Monday, January 19, 2015

Life Is a Symphony: Jonathan Ranney

Meet Jonathan Ranney…contrabassoon and
repair guy

Born in Burlington, Jon grew up in Richmond. His father played bassoon as well, and Jon’s childhood ambition was to be a professional musician. Jon now lives with his wife Kathy and cat Phoebe in S. Royalton, where he is Ellis Music’s ace repair technician. He started playing with the VSO back in 1995.
Last book read: We Go as Captives by Neil Goodwin

Favorite movie: Pulp Fiction

Favorite composer: Mahler

Favorite vice: Vermont micro beer

Jon is into vintage automotive restoration as well. His preferred way to spend an evening is “wrenching in the garage.” He enjoys riding a motorcycle on gravel roads and snowboarding. But when he needs a real thrill ride, he plays contra with the VSO!

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Artist Bio: Ethan Duncan

Ethan Duncan is 12 years old and lives in Williston. He is currently an 8th grader at Williston Central School. For the past five years, Ethan has been studying both piano and euphonium. He played with the Vermont Youth Orchestra's Youth Winds Brass Ensemble for two years and has participated in the District III Music Festival as a 7th and 8th grader. 

Ethan began composing music about five years ago and for the past two years, he has been doing so as part of Music-COMP. Pieces written by Ethan and chosen for performance as part of Music-COMP include Serenata, Scottish Sailor Song, and Arab March. Ethan was VPR Classical's Student Composer of the Month in September 2014. In addition to music, Ethan enjoys taekwondo and math.

Music-COMP (Music Composition Online Mentoring Program), formerly known as the Vermont MIDI Project, is a non-profit organization supporting student composers in schools and music organizations like the VYOA and the VMTA. Music-COMP is grateful to the VSO for the opportunity for student compositions to be performed by professional musicians. Many former Music-COMP students have or are pursuing careers as composers, musicians and educators. Some have won regional and national awards for their work. For more information, visit
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Artist Bio: Gabriela Lena Frank

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra is pleased to be playing the work of Gabriela Lena Frank, a young, contemporary composer. After hearing her piece, Elegia Andina, music director Jaime Laredo was impressed with the flute and percussion sections in particular and thought it would be a perfect fit for the musicians of the VSO.

For more information on Gabriela Lena Frank and her work:

Elegía Andina
Gabriela Lena Frank (1972-      )

In this work, written in 2000, Gabriela Lena Frank draws upon the culture and music of her parents’ lives and her own experiences traveling through South America.  Like composer/musicologists before her (the prime examples being Kodaly and Bartok), she collects music and culture from indigenous peoples and applies Western theoretical principles to create new worlds of sound.  The composer writes:  “Elegía Andina (Andean Elegy) is dedicated to my older brother, Marcos.  As children of a multicultural marriage (our father being Lithuanian-Jewish and our mother Chinese-Peruvian-Spanish), our early days were filled with Oriental stir-fry cuisine and Andean nursery songs, and frequent visits from our New York-bred Jewish cousins.  As a young piano student, my repertoire included not only my own compositions that carried overtones of Peruvian folk music, but also rags of Scott Joplin and minuets by the sons of Bach.  It is probably inevitable then that as a composer and pianist today, I continue to thrive on multiculturalism.  Elegía Andina is one of my first written-down compositions to explore what it means to be of several ethnic persuasions, of several minds.  It uses stylistic elements of Peruvian arca/ira zampoña panpipes (double-row panpipes, each row with its own tuning) to paint an elegiac picture of my questions.”
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Monday, January 5, 2015

Artist Bio: Allen Shawn

The VSO turns 80 this year! To celebrate that milestone, we've commissioned eight Vermont composers to write 80-second fanfares, which will open each of our full-orchestra programs during this 80th Anniversary Season.

For the January concerts we are excited to feature Allen Shawn who is #4 in our series of seven composers. He has such an interesting story we had to share!

(This biography and photo was taken from: )

ALLEN SHAWN (born 1948) grew up in New York City in a literary environment. His mother was a former journalist, and his father, William Shawn, was the editor of the New Yorker Magazine for thirty-five years. His older brother, Wallace Shawn, who eventually became a playwright and actor, was already writing puppet show texts for the two brothers to perform when they were children, productions for which Allen wrote the music. A formative aspect of Shawn’s childhood was that his twin sister, Mary, was autistic, and was sent to live in a home for intellectually disabled children at the age of nine. She was subsequently moved to a larger institution where she still lives.

Shawn began composing small pieces as a ten year old. He asked his parents for piano lessons, and was soon studying with a teacher from the Mannes College of Music, Francis Dillon, who encouraged his composing and introduced him to the music of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Bartok, Prokofiev and other early twentieth century composers. He was particularly attracted to Bartok and was electrified by Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. He learned the Berg Sonata at the age of fifteen, and it was the piece he found easiest to memorize and most enjoyable to perform. In the summers he studied with  piano teacher Emilie Harris, and attended Kinhaven Music Camp, in Weston Vermont, where the camp directors, David and Dorothy Dushkin, gave him opportunities to hear his fledgling chamber and orchestral compositions. When he was seventeen, he conducted the Vermont Philharmonic in one of his orchestra pieces. Attending the Putney School in Vermont, he had a momentous musical experience performing as soloist in Mozart’s C Minor piano concerto, K. 491, with the school orchestra conducted by the remarkable music teacher, Norwood Hinkle.

