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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Sharon Robinson, cellist

Winner of the Avery Fisher Recital Award, the Piatigorsky Memorial Award and a Grammy nominee, Sharon Robinson is recognized as one of America’s foremost champions of the cello. Whether as a recitalist, soloist with orchestra, or member of the renowned Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, critics and audiences alike delight in her sophisticated blend of intellect and vibrant emotion. Guest appearances with orchestra include the symphonies of Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, London Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra, and the English, Scottish, and Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestras.

Ms. Robinson has performed recitals throughout Europe and in virtually every major city in the United States. Her many festival engagements include Spoleto, Mostly Mozart, Aspen, Santa Fe, Tanglewood, Granada, Helsinki, Edinburgh and the Autumn Festival in Prague.

In addition to two solo CDs, Sharon Robinson has recorded extensively with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. With her husband, Jaime Laredo, she has also recorded the Zwilich Double Concerto and the Ned Rorem’s Double Concerto (both of which were composed for them).

A favorite of TV audiences, Ms. Robinson has appeared on the Tonight Show, Today Show, A&E’s Breakfast with the Arts, the Charlie Rose Show, and in a profile on CBS
Sunday Morning.
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Verdi Overture to Nabucco

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Giuseppe Verdi’s first major operatic success appeared in the wake of the most difficult time in the composer’s life. In 1838 and 1839, Verdi and his young wife Margherita lost both of their infant children in quick succession (a sadly common circumstance at the time). Tragically, Margherita fell ill and died in the summer of 1840. Then, in September 1840, Verdi’s second opera, Un giorno di regno, was a complete disaster, closing after only one performance. Deeply depressed, the composer was understandably ready to give up on music altogether. But Bartolomeo Merelli, who ran the famed Milan opera house, La Scala, prevailed upon Verdi to write one more opera. The result was Nabucco, an instant commercial and critical triumph upon its premiere in 1842.

Nabucco retells the biblical story of the slavery and eventual exile of the Jews under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. In spite of the dark story, the score is full of memorable melodies. In fact, one of Verdi’s biggest hits is the Act III chorus, “Va pensiero,” in which the Hebrew slaves sing wistfully of their lost homeland. Over the course of the 19th century, the tune came to be a popular anthem of the Italian Risorgimento, the political movement that pushed out foreign powers and unified the Italian peninsula as a single kingdom.

Like most of Verdi’s opera overtures, Nabucco is a potpourri of themes, most of which reappear in the opera. After a stately introduction in the brass and a more sinister transition, Verdi spins a gentle variation on “Va pensiero,” heard first in the oboe and clarinet playing in octaves. In the faster music that follows, the overture juxtaposes different themes associated with the Hebrew slaves and with their Babylonian captors, neatly foreshadowing the opera’s central conflict.

-- Troy Peters
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Daron Hagen's "Masquerade"

The double concerto Masquerade takes as its starting place the conventions of Commedia dell'arte, a popular form of improvisational theater which began in Italy in the 15th century and remained popular into the 18th century. Costumes and masks identified life's universal characters, first described centuries earlier in Greek and Roman comedies, and the classic plots often revolved around lovers. One of the most important characters was Arlecchino, also known as Pedrolino, or the Harlequin.

The soloists take on the roles of musical lovers in the first movement (Burlesque). The story of their courtship is told by two harmonically and melodically elusive contrasting themes. A vecchio (elder) arrives on the scene. By seducing one of the innamorati, he forces them apart and the movement ends. The second movement (Elegy) is a lament for lost love. It tells the story of the lovers apart. As the movement progresses they grow older, and wiser with experience.

After many years, in the movement entitled The Last of Pedrolino, they are reunited one evening at the bedside of a mutual friend, the zanni Pedrolino, who, dying, wishes to see them both one last time. Inspired by Pedrolino, the two lovers reconnect, no longer as lovers but as old friends and soul mates. In a final Galoppade, they relive the open-hearted joy in singing of their childhoods before parting forever.

Composed over a two year period, the concerto was completed in February of 2007 and is dedicated to Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson who together introduced the piece with the Sacramento Philharmonic, conducted by Laura Jackson, on 16 February 2008 and with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Troy Peters, on May 3 2008.

-- Daron Hagen


Daron Hagen (1961- )

Daron Hagen's orchestral compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, the National Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, American Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Milwaukee, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Houston, Denver, Knoxville, Florida, Oakland, Brooklyn and New Mexico Symphonies, among dozens of others. His five operas (Shining Brow, Bandanna, Vera of Las Vegas, Broken Pieces, and The Antient Concert) have received multiple performances internationally. The composer of over two hundred published art songs and cycles, his catalogue continues to grow as major orchestras, ensembles and soloists commission and record new works.

