Friday, November 28, 2008

And the winner of the photo contest is...

...Mark Nash of Jeffersonville, Vermont. His photo, "North Cambridge Road," received 208 votes, a whopping 30% of the total number of votes! Congratulation, Mark. His photo, which you can view (along with all the other entrants) by clicking "Read on!" will be featured in the VSO's 2009 Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour promotional materials.

Here is a slideshow of all the entrants. Thanks to everyone for entering!

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2008 Holiday concerts around the state

Is it possible that Thanksgiving is next week?! Time flies when you're immersed in music! To bring spirit to your holiday season, the VSO presents three Holiday Pops concerts around the state and four intimate concerts featuring the VSO Brass Quintet alongside Counterpoint, Robert De Cormier's twelve-member chorus. Read on for dates, program, and ticket information.

Holiday Pops: Rejoice!
Robert De Cormier and Dawn Willis, conductors
Indra Thomas, soprano
Peter Hamlin, narrator
VSO Chorus

Friday, December 12, 7:30 p.m.
Barre Opera House, Barre
Tickets through the Barre Opera House online, in person, or by calling (802) 476-8188

Saturday, December 13, 7:30 p.m.
Flynn Center, Burlington
Tickets through the Flynn Regional Box Office online, in person, or by calling (802) 86-FLYNN

Sunday, December 14, 3:00 p.m.
Paramount Theatre, Rutland
Part of the Sunday Matinee Series
Tickets through the Paramount Theatre online, in person, or by calling (802) 775-0903

No choice but to rejoice at the wonderful collection of holiday fare in store on the program! Audiences can look forward to Indra Thomas' gorgeous soprano voice, several of Robert De Cormier's own seasonal arrangements, "Rejoice" by Braintree's Gwyneth Walker, Peter Hamlin's comic narration of "Christmas with Mr. Grump," excerpts from Handel's Messiah, and much more.

DE CORMIER, arr. Glory and Honor
STOOKEY/DE CORMIER, arr. O Come O Come Emmanuel
ANDERSON/PARSHLEY, arr. Three Carols for Brass
JOHN JACOB NILES/DE CORMIER, arr. I Wonder as I Wander
PETER HAMLIN Christmas with Mr. Grump
WILCOX, arr. Carol Sing Along
J.S. PIERPOINT/PUNWAR, arr. Tintinabulations
DONALD FRASER The Christmas Symphony
HANDEL Excerpts from Messiah

VSO Holiday Brass Quintet with Counterpoint
Roger Grow, conductor

Thursday, December 18, 7:30 p.m.
Warren United Church, Warren
Tickets are free, but required for entry. They will be available beginning December 1 at the Bradley House in Warren.

Friday, December 19, 7:30 p.m.
Brandon Congregational Church, Brandon
Tickets are available beginning December 1 at the Briggs Carriage Bookstore in Brandon. Adults $18; Seniors, students and AARP members $15

Saturday, December 20, 5:00 p.m.
The White Church, Grafton
Tickets are free, but required for entry. They will be available beginning December 1 at the Grafton Grocery Market in Grafton.

Sunday, December 21, 4:00 p.m.
First Congregational Church, Manchester
Tickets are available beginning December 1 at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester. Adults $18; Seniors, students and AARP members $15

For more information on these or any of our concerts, please call the VSO Office at (800) VSO-9293, x 10, or visit
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Program Notes: December 6

The second concert of the VSO's Masterworks series at the Flynn Center in Burlington serves up some American fare and one of the most famous pieces commissioned for one of America's greatest orchestras. Anthony Princiotti conducts this concert featuring Music of Our Time. Tickets are available through the Flynn Center's FlynnTix box office. Read on for program notes.

Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Although he never received a traditional musical education as a youngster, at the age of 21 Copland became the first American student accepted to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1924, he wrote a series of jazz-influenced works in an attempt to Americanize his European training, and then developed what has been termed an “austere” style too radical for many people’s taste. In the mid-30s Copland had an epiphany about the direction his music would take. He wrote later: “I began to feel an increasing dissatisfaction with the relations of the music-loving public and the living composer. The old ‘special’ public of the modern-music concerts had fallen away, and the conventional concert public continued apathetic or indifferent to anything but the established classics. It seemed to me that we composers were in danger of working in a vacuum…. I felt it was worth the effort to see if I couldn’t say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms. As I see it, music that is born complex is not inherently better or worse than music that is born simple.” It was typical of Copland, basically a positive spirit, to find a solution to a problem rather than stew. “Agony I don’t connect with,” he once said. “Not even alienation.”

Rodeo was written after the success of Copland’s first great western ballet, Billy the Kid. Initially the composer was reluctant to tap into the same subject matter again, but choreographer Agnes de Mille won him over to the lighthearted story of what she called “The Taming of the Shrew—cowboy style.” (He may also have been swayed by having recently become impressed with Ginastera’s ballet Estancia, set on the ranchos of the pampas.) Originally written for string orchestra, Rodeo was later modified for full symphony orchestra, and given its premiere in 1942 at the Metropolitan Opera House by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with de Mille herself dancing the lead role. The performance was a huge success: de Mille took 22 curtain calls, and the ballet was repeated 79 times during the ensuing season. In 1943, Copland excerpted the four selections that are a staple of the concert repertoire today. Rodeo (originally called The Courting at Burnt Ranch) is unique in the extent to which it incorporates many traditional American folk tunes practically intact within the score.

The weekend rodeo in the American Southwest as described by Copland’s marvelous music is a tradition where cowhands show off their skills, and may find themselves competing in a mating game as well. Buckaroo Holiday opens with a fanfare and segues into a quiet Cowgirl theme and then a rhythmic motif that evokes the trotting of horses. The tunes are based on the cowboy song “If He’d Be a Buckaroo by Trade” and the railroad song, “Sis Joe.” The plot unfolds as the loner Cowgirl seeks the attention of the Champion Roper, who unfortunately is preoccupied with the more feminine Rancher’s Daughter. The Corral Nocturne portrays the lovelorn musings of the Cowgirl at sundown as she “runs through the empty corrals intoxicated with space, her feet thudding in the stillness.” In the Saturday Night Waltz, the musicians seem to tune up and then the cowboys and their girls pair off as the oboe begins a variant of the cowboy song, “Goodbye, Old Paint.” The Cowgirl is alone until the Champion Roper approaches her, having lost to the Head Wrangler in winning the affections of the Rancher’s Daughter—and registering the fact that the Cowgirl has come in a beautiful dress. Hoe-Down (which begins with the well-known fiddle tune, “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” and also features elements of the Scottish dance, “McLeod’s Reel”) builds to a climax, slows as (surprise!) the Cowgirl and the Wrangler share a kiss, and (happy ending!) concludes with a final fanfare.

Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture
George Gershwin, 1898-1937

Porgy and Bess is an opera, first performed in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Heyward. It is based on Heyward’s novel and play, Porgy, which he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy. All three works deal with African-American life in the fictitious Catfish Row (based on the real-life Cabbage Row) in Charleston, S. Carolina, in the 1920s.

Originally conceived by Gershwin as an “American folk opera,” Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in the fall of 1935 with an entire cast of classically-trained African-American singers—a daring and visionary choice at that time. It tells the story of Porgy, a crippled black man living in the slums, and his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her pimp, and Sportin’ Life, a drug dealer. Gershwin considered it to be his finest work, but although it ran for 124 performances on Broadway, it was not a commercial success until long after his death. From the outset, it has been controversial, and many have condemned it as racist. Several of the members of the original cast later stated that they had concerns that their characters might play into the stereotype that African Americans live in poverty, take drugs, and solve their problems with their fists. Harold Cruse, the social critic and educator, called it “the most incongruous, contradictory cultural symbol ever created in the Western World.” Harry Belafonte declined to play Porgy in the 1950s film version, and so it was offered to Sidney Poitier, who reputedly regretted his choice ever after. Over time, the work gained acceptance from the opera community, and thanks to Ira Gershwin’s edict that only blacks to allowed to play the lead roles in U.S. productions, Porgy and Bess launched many a prominent career.

In reaction to early criticisms that Porgy and Bess was nothing more than a hybrid, an “aggrandized musical show” with too many songs (rather than arias), Gershwin wrote a rebuttal in The New York Times: “I am not ashamed of writing songs at any time so long as they are good songs. In Porgy and Bess I realized I was writing an opera for the theater, and without songs, it could neither be of the theater nor entertaining from my viewpoint. If I am successful, it will resemble a combination of the drama and romance of Carmen and the beauty of Meistersinger.”

