Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Program notes: December 5 Masterworks Series

The VSO offers a five-concert Saturday Masterworks series at the Flynn Center in Burlington. All concerts begin at 8:00 p.m. and are preceded at 7:00 p.m. by Musically Speaking, a free pre-concert discussion that provides entertaining insight into the evening’s program. Anthony Princiotti conducts our second concert in the series, to be performed Saturday, December 5, at the Flynn Center in Burlington. Click "Keep reading!" to peruse the program notes.

Trittico Botticelliano
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

In 1900 Respighi left his job as an orchestral violinist in Bologna, Italy to travel to St. Petersburg. There he was to play first viola for the Russian Imperial Theater's season of Italian opera. More important, the move brought him within striking distance of his goal to receive instruction in composition and orchestration from his idol, Rimsky-Korsakov. At his earliest opportunity, Respighi called on the Russian master and found a throng of like-minded admirers. After glancing at one of Respighi's scores, Rimsky-Korsakov announced, "I can see nobody else today!" and closeted himself with his young pupil, becoming his instructor for the five remaining months of Respighi's Russian stay.

Encouraged by his early teacher in Bologna to recognize that music other than opera deserved to be written (revolutionary thinking in Italy!), Respighi became the great Italian orchestral composer of his time. Involved in scholarly interests as well, he revered the Italian legacy of Renaissance music and art. Trittico Botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures) is the composer’s musical impression of three paintings by the Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. An evocative blend of the classical and romantic, the work was commissioned by Washington arts philanthropist Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1926 following a tour of the United States by Respighi as pianist/conductor.

I. La Primavera - "Spring.” The painting is a sylvan scene including shepherds, nymphs, the goddess Flora and the three Graces. In the tradition of Vivaldi, Respighi heralds spring with bird calls and a rustic dance melody.

II. L'Adorazione dei Magi - "The Adoration of the Kings.” This small painting is overwhelming in its visual offerings of richly-dressed pilgrims descending from fine horses to worship the Mother and infant Christ child. The music opens with a moving Siciliana, and the contrapuntal melodic line includes wisps of Gregorian chant.

III. La Nascita di Venere - "The Birth of Venus.” This famous painting depicts the nude Venus, born of the sea, standing in the middle of a scallop shell above the life-giving waters. The music evokes the play of the waves that Debussy captured in La Mer. The long and sensuous melody that represents Venus grows to an eloquent crescendo, then fades to a close.

--Hilary Hatch

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Brahms kept his audience waiting for six years between his second and third symphonies. He did the bulk of the work on this piece in the summer of 1883 in Wiesbaden, where his new young love, contralto Hermine Spiess, lived. As different from the first two as they are from each other, the Third reflects a more personal and intimate side of the composer. Eduard Hanslick, oft-quoted reviewer of the period, promptly nicknamed the symphony “Eroica,” although he pointed out that the only heroic parts were the opening and closing movements, which frame movements that “quiver with the romantic twilight of Schumann and Mendelssohn.” The Third is the least frequently performed of Brahms’ four symphonies, possibly because it is the only one which does not have a rousing, triumphant ending. It is undeniably a masterpiece, however: a product of the mature artist at the height of his powers, a work that fairly bursts with vitality and strength.

Karl Geiringer’s biography of Brahms has this to say about the symphony:

Like the first two symphonies, the Third is introduced by a brief motto; this not only provides the bass for the grandiose principal subject of the first movement, but dominates the whole symphony. It assumes a particularly important role in the first movement, before the beginning of the recapitulation. After the passionate development, the waves of excitement calm down, and the horn announces the motto, in a mystic Eb Major, as a herald of heavenly peace. Passionless, clear, almost objective serenity speaks to us from the second movement. No Andante of such emotional tranquility is to be found in the works of the youthful Brahms. Particularly attractive is the first theme of the following Poco Allegretto, which (in spite of its great simplicity) is stamped with a highly individual character by its constant alternation of rhythms. Further, Brahms contrived to make the concise three-fold form of the movement more effective by orchestrating the da capo of the first part in quite a different manner. Such a mixture of simplicity and refinement is characteristic of Brahms in his later years. The Finale is a tremendous conflict of elemental forces; it is only in the Coda that calm returns. Like a rainbow after a thunderstorm, the motto, played by the flute, spans the turmoil of the other voices with its message of hope and freedom.

Symphony No. 2 in c minor, Op. 17, “Little Russian”
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

In the summer of 1872, after an exhausting year of working too hard, Tchaikovsky visited his sister, Alexandra, in the rural village of Kamenka, in the Ukraine. Inspired by the peasant songs he heard, he started work on his second symphony. Tchaikovsky put the finishing touches on the piece in Moscow in November of that year, and wrote to his brother, “Modi, my conscience pricks me. That is my punishment for not having written to you for so long. But what can I do when the symphony, which is nearing completion, occupies me so entirely that I can think of nothing else? It seems to me my best work, at least so far as correctness of form is concerned, a quality for which I have not so far distinguished myself.” Tchaikovsky showed the manuscript to Rimsky-Korsakov and the other members of the Russian ultra-nationalist group known as “The Five”—Mussorgsky, Borodin, Balakireff, and Cui—and received enthusiastic praise from them.

The premiere was a success, yet Tchaikovsky, ever his own severest critic, was not satisfied. Seven years later, he undertook a major overhaul. He wrote to his friend and patroness Madame von Meck, “How I thank the fate that made Bessel fail in his contract and never print this score! How much seven years can mean when a man is striving for progress in his work! Is it possible that seven years hence I shall look upon what I write today as I look at my music written in 1872? I know it is possible because perfection—the ideal—is boundless.”

I. Andante sostenuto; Allegro vivo. The slow introduction begins with a melancholy French horn solo, a melody taken from the Ukrainian variant of the folk song, “Down by Mother Volga.” The main theme presents a stormy, vigorous motive which contrasts with the lyrical, gently yearning second theme. An energetic development section develops both themes to a brilliant climax, after which the slow horn solo is heard once more.

II. Andantino marziale, quasi moderato. The slow movement begins with the tragic wedding march from the last act of Tchaikovsky’s opera Undine, composed in 1869 and later destroyed by the composer, save for this excerpt and a few other fragments. The central section of the movement is based on “Spin, My Spinner,” a Russian folksong that Tchaikovsky included in a compilation of folksongs published in 1868.

III. Scherzo: Allegro molto vivace. The nimble scherzo’s rhythmic drive is punctuated by a whimsical trio featuring the woodwinds in a contrasting duple meter.

IV. Finale: Moderato assai. This movement is a set of variations--harmonic, contrapuntal, and instrumental--on the Ukrainian melody, “The Crane.” A slow introduction presents the short melody, but propulsive energy is the hallmark of the movement. The exuberant, nearly frenzied, ending inevitably reminds the listener of a fiery Cossack dance.

The designation “Little Russian” was given to this symphony by the critic Nicholas Kashkin, the Ukrainian region having been known in Tsarist days as “Little Russia.”
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vermont Music Now No. 10: Gwyneth Walker

VSO New Music Advisor and accomplished composer David Ludwig interviews Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker on this latest episode of Vermont Music Now. Ms. Walker expounds on her many years as a professional composer, making her living solely from the craft. She gives advice on the business of composing and the classical music industry. Click "Keep reading!" to watch.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Program notes: October 24 Masterworks Series Opening Night

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra celebrates the opening night if its 75th Anniversary Season Masterworks Series. We're rolling out this celebratory year with a concert that was supposed to happen in March of 2008. If you don't remember the scenario, read about it by clicking here. Since that evening, we have been patiently waiting for a re-programming of this concert, featuring Soovin Kim on violin and VSO principal oboist Nancy Dimock. Jaime Laredo conducts the music of David Ludwig, Sibelius, and Schumann. Read the complete program notes after the jump.

David Ludwig (1972- )

Radiance was written during my time at the Yaddo Artist Colony in Saratoga, NY, in the summer of 2003. That area of the world is alive with glowing, radiant things in the summertime, and these fireflies, stars, long sunsets, and burning campfires became one with the piece and inspired the title. I wanted to capture the warm evening and all of its incandescent surroundings in this short work for oboe and string orchestra.

The piece itself is rather simple, like an extended song or, more appropriately, a nocturne serenade. The oboe opens with its own motive that is then echoed in the strings in a chorale texture. The motive transforms and develops over the course of the work, as the music alternates between chorale writing and a singing aria-like passage with the soloist. The climax is hushed and quiet, like a hazy summer night.

The Richmond Symphony commissioned Radiance, and premiered it in 2003 with oboist Michael Lisicky and Mark Russell Smith conducting. The Vermont Youth Orchestra also performed it at a Carnegie Hall concert in 2005.

