first theme of the Allegro. Day-dreams little by little envelop the soul completely. Everything gloomy, joyless is forgotten. No, these were day-dreams, and fate wakes you from them. Thus all life is an unbroken alternation of hard reality with swiftly passing dreams and visions of happiness...No haven exists...Drift upon that sea until it engulfs and submerges you in its depths.
The symphony's second movement expresses another phase of depression. This is that melancholy feeling which comes in the evening when, weary from your labor, you are sitting alone, you take a book - but it falls from your hand. There comes a whole host of memories. It is both sad that so much is now past and gone, yet pleasant to recall your youth. You both regret the past, yet do not wish to begin your life again. Life has wearied you. You remember much. There were happy moments when the young blood boiled, and life was satisfying. There were also painful moments, irreparable losses. It's both sad, yet somehow sweet to immerse yourself in the past.
The third movement expresses no definite feeling. It is made up of capricious arabesques, of the elusive images which rush past in the imagination when you have drunk a little wine and experience the first stage of intoxication. You think of nothing; you give free rein to your imagination - and for some reason it begins to paint strange pictures. Among these you suddenly recalled a picture of drunken peasants and a street song...Next, somewhere in the distance, a military procession passes. These completely disjointed images rush past in your head when you have fallen asleep. They have nothing in common with reality; they are strange, wild and disjointed.
The fourth movement. If within yourself you find no reasons for joy, look at others. Go among the people. Observe how they can enjoy themselves, surrendering themselves wholeheartedly to joyful feelings. A picture of festive merriment of the people. Hardly have you managed to forget yourself and to be carried away by the spectacle of others' joys, than irresponsible fate again appears and reminds you of yourself. But others do not care about you. They have not even turned around, they have not glanced at you, and they have not noticed that you are solitary and sad. O, how they are enjoying themselves, how happy they are that all their feelings are simple and direct! You have only yourself to blame; do not say that everything in this world is sad. Rejoice in others' rejoicing. To live is still possible!"
Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony is dedicated to Nadezhda von Meck. It was premiered in Moscow on February 22nd, 1878.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Did you catch game one of the World Series? Did you hear that fantastic arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner by John Williams? Did you know those brass players, in addition to playing with the Boston Pops, play with the VSO? Mark Emery, principal trumpet, John Faieta, principal trombone, Gabe Langfur and Greg Spiridopoulos, trombones, and Takatsugu Hagiwara, principal tuba, had the distinct pleasure of kicking off Game One of the World Series at Fenway Park on Thursday under the baton of John Williams. Vermont Public Radio got wind of this tidbit and interviewed Mark Emery the following morning. Follow this link to read the story or listen to a podcast http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/77923/. Keep reading!
Monday, October 15, 2007
World renowned pianist Peter Serkin will open the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s 2007-2008 Masterworks Series this fall in a season entitled “Great Returns.” Serkin will perform, with VSO music director Jaime Laredo conducting, at the Flynn Center in Burlington on Saturday, October 20, at 8 p.m. World renowned pianist Peter Serkin will open the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s 2007-2008 Masterworks Series this fall in a season entitled “Great Returns.” Serkin will perform, with VSO music director Jaime Laredo conducting, at the Flynn Center in Burlington on Saturday, October 20, at 8 p.m.
The concert celebrates the return of Peter Serkin to complete the Brahms piano concerto cycle begun in 2005. Serkin is recognized as an American artist of passion and integrity, and as one the most thoughtful and individualistic musicians appearing before the public today. Throughout his career he has successfully conveyed the essence of five centuries of repertoire; his performances with symphony orchestras, recital appearances, chamber music collaborations and recordings are respected worldwide.
A pre-concert discussion, “Musically Speaking,” moderated by WCVT-FM 101.7 Classic Vermont radio personality Brian Harwood, will be held at 7 p.m. at the Flynn Center, free for members of the audience. The discussion will feature Music Director and conductor Jaime Laredo, providing entertaining insight into the music, composers and musicians themselves.
Ma Mère L’Oye (Mother Goose Suite)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
The music of Ravel reveals several distinct facets: the Spanish influence of his Basque heritage; cutting satire; waltz music; impressionistic tone pictures; and the fantasy world of children and animals.
Ravel was a dapper man of delicate constitution, and his art was his life. He never married, traveled rarely, and shunned fame, twice refusing membership in the Legion of Honor. He was engrossed by a perfectionistic creative effort, but was uninterested in the performance of his works, a perverse attitude of “out of mind, out of sight.” At concerts he would escape to the foyer for a “cigarette liberatrice.” An able raconteur and player of practical jokes, his innate reserve and shyness left him only when he was in the company of children or animals.
The “Mother Goose Suite” is drawn from the world of childhood, originally a duo piano suite written for the gifted children of friends. To assure the piece a more popular musical feature, Ravel converted it to a ballet in 1912, from which is derived the orchestral suite.
I. Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty – Princess Florine has pricked her finger on a spindle and has fallen into a slumber from which her maids cannot wake her. The Good Fairy places two Blackamoors to guard her while she sleeps. The basic melodic line grows out of a phrase for flutes, horns, and violas heard at the beginning. In a languid tempo, the entire section is only 20 measures long.
II. Hop-O’-My-Thumb – At the head of this section Ravel quotes from Perrault’s fairy tale: “he believed that he would have no difficulty in finding his way by means of the bread crumbs which he had strewn wherever he had passed; but he was greatly surprised when he could not find a single crumb; the birds had come and eaten them all.” Muted strings follow the various solo woodwinds in a description of Hop-O’-My-Thumb’s winding trail. In the middle of the piece are suggestions of the twittering birds. A sense of anxiety pervades all.
III. Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas – Laideronette has been changed from princess to “Ugly Little Girl” by a wicked witch. Ashamed, she hides herself in a distant castle and encounters a huge Green Serpent (formerly a handsome prince). They voyage together and shipwreck on the shore of the land of the Pagodas. These are miniature people made of jewels, crystal, and porcelain who discover the Green Serpent to be their king. He and Laideronette are restored to their beauty and marry. The music describes an episode during which the tiny Pagodas play on nutshell instruments to accompany Laideronette’s bath. Ravel’s orchestration is obliged to parallel such musical delicacy – a march in miniature.
IV. The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast – Beauty tells the Beast that the goodness of his heart helps her forget his terrible visage. Taking pity on him, she accepts his proposal of marriage. This act of kindness transforms the Beast into a prince “as beautiful as the God of Love.” The musical dialogue opens between solo clarinet (Beauty) and contrabassoon (the Beast). Later, Beauty is heard through solo flute, oboe, and violin. The section ends with the sound of the cymbals, signifying transformation, and the voice of the prince is heard briefly in the cello.
V. The Fairy Garden – The suite returns to its original subject, Sleeping Beauty. She has slept on unchanged and is discovered and awakened by Prince Charming. The principal musical subject is a tender melody for strings. Ending all is a joyous fanfare as other characters gather around the couple and the Good Fairy gives them her blessing.
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires and trained in composition and piano in that city’s National Conservatory of Music. He begann to compose in his early youth, but later withdrew many of his works written before 1945 as immature.
In 1947, after return from travel in the United States on a Guggenheim grant, Ginastera was appointed to the faculty of his alma mater and also served as dean of the faculty of musical arts and sciences at the Argentine Catholic University. In 1969 he left Argentina and relocated in Geneva. At this time he was involved in opera, and it was his opera Bomarzo (1967) to which he owes musical notoriety. Commissioned and performed in the United States, it was banned two weeks before its South American premiere in Buenos Aires on the grounds that it was “obsessed with sex, violence, and hallucinations.” Ginastera agreed fully with the observation, and calmly went on to note that most serious opera is covertly or overtly involved with these same subjects, and that contemporary opera is simply more frank in its presentation.
Long before this brouhaha, Ginastera’s reputation in Europe had been established by the success of his earlier chamber works, among them the Variaciones concertantes. This piece was commissioned by the Asociacion Amigos de la Musica of Buenos Aires and was first performed in that city under Igor Markevitch on June 2, 1983. Always in love with the melodies and rhythms of Argentinian folk music, Ginastera began at this time in his life to make his musical language more international and personal, with a more subdued nationalism. Of the Variaciones he said, “The work has a subjective Argentine character. Instead of employing folklore material, an Argentine atmosphere is obtained by the use of original melodies and rhythms.” The piece consists of a theme and eleven variations, each of which features the special characteristics of a particular instrument, treated as a soloist.
The twelve sections of the work are played without pause.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in d minor, Op. 15
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Brahms was born in a Hamburg tenement to a mediocre bass player and a crippled seamstress 17 years her husband’s senior who quarreled incessantly. The family of five was squeezed into a few lightless rooms in a red-light district frequented by sailors.
Brahms’ father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and fortunately had the sense to recognize his son’s talent and provide him with the best teachers in Hamburg. From the age of ten, Brahms played publicly, and his family was so needy that they allowed him to play for dances in some of the lowest dives on the Hamburg waterfront, a fact that his early biographers suppressed. His teenage years were devoted to drudgery; teaching, playing at dance halls and parties, composing cheap songs and making popular arrangements of opera melodies under pseudonyms.
At the age of 20, Brahms had the good fortune to be invited on a joint concert tour by Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi. His decision to go would change his life forever, and leaving in total ignominy he returned in eight months the most talked-about young musician in Europe.
Through Remenyi, Brahms met Joseph Joachim, Liszt, and Robert and Clara Schumann. Upon hearing his music, the Schumanns all but adopted him and publicly declared him to be the future of music in Germany.
Brahms returned a changed man to a home which had not altered. His misery was heightened by separation from Clara Schumann, whom he had grown to love. When word reached him of Robert Schumann’s attempted suicide and incarceration in an asylum, Brahms rushed to Dusseldorf and took a flat over the Schumann’s, sacrificing the next two years of his life to take care of Clara and her children. Brahms’ attachment to Clara Schumann lasted for forty years, but the depth of their involvement is not known. What is known is that Brahms, perhaps scarred from childhood experiences, could never sustain a relationship with any woman to the point of committing himself to marriage.
The young Brahms did not have the confidence in himself that Schumann had. It was almost a quarter of a century before he produced his first symphony, and his youthful notions for a symphony became the D minor Piano Concerto. It started as a sonata for two pianos, but the material seemed too rich in texture for two unaccompanied instruments so a compromise was made through the creation of a piano concerto.
The music reflects the mood of a young man subjected to tremendous emotional buffeting. The first movement (Maestoso) opens with a thunderous and passionate theme, thought by some to reflect Brahms’ inner turmoil over the attempted suicide of his friend Schumann. This theme breaks off into a series of lyric passages during which the piano makes an unobtrusive entrance. (It has been said that Brahms’ concertos are really symphonies with instrumental obbligato.) After a treatment of the opening theme, the piano discloses an elegiac second theme of great contrast which is taken over by the violins.
The manuscript of the second movement (Adagio) was originally inscribed Benedictus qui venit in nominee Domini. Edward Downes gives this explanation: “Aside from its religious connotation, the words suggest a double dedication to the deceased Schumann and his widow. Since Brahms used to refer to Schumann as master, or ‘Dominus,’ the ‘blessed one who comes in the name of the master’ must have been the gentle Clara. This theory is strengthened by a letter from Brahms to Clara…saying: ‘I am also painting a lovely portrait of you. It is to be the Adagio.’” There are two beautiful subjects, one for muted strings and the second for clarinets.
