Wednesday, April 8, 2009

VSO Chorus in Concert | April 18, 2009

VSO Chorus in Concert
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Elley-Long Music Center at St. Micahel's College, Colchester
7:30 p.m.

Robert De Cormier and Dawn Willis, conductors
Claire Hungerford, soprano
Roger Grow, tenor
Jonathan Beyer, baritone
VSO Chorus and members of the VSO

CARL ORFF Carmina Burana
GWYNETH WALKER Journey on the Open Road (World Premiere Commission)

Tickets available through FlynnTix at (802) 86-FLYNN or online.

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra's statewide chorus presents an exciting program that includes a new work by one of Vermont's best-loved composers, Gwyneth Walker of Braintree, and the piano/percussion version of Orff's earthy celebration of nature, love, freedom (and the tavern!)--Carmina Burana. Keep reading for program notes and a peek at our provocative poster!

Carmina Burana
Carl Orff (1895-1982)

Despite his contributions to music education and his many operas, Carl Orff is known to most audiences for only one achievement, his "dramatic cantata," Carmina Burana. This work has become one of the most frequently performed choral compositions ever written. Composed originally for solo singers, chorus, and orchestra, Carmina has also been produced as a ballet, and is occasionally seen in a stage arrangement with dancing and pantomime. The version being performed this evening--for chorus, three vocal soloists, two pianos and percussion--was adapted by Orff himself in 1956.

The text is drawn from the famous thirteenth-century collection of Goliard songs and poems that was discovered in the ancient Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuren in 1803. (Hence the name: "Songs of Beuren.") These secular songs were written in a mixture of medieval Latin, low German, and French by wandering students, minstrels, vagabond poets, and runaway monks. Their poetry hymns nature and love, the joys of freedom and the tavern, as well as the fickleness of Fortune.

From this extraordinary document of the late Middle Ages, Orff selected twenty-four lyrics, in which earthy humor mingles with moods of rebellion, longing, sorrow, and bittersweet joy. The piece's twentieth-century origin is sometimes betrayed by its harmonies, but never by the compositional form. It has been said that Orff turned his back on seven hundred years of musical development in writing Carmina. The melodies, which are of a folk-like simplicity, are not traditionally developed or treated contrapuntally. Orff achieved his effects through changes of tempo, dynamics, and instrumentation, relying heavily on rhythmic repetition. The piece is divided into three sections: In the Spring, In the Tavern, and The Court of Love, preceded and followed by an invocation to Fortune, Empress of the World.

Orff realized, shortly after its completion in 1936, that he had created something new and wonderful with this work. He even went so far as to write to his publisher and request that all of his previous compositions be withdrawn from publication.

Journey on the Open Road
Gwyneth Walker (1947- )

Journey on the Open Road is based on the familiar Walt Whitman poem, “Song of the Open Road.” The message is timeless, celebratory and powerful: the joy of setting forth on life’s journey. “Afoot and light-hearted, I travel the open road.”

The original poem is quite lengthy. Therefore, in creating this new setting, I edited and focused the text, shaping it into seven distinct sections which alternate between chorus and soloists. In general, the role of the soloists is one of personal expression and reflection. “You road I enter upon and look around, I think you are filled with unseen life. You are so dear to me.” In contrast, the chorus is the voice of Everyman/Everywoman as they celebrate group sentiments such as “From this hour, freedom!”

The soloists and chorus continue in their alternating sections and then begin to merge, to travel together. The chorus adopts and comments upon phrases introduced by the soloists. “The soul travels, ever alive, ever forward.” Chorus and soloists join together for the final statement of “Arise! Let us go! Shall our lives be a journey on the open road!”

The music undertakes a journey of its own, moving along a highway of shifting tonalities, exploring many back roads of diverse textures. Ultimately, the voyage arrives at a heightened version of the opening section, coming full circle, but infused with energy from the adventure.

I selected the Whitman text for this composition due to the evocative and uplifting sentiments expressed in the poetry. Closing lines such as “my friend and companion, the road lies before us...” are a powerful reminder that life is filled with possibilities, both for the individual and for the joining together of souls sharing the journey. The musical interpretation is thus both exploratory and celebratory.

Journey on the Open Road was composed with support from the "Friends of the Music of Gwyneth Walker."

--Gwyneth Walker

Gwyneth Walker, composer
Dr. Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. She holds B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. Degrees in Music Composition. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. She now lives on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont.

Gwyneth Walker is a proud resident of Vermont. She is the recipient of the Year 2000 "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Vermont Arts Council as well as the 2008 "Athenaeum Award for Achievement in the Arts and Humanities" from the St. Johnsbury (VT) Athenaeum.

Walker's catalog includes over 180 commissioned works for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles. The music of Gwyneth Walker is published by E.C. Schirmer of Boston (choral/vocal music) and MMB Music of St. Louis (orchestral/instrumental music).

In recent years, Gwyneth Walker traveled across the United States working with a variety of musicians as they recorded her works. As a result of these collaborations, several new CDs have been released: A Vision of Hills (piano trios and string works, performed by Trio Tulsa), An Hour to Dance (music for SATB chorus recorded by the choirs at Whitman College), Now Let Us Sing! (with Bella Voce Women’s Chorus, Burlington, Vermont), The Sun Is Love (solo voice and piano works performed by Chicago artists Michelle Areyzaga and Jamie Shaak), and Scattering Dark and Bright (song cycles recorded by the Walker-Eklof Duo).