Current projects include Amelia, an opera for the Seattle Opera, a violin concerto for Michael Ludwig and the Buffalo and Virginia Symphonies, a fourth symphony for the Albany Symphony, and a string quartet for the Terezin Music Foundation.

Premieres scheduled for the 07-08 season include a double concerto for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson (also being premiered with the Sacramento Symphony), a triple concerto for the Amelia Piano Trio and a consortium of pre-professional orchestras, and a fourth trio for the Finisterra Piano Trio.

Mr. Hagen made his debut as a stage director with the Buffalo Philharmonic's performances of his opera Shining Brow last November. He has released two CDs as a collaborative pianist with baritone Paul Kreider on the Arsis label. The recording of his opera Bandanna under his baton (Albany Troy 849/50) was chosen by Fanfare Magazine as one of the ten notable releases of 2006 and chosen as an "ArkivMusic Recommendation.”

President of the Lotte Lehmann Foundation and a Lifetime Member of the Corporation of Yaddo, Mr. Hagen is a graduate of the Juilliard School and of the Curtis Institute of Music. He has received the Kennedy Center Friedheim, the Bearns, Barlow, and ASCAP-Nissim Prizes, two Rockefeller Bellagio Residencies, the Camargo Residency, multiple residencies at VCCA and MacDowell, as well as scholarships and development grants from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, and Opera America. His music is published by Carl Fischer and EC Schirmer. Recordings are available on Albany, Arsis, Sierra, CRI, and other labels.

Mr. Hagen maintains a vigorous private teaching schedule and gives numerous master classes and residencies at colleges and music festivals. He is also a frequent grants panelist and has served twice as Composer in Residence for the Princeton University Atelier; as Franz Lehar Composer in Residence at the University of Pittsburgh; as Artist in Residence at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Sigma-Chi-William P. Huffman Composer in Residence at Miami University; Artist in Residence at Baylor University; on the musical studies faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music; nine years on the composition faculty of Bard College; as a Visiting Professor at the City College of New York; and as a Lecturer in Music at New York University.

He has lived in New York City since 1984.

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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Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg and died in Moscow. Educated entirely in Russia, he had early success both as a pianist and as a composer. His first three symphonies were received well, as was an opera (The Nose) and numerous other works. In 1930, he began work on Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, and by 1936 it had received nearly two hundred performances in Moscow and Leningrad and had been heard in London, Zurich, Stockholm, Copenhagen and New York. In January of 1936, however, Joseph Stalin attended a performance in Moscow, and two days later Pravda published a startling article under the headline “Muddle Instead of Music” denouncing the opera as “fidgety, screaming, neurotic, coarse, primitive and vulgar.” The warning was clear: such “formalism” – a Soviet term for any art that too closely resembled Western modernism – would no longer be tolerated. Shostakovich completed but then withdrew his Fourth Symphony, and retreated into fearful silence for nearly two years. At the same time, friends and supportive colleagues were forced to make fictional confessions disappearing into prisons, even being killed. With the net closing around him, Shostakovich had to be incredibly careful with his next public work.

The Fifth Symphony was premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic on November 21, 1937. Shostakovich clearly used it as a public statement that he would be adhering more closely to the concept of “socialist realism,” defined by Party theorist Nikolai Bukharin as stories of “tragedies and conflicts, vacillations, defeats, the struggle of conflicting tendencies,” to be concluded as a matter of course with triumphs of resolution to the accepted supremacy of the state. The symphony’s traditionally clear-cut four-movement symphonic form and its tonal journey from a dark d minor to a triumphant (if somewhat menacing) D Major finale made it all but impossible to describe as “muddle.” The unqualified success of the Fifth Symphony rescued Shostakovich’s reputation, at least for the time being.

It would clearly be a mistake, however, to categorize the Fifth Symphony definitively as a work of acquiescence to official demands. For decades, Western music critics for the most part dismissed Shostakovich as a Communist conformist, too weak-willed to act against the Soviet authorities. The publication in 1979 of Solomon Volkov’s controversial book Testimony: the Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to and Edited by Solomon Volkov called all such assumptions into question. While the authenticity of every word of the book has never been proven, the general sentiment has become accepted: that Shostakovich was miserable, fearful of speaking out but harboring intense resentment for the ruling regime. It has become clear that he was a master of Soviet doublespeak, using often using overemphasis and unnecessary repetition in his correspondence as code that he intended to convey the opposite of what his words literally meant. From Testimony: “I think that it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat, as in Boris Gudonov. It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, ‘Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing.’ And you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, ‘Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.’”