The closing Rondo: Allegro non troppo returns to the symphonic texture of the first movement. The rondo refrain is the spirited principal theme, but after the piano cadenza a feeling of introspection returns to close the concerto.
The audiences of Brahms’ time seemed to find the piece too austere and gloomy. The first performance in Hanover was a failure, the second in Leipzig downright hostile, as Brahms reported: “At the conclusion, three pairs of hands were brought together very slowly, whereupon a perfectly distinct hissing from all sides forbade any such demonstration. The failure has made no impression upon me whatever. After all, I am only experimenting and feeling my way. But the hissing was too much.”
Our Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour has come to its conclusion and little remains but a few brilliant leaves and the warm feeling one gets from great friends and great music.
In line with my unwavering efforts to harvest entertaining tidbits from the musicians, I asked them each three questions about life as a musician. The questions sought to get a look at the details of a musician’s life – the things that others might not even consider. The musicians responded with humor, honesty, and an obvious love of Vermont.
As an orchestral musician, one finds work where it is available, never limiting oneself to the opportunities in one’s own backyard (though it’s convenient when such gigs arise). Our orchestra for Made in Vermont was made up of part Vermonter, part…should I say “other”? Some came from Massachusetts, others from New York, and even one weary traveler from Texas! I asked, when musicians are away from home for two weeks, what do they bring from home that they absolutely cannot live without? Responses ranged from the practical (cell phone charger, snacks for the road, iPod, a good book) to the downright strange (Russian kettlebell? Cast iron purse? Are these the same thing?). Mary Gibson, violin, says that she never leaves home without her sense of humor, which was imperative for her cheese raffle drawing shtick alongside fellow violinist Hilary Hatch. Personalities can vary greatly in the orchestra: whereas Abby Karr, violin, claimed she had a hard enough time remembering the essentials to consider bringing other comforts of home, fellow violinist Woonkuo Soon admitted he couldn’t leave home without his “decent stereo system, home theatre projector, and laptop.” Sounds like a green room screening waiting to happen!
OK, you’ve made it to the gig, the rehearsals elevated your confidence in the program, and you’ve had your share of Turkey dinner provided in Vergennes by Roland’s Place – yum! Concert time is rapidly approaching and your stomach starts doing cartwheels. How does a professional musician deal with nerves? If you’re Harold Lieberman, viola, you’ve already taken care of this problem with dinner. He lists “eating” as his anti-anxiety drug of choice. Similarly, Luke Baker, bass, positions himself at the VSO snack table to take off the edge. Others opt for actual drugs (OTC, naturally!): coffee, Ibuprofen paired with coffee, inderal (beta-blocker), or bananas (nature’s beta-blocker). Several respondents reported that deep breathing, quasi-meditative states, inner and external silence, Qi gong, yoga stretches, and praying assisted in calming their pre-concert jitters. Who knew the VSO was blessed with such spiritual folks?
Let’s face it, one of the unique perks associated with VSO affiliation is traveling through the idyllic landscape and exploring the picturesque towns. The Made in Vermont tour is geared toward just that, aiming to align the concert route with peak foliage around the state. I asked the musicians what they love about Vermont (keep in mind not all are Vermonters). Dieuwke Davydov, a cellist from Middlebury, made reference to this year’s prolonged Indian Summer by naming humidity as her favorite aspect of Vermont! Among the myriad answers, one stood out to me as a reinforcement of why I am here. Lino Tanaka, a violinist from Cambridge, Massachusetts, says his favorite part of Vermont is, “everything, absolutely everything.” Well said. Keep reading!
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The first half of the 2007 Made in Vermont Tour has been amazing. The eloquent and electrifying conducting of Anthony Princiotti, the sensitive and energetic playing of the orchestra and the amazing behind the scenes work of the VSO staff has made this tour more rewarding than I could have imagined. I had the extreme pleasure of being in front of the "home-team crowd." My high school music teacher, Peter Gage, and my teaching colleagues, Anne Hamilton and Jim Chapman, all brought students to the Green Room Program. All of my family members were able to attend at least one of the concerts here up north; my nieces and nephew attended too!
The Wolf, Dvorak and Tchaikowsky are wonderful works, impeccably performed. It's an honor to be in such company! "Rush Patrick's Vision" is a piece that breathes, communicates and carries my intentions to the audience. Prior to hearing a newly composed work, I am sure that every composer feels a little nervous ... not sure if the risks taken and the compositional choices were the right ones. I am pleased with my choices. My family has remarked that this is different than what I usually write, and I was glad to hear that. I wanted to take my work in new directions, and I have. I am grateful for the commitment and sensitivity of Maestro Princiotti and all of the musicians. I can't thank them enough for all of their work.
Now I'm off to finish packing and check my travel route - it's 3 1/2 hours to Manchester from here. I'm looking forward to enjoying the beautiful countryside.
-- Dr. Sara Doncaster Keep reading!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The following interview was conducted via e-mail with Dr. Sara Doncaster, world premiere commission composer for the 2007 Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour. Her piece, "Rush Patrick's Vision," will be performed at nine venues across the state during the tour beginning next week on September 27. For dates and venues, see the sidebar or visit http://www.vso.org/. The final question comes from our audience survey that patrons will find in their program book at each concert. The completed survey will serve as your entry into a drawing for a Cabot gift basket valued at $100.
Was it a natural choice for you to write music about your family's farm? Do you find that nature and/or Vermont themes pervade other music that you write?