--David Ludwig

Nancy Dimock, oboe

Nancy Dimock, principal oboist of the VSO, has been a frequent soloist with the orchestra, performing the Bach Double Concerto with music director Jaime Laredo, the Haydn Symphony Concertante, the Barber Canzonetta and David Ludwig’s Radiance. In addition, she is a member of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva and the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and a former member of the Albany Symphony. She frequently performs as a guest with the Boston Lyric Opera, Portland Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Boston Pops. She has been the principal oboist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and can be heard performing with the HSO on the Grammy-nominated CD, “Rosemary Clooney: The Final Concert.”

Ms. Dimock has been on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and PBS’s Great Performances television broadcast. She has recorded for the Concord, Albany and Chandos labels. She has been singled out for mention in numerous reviews, among them one by Susan Larson from the Boston Globe, who wrote: “The Chameleon Arts Ensemble opened with Joan Tower's lovely 1989 Island Prelude in its wind quintet incarnation. Lush, serene wind chords create an opalescent soundscape over which the oboe, gorgeously played by Nancy Dimock, soars and swoops in increasingly active volutes and trills; the ensemble joins the oboe in a final orgy of birdcalls and trills.”

Ms. Dimock lives in Stoneham, Mass., with her husband Joel and their son Marco.

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in d minor, Op. 47
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Sibelius styled himself a “dreamer and poet of nature…I love the mysterious sounds of the fields and forests, water and mountains.” One is struck by the visual image conjured by the mention of Sibelius’ boyhood habit of perching on a huge rock by a lake to play his violin, a veritable Nordic (violin-playing) Pan. Fierce nationalism and reverence for Finnish history and myth, particularly the epic Kalevala, were also fundamental ingredients in his musical creations.

The breeziness, breadth and freedom of a young man in his prime – this is what is heard in Sibelius’ first two symphonies, bursting with the indestructibility and self-assurance of youth. A distinct transformation takes place in the third symphony, however, and the years of change between the second and third symphonies are precisely those during which Sibelius crafted his only violin concerto, written in 1903, rewritten, and published in 1905. Sibelius suffered from ear disease that threatened him with total deafness. The “Nordic faun” was forced to come down off his rock to face his own mortality, and the ensuing compositions reflected some morbidity, but more importantly, reflected a refinement and conciseness of statement, a control which yielded music of a more individual and personal nature.

Sibelius began to show increasing respect for conventional forms, and despite its modern character, the violin concerto belongs to the romantic tradition of the 19th century. The rhapsodic mood of the first movement (Allegro moderato) is set in the melodic sweep of the first theme, spread out over thirty bars in a chant by the solo violin over a somber background of muted and divisi violins, soon echoed by the woodwinds. A second, more lyrical subject is introduced by the dark sound of the celli and bassoons, later taken up by the soloist. These themes grow and develop, providing a background for virtuoso display which always remains an organic part of the whole.

The second movement (Adagio di molto) starts with a poignant phrase in thirds for the woodwinds, and the violin begins a theme of tender melancholy. The movement moves towards a great climax with the violin providing decorative figurations over an orchestral treatment of the theme, suddenly dying away.

The final movement (Allegro ma non tanto) is a strongly rhythmic rondo often perceived as a “Danse Macabre,” but interpreted by the English conductor and program annotator Donald Tovey as a “polonaise for polar bears.” Violins and celli introduce a second theme, and the solo violin displays a seemingly endless variety of violinistic fireworks against the darker, more earthbound colors of the orchestral winds and strings.

Soovin Kim, violin

American violinist Soovin Kim is an exciting young player who has built on the early successes of his prize-winning years to emerge as a mature artist equally gifted in concerto, recital, and chamber music repertoire. Mr. Kim began the 2008-2009 season touring Europe with pianist Mitsuko Uchida performing Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps to rave reviews. Highlighted among his concerto appearances will be his Russian debut performing the Sibelius concerto with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ignat Solzhenitsyn, coupled with a special recital performance at the American Embassy. The opening of the season also saw the release of Mr. Kim’s new recording on Azica Records of Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano, and string quartet and Fauré’s Sonata in A Major, op.13. This has been followed by concerto, chamber music, and recital performances in some of the world’s most prominent venues – Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Lincoln Center, Royce Hall, Herbst Theatre, and Strathmore Hall among them. Soovin Kim’s Chausson and Fauré recording with Azica Records was a collaboration with pianist Jeremy Denk and the Jupiter String Quartet.

Mr. Kim’s recording of Niccolò Paganini's demanding 24 Caprices for solo violin was released in February 2006, rose to Billboard’s Classical Chart, and was named Classic FM magazine’s Instrumental Disc of the Month. Mr. Kim also recorded Schubert’s cello quintet with Janos Starker and Arensky’s cello quartet with Lynn Harrell, both released by Delos International, and duo works by Schubert, Bartok, and Strauss with Jeremy Denk for Koch/Discover. Mr. Kim is recognized for his commitment to fresh interpretations of standard repertoire.

In recent seasons he has played the Mendelssohn concerto with the Kitchener-Waterloo (Canada), Cincinnati Chamber, and National Philharmonic orchestras; Mozart with the Baltimore and Nashville symphonies; Sibelius with the Moscow and Vermont symphonies; Brahms with the Annapolis symphony and the Seoul Philharmonic; and Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and other ensembles without conductor. Mr. Kim and Mr. Denk have performed the Brahms sonatas in Seoul and Rome, and the Charles Ives sonatas in Philadelphia and at Bard College. Mr. Kim has also given recitals of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas in New York, Philadelphia, Seoul, and at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Along with his love of the classic works, Soovin Kim is passionate about commissioning new works. Mr. Kim is the first violinist of the Johannes Quartet which is touring this season with the venerable Guarneri Quartet performing newly-commissioned works by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Derek Bermel, and William Bolcom. Mr. Kim’s Korea-based piano quartet, M.I.K., recorded four commissioned works by Korean composers for its first album for Stomp/EMI. He also arranged for and performed the premiere of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s string trio in 2007.

Soovin Kim won first prize at the Paganini International Competition when he was only 20 years old. He was later named the recipient of the Henryk Szeryng Career Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. Subsequently he went on to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Stuttgart Radio Symphony, Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Orchestra. He has given solo recitals at Weill Hall in New York, Terrace Theater in Washington D.C., Ravinia, Tokyo’s Casals Hall, and the Seoul Arts Center. Mr. Kim devotes a considerable amount of time to teaching at Stony Brook University and is also on the faculty of Bard College. He is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied with Jaime Laredo and Victor Danchenko, and he also studied with David Cerone and Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Mr. Kim maintains a close relationship with the Marlboro Festival and regularly spends summers there. Soovin Kim plays on the 1709 “ex-Kempner” Stradivarius which is on loan to him.

Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 97
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann was perhaps the quintessential Romantic composer. His work is marked by lyricism, literary or other extra-musical inspiration, and a extreme self-expression. Often his pieces had personal associations – memories, feelings, specific events – of which biographers get only glimpses from the notes in his manuscripts. In his short and often tumultuous life (most of his last three years were spent in an insane asylum) he produced an incredibly diverse body of work – symphonies, songs, chamber music, piano music, choral music – usually working extremely fast during bouts of inspiration. His wife was Clara Wieck Schumann, one of the most famous piano virtuosi of the century, and the Schumanns were good friends with Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt, and Berlioz.

For much of his career, Schumann was better known as a music critic than a composer. As a youngster, he was just as interested in poetry and literature as he was in music, and he wrote prolifically throughout his life: articles, journals, diaries (including a joint “marriage diary” with Clara), letters, etc. He founded the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and was its owner and editor from 1835 to 1844. In a sincere effort to represent a dialectic way of thinking, he created various characters from whose points of view he would write, in criticism and in private correspondence. Florestan, Eusebius, and Meister Raro represented for him the ability to hold and embrace simultaneously conflicting viewpoints, to respect the value of both instinctive emotion and calculated thought and always listen to the voice of moderation to balance the two.

During the first parts of his compositional career, Schumann tended to explore particular genres for long periods of time, writing mostly piano music in the 1830s, songs and song cycles in 1840, symphonic works in 1841, and chamber music in 1842. His third symphony, however, was composed in November and December of 1850, the last of his four published symphonies (the fourth was initially written in 1841 and revised for publication in 1851). Its common subtitle “Rhenish” was not Schumann’s, but he would likely have approved. He had just accepted the position of Municipal Music Director in the capital of the Rhine Province, Düsseldorf, and was inspired by the good-natured outlook of the people in his new home to write a symphony that would have popular appeal, one which “here and there reflects a bit of local color.” He succeeded admirably: the first performance (under his direction on February 6, 1851) was greeted with enthusiastic cheers.