The music itself reflects Gershwin’s New York jazz roots, but also draws on southern black traditions. The composer used as models each type of folk song that he knew about: jubilees, praying songs, street cries, works songs, and spirituals. Many biographers have noted allusions to Jewish music as well.

In 1942, Robert Russell Bennett arranged a medley (rather than a suite) for orchestra called Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, which is often heard today in the concert hall. It is based on Gershwin’s original scoring, though for a slightly different instrumentation. Well-known songs include “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” and “Summertime.” “Summertime” is the most popular cover song in popular music, with more than 17,500 different versions recorded. An international group of collectors of recordings of “Summertime” (The Summertime Connection) has more than 11,900 different recordings in its archives!

Concerto for Orchestra
Bela Bartók (1881-1945)

Early in 1943, Bela Bartók lay ill with leukemia at Doctor's Hospital in New York City. He received a surprise visit from Serge Koussevitzky, who offered the great Hungarian composer a commission for a work in memory of the conductor's late wife. To the amazement of all his doctors, Bartók's health improved along with his spirits and he was soon able to leave the hospital. Concentrating on the piece at an idyllic retreat in North Carolina, he completed the Concerto for Orchestra in just under two months.

There is no need to resist the temptation to read an autobiographical progression from dark introspection to optimism into the piece: in Bartók's own words, "...through working on this concerto, I discovered the wonder drug I needed to bring about my own cure."

The Concerto for Orchestra is essentially a five-movement symphony. Its name reflects its connection to the baroque concerto grosso, a form which contrasted a featured group of solo instruments with the full orchestra. Since its first performance in Boston in 1944, the work has become a showpiece for orchestral virtuosity.

The composer writes: "The general mood of the work represents, apart from the jesting second movement, a gradual transition from the sternness of the first movement through the lugubrious death-song of the third, to the life assertion of the finale."

The first movement (Introduzione), which is more or less in regular sonata form, draws most of its thematic material from the introduction, with its characteristically Hungarian melodic intervals of a perfect fourth. The development contains strident and virtuosic fugal episodes for the brass. The second movement (Giuoco delle coppie) is a chain of short sections in which pairs of instruments (bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes, and muted trumpets) consecutively play a jocular tune at varying intervals. A kind of trio--a short chorale for brass and side drum--is followed by an elaborated recapitulation. The ravishing third movement (Elegia), based in the main on themes from the introduction to the first movement, includes mysterious, liquid passages for clarinet, flute, and harp.

The fourth movement (Intermezzo interrotto) has been interpreted variously. It begins with a playful melody in the oboe and a hauntingly lovely theme played by the violas and then the English horn. Suddenly this music is rudely interrupted by a new tune and shrill, disrespectful "laughs" from various parts of the orchestra. Some interpreters say the mocking laughter is from the interrupters themselves, gleefully rejoicing at their desecration of something beautiful. Others say the mockery is of the new tune, which Hungarian music scholars attribute to a "pseudo-Hungarian" composer/dilettante. Bartók's son Peter asserts that his father was poking fun at a theme he found ludicrous from Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony. Musicologists have recently learned that Shostakovich himself was parodying a Viennese cabaret song in an attempt to
portray the horror of the German invasion. All in all, quite a fascinating exegesis!

The fifth movement (Finale) begins with an introductory phrase from the horns which yields to a long perpetuum mobile section. Expansions of the fugal treatment heard in the first movement are accompanied by the rushing string figures of the perpetuum mobile. A climax in trumpets and trombones is formally rounded off by the initial horn phrase, brought back as a coda.
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SymphonyKids Spotlight: Go Figure

When it comes to the VSO's SymphonyKids Education Outreach Programs, one has two options: (1) let us come to your school; or (2) come to us. This school year (like every year), the VSO will be just one of the Student Matinée concerts hosted by the Flynn Center for the Arts. Read on to learn more about it and to watch a segment of VSO On Stage in which Eleanor Long talks about the show.

Come explore the math and physics of music—it’s amazing how many ways these disciplines intersect! Students will be challenged (can you play a rhythm of 4 against 7?), intrigued (what on earth is the Fibonacci series?), and enlightened (from Mozart’s math to Schoenberg’s serialism). Copland’s Rodeo illustrates fun facts about intervals, note division, meter, and the science of hearing. A special collaboration with the Young Writers Project and student composer Joshua Morris from St. Albans completes the equation: we’ll hear a six-minute world premiere inspired by six six-word stories—all from the creative minds of Vermont youth!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Episode 5: Daron Hagen

David Ludwig interviews composer Daron Hagen about opera, "Masquerade," a double concerto he wrote for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, and the current climate of the compositional world, on the current episode of Vermont Music Now. Keep reading!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Reviews of our Masterworks series opener

Click the following three links to read two reviews of Saturday night's concert featuring Jaime Laredo, Augustin Hadelich, and Joseph Schwantner. The third link will take you to a story from Seven Days about the YoPros.

Jim Lowe's review in the Times Argus

Paul Orgel's review from Classical Voice of New England

"Classically Awesome" by Matt Scanlon for Seven Days

Post your review below by posting a comment.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Program Notes: October 25

On October 25, the VSO will begin its two-year 75th Anniversary celebration with "Music of Our Time." The 2008/2009 Masterworks series will feature music written only in the last 74 years, or the lifetime of the VSO. The program notes have been included here. For bios of Augustin Hadelich and Joseph Schwantner, scroll down to the posts featuring each guest artist.

Chasing Light…
Joseph Schwantner

One of the special pleasures of living in rural New Hampshire is experiencing the often brilliant and intense early morning sunrises, reminding one of Thoreau’s words, “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me” (Walden). Chasing Light… draws its spirit, energy and inspiration from the celebration of vibrant colors and light that penetrate the morning mist as it wafts through the trees in the high New England hills. Like a delicate dance, those images intersected with a brief original poem that helped fire my musical imagination.

Chasing Light…

Beneath the sickle moon,
sunrise ignites daybreak’s veil
Calliope’s rainbowed song
cradles heaven’s arc
piercing shadowy pines,
a kaleidoscope blooms
morning’s embrace
confronts the dawn

The four-movement work, about eighteen minutes in duration, proceeds from one movement to the next without pause. Each movement’s subtitle is associated with a pair of lines from the poem.

Mvt. I: “Sunrise Ignites Daybreak’s Veil” (Con forza, feroce con bravura) opens with an introduction containing three forceful and diverse ideas presented by full orchestra: (1) a low rhythmic and percussive pedal point on “F” followed by (2) a three-note triplet figure in the brass overlaid by (3) a rapid swirling cascade of arch-like upper woodwind phrases cast in a stretto-like texture. These primary elements form the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic materials developed in the work.

Following the introduction, the strings present a theme derived from the pedal point rhythmic gesture and the brass three-note figure leading to an extended series of upward thrusting six-note sonorities and a long increasing assertive line (first brass, then later strings and woodwinds) partitioned into two parts. The movement ends with a return to the introductory material and a sustained pitch on “G” providing a link to the next movement.

Mvt. II: “Calliope’s Rainbowed Song” (lontano) The rapid arched woodwind phrases in the introduction to the first movement, occur in a variety of divergent contexts throughout the work, not only as small scale gestures but in larger more extended designs. Cast in a major arch-like palindrome form, this movement begins softly, first with solo clarinet followed by a repeated piano sonority that forms the structure of a theme played by solo flute. Gradually, this theme builds to an exuberant midpoint, followed by sections that appear in reverse order finally ending quietly and gently with solo clarinet and a high ethereal violin harmonic on “A” that carries over to the third movement.

Mvt. III: “A Kaleidoscope Blooms” (lacrimoso) a slow expressive and elegiac movement for oboe (for Andrea Lenz, principal oboe of the Reno Chamber Orchestra), opens with a low dark repeated pedal played by piano, contrabass and tam-tam. Sudden rapid woodwind gestures contrast and frame a succession of gradually ascending oboe phrases that accumulate ever-greater urgency as the music approaches its maximum intensity at the end.

Mvt. IV: “Morning’s Embrace Confronts the Dawn” (lontano…leggiero) The rapid and aggressive woodwind phrases in the first movement now emerge in delicate and shimmering string textures. These earlier elements prepare for a stately but urgent chorale theme that builds forcefully to the palindromic music of the third movement, the introductory materials of the first, and a final climatic conclusion.

Chasing Light… a “Ford Made in America” Commission, the largest commissioning consortium in the United States involving some fifty-eight orchestras in all fifty States, is a Partnership Program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer, generously funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from the Aaron Copland Fund, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts and the Amphion Foundation.