Nature is often the inspiration behind my music. Rhapsody (1998), Song ofNature (2005) and several early works from my undergraduate years stem directly from perceptions of nature. I wrote a short flute and harp piece a long time ago based on a James Hayford poem "Ring of Hills." I also wrote a woodwind quintet this summer with the same name (based on themes from "Rush Patrick's Vision"). However, I consider "Rush Patrick's Vision" the first major work directly inspired by the farm. Rush Patrick would have been as old as my great-grandfather. He was a farmer who lived on a high hill farm on my parents' property. The Patrick family moved off the hill about 100 years ago. The land was purchased by the Ware family and made part of their property, which my father purchased about 50 years ago.
What elements of nature did you incorporate into the music? If we closed our eyes, could we hear anything that we might in the woods or on the top of a mountain?
"Rush Patrick's Vision" is primarily conceived as a journey through emotional states I imagined Rush Patrick might have experienced while working the land. There is a certain rustic quality to some of the melodies and woodwind doublings that are edgy, quirky, humorous and robust. I'm not sure if that is a depiction of the Patrick Family or my own! These sections were a great pleasure to work out. Even though there is no pictorial program, there are a number of times where I had an image of nature in my ear when I was writing the piece. The view is expansive and panoramic from the old farmsite. It's peaceful, but teeming with many sounds, in layers, all working together. Some specific sound images you could hear might be the hum of insects, the rhythm of haying equipment (not really a sound of nature but definitely a sound you'd hear on a farm), gusting wind. If the bright sunlight of late summer were a sound, it would be in my piece. The end of "Rush Patrick's Vision" represents the culmination of that hilltop view. The concluding harmonic progression is fairly static. Repeating patterns and melodies are played over and over, and they seem to phase in and out of the texture, sometimes recognizable, sometimes not. The final section represents the mountains in the distance, the sky, clouds and the wind blowing through the trees.
What was your favorite part of composing the piece? The worst part?
My favorite part of composing "Rush Patrick's Vision" was letting go and allowing myself to experiment. I loved writing some of the non-melodic rhythmic sections, because I was thinking in a way that I normally do not when I compose. I think the worst part of the process was proofreading -- making sure all of the phrasing, staccatos, accents, dynamics, notespellings and the like were all consistent and correct. I could lose myself for hours creating the music, but it seemed to me that the nuts and bolts aspect of the work took forever.
What's life like for a composer in Vermont? Do you think your life as a composer would be different if you were in a bustling city? Is it hard to make a living?
I love living in Vermont. I enjoy the quiet, small-town life. Irasburg is quite different than living in Burlington or other locations in central Vermont. Here in the northeast Kingdom musical events and performers are not so close by. There are wonderful concerts here in Vermont, but Montpelier and Burlington are often too far for me to drive, given my schedule and the often questionable winter driving. I do miss the city in several important respects. I miss the concert season. I lived in Boston for 18 years, an exciting center for new music, and there was always an exciting musical event to attend. I miss hanging out with other composers, and I also don't have access to performers that I can show my works in progress to. I think it's hard to make a living as a composer no matter where you might live. I am a music teacher in three public schools, so that's the way I earn my living. My commissions, grants and prize money that I win from time to time supplement my income nicely. Composing time is short, and it's often hard to write much after a full day of teaching. I have to jam a lot of work into the summers and school vacations. I have no complaints about any aspect of my career. Yes, my life as a composer would be different in a bustling city -- perhaps more performances and commissions, but I don't think my nerves would have held out. I enjoy and need solitude and quiet -- perhaps that's why I became a band teacher. :-)
Do you think that new/concert/contemporary music will gain footing with the traditional audience? Why do you think some people are turned off by this type of music?
Is it really true that modern music is not accepted by traditional audiences? I hope that isn't an issue. After all, we are in the 21st century! I am not against traditional programs, because my training as a composer began with Renaissance counterpoint and went chronologically from there. I have learned so much about my craft from writing in the style of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. However, it's important that we give equal or even more time to modern masterworks and newly composed music. From my perspective, contemporary music has gained a tremendous amount of footing, and will continue to gain even more footing as this new century unfolds. As long as presenters are willing to program modern music and audiences are willing to develop new listening strategies and are open to new ideas, new works will be heard more and more in the concert hall. There are so many exciting new works and new voices to get to know. I've been fortunate enough to see firsthand how well-received modern music can be as Director of the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival. For 15 summers, we had a jam-packed weekend of concerts and lectures of American Music with an emphasis on music written since 1945. I was not afraid of giving our audiences the most edgy and progressive programs I could, yet well-balanced and diverse - that's important. The concerts had a steady following and we always saw new faces every year. It’s an exciting time now for presenters -- I know first hand that audiences are ready for something new.
If you were the Big Cheese at Cabot and could create and name a new flavor, what would it be and why?
I love Cabot Cheese. The milk from the beautiful Jersey cows on Hillandale Farm, who graze on the meadows of Rush Patrick's old hill farm, goes into Cabot Cheese. With fond memories of hot apple pie, homemade vanilla ice cream and sharp cheddar cheese, I'd like to see an "Apple Cheddar" developed. Keep reading!
Friday, September 14, 2007
Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings was written in the early autumn of 1880, during the same period in which he composed his overture The Year 1812. “The overture will be very loud and noisy,” he wrote in a letter to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, “but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merit in it. I composed the serenade from inner conviction. It is a heartfelt piece and so, I dare to think, is not lacking in real qualities.”
Within Tchaikovsky’s pantheon of musical gods, Mozart stood above all others, and the serenade affectionately evokes Mozart’s style, albeit through the prism of late 19th-century Romanticism. The forms and phrases are clear and symmetrical. Simple melody with accompaniment is the primary expressive vehicle, balanced by passages in a contrapuntal style, the textures alternating between Classic lucidity and Romantic lushness.