The spirit of the third symphony is uplifting throughout, with themes that rise in pitch and masterful motivic development that generates consistent forward momentum. Its form is unusual, stretching the typical four-movement Romantic symphony to five. The first and last movements, marked lebhaft (lively), are traditional outer movements in their rousing characters. The second and third are less conventional in that they contrast less than the typical symphonic scherzo and adagio movements; they might even be considered more intermezzo-style pieces than full symphonic movements.

Any emotional weight that might be wanting, however, is more than made up for in the remarkable fourth movement. Originally subtitled “In the character of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,” the additional slow movement was reported to have been inserted into the standard form in order to commemorate the elevation of Archbishop Johannes von Geissel to the rank of Cardinal at the spectacular Cologne Cathedral. The consensus of Schumann scholarship agrees, however, that the sight of the cathedral itself was the composer’s inspiration. The Cologne Cathedral was one of the largest buildings in the world at the time. Originally begun in 1248, its construction continued on and off for literally centuries; renewed civic interest and advances in construction techniques in the nineteenth century had enabled a recommencement of the work in 1842. Upon completion in 1880, the cathedral was the tallest structure in the world until the erection of the Washington Monument, in 1884, and then the Eiffel Tower. Construction was ongoing during Schumann’s visit in 1850, and the highly emotional artist was clearly awestruck. The music he wrote as a tonal portrait is unique in the orchestral literature, notable for the intensity of its overlapping counterpoint and the solemnity and grandeur of orchestral color, incorporating trombones for the first time in the piece for the traditional sound of ecclesiastical music. The rising theme of the movement, like the cathedral itself, literally reaches for the heavens, celebrating the efforts of mankind to come ever closer to God.

--Gabriel Langfur
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Tech Talk 2.0: Let the Games Begin

A few years ago after our annual staff retreat (did you see our picture on Facebook?), I mentioned casually that I prefer chamber music to a full-scale orchestral explosion. I was riding “shotgun.” Alan Jordan, VSO Executive Director, was behind the wheel. He half-jokingly remarked, “I should drop you off on the side of the road, right here.” We were in Moscow, Vermont. Alan took this comment as a direct hit on what the VSO is doing: presenting orchestral works and using that medium to educate children (and others) about music and its value. Explaining what qualities in chamber music attract me is related to explaining why I love Vermont (I live in Burlington), and why I hated living in Boston (for all of nine months); it is a matter of personal connection. A stage populated with 70 players plus a conductor seems faceless to me. I find it hard to connect to the human side of the music, especially when my passage is blocked by a sonic wall of bombastic brass. (This is one of the reasons I adore our “Life is a Symphony” musician profiles. The chamber concert is an intimate affair. Two, three, four, five people on stage at a time. The music is quieter, begging for your attention. The chamber musician’s attire is slightly more ostentatious than that of her orchestral sister. Admiring said clothing is an excellent way to get through an unfortunate programming of, say, Kurtag, not to mention simply marveling at the aerobic body ticks and facial contortions required of these performers.

You are now thinking, Why is this VSO person hating on what she is supposed to be promoting? Well, maybe not in those exact words. This is a viable inquiry. Thankfully, the VSO is made up of several multi-talented individuals who make a multi-faceted organization possible. The VSO provides best of both worlds – orchestral and chamber music. Jaime Laredo is the personification of this versatility. He conducts the VSO, solos with the VSO, plays in a trio with his wife Sharon Robinson and long-time friend and pianist Joseph Kalichstein, and he is Music Director of the VSO. I’m excited to report we have just begun our annual fall foliage tour, which happens to feature a smaller orchestra, that is, a chamber orchestra. The Made in Vermont tour is at the heart of the VSO’s mission: quality programming accessible to all. We are touring to smaller communities statewide (and playing in some cool little venues). OK, so the musicians might not be dressed in their best Versace gown, but smaller scale venues allow for a more intimate concert experience. Made in Vermont is special for another reason, one that is decidedly more Vermont than Boston. Each year, we commission a piece for the tour by a Vermont composer or one with close Vermont ties. The piece is made in Vermont. Get it? This year’s composer is Derrik Jordan of East Dummerston. He has composed a piece about an Abenaki myth that explains how Lake Champlain was made. (Made in Vermont. Get it?) I’ll leave the retelling to Derrik. In addition to this piece (which you can learn more about by watching a ten-minute video interview with Derrik on our blog), the program includes an arrangement of a Mozart String Quartet, Bizet’s light-hearted Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games), and Haydn Symphony No. 82 (“The Bear”). The Bizet may have been programmed as a shout out to our French friends (one of which was Samuel de Champlain), but it is occurring to me now that it is a fitting piece for a tour happening not only around the beginning of another school year, but also at state colleges around Vermont. I guess you could say the students at Vermont State Colleges are scholars being made in Vermont. Get it? OK, OK, I promise I won’t do that anymore. Every one-time college student knows the games commence once mom and dad are back on the interstate heading home. Perhaps this isn’t what Bizet had in mind (he was probably thinking more along the lines of hopscotch, as opposed to sip scotch). Check out the complete tour on our website. Thankfully for us all, the VSO’s musical foray doesn’t end on October 4 at 9:30 p.m. in Woodstock. Our dichotomous orchestral/chamber programming continues throughout our 75th anniversary season (lucky you!).

Exactly one month from our opening concert, on October 24, the VSO will present its first Masterworks series concert at the Flynn Center in Burlington. This program was supposed to happen in March of 2008, but we experienced one of those rare “acts of God” contracts always allude to, but never actually happen. The lights went out. The ice on the branches of trees and on power lines was too much and the grid went dark. At least it did in the southern part of Burlington and in Winooski, as well. The Flynn was shrouded in darkness; or at least dimly lit by emergency luminance. What would have been a real bummer of an evening was redeemed by the evening’s soloist, Soovin Kim, who walked on stage in the darkness and played some solo Bach. Chamber music at the Flynn? Preposterous! It was his impromptu performance that stands out in the attendees’ memories. When asked about it, people always mention Soovin, not the nasty weather outside, not the inconvenience of it all. I’d like to think some people remember the fact that they were able to trade in their March 8 ticket for a dazzling chamber recital in May of that year including Soovin, Jaime, Sharon Robinson, and principal flutist Albert Brouwer. Many sentences later, this digression serves to announce that our October Masterworks concert this year will be an exact replica of that concert, minus the darkness and confusion. Going back to the orchestral vs. chamber thing I’ve been yakking about: it is the concerto, I believe, that successfully fuses orchestral music to chamber music. This is where these two genres collide. On one hand, you have the big orchestra creating the sonic wall. However, that is balanced with the sensitivity of that one player who makes the human connection, to pull on your heart strings, to make the performance intimate, to be the face of the music. On October 24, that role will be handled by Soovin Kim playing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. I hate to gloat, Burlington, but despite the weather on March 8, the whole gang of us traveled down to Rutland the next day for a repeat peformance (as part of our Sunday Matinee Series) and I can report it was the kind of piece and the kind of playing that makes every hair on your body stand on end. I sat as close as I could (which is pretty close at the Paramount in Rutland). I mean, I could see the rosin dust lightly wafting around Soovin, creating something like magician’s smoke. There was sorrow and yearning and what felt like a long journey being told in his playing. I was told this was the first time Soovin performed this particular concerto. A year and a half later, I’m dying to see the same program again, if only to observe the maturity of the piece under this particular violinist.

I’m only going to go that far, but it should be known that we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of January because in late-January we welcome Andre Watts, world-famous pianist, for a three-concert run of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. In March, we continue the three-year trend of programming double concertos written for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson. This year’s pick? A Child’s Reliquary by Richard Danielpour. Our Masterworks finale this year, in May, will be one bombastic in-your-face piece that is more than OK in my book: Verdi Requiem. More later! I didn’t even really talk about what’s been happening on this tour. I suppose we are only one day in….

Wow, I just pumped myself up. I hope I did the same for you. After all, it is your Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Still yours after all these years (75, to be exact).

Some pics from day one:

This tree was exactly one half red, one half green.