Known for his dramatic and unique style and as a gifted orchestral colorist, Joseph Schwantner is one of the most prominent American composers today. He received his musical and academic training at the Chicago Conservatory and Northwestern University and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, and the Yale School of Music, simultaneously establishing himself as a sought after composition instructor. Schwantner's compositional career has been marked by many awards, grants, and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his orchestral composition Aftertones of Infinity and several Grammy nominations. Among his many commissions is his Percussion Concerto, which was commissioned for the 150th anniversary season of the New York Philharmonic and is one of the most performed concert works of the past decade. Schwantner is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Schwantner’s music is published exclusively by Schott Helicon Music Corporation and recorded on the RCA Red Seal/BMG, Hyperion, Naxos, Koch International Classics, EMI/Virgin, Sony, Delos, New World Records, Klavier and Innova labels. Schwantner’s recent commissions include works for the 75th anniversary of the National Symphony Orchestra, eighth blackbird, Flute Force, a work for flute and piano to honor flutist, Sam Baron’s memory and a Concerto for Percussion Section, Timpani and Orchestra for the Percussive Arts Society and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, for the Society’s 50th anniversary.

Ballet Suite from Estancia
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires and died in Geneva. Educated in Buenos Aires, his professional career included teaching positions at Argentine conservatories and universities, several years in the USA, and the directorship of the Latin American Center for Advanced Musical Studies. He is celebrated as one the foremost composers of his generation from the Americas, and a number of his works, such as his first string quartet, the harp concerto, and several symphonic works, have achieved a permanent place in the international repertory. The ballet Estancia is one of Ginastera's earlier mature works. An earlier ballet, Panambí, composed in 1937 when Ginastera was still a student, impressed the New York ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein, who commissioned Estancia in 1941 for a planned South American tour by his company. Unfortunately, the troupe disbanded in 1942, and the work had to wait ten years for a stage premiere. In the meantime, Ginastera extracted the suite of four dances heard here. The ballet depicts the work of a single day, from dawn to the following dawn, on an estancia, or Argentine ranch. During the course of the day, a country woman rejects a suitor from the city until he demonstrates that he can work as hard as the gauchos.

In style, the music falls in the main stream of the mid-twentieth century, drawing particularly on early Stravinsky and Bartok, and bearing a similarity to some works of Aaron Copland, who became a friend of Ginastera's. Ginastera builds each movement from short, relatively simple, folk-like modal melodic ideas often of primarily rhythmic interest. Indeed, rhythm is of central importance; seemingly all the instruments of the orchestra are used at times as extensions of the percussion. The first dance, Los trabajadores agricolas ("The Farm Workers"), from the "morning" sequence of the ballet, introduces the laborers with rapid, energetic music full of ostinatos, cross-rhythms, and a large battery of percussion. Danza del trigo ("Wheat Dance") is a mostly quieter episode that builds to a lyrical climax, but with an ever-present pulse in pizzicato strings and pulsing winds. Los peones de hacienda ("The Cattlemen") is another fast dance, switching bewilderingly among different meters, in which the influence of The Rite of Spring is clearly audible. The suite, like the entire ballet, ends with a malambo, or competitive dance, in which the gauchos strive to outdo one another with increasingly vigorous steps. Ginastera made a specialty of adapting the malambo for concert music. The malambo from Estancia is a characteristic example, with an unrelenting and precipitous rhythmic drive that builds in intensity through a series of varied episodes and leaves the listeners -- and no doubt the dancers as well -- breathless.

--Nathaniel Lew

Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

This work was written in 1947-48, under the shadow of the repressive cultural measures of Stalin’s regime. Because of the composer’s denunciation by Stalin, it was not performed until 1955. The dedicatee, David Oistrakh, who also premiered the work, commented on the “depth of its artistic content” and described the solo part as “a pithy Shakespearian role.” He also characterized the first movement as “a suppression of feelings” and the second as “demoniac.” There are four movements, with a cadenza linking the final two.

Nocturne: Moderato – A semi-homage to the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Anguish and apprehension are conveyed in the deep tones of bass clarinet and contrabassoon.

Scherzo: Allegro – Notable for its pent-up energy and also for the near-complete statement of what was to become Shostakovich’s personal musical signature: the motif D, Eb, C, B, which--using the German letters--spells D-S-C-H, representing the composer himself.

Passacaglia: Andante – Includes a somber utilization of the fate motif from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, first heard in the horns, and elaborated upon in the cadenza.

Burlesque: Allegro con brio/Presto – A ferocious dance in contrast with the sensitive communing found in the slow movements. The theme in the solo violin’s entrance resembles the solo flute entrance in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka.

The Violin Concerto is one of the pieces that has enjoyed a resurgence of attention with the celebration of the composer’s centenary, though it remains a technical (and musical) challenge.

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Yo Pro Lingo

Megan McIntosh Frenzen is a member of the VSO's Champlain Valley Friends board of volunteer leadership, is a professor at Champlain College, and is a YoPro, a network of young professionals in the greater Burlington area that Meg has personally organized to rally on nights when the VSO is playing at the Flynn. Read on for her entertaining letter to the group and a video supporting the research she has done on the program. A quick vocabulary lesson... "dope" means "great."

Dear YoPro:

I sure hope you’re free on Saturday, October 25th… because I have some plans for you!

It’s time to rally it up and support our local arts – by the way, I’m pretty sure I saw you at the Art Hop, wearing nothing but tassels and body paint… (and looking great), but let’s not forget about those old school classical arts – even if there aren’t belly dancers on site.

C’mon, get together with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s Young Professionals Group on October 25th. Are you wondering if you, or anyone you know, could be considered a ‘Young Professional’? Remember, if you’re under 60 years of age and not in jail (parole, OK) – you’re in!! What a great opportunity to hang with old friends, make some new ones, and support locally made music.

Beginning at 6:30pm… enjoy discounted small plates at the Green Room, a lovely joint where you can even cocktail like a localvore with a Sunshine Vodka martini! And, by the way, you don’t have to know a THING about classical music to enjoy FABULOUS company, good food and great music. Trust me.

Sold? Good.

Call Ann at 864-5741 ext. 10 right now and get your tickets – don’t forget to mention that you’re a YoPro to get our 20% discount and seating in our section – yeah, that's right, our tickets are only $36, for a classy night at the symphony, that ain’t bad. If you know any students, please pass the word along to them – their tickets are only $9. I know that’s like 2 weeks’ worth of Ramen noodles, but still… it’s SO worth going hungry to see these guys play.

WHAT: The YoPros go to the symphony.

WHEN: Saturday Oct. 25th. Pre-Game at 6:30pm, Concert at 8:00pm.

WHERE: Green Room (followed by a short walk) & the Flynn Theater

HOW: Foxy. No holes in your Carharts, maybe a button or two on your shirt, basic hygiene preferable.

WHY: Duh. To be awesome, why else?

If you’re interested (or bored at work) read on for details about the concert…. If you’re not interested, or not bored at work, just call Ann ASAP and get set up for the 25th.

Can’t wait to see you!


Chief YoPro and Social Facilitator

Musical notes...

Generally speaking, classical composers are dead. Maybe that’s what makes them ‘classical’. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I hear that the VSO is dedicating a Masterworks season to 'Music of Our Time' – everything the VSO is playing has been written SINCE 1935, which suggests that some of these dudes might even be *gasp* alive.

So, the concert on the 25th is going to be dope. Jaime Laredo (who happens to be tres cool) will be conducting (that’s the guy with the stick), and this super young violinist (Augustin Hadelich) is going to be the guest soloist – just to remind us all how much talent we lack.

The first piece is called “Chasing Light...' and was written in 2008 *gasp again*by Joseph Schwantner. Holy crap! He’s still alive… he has a website:, he lives in the upside down Vermont (that would be New Hampshire) AND will be at the Flynn when the VSO plays his piece (no pressure). Anyway, it seems Joe is an early riser since this piece ‘draws its spirit, energy and inspiration from the celebration of vibrant colors and light that penetrate the morning mist as it wafts through the trees in the high New England hills’. Hmm… I’ve seen that before. Usually, after a late night (not an early morning), but none-the-less, I’ve seen it. What qualifies this guy to write classical music about such things? Well, he worked his tail off at the Chicago Conservatory and Northwestern University and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music and the Yale School of Music. He’s won all sorts of awards (read: Pulitzer Prize in 1979, not kidding) and has had several Grammy nominations. Yup, that’s qualified.