In addition to the composing of new works, there has also been a special project of creating orchestral accompaniments for many of the choral and vocal works in the Walker catalog. Thus, Songs for Women’s Voices, I Thank You God, I Will Be Earth, and the song cycle, No Ordinary Woman!, have all been orchestrated. Another new work, A Testament to Peace, combines a number of peace-oriented choral works (Tell the Earth to Shake, The Tree of Peace, and There is a Way to Glory) into a set with chamber orchestra. Coming soon will be an orchestral arrangement of Three Days by the Sea, for the Key Chorale and the Florida West Coast Symphony in Sarasota, FL.

Another special project has been the creation of works for orchestra with narrator. Muse of Amherst (based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson) was recently premiered by the Holyoke (MA) Civic Symphony. An orchestral adaptation of the Walker Acquaintance with Nature (with readings of H. D. Thoreau) will be created for the Carson City (NV) Orchestra.

Composing projects for the Fall of 2008 – Winter of 2009 feature a large-scale work for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus, an extended work for organ solo (commissioned by the American Guild of Organists for the National AGO Convention in 2010) and two staged works (which are very special, and details will be made available at the appropriate time). It is always the composer's desire to explore a variety of genres, especially those with dramatic potential.

Claire Hungerford, soprano
Claire Hungerford lives in St. Albans with her husband and sons. In addition to Counterpoint, she is a member of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus and has performed and recorded with the Austrian Radio Choir in Vienna. Claire attended The State University of New York Potsdam Crane School of Music and the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Austria. Claire has given numerous recitals locally as well as in Vienna and Munich, Germany. She has been a soloist with VSO as well as local choirs in Vermont, with the Dartmouth College Symphony Orchestra and with the East Hampton Community Choir. Claire is a member of "Ah! Capella," a quartet that is part of the VSO's SymphonyKids outreach program.

Roger Grow, tenor
Roger Grow is a singer, composer, and instrumentalist who is a public school choral and general music teacher in Vermont. Mr. Grow sings tenor/countertenor/baritone with Robert De Cormier's Counterpoint, for which he also serves as assistant conductor. He has performed as a soloist several times at Carnegie Hall, singing Carmina Burana, "Shout For Joy,” "Chichester Psalms,” and most recently, "Navidad Nuestra.” With conductor Anthony Princiotti and the Dartmouth Symphony, he performed Carmina Burana, singing both the baritone and tenor solos. He has recorded on the Arabesque label with Mr. De Cormier, including "The Emperor of Atlantis" and "The Jolly Beggars.” Roger also recorded Dennis Murphy's "A Perfect Day,” and Bruce Chalmer's "Berakhot" with the Fyre and Lightning Consort. Mr. Grow is regularly featured on Counterpoint's five recordings on Albany Records, including "Shir La Shalom,” which features some of his arrangements.

As a composer, Mr. Grow received the commission for the 75th Vermont All-State Chorus Festival. His piece "Atom Spin" was performed in May 2002 at Burlington's Flynn Theatre. Warner Bros. has published his "Short Mass.” Mr. Grow also served as Musical Director of The Voices Project, which toured Vermont in 2005 and will be filming in the summer of 2007. Mr. Grow plays piano, bass, and drums, and composes
for various jazz groups in central Vermont.

Roger lives in Plainfield, VT with his son, Chellis.

Jonathan Beyer, baritone
Jonathan Beyer is a 26-year-old baritone who has performed with several opera companies including Chicago Opera Theater, Fort Worth Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, The Chautauqua Institution, Accademia Verdiana, and Teatro di Verdi. He performs a wide variety of repertoire including Marcello in La Boheme, Germont in La Traviata, Musiklehrer in Ariadne auf Naxos, Papageno in Die Zauberflote, Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Richard Nixon in Nixon in China. He has also appeared with the Indianapolis Symphony, Lorin Maazel's Châteauville Foundation, Chatam Baroque, the Erie Philharmonic and the Mozart Acadamie at Aix-en-Provence.

Mr. Beyer was a National Finalist in the 2006 Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition. He was the 2007 1st Place Winner at the Marian Anderson Prize for Emerging Classical Artists. He has also won the American Opera Society Competition and the Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Competition. In 2004, he was the Grand Prize Winner of the Bel Canto Foundation and studied with Carlo Bergonzi as a direct result. Prizes have also been awarded to him through the Anna Sosenko Foundation, Mario Lanza Foundation, Irma M. Cooper, Chicago NATS, Palm Beach Opera and Neue Stimmen competitions.

An avid recitalist, Mr. Beyer has performed in recital with Craig Rutenberg, Mikael Eliasen, and Brian Zeger. He has given recitals through the Chicago Cultural Center, Judith Raskin Foundation, and the Marian Anderson Foundation. Currently in his final semester of vocal studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, Mr. Beyer is a student of Marlena Malas. While acquiring his Bachelors and Masters Degrees at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, he studied with Judith Haddon, David Holloway, and Richard Stilwell.

Jonathan is currently a young artist with the Pittsburgh Opera Center and will perform in this season's productions of Madame Butterfly, Flight, I Capuletti e I Montecchi, and cover Belcore in Elixir of Love.