Like Mozart, Tchaikovsky’s style was musically eclectic, as the serenade demonstrates. The waltz music of the first and second movements are prime examples of his unsurpassed skill in writing music for this European dance-form. The beginning of the third movement recalls the chorales of Russian church music before yielding to a full-throated operatic aria. The finale is based on two Russian folk tunes which are treated both in the traditional Russian-nationalist manner (continuous repetitions with varying accompaniments) and the European style (characterized by development and elaboration of melodic material).
As with Mozart, Tchaikovsky blends these diverse elements to create music that is at once entertaining (in the best sense) and emotionally compelling.
-- Anthony Princiotti
“The music of what happens,” said great Fionn, “that is the finest music in the world.”
--James Stephens, Irish Fairy Stories
"Rush Patrick’s Vision" was inspired by the view around me while sitting at the foundation of an old farm on a high pasture on my family's farm in Irasburg. The first half of the piece is restless and turbulent, somewhat fragmented, suggesting the starkness, severity and isolation often prevalent living on a high mountain farm. The second half of the piece begins with lyrical, introspective lines, inspired by the hills, the sky and the wind from the high mountain vista. This slower music introduces a contrapuntal section based on a long, ascending theme accompanied by several countersubjects. Rush Patrick’s Vision culminates with an intense stretto then ends peacefully, symbolizing the mystical healing power of the land and the spiritual strength gained from the work accomplished there. Rush Patrick was an earlier settler of the land my father purchased years later which is now part of Hillandale Farm, owned by the Doncaster Family.
-- Sara Doncaster
Dvorak’s composing career was given a huge boost in 1877 when Johannes Brahms recommended to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock, that he would do well to look into the young composer’s Moravian Duets. Once the duets were published, it also helped that the German critic Max Schutz weighed in as follows: “Only a master writes like this; only a poet by God’s grace has such inspiration.”
The Serenade for Winds was written in 1878 in just two weeks! During that same year Dvorak also wrote his famous Slavonic Dances (which brought him immediate international success), several orchestra works, five folk choruses, two songs, and various piano works. The Serenade was well received, and garnered another glowing review--from Hermann Krigar, who wrote “What fine artistic expression, what compelling melodies and touching harmonic progressions the composer has at his disposal.” Brahms himself expressed delight in the piece to his violinist friend Joseph Joachim, saying “It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent. It must be a pleasure for the musicians to play!”
Amply endowed with the spirit of Czech folk music, the piece begins with a tongue-in-cheek homage to the serenades of Mozart. The second movement includes two Czech folk dances: the sousedska (neighbor’s dance) and a furiant. A lovely melody graces the third movement, while the finale bubbles with high spirits. A reminiscence of the opening march theme brings the work to a jubilant close.
Adapted by Anthony Princiotti
Although Schubert is certainly a strong contestant, many would assert that Hugo Wolf was the greatest composer of art songs, or lieder, of all time. If a tragic life is a requirement, Wolf had that going for him for sure. He was a manic depressive and (like Schubert) suffered from syphilis (looking for love in all the wrong places). Towards the end of his life he became quite mad, insisting that he rather than Gustav Mahler was the director of the Vienna State Opera. Who knows what gems he might have composed had he not hastened his own demise?!
Born in Windischgraz, Austria, he studied music with his father, who was not a musician but a leather tradesman. He attended the Vienna Conservatory but was expelled for “breach of discipline” in 1877. He became a piano teacher, barely scraping by financially. His first compositions were orchestral: a string quartet and a symphonic poem. They did not meet with critical approval, so he began to compose songs instead, building on the expressive and dramatic musical innovations of Richard Wagner. In 1882 he wrote the Italian Serenade, which became quite popular, and is now considered to be one of the first works of his mature style. He originally wrote it for string quartet, then later orchestrated it. The solo viola parts were at first shared with solo English horn, but in his final revision the English horn lost out.
By 1894, Berlin had set up a Hugo Wolf Society! Although his fiery temperament (he was known as “Wild Wolf”) got him into trouble periodically, his musical gifts and his personal charm earned him attention and patronage. He was a great admirer of Franck and Liszt, although he felt much of Liszt’s music was too academic, whereas he strove at all times for color and passion in his writing. Certainly Wolf’s place in history is assured by his huge outpouring of lieder, but there is a little spot reserved for this marvelous instrumental piece as well.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I had wonderied why I was being photographed at our Okemo Summer Festival Tour concert as I radioed my crewmen from my station around the enormous fire pit. Business People Vermont had decided to do an article on Alan Jordan, Executive Director. They took a number of pictures including Alan making the fireworks call and shooting the breeze with the crew. Unfortunately, these shots didn't make it into the article, but a lovely shot of the tent that night and a comical shot from here in our office did.
Check out the article here http://www.businesspeoplevermont.com/2007/08-aug/vso.html. Keep reading!
Monday, July 16, 2007
It is now a little more than a week since the last concert of the Summer Tour, so all the sounds have faded to silence, replaced by new sounds of the moment; wind, rain, thunder, people, water. Music is so ephemeral. So much concentration and awareness and work and striving goes into making it, and then, at the very moment when the applause of appreciation breaks out, what is left? Nothing, but memories and reflections. And the continuing appeal of music is precisely because memories are so weak and ineffectual compared to the real thing. If we could recall it, conjuring memories that have the same passionate intensity as the actual music in the moment, there would be no need for future concerts.
Recordings are elaborate graspings at straws. The reality is more like the Buddhist sand paintings. So much effort and detailed work to produce elaborate beauty, in the full knowledge that it will all be swept away, nothing left. It's good to accept it that way, since in the end it is true of all life. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" as Prospero has it.
But there are the memories, and persisting mementos. For instance, through the generosity of the wonderful players of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra I now have a biography of a Florentine Goldsmith, a small metal angel, a fantastic dish, several eaten passion-fruit (so ugly inside) and a very large assortment of slightly misnamed pasta, which I have already merrily embarked upon eating.