The second treat of the night was composed by Alberto Ginastera in 1941. Sadly, he passed away in 1983. 'Estancia: Ballet Suite' is a four-movement suite drawn from his 1941 ballet Estancia, which was inspired by his life on the ranches of Argentina. And here’s a fascinating little tidbit from Wiki for you…

“The progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer brought Ginastera attention outside of modern classical music circles when they adapted the fourth movement of his first piano concerto and recorded it on their popular album Brain Salad Surgery under the title 'Toccata.' They recorded the piece not only with Ginastera's permission, but with his endorsement. In 1973, when they were recording the album, Keith Emerson met with Ginastera at his home in Switzerland and played a recording of his arrangement for him. Ginastera is reported to have said, 'Diabolical!'. Emerson misunderstood Ginastera's meaning: Ginastera spoke almost no English and meant that their interpretation was frightening, which had been his intent when he wrote it; Emerson, being British, took it to mean 'awful'. Emerson was so upset that he was prepared to scrap the piece until Ginastera's wife intervened saying that he approved. Ginastera later said, 'You have captured the essence of my music, and no one's ever done that before.'

To wrap up the evening, the VSO will play the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich which was composed in 1948. This guy wrote his stuff under Soviet rule in the 1930s and 40s… not the best situation for an artist of any kind. In fact, his largely miserable relationship with the Soviet government led to two official denunciations of his music and the periodic banning of his work. Oooops. Denunciation is one thing – full out banning means you’re really doing something right! This particular piece is often described as ‘ferocious’ – and we’re talking about an orchestra – so that certainly means something... After a brooding opening movement (think McCain after the Couric interview), the orchestra ramps up to this crazy violin thing – in fact, violinists are prone to snapping bowstrings as they get after it in this ultra intense piece. I’m guessing they didn’t have shrinks in Mother Russia back then – cause this guy was working out some issues for sure, and it’s awesome.

Can’t wait to see you at the Green Room!

Meg McIntosh Frenzen

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer performing Ginastera's Toccata

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Friday, October 10, 2008

August musicianship

Augustin Hadelich will be with us on Masterworks opening night, October 25. He will be playing Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1. The young star has had an important year in his career, including a debut at Carnegie Hall in March and a critically-acclaimed stand-in performance with the LA Phil. Read the story here. We look forward to welcoming Augustin at the end of the month. Check back for an interview with the rising star.

Watch the following video of Augustin performing Bartók at the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (incidentally, he won).

Gold medalist of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Augustin Hadelich has established himself as an eloquent and unique voice among the new generation of violinists. Articulate and stylistically convincing throughout the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary repertoires, his versatility is astonishing. In the words of The Strad magazine, “Thankfully the evening closed with a performance worth waiting for…Hadelich showed his superlative musicianship in a daring performance of Mozart’s lesser-known Concerto No. 2, in which he presented cadenzas of striking originality.”

The Indianapolis competition’s first-prize package included $30,000, a four-year loan of the 1683 ex-Gingold Stradivari violin and Tourte bow, a Naxos label compact disc recording contract, and more than forty concert engagements worldwide, including a U.S. and international tour entitled “Pure Gold” with Chinese pianist Yingdi Sun, winner of the 2005 International Franz Liszt Piano Competition of Holland. Mr. Hadelich also received special awards for best performances of a Romantic concerto, Classical concerto, Beethoven sonata, violin sonata other than Beethoven, Bach work, commissioned work, encore piece and Paganini caprice.

In January 2008, Augustin Hadelich made his Carnegie Hall orchestral debut, performing the Brahms Double Concerto under Miguel Harth-Bedoya, with cellist Alban Gerhardt and the Fort Worth Symphony. This was followed by his Carnegie Hall solo recital debut on March 28, 2008 in Stern Auditorium. At Lincoln Center in November 2007, Mr. Hadelich presented a solo recital at the Reade Theater followed by a collaboration with Midori at the Rose Theater in May 2008.

Other upcoming and recent performances include appearances with the symphonies of Charlotte, Chautauqua, Columbus (OH), Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Greenville, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisiana, Louisville, Portland (ME), and Santa Barbara, as well as the Iris Chamber Orchestra (TN) and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern. Mr. Hadelich will be collaborating with renowned conductors such as Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Günther Herbig, Christoph Perick, Christoph Poppen, Stefan Sanderling, Michael Stern and Mario Venzago. Outside the U.S., engagements have included the Capetown Philharmonic, Dresdner Philharmonie, Museumsorchester Frankfurt, Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Nacional Claudio Santoro (Brazil), Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz, and the chamber orchestras of Bavaria, Berlin, Hamburg, Kiel, Lucerne, Pforzheim and Toulouse.

The 2007/08 season marked Mr. Hadelich’s professional recording debut with three CDs: the complete solo violin fantasies of Telemann and the complete violin concerti of Haydn for Naxos; and a recital CD with pianist Robert Kulek on the award-winning label AVIE.

Born in Italy in 1984, the son of German parents, Augustin Hadelich holds a diploma (summa cum laude) from the Instituto Mascagni in Livorno, Italy, as well as a graduate diploma and the coveted Artist Diploma from The Juilliard School, where he was a student of Joel Smirnoff. He has been a participant at the Marlboro and Ravinia festivals and in numerous master classes with renowned violinists such as Uto Ughi, Christoph Poppen, Norbert Brainin, Pinchas Zukerman, Zachar Bron, Yehudi Menuhin and Miriam Fried.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Meet Joe Schwantner and reacquaint yourself with Ford Made in America

The opening night of our 2008/2009 Masterworks season is just around the corner. This season, we celebrate Music of Our Time, that is, music written in the VSO's lifetime (1935-present). While some concert-goers might shudder to think the coming season features nary a piece by Beethoven, Mozart, or Brahms, the educated listener will recognize many of the pieces and their tunes on each program. The uneducated listener will at least recognize "Hoedown" from Aaron Copland's Rodeo as the theme music for the beef industry's famous ad campaign.

The VSO is again participating in the Ford Made in America commissioning project. Read more about it here. The VSO will host the east coast premiere on October 25. The piece is Chasing Light..., by Joseph Schwantner. Some VSO regulars might remember the first FMIA commission, Made in America by Joan Tower. Did you know the recording of this piece by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin won a Grammy in 2008?

The Reno Chamber Orchestra had the pleasure of presenting the world premiere of Chasing Light... on September 20. You can read the review here. Some of the highlights of the review are excerpted here:

"...Joseph Schwantner's "Chasing Light..." is the new piece on the block, and it's a dramatic work embracing a broad sweep of orchestral colorations and textures."

"Schwantner uses clusters of sound like building blocks piled one on top of another to whip up climaxes of epic proportions, then intersperses those explosive moments with hauntingly lovely, reflective interludes. Schwantner's music, at once powerful and reflective, is about the creation of mood and emotion."

The folks at Ford Made in America have produced a series of videos about the project, the piece, and Joe Schwantner. The following video introduces us to the composer.

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SymphonyKids Spotlight: Ford Made in America

How do composers afford their living expenses? I'm sure many teach. Maybe they work a "real" job. Then there are commissions. A commission is when someone pays a composer to write a piece of music for a particular ensemble. Sometimes there are other parameters within which the composer must work. The Ford Made in America Project is an initiative that celebrates music, creativity, and communities nationwide. This partnership of 58 small-budget orchestras has commissioned award-winning composer Joseph Schwantner to write Chasing Light.... With the composer at the core, this program offers orchestras resources that enhance their engagement with communities, deepen their involvement with young people and promote their mastery of the music of our time. So how is it linked with our SymphonyKids Educational Outreach programs?

The organizations responsible for making all of this happen, the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer, have created a toolkit to help orchestras make the most of the Ford Made in America project. Included in that toolkit are two educational activities linked to Chasing Light.... The curriculum is aligned with national music standards and is designed to be accessible to teachers and students along the K-12 continuum.

Click here to access the materials on our website.

Here's a video about the instrument building activity included in the materials.

Watch the complete series of videos on instrument building here.
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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bigger is(n't always) better: I toured with a harpsichord

The following is a discourse written by harpsichordist Gregory Hayes, who recently toured with the VSO playing Vivaldi's The Four Seasons as part of the 2008 Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour. Read on about his adventures hauling his harpsichord around the state.