I figured out I could nest my grapes in my truck steering wheel.
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Vermont Music Now Episode 9: Tim Woos and Josh Morris

David Ludwig recently completed his Music Alive! Residency with the VSO. We utilized his expertise and knack for teaching and enlightening budding musicians in a number of ways. Other organizations did the same, such as the Vermont MIDI Project. In this episode of Vermont Music Now, David chats with Tim Woos and Josh Morris, two gifted young composers involved with VT MIDI that David has mentored. The opening credit music is a piece by Tim called "Assembly Line" and the closing credits are accented with one of the short movements from Josh's piece "6x6x6," which was composed for the VSO. Watch the episode after the jump.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Facebook Haiku contest winner

Do you have a Facebook account? Are you a fan of the VSO? We offer special discounts and fun contests paired with ticket giveaways to our Facebook fans. Become a fan today. Recently, we have been promoting our upcoming Made in Vermont music festival statewide tour. This past weekend, fans were charged with writing a haiku incorporating autumn and music. I chose one winner to be the recipient of four Made in Vermont concert tickets. Susan Smith-Hunter took the prize. Read her haiku after the jump.

Damp red leaves seek earth
Dark crickets scrape and fiddle
Chill comes with morning.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Program notes: Made in Vermont Music Festival

The Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour is less than a month away. I'm gearing up to trade in my 26-foot truck for a more maneuverable 14-foot model, the musicians are learning what ancient myths sound like when brought to life musically, our percussionist is practicing yoga (I hear the percussion parts require a bit of aerobic activity to execute), and high school students across the state are wondering what dinner with an orchestral musician will be like (our Green Room Program pairs musician mentors with students around the state for a behind-the-scenes concert experience). The tour schedule is listed in the right sidebar. Visit our website for more info about tickets. Read on for program notes for the concerts.

String Quartet No. 4 in C Major, KV 157
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

This string quartet has been arranged for string orchestra by Anthony Prnciotti. Composed while the teenaged Mozart was in Milan in 1773, the piece shows signs that the composer was simultaneously working on an opera (Lucio Silla). The first movement, for example, is full of parallel thirds and sixths in the violins, intervals common in vocal duets. On the other hand, the opening Allegro’s primary theme is based on ascending and descending scales, which is a more instrumental than vocal derivation. This bright but fairly gentle tune is graced with trills in the first violin part. The firsts and seconds “converse” antiphonally as a bridge to a singing melodic segment that begins with something resembling a bird call. All voices participate pretty equally in the development section, followed by the usual recapitulation of the beginning.

The Andante shifts to minor, and definitely evokes an opera aria, especially in the first violins’ plaintive line. The movement features rich and sometimes arrestingly modulating harmonies and a rocking rhythm which seems to presage the barcarole, a genre developed early in the following century.

The finale (there is no minuet in this particular quartet), is a brief Presto, a rollicking movement with lively syncopations and brief excursions into the minor mode. It concludes with a tiny, but stimulating coda, consisting of a crescendo (not yet a common technique) designed to bring Mozart’s surprised audience to its feet.

Mozart never tired of the string quartet. He wrote six of them during his early years in Vienna (ten or so years after K 157 was composed), and dedicated them to Haydn, the acknowledged master of the string quartet form. Haydn told Mozart’s father that Mozart was “the greatest composer known to me in person or by name.”

"Odzihozo and the Lake."
Derrik Jordan

Derrik wrote us recently to explain: "Since we are going back in history 400 years and celebrating the discovery of Lake Champlain by Samuel de Champlain, I decided to go even further back and celebrate the connection and stewardship of the lake by the original inhabitants, the Abenaki. I contacted some Abenaki people and did a little research and it turns out they have a beautiful creation story about Lake Champlain featuring a supernatural being called Odzihozo. The story goes that he made himself from the leftover dust that fell from the Creator's hands but forgot to make legs for himself and dragged himself around the land making mountains and gouging out rivers. He finally made Lake Champlain and thought it was so beautiful that he decided to stay there and watch over it always. He turned himself into a standing rock on a very small island just south of Burlington between Shelburne Point and Juniper Island that people now call Rock Dunder. It's still a very sacred and symbolic place for the Abenaki, and they sometimes go there to leave tobacco offerings and do ceremony."

Jeux d’enfants, Op. 22 (Children’s Games)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Georges Bizet is best known for his operatic masterpiece, Carmen. He died of a heart attack only a few months after its first performance, at the tender age of 36. Like others who died tragically young (Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert), he was an exceptional musical prodigy. Against all rules, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of nine! Contemporary French composers who influenced his musical development to various degrees were Gounod, Delibes, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and Offenbach.

Also known as the Petite Suite (Little Suite), this charming work is a slight but genuine masterpiece, filled with inventive vivacity, witty and urbane in the best French tradition. Despite its miniature nature, it has achieved great popularity. It was not performed until 1880, five years after Bizet’s death. Originally composed in 1871 as a set of twelve vignettes for two pianos, Bizet later orchestrated five of the numbers. The piece showcases Bizet’s natural gift for melody and a remarkable artistic confidence.

The perky first movement (“Marche”) is marked by crescendos and diminuendos, with brass calls and drum beats descriptive of the gradual approach and retreat of a troop of soldiers. The second movement, which is entitled “Berceuse” (Lullaby) and subtitled “La Poupée” (the Doll), is a sweet, gently rocking lullaby. Next comes “Impromptu” (subtitled “La Toupie,” or The Top), which maintains a spinning figure in the background of a scampering main theme. “Petit mari, petite femme” (Little husband, little wife), a slow movement just for strings, offers a contrasting emotional depth inspired by children playing at tender domesticity. This delightful suite comes to a close with “Galop” (subtitled “Le Bal,” or The Ball), an exuberant music-hall finale.

Jeux d’enfants has been re-orchestrated slightly by Alyssa Weinberg to comport with the VSO’s Made in Vermont orchestration.

Symphony No. 82 in C Major, “L’ours” (The Bear)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Portraits of composers are so often drawn in shades of gray: everywhere there is poverty, deprivation, physical and mental infirmity; brief lives of painfully unrecognized genius. The picture of Haydn, in contrast, is refreshingly pink-cheeked. Here was a man firmly comfortable with his rustic origins, and his music is a reflection of his sanguine character. In the words of Brockway, “Any one of his great symphonies is the man in small: one and all they breathe his sunny disposition, his wit, his sane and healthy love of life.”

In 1761 Haydn began his tenure as Kapellmeister to the Esterhazys, an employ which lasted almost 30 years. Isolated at the country Esterhazy estate, Haydn said of his situation, “I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to improve, alter, make additions or omissions, and be as bold as I pleased. I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.”

Toward the end of his service to the Esterhazys, Haydn’s contract freed him from the obligation to compose exclusively for the prince. An era of purposeful individual development was inaugurated with his acceptance of a commission from the Parisian concert organization “Les Concerts de la Loge Olympique” for six symphonies. Marie Antoinette and the ladies and gentlemen of the court of Versailles were frequent attendees at this fashionable concert series, but luckily for us, the popularity of the so-called Paris Symphonies outlived the ancien regime.

Vivace assai. The energetic first movement begins with a boldly soaring figure derived from the C-Major triad. A sudden hush, and the strings alone sing a pensive phrase. A brilliant outburst—almost like a military fanfare—follows, and then the opening passage is transformed into a delicate pizzicato for the violins, accompanied by woodwinds. The entire movement is filled with harmonic surprises (including some dissonance) and rich inspiration.

Allegretto. A two-part theme provides the foundation for what is technically a theme-and-variations movement, although the recurrent familiarity of the first part of the theme gives the impression of rondo form.

Menuetto. The opening of this movement is festive and ceremonial in a way that recalls the courtly origins of the minuet, but Haydn soon alters the character and color of the music, giving the traditional form his own unique stamp.

Finale: Vivace. The humorous drone featured in this movement prompted the symphony’s nickname, “The Bear.” A drone suggests bagpipes, and bagpipes were often used by street performers at country fairs, some of whom were handlers for dancing bears. It has also been observed that the repeated appoggiatura which punctuates the low drone might sound like a bear’s growl. The material is simple yet imaginative, and full of infectious high spirits.

--Hilary Hatch

Derrik Jordan

Living in southern Vermont and playing throughout the northeast, Derrik Jordan has sung national jingles, worked with many bands and has had his songs recorded by other artists, but what really excites him is writing, recording and performing his original music for people. “Creating live music is a sacred trust. That moment of ecstatic communion when performer and audience become one is one of life’s greatest experiences,” says Jordan.

As a recording artist, award-winning singer-songwriter and composer, multi-instrumentalist (electric violin, percussion, guitar and piano), producer and teacher, Jordan is used to wearing a lot of hats. “Brazilliance – Everyone Loves Brazil,” a 29 track double CD, showcases the best of his original sambas and bossa novas written in the classic and timeless Brazilian style. It contains a new recording of his song “Share Your Love,” first released by Angela Bofill in 1978 on her debut album for Arista Records.

