Friday, June 1, 2007

The Music of Summer

Spring has arrived. At least it seems that way at the moment. Let's hope it takes hold this time.

My name is Andrew Massey, and I am going to be the guest conductor for the TD Banknorth Summer Festival Tour concerts with The Vermont Symphony this year. I live in Montgomery Center, but travel around a lot since I conduct in many different places. I'm in Milwaukee as I write this first blog post, but I was at home in Vermont at the beginning of May, and we still had snow on the ground round our house, up in the woods, and Jay Peak was still doing busy business. It has been an odd winter, with nothing much happening until the end of January, then snow that just kept hanging on. I know global warming is a big worry, but as it starts to bite it seems more like climate chaos, leaving us not knowing when to chase after the maple syrup, or to wake up the bears. So it's been a relief to have those first few warm days, when it's a joy to go outside, but the horse flies haven't started yet.

During the winter arts season, the weather doesn't matter very much for classical music - it just affects the getting there. The whole idea of music, in the cold weather, is people playing instruments in a room, and the room they play in makes a major difference. We've all heard choirs singing in a huge Cathedral - it's a completely different experience from hearing the same choir in, say, a high school cafeteria. It's utterly different for the singers too, since it's so much easier to sing and to hear yourself when the room gives something back; the reverberation of the Cathedral is a crucial part of what actually makes the sound.

It's the same with orchestras. A fine hall is easier to play in, because of the way that it enhances the quality of the sound. But the location of a concert is important in other ways too. Architecture has a tremendous effect upon our mood, and therefore on our response to the arts. I always love going to the Flynn Center, not least because of the wonderful entrance and lobby, making me feel that I have really come somewhere. Boston's Symphony Hall is one of the greatest places for music in the world, deliberately modeled after the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna. It's the whole atmosphere, the sense of occasion as well as of place, that matters.

And that is why we need to recognize that there is another musical tradition - just as ancient, just as uplifting as an experience - that is the performance of music out of doors in the summer time. It takes us all the way back to travelling troubadours, to the music for the maypole, bagpipes high on the peaks above the glen, open air parties and gatherings, and all the dancing and celebration of summer. Orchestras have invested as much in outdoor venues as they have in interior halls - Boston has Tanglewood, Cleveland has Blossom, Chicago Ravinia; there is the Hollywood Bowl, and the San Francisco Symphony plays among the eucalyptus in Stern Grove.

I think that in this regard the Vermont Symphony is perhaps the most fortunate of all orchestras, since, as the irritating tourist says about Vermont in the movie Baby Boom, "the whole state is cute."

Vermont has the perfect balance of scenic beauty and civilized life. Not so remote as to need camping out in the desert, nor so developed that you can never escape the sound of traffic, it is the perfect place for that other great concert hall: the open air of a summer's evening. These are very special concerts, playing with the light as the sun sets, bringing us in from the bold full-light openings, to the more centered, focussed melody of twilight, then bursting out triumphantly with fireworks.

I shall be writing more over the coming days, about the specific music that we shall be playing, and about the places where we shall perform. So come back to this blog often, and I'll see you at the concerts.

Andrew Massey, conductor.
ps. you can find details of the concerts with this link.