In September of 1700 the Parisian harpsichord builder Jean Marius received a Royal Patent for his clavecin brisé, or folding harpsichord. Also known as a traveling harpsichord, this was a strange-looking contraption in three pieces that were hinged together and could be folded up to resemble a modest wooden box. (Think of a right-angle triangle with the hypotenuse approximating the bentside of a miniature harpsichord. The treble corner folds back on the rest to make a large rectangle, and then the rectangle folds over on itself along the long axis to make a narrower one that’s twice as deep.)

Apparently Frederick the Great owned one of these and took it with him on journeys and military campaigns. There are no contemporary accounts of how well it worked or what it sounded like. It had no descendants, and no one else tried to make one. There may be a reason for this. Harpsichords, after all, weren’t meant to travel. They were stationary instruments (especially the big two-manual ones) that resided in the salons and concert spaces of royal palaces and in the homes of wealthy burghers.

Jump now to the 21st century, when palaces are in short supply (especially in Vermont) but audiences enjoy hearing orchestral works by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and others. Those pieces almost invariably call for a keyboard that doubles the bass line and provides harmonic support by way of a shorthand system known as figured bass. In the baroque era that instrument was an organ (especially for sacred music) or harpsichord. In the early and mid-20th century a piano would suffice (and in some circumstances can still serve honorably), but nowadays more often than not you bring in a harpsichordist.

And, usually, a harpsichord. Mine is a double-manual instrument based on one built by the French maker Pascal Taskin in 1753. I put it together some 30 years ago from a Hubbard kit. Long ago I took my name off it because I had it rebuilt (twice) by professionals who tweaked it in mysterious ways to enhance its sound, mechanism, and stability. Among certain orchestra managers it is known as Big Red. It has a lot of sonic miles on it—probably about as many as my van (in excess of 208,000). Things go wrong now and then, and I carry with it a huge case stuffed with extra wire and odd tools, a few of them homemade. Here an obscure corollary of the Peter Principle seems to be in effect: as long as I lug the toolbag in with me, nothing will go awry.

But there’s always the matter of tuning. Orchestra conductors and players quite reasonably expect this interloper in their midst to play in tune. But harpsichords are fickle this way, much more so than their big, black, iron-framed successor, the piano. My very first orchestral engagement as a harpsichordist was with the Springfield (MA) Symphony, conducted on the occasion by a guest, the venerable Alexander Schneider. I dutifully moved the instrument in early and tuned it thoroughly. The piece in which I was playing came along well into the rehearsal. We began; things ground to a halt shortly and maestro Schneider glared at me. The harpsichord was noticeably—painfully—flat, and still sinking. I had not taken into account the intensely bright stage lighting in Symphony Hall, which had heated up and dried out the porous spruce of the harpsichord’s soundboard sufficiently to make the bridges descend a bit, thereby loosening the strings and causing the pitch to drop precipitously. I learned my lesson, just as I have when the humidity increases (from a rainstorm, or when the evening damps descend upon an outdoor venue) and things go in the opposite direction. One develops all sorts of ploys, taking into account the weather, the time of day (and year), the lighting, and the likelihood of the orchestral strings going up a bit in the course of the concert (though they will deny this). And you move it in early and tune it a lot--before the soundcheck, before the concert, and a touch--up at halftime. And hope for the best. From the harpsichord tuner’s perspective the up side of the VSO’s Made in Vermont tour is that it takes place in the fall, when the weather tends to be crisp and fairly stable, tending gradually in the directions of cooler and drier. There were, however, a few venues with very hot stage lighting. The Vergennes Opera House gets the toasted soundboard prize, with the Arkell Pavilion (Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester) coming in a close second.

Speaking of Opera Houses: these elegant edifices have been the most charming and intimate settings for our performances. These are also centrally located in their small towns. Bless the civic sensibility of Vermont citizens (especially a few wealthy ones) who, a century or more ago, deemed it important to devote prime urban real estate not to football, or hockey, or big box stores, but…to opera.

That said, a harpsichord mover in Vermont quickly learns to associate the name “opera house” with challenges best addressed with some ingenuity and a strong back. The Haskell Opera House, situated atop the Haskell Library and astride the U.S.-Canadian border in Derby Line, offers a uniquely entertaining circumstance: the orchestra sits onstage in Canada, playing to an audience largely situated in the United States. It also offers some tight corners and stage access for harpsichords only via a two-story staircase. Here, as in nine other venues, tour manager Craig Chipman’s assistance (with an occasional helping hand from Eleanor or Rebecca) was invaluable.

And what’s at the other end of all this fuss and bother? For me, a chance to play great music with an accomplished and congenial group of musicians (not to mention a world-class soloist) in beautiful surroundings, both indoors and out. Not only is it a fair trade: I come out ahead.

Gregory Hayes
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Meet Sarah Hicks

Sarah Hicks will be conducting the January 24 Masterworks program and the January 25 Sunday Matinee Series program. The young Asian-American woman is an anomaly in the field of conducting due not only to her demographic, but also due to her approach to programming.

Read an article on Sarah Hicks at Minnesota Monthly.

Listen to an interview with Sarah Hicks by KUNR.

Stay Tuned for an interview with Sarah Hicks to be posted on this blog in January.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Episode 4: Sandi Macleod and the Vermont MIDI Project

The purpose of the Vermont MIDI Project is to encourage and support students in composing and arranging music. A community of professional composers, teachers, pre-service educators, and students engage in mentoring and online discussion of student work. In this episode of Vermont Music Now, host and VSO New Music Advisor and Composer-in-Residence David Ludwig chats with Sandi Macleod, Program Coordinator for the Vermont MIDI Project.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The VSO asks Pierre Jalbert six questions

Pierre Jalbert, composer of the VSO's 2008 Made in Vermont commission, answers six questions posed by the VSO. A Vermont native now living in Texas, Pierre tells what he enjoys the most about Vermont, how his music came to be infused with spiritual undertones, and who inspired him to compose.

VSO: What was the most important factor that led to your decision to be a professional musician?

PJ: Well, there were many factors. I've always loved music and started to compose pretty early on. My piano teacher in South Burlington, Arlene Cleary, who I studied with from age 7 until college was a great inspiration as was our band director at South Burlington High School, George Bedell. One of my musical heroes growing up was Aaron Copland, so I knew pretty early on I wanted to be a composer.

VSO: Now that you are here, where do you see yourself in 20 years?

PJ: I still see myself doing what I'm doing now, continuing to compose, getting more performances, and teaching at Rice University in Houston (it has a great music school).

VSO: What artists or groups with whom you haven't worked already would you love to collaborate with someday?

PJ: I'd love to do something with the L.A. Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic.

VSO: I find my own music to be laced with spiritual undertones, though I wouldn't consider myself religious. What factors in your own life have contributed to writing spiritually-infused music?

PJ: I'm Catholic and liturgical music was always a part of my musical upbringing. There's a kind of longing and inner beauty to that music, especially with composers like Palestrina, but many others too.

VSO: What's the most difficult thing about being on the road?

PJ: Being away from family.

VSO: What do you like the most about Vermont?

PJ: The mountains in the summer and the snow in the winter.

Hear Pierre Jalbert's new piece, "Autumn Rhapsody," along with a complete performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, during the 2008 Made in Vermont Music Festival Statewide Tour. Jaime Laredo will conduct and play in the program which also features Grieg's Holberg Suite and Gershwin's Lullaby. Visit for concert dates and ticket information. Explore this blog for program notes and information on our fall foliage photo contest!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jaime Laredo to play Vivaldi's The Four Seasons ten times over eleven days!

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 15th annual Made in Vermont Music Festival Statewide Tour this fall, playing at 10 special venues across the state from September 25 through October 5. The popular music tour promises a colorful program to complement Vermont’s glorious foliage season.

Honoring the changing seasons takes on new meaning as world-renowned violinist and VSO music director Jaime Laredo performs Vivaldi’s crowning achievement, The Four Seasons, possibly the most popular violin solo piece ever written, and so appropriate to play during the foliage season. The program also includes two gems for strings: Grieg’s Holberg Suite and Gershwin’s charming Lullaby. In keeping with the VSO tradition of commissioning a new piece every year, the program also includes, "Autumn Rhapsody," a world premiere by Pierre Jalbert.

The tour includes the following locations:

Thursday, September 25 – Middlebury, Mahaney Center for the Arts, 8 p.m.
Friday, September 26 – Johnson, Johnson State College Dibden Center for the Arts, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 27 – Lyndonville, Lyndon State College Alexander Twilight Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 28 – Derby Line, Haskell Opera House, 3 p.m.
Monday, September 29 – Castleton, Castleton State College Fine Arts Center, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, October 1 – Bellows Falls, Bellows Falls Opera House, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, October 2 – Manchester, Southern Vermont Arts Center Arkell Pavilion, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, October 3 – Vergennes, Vergennes Opera House, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 4 – Randolph, Chandler Music Hall, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, October 5 – Lebanon, NH, Lebanon Opera House, 7:30 p.m.