“Expecting A Miracle,” an acoustic-pop-soul CD he co-produced with Tom “T-Bone” Wolk (Hall and Oates, Saturday Night Live Band), features top NYC musicians Marc Shulman and Ben Wittman on guitar and drums. “Speak Through Me” from the CD was awarded 1st place (Gospel-Inspirational) and 2nd place overall out of 32,000 songs in the 2004 USA Songwriting Competition, the world’s leading international song contest.

His CD “Touch The Earth,” an environmentally themed concept album, was produced by Jordan and he sings and plays most of the instruments on it. The songs are recorded in a variety of world music styles (reggae, afro-pop, samba, salsa and funk). “Something’s Gonna Change” from the CD won top honors as 2002 Reggae Song of the Year from Just Plain Folks, the world’s largest songwriter organization.

He has released two CDs under the name SuperString Theory (including 2007’s “SuperString Theory Goes To Senegal”), showcasing his 5-string electric violin in a variety of world fusion settings (African, Middle Eastern and Asian) with exotic instruments like hoddu, balafon, kora, didgeridoo and sitar and featuring award-winning NYC free jazz singer Lisa Sokolov and Ethiopian vocalist Helen Kerlin-Smith.

In 1992, Jordan made his national debut as a recording artist on “Right As Rain,” a CD benefiting the Rainforest Action Network that featured Jerry Garcia and Paul Winter. He has studied percussion with master drummer Milford Graves and composition with Henry Brant. In his journey to further develop his craft he has traveled to Brazil, Trinidad, Ghana and Senegal. He has produced jazz, folk, spoken word, Native American and award-winning children’s independent recordings for others. He performs in many bands including Tony Vacca and the World Rhythms Ensemble, Zabap!, Simba and Natural History. His first commissioned piece for string orchestra and percussion, "Four Unknowns" was performed by the Sage City Symphony in Bennington, VT on February 24, 2008. "Sky Mirror" a piece composed for shakuhachi, string quartet and electric guitar won the Shakuhachi Chamber Music International Prize 2008. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra has commissioned him to write a piece for their 2009 Made In Vermont Festival Tour, which will be performed in 10 venues around Vermont in September 2009.
Keep reading!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An interview with Made in Vermont commissioned composer Derrik Jordan

The Made in Vermont Music Festival tour is bringing something a little different on the road with it this year: a piece about the Abenaki myth of Odzihozo, and Abenaki descendants to tell the story before each performance. This year's Made in Vermont commissioned composer, Derrik Jordan of Putney (who describes his music as positive pop and globally-conscious soul), sits down with Alan Jordan to discuss his roots, the history of Lake Champlain, and Odzihozo.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

SymphonyKids Spotlight: Musical Petting Zoo

The VSO's SymphonyKids Educational Outreach Programs are varied. We present concerts in theatres for schoolchildren, organize in-school assembly visits, stage behind-the-scenes experiences for older students, and then there's my program, the Musical Petting Zoo. Yes, me, Rebecca Kopycinski, the keeper of this blog, the Technical Director of the Summer Festival Tour this summer (and many before), Ensemble Coordinator (need a quartet for a wedding?), concert program guide ad salesperson, and Zookeeper for the VSO's Musical Petting Zoo. I like to think I hold the most varied job description in the VSO office. The Zoo is different from our other SymphonyKids offerings in that it is a hands-on experience. With the help of a sterilizing agent and parent volunteers ("handlers"), every student in attendance is given the opportunity to hammer away on the snare drum and other percussion, exercise their lungs with three brass instruments, pluck the strings of a harp, toot the flute, and flex their muscles on the violin and cello. Keep reading to watch a video about the Musical Petting Zoo and our other SymphonyKids offerings.

To book the Musical Petting Zoo at your school (or your child's school, please e-mail Rebecca. You can find more information about the Musical Petting Zoo on our website.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Symphony Sampler, August 28, Newport

Symphony Sampler is a lakeside event in Newport offering music, dinner, and raffles, to benfit the VSO's activities in the North Country. The Dancing Sail will provide a gourmet buffet (cash bar), and there will be a multi-prize raffle. There are two grand prizes: an overnight at the Doubletree Hotel in Burlington plus tickets for the VSO’s October 24 Masterworks concert in Burlington; and a handmade “Symphony Sampler” quilt created by Carolyn Ferrara. In addition, an Adirondack chair with original artwork by Earl Whitmore will be auctioned off during the course of the evening.

Musical entertainment will be provided by “Harp & Soul” (VSO musicians Heidi Soons, harp, and Anne Janson, flute) as well as two local high school musicians: cellist Sylvia Woodmansee of Westfield and flutist Emily Wiggett of Barton. “Harp & Soul” will perform excerpts from their popular school program, and the young musicians will join them for selections by Vivaldi, Bach, and others.

Emily Wiggett, age 17, was born and raised on a dairy farm in Barton, Vermont. She enjoys exhibiting her registered Jersey cattle at local shows. She will be a senior at Lake Region Union High School, where she is a member of the National Honor Society. She has studied flute and piccolo with Berta Frank of Jericho for the past four years. Emily is a member of the Vermont Youth Orchestra and will perform as a soloist with the Vermont Youth Philharmonia during the coming season.

Sylvia Woodmansee, age 16, lives in Westfield and attends North Country Union High School. She has been playing the cello for five years, and studies with Mary Lou Rylands in East Craftsbury. She also studies piano (equally seriously) with Paula Ennis in Stowe. Sylvia has participated in the All State Orchestra as well as various chamber music camps. Aside from music, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, reading, and gardening.

Carolyn Ferrara is a member of the VSO’s regional board of trustees (the North Country Friends of the VSO). She says “I was motivated to design and make this quilt after listening to a marvelous performance by the VSO. Without the composers who wove notes into glorious scores, there would be no VSO. Their genius created music that has endured through the ages. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra and its exceptionally talented musicians have continued to convey the rich heritage of these composers to the public’s appreciation and delight.” The quilt, which measures 55" x 66."

Earl Whitmore, Sr., is Case Manager at Eagle Eye Farms of West Burke, and also serves as the Jay Peak Ski Area Children’s Program Director. Michael Racine, Eagle Eye Farm Vocational Program Director, will assist with construction of the chair. The tradition of auctioning off a painted Adirondack chair began at last year’s Symphony Sampler event, where the “chair art” was created by Katy Kavanagh.

The cost for the event is $30 for adults; $25 for ages 13-17; $20 for under age 13. Attendance is limited. All proceeds go towards VSO concerts and educational programs in the North Country. Last season the VSO’s SymphonyKids programs reached over 2500 school children in 17 presentations serving 27 schools in 23 different communities in Orleans and Caledonia Counties.

Good music, good company, good food, and a good cause! To make a reservation or to get more information about “Symphony Sampler,” call 802-334-8110 or 1-800-876-9293 ext. 10.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The VSO Store is open for business!

Check out our newest selection of VSO merchandise, designed by me, Rebecca Kopycinski. Click here to visit the store. Keep reading!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vermont Music Now Episode 8: Jorge Martin

Vermont Music Now is hosted by our New Music Advisor David Ludwig. When the series was filmed, David also served as Music Alive Composer-in-Residence. His guest in this installment is Jorge Martin, Vermont composer featured in our March 2009 Masterworks and Sunday Matinee concerts.

Keep reading!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tech Talk: Now That It's Over

Hello, again, friends! This is your Technical Director, Rebecca, reporting on the now-complete Summer Festival Tour. I have to admit, I was shooting to post more than I did during the tour. What stopped me? Well, for one, getting wifi in the middle of a field in Vermont is not something one can count on (maybe I'll get an iPhone for next year?!). Secondly, I wasn't expecting to be so darn tired during this tour. Am I getting too old? I am almost 26, after all. More likely, it was the rainy days that sapped my energy. Despite my slacking during the tour, I wanted to write one last time before hanging up my walkie-talkie until next year (oh, how I miss those walkie-talkies!).

