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!