The 2008 Made in Vermont Music Festival Statewide Tour is co-sponsored by the Vermont State Colleges and Chittenden Bank, and is supported in part by grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. Additional support has been provided by the Lintilhac Foundation.

Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for seniors age 65 and older, $12 for Vermont State College faculty and staff, $12 for students and children under 18, and $6 for VSC students. For additional information or to purchase tickets, please call the Flynn Regional Box Office at 802-863-5966 or visit FlynnTix online. Tickets may also be purchased at local outlets. For details, please visit the VSO website or call 800-876-9293, ext. 10.
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Your Photo Here

Attention photographers! The VSO is holding a Vermont fall foliage photo contest in celebration of the changing of the seasons and ten performances of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons featuring world renowned violinist and VSO Music Director Jaime Laredo playing the concerto on the program of the 2008 Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour.

The contest has begun! Submit your best Vermont fall foliage shot to Rebecca{at}vso{dot}org. Please include your name, mailing address, telephone number with entry. Please submit a low resolution file (less than 200 dpi and less than 1 MB). We may request a high resolution photo from you in the future. Submissions will be accepted through October 13. Twelve finalists will be chosen by a panel of judges. Electronic public voting begins October 17 and ends November 21. The winner will be announced in late November.

View current entries by following this link.

The contest features two prizes for the lucky winner: two tickets to a 2009 Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour concert and the opportunity to have your photo featured* on promotional materials for the 2009 tour.

Many of the entries will be posted on the blog, so keep checking back for updates. For e-mail updates, please sign up for our mailing list by following this link to our website (scroll to the bottom of the site to join the list).

*Some restrictions apply.

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Pierre Jalbert and "Autumn Rhapsody"

Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967) is one of the most highly regarded American composers of his generation, earning widespread notice for his richly colored and superbly crafted scores. Focusing primarily on instrumental works, Jalbert has developed a musical language that is engaging, expressive, and deeply personal. Among his many honors are the Rome Prize, the BBC Masterprize, and most recently, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's 2007 Stoeger Award, given biennially “in recognition of significant contributions to the chamber music repertory.”

Jalbert grew up in South Burlington, Vermont, where he studied both piano and composition with Arlene Cleary. Beginning piano lessons at the age of five, he entered and won regional competitions for young pianists, and began to write his own music at eleven, earning several composition awards while in his teens.

Jalbert studied at Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a PhD in composition under principal teacher George Crumb. He won the Rome Prize in 2000-2001, and was awarded the BBC Masterprize in 2001 for his orchestral work In Aeternam, selected from among more than 1,100 scores by a jury that included Marin Alsop, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and Sir Charles Mackerras. In Aeternam has been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the California, Hartford, San Antonio, and Santa Rosa Symphonies, and the Orlando and Rhode Island Philharmonic.

Other major works for orchestra include big sky (2005), commissioned by the Houston Symphony and performed by the ensemble at Carnegie Hall; Symphonia Sacra (2001), written for the California Symphony; Chamber Symphony (2004), commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and Fire and Ice (2006), commissioned for the Oakland East Bay, Marin, and Santa Rosa Symphonies through Meet the Composer Foundation's Magnum Opus Project.

Jalbert has served as Composer-in-Residence with the California Symphony (1999-2002), Chicago’s Music in the Loft Chamber Music Series (2003), and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (2002-05).

Jalbert's music is tonally centered, incorporating modal, tonal, and sometimes quite dissonant harmonies while retaining a sense of harmonic motion and arrival. He is particularly noted for his mastery of instrumental color: in both chamber works and orchestral scores, he creates timbres that are vivid yet refined. His rhythmic shapes are cogent, often with an unmistakable sense of underlying pulsation. Driving rhythms often alternate with slow sections in which time seems to be suspended.

While his music is not programmatic, Jalbert draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including natural phenomena. He composed big sky after visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas, a place of starkly contrasting mountain, desert, and river environments. In Icefield Sonnets for string quartet, Jalbert created transparent, glassy textures in response to poems by Anthony Hawley about life in northern latitudes. The Baltimore Sun called it “fresh [and] dynamic,” praising its “luminous colors and propulsive rhythms.” Jalbert also set Hawley’s texts directly in a 2005 song cycle of the same title, scored for soprano, baritone, and piano trio with percussion.

Spiritual concerns are also central to Jalbert’s work. Symphonia Sacra (2001), inspired by the splendor of Roman churches and cathedrals, incorporates plainchant melodies. Les espaces infinis, another orchestral score from 2001, is described by the composer as “a quiet meditation on the nature of time and space.” The Los Angeles Times observed that “the piece, which begins and ends quietly, but achieves a resonant climax at its center, holds the listener through a canny blend of instrumental colors and combinations, chromatic but not dissonant, and ultimately pleasing.”

Pierre Jalbert is Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston, where he has taught since 1996. His music is published by the Theodore Presser Co.

Jalbert says of "Autumn Rhapsody:"

My Autumn Rhapsody was inspired by the autumn landscape in Vermont, when the trees present a multi-colored tapestry, and the wind begins to blow colder than summer. One of my favorite places in Vermont is on the Long Trail, on the top of Mount Belvidere, near Jay Peak. There's a fire tower on top which one can climb up and see the surrounding mountains of Vermont and Canada for many miles. I had this image in mind when starting work on this piece.

Written for string orchestra, the piece, all in one continuous movement, begins with a slow, lyrical and somewhat mysterious music. The music is very still, creating a sense of suspended time. This gradually gives way to a faster, more animated, and energetic music ("the wind begins to blow colder than summer"). This section is characterized by strings playing measured tremolos, the rapid, rhythmic movement of the bow across the strings. This builds to a furious climax until suddenly dissipating and the opening returns, but only for a brief moment.

Throughout my formative years in Vermont, I studied piano and composition with Arlene Cleary. She was an extremely energetic and tireless advocate for music, always striving to make herself a better musician, and helped me to do so as well. This piece is dedicated to her.
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Gershwin, Grieg, and Vivaldi

In addition to Pierre Jalbert's commissioned piece, "Autumn Rhapsody," the Made in Vermont Music Festival program features three other works for string orchestra.


George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn and died in Hollywood. In the 1920s, hardly anyone had heard of his contemporary, Aaron Copland, but Gershwin was already famous. His musical career began at age 16 as a "song plugger" for J.H. Remick & Co. He was a clever pianist, and though his background was mainly popular, he knew and loved classical music as well. Working his way up on Tin Pan Alley, he became the toast of Broadway, writing hit songs and even shows. His personal idiom put an indelible stamp on the course of American music. Gershwin's harmony teacher, Rubin Goldmark, was not impressed with his pupil's early efforts. In 1919, in an effort to placate him, Gershwin presented Goldmark with the score to a string quartet entitled "Lullaby." "You are finally making some progress," said Goldmark.

Holberg Suite, Op. 40

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

The Encyclopedia Britannica (1952) article on Ludwig Holberg states:

Holberg (1684-1754) found Denmark provided with no books, and he wrote a library for her. When he arrived in the country, [from Norway] the Danish language was never heard in a gentleman's house. Polite Danes were wont to say that a man wrote Latin to his friends, talked French to the ladies, called his dogs in German, and only used Danish to swear at his servants. The single genius of Holberg revolutionized this system. He wrote poems of all kinds in a language hitherto employed only for ballads and hymns; he instituted a theatre and composed a rich collection of comedies for it; he filled the shelves of the citizens with works in their own tongue on history, law, politics, science, philology and philosophy, all representing the extreme attainment of European culture at the moment.

Well! At first blush, it would seem paradoxical to have Grieg, a musical miniaturist at heart, trying to write a work in honor of such a gigantic literary figure. A closer look shows that the heart and style of each are a perfect match. Grieg is certainly as much the wellspring of Norwegian national music as Holberg is the seminal figure of Danish literature. Both reflected a French connection: Holberg's Danish comedies of manners were influenced by those of Moliere, and Grieg's static impressionist harmonies were certainly sympathetic to French trends. (Debussy remarked of Grieg's creations: "One has in one's mouth the novel and charming taste of a pink sweet stuffed with snow.")