The goal in writing these blog posts was to shed some light on the immense manpower behind this tour, and the around-the-clock caravan of crews, musicians, and audiences that make it all happen. There are many, many people involved in this production. Let's start from the beginning:

6 a.m. Tent crew erects tent (and I'm still sleeping off the day before!)
9 a.m. Stage crew builds stage (John Miller ROCKED!)
12 p.m. VSO crew (pictured below, from left, Micah, Sean, me, and Emily) and sound and lights crew arrive

3 p.m. VSO Volunteer Coordinator (Ralph Thomas below, with light sabers and Christopher Jordan) and VSO box office staff (pictured below, Samantha Talbot and Mike Peluse) arrive

4 p.m. Volunteers arrive (pictured below are Karl Brosch, volunteer co-coordintor, with volunteer Pat Pranger), Don and Ellie arrive, our SUPER VOLUNTEERS staffing the merchandise table

5 p.m. Gates open, caterers arrive (on the good days, at least)
7:30 p.m. Concert! (Panoramic shot by Bill Jalbert)

c. 9:30 p.m. Fireworks! (Photo by Bill Jalbert)

Nine concerts over eleven days. Can't wait for next year. See all the photos from tour on our Facebook page.
Keep reading!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tech Talk: Automotive Double Trouble & Highway Sweatshirts

Another installment of "Tech Talk" by me, Rebecca Kopycinski, VSO Summer Festival Tour Technical Director. The most memorable happenings on tour are usually the ones that involve a crisis situation. One such event that has gone down in history occurred in Grafton, Vermont – a town which, at that time, was a cell phone black hole (a tower has since been affixed to the roof of the Old Tavern!). Our truck stopped and refused to start as we left the concert field. It was midnight or so, July 3, two and a half hours from home. Thankfully, the problem was diagnosed and we moved along (we added water to the coolant reservoir!). Ever since that near-tragedy, I’ve been very aware of our vehicle functionality, hoping to avoid possible crises. The crew travels in two vehicles: a 26-foot Ryder truck with a ramp and lift gate and a Dodge Caravan. As a precaution, and because the inspection is due in June, we always take the van in for servicing before the tour. This year it was also fitted with new brake rotors. Long story short, several people assured me that a horrible odor and some smoke emitting from the wheel wells is normal for new rotors. Two weeks later, the thing is billowing smoke. Needless to say, I’ll post pictures of our loaner vehicle later!! One never wants to test the limit of shoddy brakes on a very long journey! And our truck, oh our truck. It bucks. Around 40 mph. We’ll be dropping it off around midnight this evening at Ryder for a quick check-up tomorrow morning. Boo. If the problem can’t be fixed by 9 a.m., they will give us a new truck. Boo. This means unloading and reloading 26 feet of gear before 9 a.m. Boo. I’ll keep you updated.

Moving on to more pleasant topics, our VSO merchandise is looking fantastic this year! See pictures below and don’t hesitate to stop in at our merchandise tent at any of the concerts. Part of the title of this post is “Highway Sweatshirts” because I realized the yellow screenprinted hoodie is reminiscent of the road with a dark heather material emblazoned with a double yellow line screenprint!

Keep reading!

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Behind the Scenes on Summer Tour" segment from VSO On Stage

The day has FINALLY come! Today, my crew and I ("I" being Rebecca Kopycinski, Technical Director for the forthcoming 2009 TD Banknorth Summer Festival Tour) meet for the first time to gather the items we need for a successful tour. What might this list of sundry items include? The obvious: chairs, stands, timpani, bug spray, etc. The not-so-obvious: clothespins (to keep sheet music from blowing away!), a hatchet (hey, when you're camping in a field...), a small bin for trash (for when the musician port-o-pottie has no trash receptacle), and lots and lots of little orange flags (instant parking lot). Every year I'm amazed at our traveling caravan made up of musicians, several crews, staff, volunteers, and...YOU! I hope to be able to keep you posted with pictures and commentary during the tour, you know, "Tech Talk." Until my next entry, here's a little segment from our TV show, On Stage. It features me and Assistant Principal Second Violinist Mary Gibson rapping about our side of things -- the behind-the-scenes part of tour that's about to take center stage!

Keep reading!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Team VSO" tour hits a homerun

The VSO recently toured the state with one of its orchestral youth concert programs, "Team VSO." We visited five magnet locations across the state in Newport, Swanton, Barre, Rutland, and Manchester, delighting and inspiring schoolchildren in grades K-8. Watch the video below of Champ in action, shot by the Rutland Herald.

And a testimonial:

As a 6th grade teacher from Barre Town, I would like to express my thinks to those who arranged and came to give a presentation last week to our students at the Barre Opera House. As you can see by the following student comments, they were most impressed by the bassoon player:

"Dear VSO, I really liked all the music. You guys are very talented! I have never seen a bassoon before, and it was very interesting. Champ was very funny and cool. Thanks for coming to the Barre Opera House."

"Thank you very much. The VSO was fun. The bassoon ROCKED! GO CHAMP!"

"I enjoyed the part when the guy played the bassoon. I had never heard nor seen that instrument before. It was a great and exciting experience."

"I liked the song about Champ in Lake Champlain. I also like the Bethoven song."

"Thank you so much for everything. The bassoon was awesome and the songs were amazing."

"I liked when the 16 year old boy was playing the bassoon because it look really cool. I liked the violins, too. Thanks, Mr. White (Barre Town Music Instructor)."

"My favorite part was when Champ came out. I was so close to getting a T-shirt, but it hit the wall as I went forward. Thanks tons for the music."

"I really liked the music you did for us. I especially enjoyed the solos some people did. The Bethoven piece and Champ were cool!"

Thank you again,
Ms. Cassie Major, 6th grade teacher Barre Town Middle and Elementary School"

Keep reading!

Friday, May 8, 2009

2009 TD Banknorth Summer Festival Tour

I call it the "most wonderful time of the year," those two weeks that envelop the Fourth of July each summer. Usually you won't read too much personal commentary from me, though I am the keeper of this blog, but the VSO's Summer Festival Tour (SFT) holds a very special place in my heart. It's my baby. This will be my seventh year on the tour, sixth as Technical Director. My affiliation with the VSO began with SFT. That first year, I was Volunteer Coordinator. The next year (and the three after that), I took on the dual roles of Volunteer Cordinator and Technical Director. Now, through the power of seniority and the mercy of the powers that be, I am simply the Technical Director (simply?).

What's not to love? This tour swirls together like some heavenly flavor of Ben and Jerry's the three things I love most: (1) music, (2) the beauty of Vermont (when is the last time you toured the entire state at its most verdant over 11 days), and (3) food. Yes, food. Anyone who knows me is chuckling right now. Whether you are the orchestra/crew meal coordinator, a caterer showing up on site, or the venue coordinator, you can be sure of me quizzing you on the evening's menu. Sometimes, I even troll the crowd of picnickers, drooling at their elaborate spreads. These three aspects of SFT are yours, too. We bring the music, Vermont brings her beauty in nine picturesque locations, and you bring the food!! Hey, we'll even throw in a pretty nifty light show. Every concert concludes with a spectacular fireworks display accompanied by Tchaikovsky's 1812 Oveture -- a piece I now know every note of!

Tickets just went on sale at the Flynn Regional Box Office. Don't fret if you are wanting to purchase tickets for the Upper Valley concert at the Quechee Polo Grounds and can't as we are firming up our rain site details before we start selling. Oh, and all concerts start at 7:30 p.m.

"The Lake Effect" (A celebration of Lake Champlain's Quadricentennial)
Anthony Princiotti, conductor

Roman Carnival Overture
Water Music Suite
Waves of the Danube March
An American in Paris
Russian Sailors' Dance
Selections from Les Misérables
Symphonic Scenario from South Pacific
1812 Overture
Hands Across the Sea March

All concerts at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, June 25
Middlebury College
Gates at 5:30 p.m.

Friday, June 26
Jackson Gore at Okemo Mountain Resort
Gates at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 27
Three Stallion Inn
Gates at 5:00 p.m.

Sunday, June 28
Mountain Top Inn
Gates at 5:00 p.m.

Monday, June 29
Quechee Polo Grounds
Quechee (Upper Valley)
Gates at 5:00 p.m.

Thursday, July 2
Hildene Meadowlands
Gates at 5:00 p.m.

Friday, July 3
Grafton Ponds
Gates at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 4
Shelburne Farms
Gates at 5:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 5
Trapp Family Lodge Concert Meadow
Gates at 5:30 p.m.
Keep reading!

Vermont Music Now Episode 7: Troy Peters

VSO New Music Advisor David Ludwig (who just barely completed his two-year stint as our Composer-in-Residence) interviews Troy Peters, a long-time friend and fellow composer. Troy is also Music Director for the Vermont Youth Orchestra (for a little while longer, anyway).

Keep reading!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Audience reaction and critical acclaim for Masterworks finale

The VSO ended its 2008/2009 Masterworks Series, "Music of OUR Time," with a fiery performance at the Flynn Center on Saturday, May 2, 2009. Click the link below to read a review of the concert by Jim Lowe for the Times Argus. Watch the short video for reactions from audience members, musicians, and Jaime Laredo, to the season as a whole.

Jim Lowe's review in the Times Argus.

Keep reading!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Program Notes: May 2

The 2008/2009 Masterworks series at the Flynn Center in Burlington concludes this Saturday with its finale concert featuring Jaime Laredo, violist Cynthia Phelps playing a concerto by composer Joan Tower, and other great pieces representing "Music of Our Time." Keep reading for program notes. Find out even more about the program by attending Musically Speaking, our pre-concert discussions featuring guest artists chatting about the music, the composers, and themselves. The discussion begins at 7 p.m., the concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available through FlynnTix online or by calling (802) 86-FLYNN.