What a pleasant life it was! A leisurely breakfast carefully timed to be just before check-out time, then a drive through wonderful scenery - very rich and healthy looking this year after so much rain in early spring - arrive at a new, highly individual, location. Then check in, check out the concert site, take a compulsory snooze, (such a crucial professional responsibility) try to remember how the music goes, get dressed, and go to the concert. Crack a few jokes, conduct a really wonderful orchestra, then dash out round the tent to watch the end of the fireworks. A little bit of chat, maybe a glass of wine - off to bed and repeat nine more times.
We were lucky with the weather for the most part. It was a shame to lose the chance to play outdoors on the fourth of July, and for the last concert in Stowe, but some brave brave souls outdid the weather for the sake of art at Three Stallion Inn in Randolph, and things were almost too perfect in Quechee, Grafton, Manchester, and Chittenden. Vermont seems to be in a different climatic zone from the rest of the US at the moment, but a little chill in the air was a small price to pay for being spared the oppressive heat of other places.
This whole thing was such a great time for me, and I am so glad I had the chance to be a part of it all. So I sign off from this sequence of blogging by thanking all concerned - audience, musicians, management, sponsors, for letting me have such a terrific time right here in my home state.
AJM Keep reading!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
On the road with the VSO.
Cruising by the fields and meadows.
And soaking up Vermont's natural inspiration.
One natural wonder at a time.
...before the bear.
Practice, practice, practice...ok, maybe a dip, too.
Our view of you.
photos by Tom Bergeron, trumpet Keep reading!
Sunday, July 8, 2007
The concert this evening, July 8th, 2007 will be indoors at the Jackson Arena in Stowe, at 7:30 pm. It is really easy to find. Here it is:
If you are on 100 in the middle of Stowe, turn south onto Park Street. I've put a little star on the map at the junction of Park and Main. There is an actual street sign there, as well as the one saying "Park Street", that says "Jackson Arena", with a handy little arrow.
Go down Park Street until it ends at Park Place. Turn left, and bear right past the Elementary School, and you will find yourself up the hill at Jackson Arena. Voila!!
AJM Keep reading!
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Jeff and I down-sized out of the backwoods of Benson a couple of years agoto the relative suburban town of Leicester, just north of Brandon. We now enjoy a paved driveway connected to a paved town road on which we have a modest amount of actual traffic, and the occasional appearance of a State Police car driving by - very comforting. We aren't quite sure why we have seen more wildlife in our backyard this past year than ever before in our 25 years together in Vermont. Cellist Billy Dollard would tell you it's because a nearby area named (for reasons lost to history) "Satan's Kingdom" appears in the Vermont Atlas. (Well, when it comes to local taxes, it does seem as though there is the devil to pay.)
Since late winter we have seen turkeys and an enormous variety of birds at our feeders, as well as a Canadian geese family that is annually renewed in a pond across the street and occasionally stops in for a day at the beach in our backyard pond. This is the perfect arrangement - all the Disney charm of growing goslings without the heavy deposit of calling cards. In contrast to the military precision with which the line of geese walk and swim, we enjoyed one brief visit from a Wood duck and her seven tiny ducklings, which tore around the pond with no apparent regard to direction or personal safety.
The bird feeders also attracted a beautiful black bear, which proceeded to make off into the woods with some very expensive Duncraft items. To thwart that habit, I put feeders on the little outdoor porch of the upstairs guest bedroom. Enter the raccoon. Now those feeders come in every night, but after dark our skunk makes sure to clean up the fallen seed below. If you have the luxury of living in a place with a wide variety of birds, you can understand why keeping their gorgeous plumage and lovely song close at hand is worth all the fuss. Our latest visitor is a gorgeous gray fox, with a luxuriantly bushy silver tail that accounts for at least one-third of its graceful presence. We're not quite sure why we are blessed with all this wildlife less than two miles from Route 7, but it's a lovely thing. In this environment I climb the stairs to that guest bedroom to practice violin. The one thing that all professional musicians share is the finely-honed skill of self-criticism. We've all spent so many hours alone in a room critiquing our abilities and progress or lack thereof with a clinical eye, and the best at that end up being some of our most able musicians or at worst are driven to quit. The reward for all this solitary angst is playing with other musicians who have paid the same dues and have shared experiences unique to our field. It's rather like the camaraderie of a somewhat elite military unit which has been put in harm's way and come out all in one piece with battle stories to tell - but survival is usually guaranteed and physical conditioning is not part of the requirements (unless you count the ability of arms making countless bow strokes without tiring or lips and facial muscles doing some very unnatural things for extended periods - musical things, I mean.)
The greatest reward, though, is to come together under the baton of a conductor who not only knows what his job is but has all the many skills the job requires. Once we've practiced our individual parts, it's up to the conductor to put them all together in a way that makes the sum of the parts greater than the whole. Under the right baton, there is a synergy that develops as each individual gives up part of his or her personal control to the conductor, trusting that one person to apply just the right kind and amount of musicianship, skill, and finesse to make each performance alive, beautiful, and unique. This is what it means to make music. It doesn't always happen, and in a professional setting, that is largely up to the nature and talents of the conductor.
The absolute icing on the cake is finding a conductor who is, beyond all that talent part, fully appreciative of the key ingredient in any joyous and successful undertaking: fun. I think it's fair to say that Andrew Massey has made this summer pops tour more fun and musically satisfying than it has felt in a long, long time, and the performances reflect exactly that. This is the one time I can remember a series of performances where the musicians are probably having a better time than anyone else, except perhaps Maestro Massey. This summer we've had such a great time getting to know one another better - when all is right on the podium, the talk amongst musicians isn't tense or negative; instead of grousing (which can be a second language for orchestral musicians) we are spending time on the important things fellowship, shared creation of beauty, and having a really good time. Thanks, Andrew, and thanks to all the musicians of the VSO - it's been a great time.