The suited entitled "From Holberg's Time" was first written for piano in 1884 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Holberg's birth. Comparatively few of Grieg's works were conceived for full orchestra, and only the Piano Concerto and the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 are heard with any regularity. His lush works for string orchestra are transcriptions of piano and vocal pieces, and the Holberg Suite is no exception. Grieg's painstaking labor to translate the music from piano to string technique is seamless. The finished product serves as evidence that Grieg felt quite comfortable exploring the richness of sound and color provided by a string ensemble. His transcriptions feature multiple part-writing, especially in the violins, and melodies in octaves.

As the original title of the suite might indicate, the work is neo-classical in quality, and recalls the sequence of dances characteristic of the Baroque suite. The customary gigue finale is replaced by a rigaudon, and the allemande and courante are omitted.

--Hilary Hatch

The Four Seasons, Op. 8 Nos. 1-4

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Vivaldi was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1703 and earned the nickname “The Red Priest” owing to his carrot-colored hair and preference for red robes. A vivid image in his personal aspect, he was no less a creator of musical imagery, and in the pure sense was one of the earliest composers of program music.

It was not until later, early in the 19th century, that composers began to promote their creations as abstract ideas and intellectual artistic efforts completely independent of text or concrete references. Vivaldi, on the other hand, enjoyed being a story teller, and many of his 454 concertos have titles to them. The Four Seasons is drawn from twelve concertos of his Opus 8, published in Amsterdam around 1725 under the title “The Conflict between Harmony and Invention.” This reflects a certain bridling of the story teller by the conventions of harmony: as David Johnson puts it, “Harmony wishes to be a simple F minor scale; invention wishes that scale to be a man slipping on the ice.”

The Four Seasons was fully annotated by Vivaldi, with a descriptive sonnet attached to each concerto. The musicians’ parts even have a pertinent phrase marked here and there: “gnats and flies” or “the barking dog,” for example.

Spring (La Primavera)

Allegro. Spring has come and, rejoicing, the birds greet it with happy song. [Three violins imitate bird calls.] The streams softly murmur to the wafting of gentle breezes. But the sky suddenly grows black; lightning and thunder speak out. Peace is restored and the little birds continue their sweet singing.

Largo. Here in the pleasant, flowering meadow, the goatherd slumbers, lulled by the rustling leaves, his faithful dog by his side. [Solo violin represents the sleeping goatherd; first and second violins the leaves; and violas the dog, barking two notes to the measure.]

Allegro. Nymphs and shepherds dance to the festive sound of a rustic musette under the bright sky of spring.

Summer (L’estate)

Allegro non molto; Allegro. Man, sheep, and tree droop under the mid-day sun of the pitiless season. The cuckoo unleashes its note, and soon the songs of turtle dove and goldfinch are heard. [Solo violin.] Soft zephyrs fan the air, but a querulous north wind usurps their place. The shepherd, alarmed by the rough blustering, weeps. [A sense of complete enervation is conveyed, and the weeping of the shepherd heard in the solo violin continues into the next movement.]

Adagio. His weary limbs can find rest neither from fearful lightning and thunder nor from the angry swarms of gnats and flies. [One hears the buzz of insects and the rumble of thunder.]

Presto. Ah! His fears are only too prophetic: storm and pelting hail cut down the growing sheaves of wheat. [In the midst of the storm, the solo violin reflects great agitation.]

Autumn (L’autunno)

Allegro. The peasant celebrates the happy harvest time with dances and songs. Many, warmed by the wine of Bacchus, end their merry-making with slumber. [The solo violin portrays the vain attempts of the drunkard to maintain equilibrium, at last collapsing in sleep—a sudden Larghetto.]

Adagio molto. Everyone leaves off dancing and singing. The mild air is pleasing. This is the season that invites all alike to slumber to their heart’s content.

Allegro. At break of day the hunters go forth with horns, weapons, and hounds; their prey flees and they follow his tracks. [Strings play the horn calls in fourths and thirds.] The beast, terrified by the sound of guns and hounds, endangered by his wounds, seeks to escape, but is overcome and dies. [The soloist portrays the thwarted flight of the quarry and its death.]

Winter (L’inverno)

Allegro non molto. To tremble, frozen amidst the icy snow; to breathe the sharp and wild wind; to run, stamping one’s feet for warmth; to have the teeth set a-chatter by all-conquering cold…. [Solo violin depicts the wind in rapid arpeggios and scales; vigorous chords the stamping feet; and a passage of 32 notes to each bar represents the chattering of teeth.]

Largo. To pass one’s days quietly and contentedly by the fireside while the rain without [pizzicato strings] soaks all passers-by….

Allegro. To walk on the ice, stepping slowly and peering carefully from side to side for fear of falling; to twirl about gaily, to slide, to fall down; to get up again and run across the ice so fearlessly that the ice begins to rumble an crack; to hear Sirroco and Boreas and all the winds howling as in battle: this is winter and it has its joys. [With one safe indoors, the wild winds and treachery of the ice seem to lose their threat and become wonders of nature’s power and variety.]

--Hilary Hatch Keep reading!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Episode 3: David Gunn

VSO New Music Advisor and Composer-in-Residence gets through to the heart of composer David Gunn on this episode of Vermont Music Now. Keep reading!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Music of Our Time

Music Director Jaime Laredo and Alan Jordan talk about the upcoming Masterworks Series at the Flynn Center in Burlington, "Music of Our Time," and this year's Sunday Matinee Series at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, on the latest installment of our television series, On Stage.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Double Concerto Vol II No. 1

[Photo of David Ludwig and conductor Sarah Hicks (who will conduct David's piece) courtesy of Mr. Ludwig.]
I kept a blog for the Vermont Symphony while writing my last big piece for them—a cello concerto that Margo Tatgenhorst (now Drakos) played.  That was three years ago and I wrote the bulk of the music at the MacDowell colony.  I’m currently at an “undisclosed location” working away again at my next VSO piece, a double concerto for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson.  It’s over six weeks before the deadline, and I feel under the gun every day.  I can’t imagine it any other way, however, because so much creative work is produced under deadline and always has been.  Sure, there are pieces that take years to compose—big pieces like operas or long ballet scores.  But it appears that composers of these pieces write them in piecemeal, repeatedly coming back to them as they finish other smaller works along the way.

A deadline is a great source of inspiration—most any artist will agree.  There’s a psychology there, as if your brain unconsciously knows it’s time to start producing and so, it (hopefully) does, opening the spigot more and more as you get nearer to the destination.  A working artist needs some command over this process, or every single work will be a stressful race to the finish.  There is often some cramming going on, but one has to be very careful going deadline to deadline to pace oneself, or the work will get compromised and perhaps remain in draft form.

The concert that will premiere the double concerto has a theme, already.  The first piece is a lovely and elegant work by Vermont composer Jorge Martin called “Romance.”  I first heard it while reviewing pieces for the orchestra’s 75th anniversary seasons (they are taking two years to celebrate).  This year will be only pieces written since the orchestra has been extant, and the motto is “Music of Our Time.”  Jorge’s piece was originally written for the “Made in Vermont” tour a few years ago, and he’s re-arranged it for full orchestra.  I’m psyched to hear it—it’s a lush piece that I think will be well-served by the richer instrumentation.

The second half of the program is Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  This is one of my favorite pieces, and I’m not alone.  Some people don’t love Prokofiev, but I find myself strangely attracted to his music—even more than to Shostakovich. Pretty much everyone enjoys this piece, though, which is excerpted from a larger score of program music.  The music is so brilliantly compelling and descriptive.  There’s always something special about the surface of his music; some sonority or little orchestrational touch that transforms the music from mundane to glorious.  I think that this piece and “Alexander Nevsky” are his finest orchestral works, but there are so many…So many works we never hear, including much of the bombastic propaganda pieces he was forced to write under the Stalinist yoke.  If he had only written “Romeo and Juliet,” he’d still be great.

So back to the theme—it’s love.  And maybe not love, but “Love.”  I’m sure someone will want to connect it to Valentine’s day, which is only three weeks after the premiere, but I must say I’m more interested in the darker side of Love than the chocolates and batted eyelashes—musically speaking, at least.  I have decided to go with the flow and make my piece about Love, too.  I’ll describe the architecture-slash-game-plan-slash-program of the double concerto.

The piece is three substantial movements, with two interludes in between.  Each movement draws from a story of love.  And these are types of love, as the philosophers tell us there are types.  The first movement is of “Eros,” and I’ve used the Greek myth of Calypso as its inspiration.  For want of a better description, it’s about sex.  The last time the two people in the story will ever see each other sex.  Calypso the nymph will be left alone for eternity when Odysseus leaves the next day.  The first interlude for violin and percussion will be her solitary dance.