Through hard, even life-threatening lessons, Shostakovich learned to walk a kind of tightrope of musical irony. In his excellent book about 20th century music, The Rest is Noise, music critic Alex Ross wrote: “To talk about musical irony, we first have to agree on what the music appears to be saying, and then we have to agree about what the music is really saying. This is invariably difficult to do. We can, however, learn to be wary of any interpretation that displays too much certitude about what the music is ‘really saying’ and stay alert to multiple levels of meaning. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony becomes a rich experience when heard this way.”

--Gabriel Langfur
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Monday, April 21, 2008

Episode 1: T.L. Read

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Top Composer

I’ve been obsessed with "Top Chef" on the Bravo network for a while, but the thing is, since I watch so little TV at home, I mostly get to see it only when I’m in hotels. As I am on one of my Vermont Symphony residency weeks, I am in the Jackson Gore resort hotel at Okemo Mountain, and as it turns out, “Top Chef” is on all night. Good times.

It’s not your average “reality” show. The premise is that a group of sixteen emerging chefs is whittled down to one over the course of a season and the winner gets fame and riches (and a very nice set of knives). The chefs face various challenges against each other and are judged by four professionals from the field (regulars and famous guests). What makes the show different than say, MTV’s “Real World,” or more currently “American Idol,” is that all of the contestants (and judges) on “Top Chef” are experts. And in watching the show I realized how much similarity there is between chefs and composers.

Yeah, yeah, putting together ingredients to make a whole, but what was interesting to me was the sensitivity they had to the different flavors, styles, and textures, much like composers are particularly sensitive to pitch, rhythm, styles, and well, textures… And then some of the chefs have been big on “molecular” cooking. Is that like “spectral” music? I haven’t learned much about it, but it seems obvious that there would be schools of cooking as much as there are schools of composing. And it’s not just like a “French” style or type of cuisine, but actual developing approaches to the subject of cooking that evolve—sometimes growing into different ideas, and sometimes dying away. Perhaps I can create my own schools of cooking based on major trends in 20th century music:

Minimalism: Chefs prepare the same dish every night but change one seasoning per meal. The food must be very palatable and have very few ingredients.

Serialism: Chefs can’t prepare the same dish until they have cycled through all other available dishes first. Early cooks used to just change the entrée every night, but now chefs will rotate the appetizer, dessert, drinks, and even the silverware.

Expressionism: Waiters must scream about the futility and absurdity of life as they bring the food. Interpretive dance a must.

Neo-Classicism: Features only food cooked and preserved for long periods of time. The cutlery is new, however.

Experimentalism: Chefs will try to cook any object to try to make it edible. Particularly requested was a piece for cooked amplified cactus. The famous chef Jean Cage once prepared and served a dish with nothing on the plate.

The New Complexity: That the food will be so full of different flavors will make it too difficult to taste on a first setting. That it’s too difficult to prepare makes this culinary movement ultimately theoretical.

Impressionism: Flavors are vague and ambiguous…food is made light and fluffy, like clouds, really…not sure what that was I just ate, but it tastes like chicken…or did it?

So those are some examples we can pursue. As a side note, I brought this idea before my Second Viennese School at Curtis and we decided that for a final class we’ll make a large serialized pizza. We’ll get twelve different toppings and put each one on a slice, not repeating any topping until all eleven others are adorned on the pie. Then we decided not to tell anyone about this plan because it was too dorky for public consumption.

It’s now a few days later and I’m finishing up this blog addition at the Green Mountain Coffee factory store and café in Waterbury, VT. Good coffee and free wireless? I think I’ll order a cot.

So I did notice one competition between the chefs on the program which was to go shopping and prepare dishes that used no more than five ingredients. At first I wasn’t sure how the judges could tell if the contestants violated the rules, but then I realized that these are experts—they have the kind of palette that can know exactly what is at work in what they are eating, much as a well-trained musician with good ears can hear what is happening on the deepest levels of the music and how it is put together, down to scales, motives, and notes. And as we may enjoy a good meal as much as the next person, does anyone doubt that the more time we spend knowing about food and preparing it that we taste more and (hopefully) enjoy it more profoundly? The same must be true with music.

So take that cooking, I mean, music class you’ve been putting off but meaning to take! Or just listen to Beethoven like you would eat an expertly prepared meal, with the care and a slowness that we seem to lose in our daily concerns.
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