Wednesday, December 17, 2014

From the Wings, by Eleanor Long

Rehearsal for Rite of Spring— musicians as far as the eye can see
I’m writing this on Sunday, December 7, the day after our second Masterworks concert at the Flynn Center.  It was an exhilarating performance from beginning to end!  The last time the VSO played The Rite of Spring, in 1986, I was in the oboe section (sitting next to my ex-husband).  Nearly 30 years later, I was backstage instead—more comfortable in every regard, but equally thrilled.  And this time around, although I couldn’t take pride in nailing the second oboe part, I could take responsibility for the 88 awesome musicians who occupied every square inch of the Flynn stage.
I started contracting players last spring, basically as soon as we decided to program Rite.  The instrumentation is way larger than a normal full orchestra, and I didn’t dare wait until fall to get commitments from key players and topnotch extras.  Luckily, everyone is dying to play Rite of Spring, whether it’s their first time or their fifth, so it was not a hard sell.  I actually had a couple substitute musicians contact me to say they’d heard through the grapevine that we were planning to do Rite and hoped they might be asked to play.  I polled the orchestra at rehearsal, and found out that 20 were “Rite of Spring virgins.”  (We did NOT sacrifice them Saturday night!) 

I continued chipping away at openings until late October, by which point I had finally hired the entire supersized ensemble:  five flutes (including 2 piccolos and an alto flute); 3 oboes and 2 English horns; 5 clarinets (2 Bb, 1 Eb, and 2 bass); 3 bassoons and 2 contrabassoons; 8 horns (including 2 Wagner tuben); 3 trumpets plus a bass trumpet and a piccolo trumpet; 4 trombones; 2 tubas; 4 percussionists; 2 timpanists (playing 9 drums); as well as a large complement of strings. 

You know me, I’m all about the numbers.  Funnily enough, in the orchestra we had 11 new players (VSO virgins), and there were 11 players who were in the orchestra back in 1986.  We had a record number of hosts (45) for out-of-towners.  Mercifully, there were only two music scares.  Principal tuba and English horn hadn’t gotten their music by two weeks after I sent it, precipitating a double panic attack.  Our principal oboist Nancy Dimock saved the day by having a copy of the English horn part in her personal library and knowing a friend who had the tuba part.  Both sets of music did eventually arrive, by the way (evidently having taken the scenic route), so we won’t incur any rental penalties. 

Tony Princiotti was as excited as anyone about presenting Rite, and strategized preparations with military precision.  He produced a rehearsal schedule planned out to the minute, an extensive errata sheet (mistakes he found in the score), and an exhaustive document specifying tempos.  He let the orchestra know that he would not be conducting the “re-barred” version of the piece, but the original as Stravinsky wrote it.  (Serge Koussevitzky simplified the complex meter changes to enable him to conduct the Boston Symphony with more standard beat patterns!)  We had several conversations about the stage set-up, and he fielded numerous arcane questions from musicians, like this one from principal percussionist Tom Toner: 

“I was just having one last listen to Rite before rehearsal tomorrow and noticed something.  In my score and on the Cleveland/Boulez recording the bass drum part one bar before 118 is on eighth notes 2, 4, 6, and 8 (with winds, brass, and upper strings), but my part has it on 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 with a downbeat eighth on 118, making it parallel to what happens one before 105.  Which is it?”

Rehearsals at the Elley-Long Center were a delicious spectator sport.  Tony was in rare form, sprinkling in such comments as, “This spot is like a gravity-defying mudslide;” “If there’s a melody, that’s it;”  “Try to avoid coalescing;” “It’s amazing how much can go on in your mind during a 16th rest.” The magic prevailed despite my being able to hear a trumpet student down the hall practicing Sleigh Ride.

After the concert, our principal trumpet, Mark Emery, sent me an email saying he thought the performance went really well. “The extreme demands of the music and its popularity seem to lift any group to a higher level.”  I would agree that that happened in 1986 and again last night.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Preview the New Year's Eve Gala Silent Auction Items

We are excited to announce that the silent auction items for this year's New Year's Eve Gala at the Sheraton Hotel's Emerald Ballroom are beginning to come in. We are thrilled with the generosity that we've seen from local businesses and individuals who have donated this year. It's fantastic to see such support for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.