Shawn’s father was a gifted amateur jazz pianist and took the family to night clubs where they heard musical giants Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Mingus live. As a child and teenager, Shawn also benefitted from being able to regularly attend chamber music concerts, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Ballet, in the heyday of George Balanchine’s tenure there. After his years at Putney, Shawn continued his studies at Harvard University, studying composition with Earl Kim and Leon Kirchner; he also studied privately with composer Francis Judd Cooke. Following college, he spent two years studying with the legendary Nadia Boulanger, in Paris.

After his return from Paris, Shawn, now financially on his own, began a hard-working life in New York, teaching, playing the piano for dance classes, and working as a theater pianist and musical director. He studied counterpoint privately with Carl Schacter, and composition with composer Peter Pindar Stearns, and then attended the Master’s program at Columbia University, where he studied composition with Jack Beeson and Vladimir Ussachevsky. His Master’s thesis was a one-act chamber opera, “In The Dark”, for two characters and seven musicians, to a libretto by his brother, Wallace, that was performed in the summer of 1976 at the Lenox Art Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. After his graduation from Columbia, Shawn continued to compose concert music, but also wrote incidental music for a number of plays, including productions directed by James Lapine, Joseph Papp, and Wilford Leach at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, The Public theater, and Lincoln Center. During this period, along with teaching, he performed in contemporary music concerts, played the piano in two Broadway shows, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Human Comedy, composed the music for the film, My Dinner With Andre, wrote a score for the Lucinda Childs Dance Company, composed a short musical skit to a text by poet Derek Walcott, and wrote an hour of music for a chamber opera, The Music Teacher, to a libretto by his brother, that was not produced until twenty years later. In 1985 Shawn moved to Bennington, Vermont, and joined the music faculty of Bennington College. He has lived in Vermont and taught at Bennington since that time.

Shawn’s  long years as a student initially left him  self-conscious about composing and more distant from the urgent need he had felt as a ten year old to express himself musically. He dates his mature music from 1978, the moment when he began reintroducing jazz elements into his musical language, which led to a rekindling of his spontaneity as a composer and the development of his own kind of harmony, lyricism and sense of form, now wedded to much greater sophistication and craftsmanship than he had when he was an untutored teenager. His music from this point on blended his various influences, drawing to varying degrees on Stravinskian transparency and concision, the intense expressivity of the Second Viennese School, and the rhythms and harmonies of jazz. His work list as of 2014 includes four piano sonatas and many additional piano pieces, including several for piano four-hands and two pianos; much chamber music; vocal music; a children’s opera; and a dozen orchestral works including a Symphony, two Piano Concertos, a Violin Concerto, and a Cello Concerto. His recordings include numerous chamber music CDs; three volumes of piano music; his piano concerto performed by Ursula Oppens, with the Albany Symphony, conducted by David Alan Miller; and his chamber opera, The Music Teacher, to a libretto by Wallace Shawn, on Bridge Records. In 1995 Shawn was the recipient of a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2001 he received an Academy Award from the same institution. He remains an active performer as a pianist.

Shawn’s career as a writer began in the 1980s with articles on contemporary music in the Atlantic Monthly. Since then he has written for the Musical Times, New York Times Magazine and the Times Literary Supplement, program notes for Carnegie Hall, liner notes for the string quartets of Leon Kirchner, and four books: Arnold Schoenberg’s Journey, which won the 2003 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, Wish I Could Be There, Twin and Leonard Bernstein, due out in 2014 from Yale University Press.
Shawn’s music follows no single system. He writes for acoustic instruments, and whenever possible for specific performers. His work is unified by its emotional and visceral directness, and his predilection for a closely argued musical language.

In a review of a 2001 concert devoted to his music at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Richard Dyer, writing in the Boston Globe, called the music “a body of work built to last”, adding that the “overall impression of Shawn’s music is of work that is clearheaded, craftsman-like, nostalgic, tuneful, accessible, yet profoundly subversive; it never sets you down where you think it will. Shawn is always turning signposts into weather vanes, pulling the map out from under you—he never loses his bearings, but he wants the listener to.”

Shawn feels that his work is best described as both personal and objective, the private put into objective form. He has remarked that his music is “much more expressive and outgoing” than he is, and that he feels uncharacteristically “unencumbered, bold and free” when he is composing.
Asked by writer Dennis Bartel, in a Chamber Music Magazine article of December 1997, if his work constituted a kind of “musical autobiography,” Shawn said that it certainly did, but qualified the idea: “ On the one hand, as so many musicians and composers have tried to say over the centuries, music is music; its meanings and emotions are perceived and felt, but can’t be translated into words. Yet at the same time, somehow the music we write captures the essence of our lives, what one might call our “inner evolution”. There is a quality of existing that music seems to chronicle–the texture and quality of living, of time itself passing. External events are somehow magically embedded within it, as is, somehow, one’s very progress through life. ”
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A Special Thanks for an Elegant Evening!

Everyone had such a fabulous evening at VSO's New Year's Eve Gala and we would like to take the time to thank everyone that made it possible. The silent auction was a great success; the donations were fantastic and caused some bid sparring. The Vermont Jazz Ensemble got the crowd dancing and the bagpipes were a special treat! Not to mention the board of directors and the Gala committee who took on an unbelievable amount of planning to make sure all the details were in order. And let's not forget those in attendance...thank you for buying tickets and we hope to see you next year!

We're happy to see that individuals have been sending us their photographs from the event, and we encourage those that feel compelled to reach out! We would love to see what you took so we can share them with our fans. Please send your photographs to us at:

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