The second movement is of “Agape,” or my version of “Courtly Love.”  This is the subject of the troubadours—love for the unattainable, unrequited, honored and esteemed far beyond the puerile concerns of “Eros.”  And I will continue here in the next installment.

If anyone can think of a title...please drop me a line! 
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Esther Kim is about to get the Vermont treatment...

Esther Kim made her first television appearance at the age of seven on the popular Fox Network television drama, Party of Five. Her first solo appearance with orchestra was at the age of eight performing the Mozart Violin Concerto. One year later, she performed Paganini’s Concerto No. 1 with the Claremont Symphony Orchestra. Shortly after, she performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on an international television broadcast. At the age of ten, she attended the Juilliard School of Music where she studied with the late Dorothy DeLay and Naoko Tanaka. After Delay’s passing, she continued her studies with Hyo Kang. At 14 years old, she entered the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria to study with Michael Frischenschlager. Esther is currently studying with Jaime Laredo at the Indiana University School of Music. And now she's coming to solo with the Vermont Symphony on the TD Banknorth Summer Festival Tour. Read on for her answers to the five questions we've been asking musicians all season.

VSO: As a musician, you probably find yourself on the road a lot. What item(s) can't you live without on this tour (besides your instrument and concert dress, of course!)?
EK: When I'm on the road I always make sure I have my Ipod, a book I'm reading (I'm currently reading "Kreutzer Sonata" by Tolstoy—it’s interesting because it is connected to the Janacek String Quartet No. 1 which is one of my favorite pieces!), and if I can, I usually like to bring my two dogs, Dukie and Duchess (although lately it's been a little difficult bringing Dukie since he's gotten so big!).

VSO: Do you have a pre-performance ritual? How do you deal with nerves?
EK: I don't really do anything different on performance days--usually I just treat it like an ordinary day. In fact, practicing a lot before the concert really helps me calms my nerves. Oh, and I like to eat a banana before I play!

VSO: If you could be Maestro for a day, what would you program?
EK: If I were a Maestro for a day, I think my program would be Brahms Symphony No. 2, Shostokovich 5, "Transfigured Night" by Arnold Schoenberg, and Mozart Symphony No. 40 in K. 550. (That would be quite a long concert!)

VSO: If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing?
EK: This one is a tough question!! Well, I guess If I wasn't a musician, I would be interested in either having my own radio show (like Garrison Keillor) or be a writer for a travel magazine (or a tv show host for a travel channel). I always thought it would be so much fun to be able to travel all around the world and just be able to write about it!

VSO: What's your favorite aspect of Vermont? If you haven't ever been here, what are you looking forward to?
EK: I haven't been to Vermont before, but everyone tells me how beautiful it is. I know that there are supposed to be a lot of pretty lakes and lots of greenery! I'm really looking forward!
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It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Love is in the air when the Vermont Symphony Orchestra travels around Vermont again this summer bringing its popular TD Banknorth Summer Festival Tour to towns across the state. From Thursday, June 26 through Sunday, July 6, the state’s premiere orchestra performs “From Vermont with Love” in beautiful mountain and lakeside settings, welcoming pre-concert picnicking, and concluding each performance with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and celebratory fireworks.

From “boy meets girl” in Oklahoma to hot-blooded Carmen to the comic mismatchings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, love conquers all in a program devoted to affairs of the heart. Principal guest conductor Anthony Princiotti leads the orchestra, with soloist Esther Kim, violin. The music of love includes Tchaikovsky’s waltz from Sleeping Beauty, Smetana’s dances from The Bartered Bride, Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy on Tunes by Bizet, and the Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah by Saint-Saëns, among other favorites in a concert for romance.

The annual outdoor festival of classics and pops connects to communities, bringing the VSO to special settings and historic buildings around the state. Audiences enjoy the history of Hildene Meadowlands, the lakeside elegance of Shelburne Farms, the ridgeline sunset from the Trapp Family Lodge meadow, and other treasured Vermont venues.

The complete list of dates and venues includes:

Thursday, June 26 - Middlebury College, Middlebury
Friday, June 27 - Jackson Gore Inn, Okemo Mountain Resort, Ludlow
Saturday, June 28 – Lincoln Peak at Sugarbush Resort, Warren
Sunday, June 29 - Mountain Top Inn, Chittenden
Monday, June 30 - Quechee Polo Grounds, Quechee
Wednesday, July 2 - Hildene Meadowlands, Manchester
Thursday, July 3 - Grafton Ponds, Grafton
Friday, July 4 - Shelburne Farms, Shelburne
Saturday, July 5 - Three Stallion Inn, Randolph
Sunday, July 6 - Trapp Concert Meadow, Stowe

The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. in all venues. Tickets range from $25-32 for adults; free to $16 for children. In some locations an AARP discount is also available. All sites are wheelchair accessible. Gates open for picnicking at 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. depending on location.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SymphonyKids Spotlight: Fiddlesticks!

This year, the VSO's Education Department had to dig a little deeper to find schools in Vermont where Fiddlesticks! has not been in recent years. With many years of active touring under their belts, we found that Fiddlesticks! has played in just about every school in Vermont. Read on to find out why they are so popular and watch a clip of the trio at JFK Elementary School in Winooski.

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra's SymphonyKids string trio, Fiddlesticks, makes a stop at JFK Elementary School in Winooski. Footage provided courtesy of WCAX.

The dynamic string trio Fiddlesticks! consists of violinist David Gusakov, violist Hilary Hatch, and cellist Bonnie Klimowski. Their performances for schoolchildren are designed to introduce students to the most important members of the symphony orchestra and to make some of the key concepts in classical music-making come alive. Longtime members of the VSO, the performers are funny, friendly, interactive—and superior musicians. As a former member of Banjo Dan & the Midnite Plowboys, David adds a unique twist to their presentation with his strolling rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown," and Bonnie demonstrates "Godzilla," the double bass.

Fiddlesticks! has been one of our most popular trios since they played 57 performances as part of our Artists-in-Residence program in 1994. Stephen Metcalf from Randolph Elementary School wrote us the following: "Two hundred children were exposed to the world of strings, a world that, unfortunately, many of them have never encountered. The enthusiasm, professionalism, and personalities of the trio members kept the children on the edge of their seats throughout. It was an informative and delightful 45 minutes."
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Monday, May 12, 2008

Episode 2: Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

David Ludwig chats with Vermont composer Dennis Bathory-Kitsz about his We Are All Mozart project, Non-Pop Music, and his life as a prolific Vermont composer.
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Troy Peters, conductor

Acclaimed for his innovative programming, conductor Troy Peters has been the subject of nationally broadcast profiles on CBS television and National Public Radio. Vermont Governor James Douglas recognized his contribution to the state’s cultural life by proclaiming April 17, 2005, as “Troy Peters Day” in Vermont. As Music Director of the Vermont Youth Orchestra since 1995, he has overseen a period of tremendous growth and received six ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming. He is also the Music Director of the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra and the Conductor of the Middlebury College Orchestra.

The soloists with whom Peters has collaborated include such luminaries as Midori, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Soovin Kim, Phillip Ying, and Horacio Gutiérrez. He has also gained international attention for his orchestral collaborations with rock musician Trey Anastasio (formerly of the band Phish), including numerous live performances and two albums on Elektra Records. He has been a popular guest conductor with many groups, including the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Northwest Mahler Festival, the Vermont Mozart Festival, and the Opera Company of Middlebury. A graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music and the University of Pennsylvania, his conducting teachers and mentors have included Marin Alsop, Harry Davidson, Raymond Harvey, David Hayes, Kenneth Kiesler, David Loebel, Gustav Meier, and Larry Rachleff

Peters is also busy as a composer, where his work ranges from orchestral and chamber music to a large body of songs and an opera for hand puppets. His honors include the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and grants from Meet the Composer and the Rockefeller Foundation. His music has been commissioned by many groups, including the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Saint Michael’s College, the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, and Social Band. A versatile instrumentalist, Peters not only plays the viola, but has also performed on tenor banjo and electric guitar with symphony orchestras. Born in Scotland of American parents, he lives in Colchester with his wife and daughter.

A pre-concert discussion, “Musically Speaking,” moderated by VPR’s Walter Parker will be held on May 3 at 7 p.m. at the Flynn Center, free for members of the audience. The discussion will feature Daron Hagen and guest conductor Troy Peters, providing entertaining insight into the music, composers and musicians themselves.
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