Hilary Hatch, violin Keep reading!
Friday, July 6, 2007
Mark Emery and I decided to hike Mt. Bromley after camping out at the Hildene Meadowlands, the halfway point on our tour. The estimated time for our hike, according to our guide, was 4-5 hours, so we brought some trail mix to keep us fueled. After a couple hours of ascent, we decided to break for a few minutes. We found an inviting rock to perch on and whipped out the trail mix. Not wanting to put my grimy hands into Mark's trail mix bag, I asked him to pour me a handful. A few nuts were dropped in the exchange which began to attract some chipmunks. What cute little creatures! I took out my camera to get some shots. To my dismay, as soon as I switched on my camera, all of the chipmunks scattered. "Must be shy," I remarked with a chuckle. "I think they are more likely BEAR-shy," said Mark without a chuckle, pointing to the trees. Looking up, my eyes met the eyes of a black bear that was eight feet tall, sniffing the leaves about 30 feet away from us. She intermittently looked up at us cautiously.
I whispered urgently, "It's the nuts! She picked up on our scent!"
"Maybe we should leave the rest of the trail mix on the ground and run...?"
"No way! Stay still, their vision is based on motion."
"No, you idiot, that's dinosaurs!"
"Oh yeah, thanks Steven Spielberg...."
"Dude, he's getting closer!!"
"I think I saw once on the Discovery Channel that if you make yourself look bigger, they'll be intimidated."
"Well, go for it if you're the expert."
In one of the scariest and most courageous moments of my life, I slowly stood atop the rock, my legs shaking as they straightened. I assumed the "YMCA" position.
"You should roar," whispered Mark.
"Screw you, man. YOU should roar."
To my surprise, I suddenly heard a manly death shriek come out of Mark's bellows. Immediately, the bear turned around and hurried away.
Now, as I sit on the stage at the Mountain Top Inn writing this blog entry from my chair as the strings play the Rachmaninoff Vocalise, a tear comes to my eye as I ponder the beauty of the teamwork.
Only on the VSO tour!
Tom Bergeron, trumpet Keep reading!
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
I know when summer officially begins for me - the temperature rises into the nineties, the humidity is high, and the VSO is sweating out its first rehearsal in the hockey arena at Middlebury College. After a long drive up, a focused rehearsal, and lots of catching up on news with old friends, it's time to head to Hilary's for a good night's sleep. As I pull into her driveway in Leicester, I see a note taped to her front door - a greeting from her husband Jeff, welcoming me back and pointing me in the direction of snacks and drinks. Bob, Monty, and Margie (their cats) appear to get their strokes and hopefully line up a spot on my bed for the night!
On Thursday we were back at the rink for a three-hour rehearsal. Everyone seems to be locking into the challenges of the summer's program and working with a new conductor. Between rehearsal and concert many of us walk to the center of town to windowshop and chat. Dinner is at the college grille and is always good.
Concert night is coolish and dry, the humidity has left us and the bugs don't seem to be out. What a relief! As we play our final three pieces, the sunset unfolds in front of us - ever-changing colors highlight the edges of the clouds. Better than fireworks.
Thursday morning is cool and crisp - perfect for my annual bikeride around Lake Dunmore. There is lots to see: campers at Keewaydin practicing archery, tennis instruction at the courts, lots of Icelandic poppies, lambs' ears and wild hollyhocks. Also the smells - sweet mown hay and fresh manure! Two dirt roads and many hills later, I arrive back at Hilary's. A good workout to begin the day.
I pick up Jeremy and Elizabeth in Middlebury for our ride to Quechee. We stop in Rochester for lunch and eat on the porch of a little cafe in the center of town. I started talking to the folks at the next table. Turns out, they'll be attending the Randolph concert. They promised to come up and say hi.
We arrived in Quechee and checked into our motel and kicked back for a while. Then we suited up and headed to the Polo Field. Instead of a beautiful sunset tonight, we were treated to two hot air balloons floating by. We all enjoyed Andrew's "state of euphoria" remark at raffle time. Seems like we're enjoying ourselves; the orchestra sounds relaxed and happy.
Becky Eldredge, bassoon Keep reading!
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
The concert in Middlebury went really well. The weather was perfect; gentle sun at first, and getting dark at the perfect moment for the fireworks. I was luckier that most of the orchestra; the fireworks are still going when the orchestra takes its final bow, so I am able to leave the stage, and last night I was able to nip around the edge of the orchestra tent and watch the grand firework finale while the players were still on stage. Ah! The advantages of power.
Tonight we play at the Polo Fields in Quechee.
This is another really easy-to-find location, so here is a little map of where that is.
These maps, needless to say, are not exactly to scale. They are more like the diagrams of the London Underground or New York Subway. They just show how things relate. For finding Quechee, if you are coming from I-89 or I-91 the only thing you need to look out for is Fat Hat Corner. And that is easy as there is a big commercial sign there. Nail that, and you are home.
I really do hope that people who do not know these locations well will follow the urge to come nonetheless. The audience was fantastic in Middlebury, and these concerts are for everyone.
Andrew Massey. Keep reading!
Thursday, June 28, 2007
The first concert of the Vermont Symphony Summer Festival Tour is tonight,
Thursday June 28th, at 7:30 p.m.
And for all you visitors and seasonals who don't know every tiny nook of Vermont, it is, fortunately, incredibly easy to find.
It is in Middlebury, a rather famous town just a bit south of Burlington. In fact here is a little map showing where it is, and proving that finding it is no problem at all.
The performance is at Alumni Stadium, which is on the East Side of South Main Street. That's the left hand side coming out of the center of Middlebury. There's plenty of parking, and you can get tickets at the last minute.