Soirées Musicales
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

A musician of great invention, technical mastery, and charm, Britten was undoubtedly the leading English composer of his generation. The son of a dentist, he showed his musical gifts early on. He studied with Frank Bridge and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and attended the Royal College of Music. Essentially a lyricist, Britten drew his imagery and melodic line from that most personal of instruments, the human voice. His life partner and musical collaborator was tenor Peter Pears, and many would say the fullest expression of Britten’s genius came in his vocal works, particularly his second opera, Peter Grimes, completed in 1945. (Britten was a conscientious objector, so he was exempted from active service, and spent the war years playing piano recitals all over England and composing.)

But before his international reputation was secured by that premiere, he put in a lot of hard work. A prolific juvenile composer, Britten had already written some 800 works and fragments by the time he published his first piece. His set of choral variations, “A Boy Was Born,” composed for the BBC Singers in 1934, attracted significant attention, and in 1935 Britten landed a position scoring films for a small documentary company. “The company I was working for had very little money. Many times I had to write scores not for large ensembles but for six or seven instruments, and these few had to make all the effects that each film demanded.” A valuable apprenticeship indeed! A year later, he was asked to supply the music for a film called Men of the Alps. For this assignment he chose to orchestrate five piano pieces written by Gioacchino Rossini, and later adapted the selections into this “Musical Evenings” suite. In combination with the 1941 Matinées Musicales (another group of Rossini tunes), the two suites make up the music for George Balanchine’s wonderful ballet, Divertimento.

Purple Rhapsody
Joan Tower (1938- )

Purple Rhapsody was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras which included the Omaha Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Virginia Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra with a grant from the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress. The composer says: “The work is dedicated with affection to the wonderful violist Paul Neubauer, who made it all possible.” This is the second solo piece Tower has written for Neubauer. The first is called Wild Purple. A colorful explanation is clearly in order! And here it is: “The sound of the viola has always reminded me of the color purple—a deep kind of luscious purple. The word ‘wild’ in Wild Purple refers to the high energy and virtuosity of that work. In Purple Rhapsody, I try to make the solo instrument sing—trying to take advantage on occasion (not always) of the viola’s inherent melodic abilities. This is not an easy task, since the viola is one of the tougher instruments to pit against an orchestra. In fact, for my orchestration of this work, I omitted horns and oboes to thin out the background and allow the viola to come forward with a little more leverage. My hope is that at the climaxes of some of these rhapsodic and energetic lines the orchestra does not overwhelm the soloist.”

After the Columbus (OH) premiere, Barbara Zuck from the Columbus Dispatch had this to say about Purple Rhapsody: “It is an astonishing work—if you can just live through it. It assaults the senses and the emotions over and over, climbing scales in loud, jabbing, dissonant chords, ratcheting up intensity by layering agitated sounds on top of one another….Tower and Neubauer have made it impossible for the viola to ever again be dismissed as that nondescript entity somewhere between the violin and the cello. Purple Rhapsody is extreme music for extreme times.”

Joan Tower, composer

Even as she prepares for her 70th birthday in 2008, Joan Tower is looking forward as much as she is looking back on a career that already spans over five decades.

Hailed as "one of the most successful woman composers of all time" in The New Yorker magazine, Joan Tower was the first woman ever to receive the Grawemeyer Award in Composition in 1990. She was inducted in 1998 into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters, and into the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University in the fall of 2004.

In January 2004, Carnegie Hall's Making Music series featured a retrospective of Tower's work. This special event showcased numerous artists who regularly perform her music, including the Tokyo String Quartet, pianists Melvin Chen and Ursula Oppens, violist Paul Neubauer, oboist Richard Woodhams, and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble. Most of these works were then recorded for August 2005 release on the NAXOS recording label.

In March 2004, Tower attended the premiere of her new piece, For Daniel, written for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio at the Tucson Winter Festival, and the New York premiere at the 92nd Street Y. She performed the piano part with members of the Muir Quartet and the KLR Trio has gone on to performing this work around the world. Tambor was performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony at the American Symphony Orchestra League Convention in Pittsburgh in 2004 and recorded on NAXOS along with Made in America and Concerto for Orchestra (Leonard Slatkin conducting the Nashville Symphony). Purple Rhapsody, a new viola concerto for Paul Neubauer, has so far been performed be eight orchestras including the Omaha Symphony, who premiered it. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commissioned and premiered Chamber Dance at Carnegie Hall in May of 2006.

Joan Tower is the first composer chosen for the ambitious new "Ford Made in America" commissioning program, a collaboration of the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer. In October 2005, the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of Tower's 15 minute orchestral piece Made in America. The work went on for performances by orchestras in every state in the Union during the 2005-07 season. This is the first project of its kind to involve smaller budget orchestras as commissioning agents of a new work by a major composer.

Tower has added "conductor" to her list of accomplishments, with engagements at the American Symphony, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, the Scotia Festival Orchestra, the Anchorage Symphony, Kalisto Chamber Orchestra and another eight of the Made in America orchestras, among others.

Since 1972, Tower has taught at Bard College, where she is Asher Edelman Professor of Music. She has served as composer-in-residence with the Orchestra of St. Luke's since 1997 and at the Deer Valley Festival in Utah since 1998, a title she also held for eight years at the Yale/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Other accolades include the 1998 Delaware Symphony's Alfred I. DuPont Award for Distinguished American Composer, the 2002 Annual Composer's Award from the Lancaster (PA) Symphony, and an Honorary Degree from the New England Conservatory (2006). "Tower has truly earned a place among the most original and forceful voices in modern American music" (The Detroit News).

Tower's 2003-04 season featured two significant world premieres: DNA, a percussion quintet commissioned for Frank Epstein and his New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble; and her third string quartet, Incandescent, for the Emerson String Quartet, performed at the opening of the new Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College. The Emerson Quartet has embraced Incandescent and is touring it throughout the world. The success of Tower's second string quartet, In Memory, premiered by the Tokyo String Quartet in 2002 at the 92nd Street Y, was a highlight of their tour of three continents. Her percussion concerto, Strike Zones, was performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center by Evelyn Glennie with the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin and is featured at Tanglewood in 2007.

Other compositions have crossed many genres: Can I (2007) for youth chorus and two percussionists; Copperwave (2006), written for the American Brass Quintet and commissioned by the Juilliard School of Music; Fascinating Ribbons (2001), her foray into the world of band music, premiered at the annual conference of College Band Directors; Vast Antique Cubes/Throbbing Still (2000), a solo piano piece for John Browning; Big Sky (2000), a piano trio premiered by David Finckel, Wu Han, and Chee-Yun; Tambor (1998), for the Pittsburgh Symphony and Mariss Jansons; and Wild Purple (1998) for violist Paul Neubauer. Tower's 1990 Grawemeyer Award-winning Silver Ladders was written during her 1985-88 St. Louis Symphony residency, and was subsequently choreographed in 1998 by Helgi Tomasson and the San Francisco Ballet. Her 1993 ballet Stepping Stones was commissioned by choreographer Kathryn Posin for the Milwaukee Ballet.

Joan Tower's bold and energetic music, with its striking imagery and novel structural forms, has won large, enthusiastic audiences. From 1969 to 1984, she was pianist and founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players, which commissioned and premiered many of her most popular works. Her first orchestral work, Sequoia, quickly entered the repertory, with performances by orchestras including St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, Minnesota, Tokyo NHK, Toronto, the National Symphony and London Philharmonia. A choreographed version by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet toured throughout Canada, Europe, and Russia. Tower's tremendously popular five Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have been played by over 500 different ensembles.

In addition to her two NAXOS recordings, Tower has had her Petroushskates open the new first recording by the innovative group, eighth blackbird, on the Cedille label. Fanfares Nos. 1-5, Duets, and Concerto for Orchestra with the Colorado Symphony (Marin Alsop) may be heard on Koch; and Tower's Four Concertos—with Elmar Oliveira, Ursula Oppens, David Shifrin, Carol Wincenc and the Louisville Orchestra—are available on d'Note Records. Turning Points (1995), a clarinet quintet for David Shifrin and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, is on Delos. A New World Records disc features her chamber music, including her first string quartet Night Fields. First Edition celebrates her legacy with the St. Louis and Louisville Symphonies with an all-Tower orchestral disc, which includes Sequoia, Silver Ladders, Music for Cello and Orchestra, and Island Prelude for oboe and strings, featuring soloists Lynn Harrell and Peter Bowman.

