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!