While there's still more to come we have begun compiling a list of the items that have been donated so we can show you a preview of what will be offered. With the variety of items donated, from vacation destinations, dining experiences, fine jewelry, even an opportunity to conduct the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, we are sure there will be something that peaks your interests!

Preview the 2014 VSO New Year's Eve Gala's silent auction items here.

Not going to make it to the event this year? You will be missed, but fortunately we are offering the opportunity to place absentee bids. We encourage you to be in touch with Karen either by email: or phone: 802-864-5741 x25 if you are interested in bidding. All absentee bids must be received by 12:00 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2014 in order to be considered. Review the complete bidding instructions here.

For those of you attending the event we look forward to seeing you and enjoying an elegant evening to ring in the new year!

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Remembering Pierre Monteux and Stravinky's 'Rites of Spring'

My grandfather, the late Pierre Monteux, was the conductor of the 1913 world's premier of Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" in Paris, France. A close and trusted friend of Stravinsky, it was he that introduced the world to the composer's new and controversial music. Monteux also conducted the world's premier of Stravinsky's "Petrushka" in 1911 and his "Le Rossignol" in 1914, both also in Paris.

Last year, the anniversary, I heard many tributes to Stravinsky, but only once heard my grandfather's name mentioned. While Stravinsky and Diagliev stood in the wings, it was my grandfather that stood on the podium and took the full brunt of the audience's reaction, including various vegetables that were thrown at the stage. At the end, the three of them escaped through a back door.

Of course now we accept and appreciate the greatness of Stravinsky's genious, but back in 1913 it was my grandfather that put his own reputation on the line for a close friend. Pierre Monteux went on to conduct dozens of the world's finest orchestras, including many years with the San Francisco and Boston symphonys. He was a great musician that was loved the world over.

So, please, please mention his name when you perform the "Rites of Spring" and in doing so keep his role in the history of music alive and well.

Thank you very much!

Robert Barendse
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Black Friday SALE!

Buy One Get One Free concert tickets at The Flynn Box Office this Friday!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, December 6th at the Flynn Center

It was 101 years ago this May that Stravinsky's ballet Rite of Spring was performed at a new theater on Paris's Champs-Elysees.  Whether it prompted a full scale riot, as legend has insisted, is best known to the audience. Police records of the time are missing from the Paris files.

What is known is that there had been ample discussion of Stravinsky's previous works: his Petruchka, for example. And Diaghilev, whose Ballet Russes performed it, was hoping for a scandal. Good for ticket sales, even then.

The question of the audience's behavior remains. Some accounts have objects being thrown at the orchestra and dancers, others say the police were called. There is no doubt, however, that there was a great deal of vocal disapproval  and approval.

The audience was a mix of Paris's elite and common folk.

Regardless of what happened in May of 1913, the performance of Stravinsky's fascinating Rite of Spring December 6th at the Flynn will be the second time it has been performed by the VSO.

The pre-concert discussion at 7 will feature percussionist Tom Toner who will discuss the robust role his section will have in the performance. 
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

From the Wings

From the Wings, by Eleanor Long

As we head into our fall tour, here’s a look back at our summer tour…by the numbers!