The weather looks great, and all these concerts will happen, rain or shine. So, if you wonder on any day if the weather looks iffy, call the VSO after 3:00 p.m., and there'll be an announcement message if the concert has to be indoors. 800-876-9293 or 802-864-5741.
See you there!
Andrew Massey. Keep reading!
Friday, June 22, 2007
Sooner or later we find ourselves facing Richard Wagner. He really was the big guy among composers, and his music is the big music.
Most of the pieces we shall be playing in our concerts this summer last somewhere between 2 and 10 minutes. But Richard Wagner wrote a piece of music that lasts 15 hours! Yes, hours. Of course, you can neither play, nor listen to, a 15-hour piece all in one go. The human body is just not equipped to cope with that, even if our fanatical minds might be. So Wagner conveniently equips the piece with breaks for eating, excreting, sleeping, and just plain recovering. Ideally, this piece of music, called The Nibelung’s Ring is performed over a period of about a week, occupying four evenings. Monday is the first chunk, for 2 1/2 hours without a break, Tuesday is the first full evening, with a three-act opera; chunk three coming on Thursday gives the singers a chance to recover from Tuesday and sing another three-act opera. Then on Saturday night there is yet another three-act opera that even has a rather large prolog before the first act even begins! I’ve been to see/hear this full cycle several times. I was rather daunted by the idea before I first did so, and proclaimed with some pride that I had no intention of going to Wagner’s Ring. It just seemed too much of any sort of thing. But it is terrific, and I heartily recommend it.
We are, obviously, not playing a 15-hour piece of music during our roughly 2 hour concert! But we are going to play an 8-minute excerpt from it. It comes from the prolog I mentioned - the bit of the last big opera that comes before the first act proper gets started. In fact it is the end of the Prolog. So if you like it, be aware that, when we stop, that is when the real story begins!
Is it foolish to suggest that a set of operas spread over a week is a single piece of music? Not really. Much shorter pieces get broken up, so there is nothing odd about that. Sergeant Pepper breaks up into tracks, yet we still think of it as a single musical “thing.”
But how is it possible for a piece of music to last for 15 hours, and hang together as a single entity? Ah! There lies the question! And it is the solution to that problem that was Wagner’s task in life, the inspiration behind what he did, the reason his music is so great, and also the reason why some people have a hard time getting into it. But have no fear - intrepid concert-goer - I shall give you the key, and our 8-minute excursion will give you a glimpse of the glories that are there for the taking.
You might think I’m getting a bit pompous with all this stuff but, hey, it’s Wagner I’m talking about, and if anyone could get way serious it was Wagner. But the principle is quite simple, and it has to do with Beethoven, and the way music and words relate to each other.
Wagner was hugely impressed, as we all are, by Beethoven’s 9th symphony - the choral symphony. And the thing that struck Wagner about that particular piece was the way in which it solved some of Beethoven’s own problems about range and size and what the limits of music might be, and how to overcome them. Beethoven had hit a wall in terms of what his music could express, and his solution was to turn to words, to Schiller’s Ode to Joy to increase the power of music. But an odd thing struck Wagner. When you listen to Beethoven’s 9th, you can’t really hear the words at all. A lot of the time a large chorus is singing fugues and counterpoint, and trying to make the words audible is a waste of time. So how can we say that the words helped? After all, the standard party line is that music is much more emotionally powerful than words. “Music begins where words leave off” as Mendelssohn had said.
But what words can do is to put an idea into your mind while you are listening to the music. Music is terrible at suggesting, say, a rose. How can you tell if the music is about a rose or a daisy or a bird or a river? You can’t. So if you use music to enrich an idea, it is very poor indeed. Music that is set to words, used for instance just to support the words of a really corny opera, that sort of music does a very poor job, and Wagner hated that stuff. But what if you do it the other way round?
Instead of “setting words to music” - using music to express the meaning of words - how about if you “set music to words?” In other words, you don’t make the music form itself around the words, but you use words to point out the extraordinary power of the music. Have you noticed how very often, a piece of music that you already know seems hugely more powerful when it is used in a movie? Somehow, the fact that you have pictures, and a story-line at the same time, enables the music to get under your skin much more strongly. Music gives us emotion without any reason. So we often don’t easily give in to it. But suppose that we have words, a dramatic structure, that serves to indicate what sort of emotion the music is pursuing, that gives us, as it were, permission to feel about situations of the utmost extremity while we listen to the music, situations of the most intense passion, despair, aspiration, desire? This is what Beethoven did: he added to his music the hint that you should think about the power of joy while the symphony is going on. And Wagner took the hint, and used the suggestive power of myth and vast tragic dramas to release the power of music as never before.
But it is a Faustian deal. The music becomes more powerful, but it also depends somewhat on the words and ideas and dramas that have released it. This is why some people find Wagner tough. If you just listen to it as music, it is so extreme that it almost breaks. So you have to do a little bit of homework, and know what he is getting at before you hear the music, or watch the opera. Idea plus music is a powerful concoction, but if you only swallow the music, and ignore the idea, it can seem rather strange.
In a future post I’ll let you know exactly what the ideas are behind the little 8-minute excerpt we are going to play, Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine. It is so short and simple that I shall explain it from the stage too. In essence:
Siegfried wakes up beside the woman he loves;
they sing of their love;
he sets off on an adventure;
you hear him blow his horn;
he travels along the river Rhine and
arrives at a castle.
That’s it. But we know who he is, and that this castle is going to be his doom. He will be murdered there. More next time. It may sound like a dumb story, but it’s not there to be a good story, it’s there to indicate the passion in the music. As long as it makes musical sense, it makes dramatic sense.
Heck, the 1812 is much better with fireworks, and fireworks are much better with the 1812. It’s the same sort of thing really. We’ll give you just a taste of the magic that Richard Wagner weaves. Keep reading!