Thursday, November 29, 2007

The VSO asks its Holiday Pops guests five questions

“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.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Win this dollhouse for as little as $1!

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

The VSO asks Vanessa Perez five questions

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.
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Overture to Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

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!”
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Piano Concerto No. 3 by Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

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!
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Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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: 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.

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