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.