Joan Tower has been the subject of television documentaries on PBS's WGBH television station in Boston, on the CBS network program, Sunday Morning, and MJW Productions in England. Her music is published exclusively by Associated Music Publishers, a division of The Music Sales Group.

Cynthia Phelps, viola

"Not only does Cynthia Phelps produce one of the richest, deepest viola timbres in the world, she is a superb musician" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Principal Violist of the New York Philharmonic, Ms. Phelps has distinguished herself both here and abroad as one of the leading instrumentalists of our time. The recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 1988 Pro Musicis International Award and first prize at both the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition and the Washington International String Competition, she has captivated audiences with her compelling solo and chamber music performances. She is "a performer of top rank...the sounds she drew were not only completely unproblematical --technically faultless, generously nuanced-- but sensuously breathtaking" (The Boston Globe).

Ms. Phelps performs throughout the world as soloist with orchestras, including the Minnesota Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica de Bilbao, and Hong Kong Philharmonic. She has appeared in recital in Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, and at New York's Alice Tully Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, and St. David's Hall in Cardiff, Wales. She has also been heard on National Public Radio's St. Paul Sunday Morning, Radio France, and RAI in Italy, and has been featured on The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, and CBS Sunday Morning.

Ms. Phelps has performed internationally as a collaborator with such artists as Isaac Stern, Itzak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, and Yefim Bronfman, among many others. A much sought-after chamber musician, she performs regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Boston Chamber Music Society, and at the 92nd Street Y. Ms. Phelps has performed with the Guarneri, American, Brentano, St. Lawrence and Prague String Quartets, as well as the Kalichstein-Robinson-Laredo Trio. She has appeared at the Mostly Mozart, Marlboro, Bridgehampton, La Jolla, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Music at Menlo, Santa Fe, Seattle, as well as in Europe at at the Naples, Cremona, and Schleswig-Holstein Festivals. She is a founding member of the chamber group Les Amies, a flute-harp-viola ensemble recently formed with harpist Nancy Allen and flutist Carol Wincenc.

Ms. Phelps regularly receives enthusiastic reviews for her performances as soloist with the New York Philharmonic; works she has performed include Berlioz's Harold in Italy, the Bartok Viola Concerto and Strauss's Don Quixote, the Benjamin Lees Concerto for String Quartet, and the premiere of a concerto written for her by Sofia Gubaidulina. Performances have included a New York Philharmonic International tour featuring the Gubaidulina, a work written for her by composer Steven Paulus (commissioned by the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival), and return solo engagements with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the San Diego Symphony and numerous other orchestras.

Her solo debut recording is on Cala Records, and can also be heard on the Marlboro Recording Society, Polyvideo, Nuova Era, Virgin Classics, and Covenant labels. Ms. Phelps and her husband, cellist Ronald Thomas, reside in New Jersey and have three children, Lili, Christinia, and Caitlin.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Paul Hindemith was born near Frankfurt, Germany. His father was a painter who had attempted a musical career, but was never able to provide an adequate income for his family. Determined that his three children would be professional musicians, he forced them to take lessons from early childhood. The Frankfurt Children’s Trio, as they were called, added to the family coffers by playing at all sorts of public functions. Hindemith attended the Hoch Conservatory, where he studied violin and composition. In 1914, he joined the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra and was shortly appointed concertmaster. In this position, he met the great conductors of the day, many of whom would later promote his music. By 1923, he was successful enough as a composer to leave the Opera Orchestra.

The dominant philosophy behind most, if not all, of Hindemith’s music, was that music should serve a purpose; that the circumstances of performance should have a determining effect on the style and character of a piece. In the 1920s, this philosophy was known as “Neue Sachlichkeit,” or “New Objectivity.” Hindemith wrote a great deal of music intended for amateurs with limited technical demands, and throughout his life he was critical of avant-gardism for its own sake. Despite the practical nature of his music, he was persecuted by Hitler’s National Socialist Party for cultural Bolshevism. Many of his works were banned, and he finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938. In 1940, he moved to the U.S. to teach at Yale University, where he founded the Collegium Musicum, one of the first American ensembles devoted to early music performance practice. In 1949 he returned to Switzerland to accept a teaching post at the University of Zürich. He passed away suddenly in Frankfurt in 1963, having retired from teaching six years earlier.

Hindemith’s theoretical studies led him to assert that the dominance of the tonal system had a strong foundation in the natural world, based on the naturally occurring overtone series of a standing wave. Due to the preponderance of tonality in his music and his outspoken criticism of avant-garde practices, he had relatively little influence on compositional thought in the second half of the twentieth century. Younger composers dismissed him as reactionary; however, he has continued to be one of the most often performed twentieth-century composers. His sonatas for nearly every orchestral instrument are cornerstones of the repertoire.

Although Hindemith’s early performing career was on the violin, the viola emerged as his favorite instrument, and he was known as a first-rate violist. In 1936 he was engaged to perform his Schwanendreher Concerto in London, but his arrival unfortunately coincided with the death of King George V. The light, upbeat work was deemed inappropriate, and in six hours he replaced it with Trauermusik, unapologetically borrowing material from both Schwanendreher and Mathis der Maler. Hindemith was surprised to learn that the chorale he used at the end of the piece, known to him as “Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit,” was known ubiquitously in Great Britain as “The Old Hundredth.”

--Gabriel Langfur

Firebird Suite No. 3
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Stravinsky's most popular work (which he himself sometimes referred to as “that great audience lollipop”), The Firebird was written for the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev. Despairing of receiving the work on time from the original recipient of the commission, Anatol Liadov--whose response to an inquiry on his progress was the less-than-encouraging “Fine, I've even bought some manuscript paper”--Diaghilev turned to an obscure young composer, Igor Stravinsky. It was a brilliant choice, and Diaghilev’s remark when he got the score (on time!) shows that he knew the student of Rimsky-Korsakov would be famous. He said, “Mark him well. He is a man on the eve of celebrity.”

Three concert suites were later extracted from the full ballet. The third suite, published in 1945, uses a substantial orchestra but is not as “wastefully large” (Stravinsky’s words) as the first suite. It includes more of the original ballet numbers than either of the first two suites. The music is remarkable for its lush Romanticism, striking melodies, and gorgeous orchestration. In general, the human participants in the story are depicted diatonically while the supernatural beings are given a magical chromaticism characteristic of oriental music. The traditional Russian legend is told as follows:

I. Introduction; Prelude and Dance of the Firebird; Variations. In the ogre Kastchei’s magic garden, the Tsarevich Ivan encounters the Firebird, a strange creature who is half bird and half woman. The composer paints a picture of the fluttering dips and curves of her flight as she dances around a tree that yields the golden apples which are the secret of eternal youth.

II. Pantomime I. A brief depiction of Ivan’s capture of the Firebird.

III. Pas de deux. Once captured, the Firebird becomes a gentle, tender, pleading creature, depicted in beautiful, sustained melodic lines for violas and woodwinds. In return for her release, she gives Ivan one of her fiery plumes as a pledge to come to his aid should he need it.

IV. Pantomime II. A brief orchestral passage depicting the entrance of the thirteen enchanted princesses.

V. Scherzo: Dance of the Princesses. The airy grace of the princesses as they play with the golden apples is portrayed by the quicksilver darting of woodwinds and delicate strings.

VI. Pantomime III. The music describes the sudden appearance of Ivan to the princesses. He immediately falls in love with one of them, named Tsarevna.

VII. Rondo. The princesses, who are prisoners under the spell of Kastchei’s magic, engage in a round dance, which uses melodies in the vein of Russian folk songs. Piccolo and flutes anticipate a theme that is later transformed with glittering pomp for the finale. At the end the music fades into silence like a dream.

VIII. Infernal Dance. A tremendous chord launches the ogre Kastchei and his demons into their final evil gyrations. (Syncopated rhythms and clashing harmonies seem at times to foreshadow the Rite of Spring!) The ogre plans to turn the intruder to stone, but Ivan summons the Firebird with his magic feather, and she drives the monsters into a frenzied dance, exhausting them.

IX. Lullaby. The Firebird sings a berceuse which sends Kastchei and his court into a deep sleep. The bassoon sings a beguiling melody, strings whisper tremolos, and a solo horn echoes the princesses’ flute melody heard earlier.

X. Final Hymn. The Firebird reveals to Ivan the magic egg that is the secret of Kastchei’s immortality and power. Ivan smashes it and Kastchei dies. As daylight returns, the princesses are freed and Ivan takes Tsarevna’s hand. The whole orchestra exults in a song of deliverance, and a mighty procession of brass chords ends the fairy tale.

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