# of musicians: 52
# of concerts at which Tony Princiotti used scores: 0
# of minutes the fireworks lasted each night: 7.5
# of years since we played at Hunter Park in Manchester: 12
# of years that TD Bank has been our tour-wide sponsor: 12
# of musicians who shared July 3 birthday: 3 (Jane Kittredge made them a cake)
# of hours spent watching World Cup: countless
# of times the second half of the concert was delayed while we tried to locate low brass mutes: 1
# of musicians on the annual tour quiz winning team:  3 (bassoonists Janet Polk and Becky Eldredge plus
     Stewart Schuele, French horn, for added power )
# of violists who took turns wearing Carmen Miranda hat during Tico Tico: 5 (of 5!)
# of radios rented from Clark Communications: 10
# of portopotties that had to be relocated at Suicide Six:  10
# of earthmovers commandeered by Alan Jordan: 1 (at Hunter Park, the fireworks truck couldn’t get
   where it needed to go)
# of cans of bug spray used: 8
# of times we had to move inside because of rain: 1
# of times rain insurance saved our bacon: 1
#of rehearsals board chair Vicky Young had before conducting the orchestra: 1
# of host roomnights provided:  111 (we couldn’t do it without you, hosts!)
# of musician dinners that included salmon: 2
# of lemon lulus donated by Mother Myrick’s: 3
# of musicians who received a surprise wedding gift at the final concert: 1 (Principal bass Luke Baker got  married August 14; violist Harold Lieberman was the officiant!) 
# of times I have played or heard the 1812 Overture at a VSO summer concert: 233
# of orchestras in America better than the VSO, per Peter Welch: 0

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Vermont Symphony Orchestra Made in Vermont Music Festival 

Autumn in Vermont signals the return of glorious foliage and glorious music, as the VSO’s “Made in Vermont Music Festival” tours the state. The program includes a concerto by Dittersdorf for an under sung pair of solo instruments--viola and double bass—and Holst’s popular St. Paul’s Suite. Beth Wiemann, a Burlington native, will join us to introduce the world premiere she has written for the VSO, “Before the Snow.” The concert concludes with Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, nicknamed “La Reine” because its grace and power found favor with Queen Marie Antoinette.

To purchase tickets visit

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stream or download the 2012 Made in Vermont program on Instant Encore

Keep reading for the program. Get the program notes here.

MICHAEL HAYDN Symphony No. 25
SHOSTAKOVICH Sinfonia for String Orchestra
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 5
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Friday, October 12, 2012

Program Notes: Masterworks Opening Night, October 27

The VSO returns to the Flynn Center in Burlington for Masterworks Series Opening Night on Saturday, October 27 at 8 pm. Musically Speaking, our preconcert talks with guest artists, begins at 7 pm.

2012/2013 Masterworks Series 1
Saturday, October 27, 2012, 8:00 pm
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
Jaime Laredo, conductor and violin
Sharon Robinson, cello
Joseph Kalichstein, piano

BLOCH Concerto Grosso No. 1
STRAVINSKY Suite from Pulcinella
BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano

Keep reading for the program notes.

“It’s a rare luxury to hear music-making of such integrity and joy, and an equally rare privilege to be party to such an intimate musical conversation.” - American Record Guide

After thirty-six years of success the world over, including many award-winning recordings and newly commissioned works, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio continues to dazzle audiences and critics alike with its performances. Since making their debut at the White House for President Carter’s Inauguration in January 1977, pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson have set the standard for performance of the piano trio literature. As one of the only long-lived ensembles with all of its original members, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio balances the careers of three internationally-acclaimed soloists while making annual appearances at many of the world’s major concert halls, commissioning spectacular new works, and maintaining an active recording agenda.

Having celebrated their three-and-a-half decades together during the 2011-12 season, the Trio continues the celebration with anniversary-commissioned pieces by André Previn (Trio No. 2) and Stanley Silverman (Trio No. 2, "Reveille") along with pieces by Richard Danielpour and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, both of whom have written for the Trio in the past.

On the recording front, the Trio recently released the complete Schubert trios on the BRIDGE label. The Trio’s previous recording project, a 4-disc Brahms Cycle of the complete trios, was released in the fall of 2009. Their Arensky & Tchaikovsky disc was released in October 2006 to great acclaim. KOCH also re-released many of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio’s hallmark recordings, including chamber works of Maurice Ravel; A Child’s Reliquary (piano trio) and In the Arms of the Beloved (double concerto) by Richard Danielpour; the complete sonatas and trios of Shostakovich; trios by Pärt, Zwilich, Kirchner and Silverman written especially for the group; and their beloved collection of the complete Beethoven Trios. Other highlights of their vast discography include a critically acclaimed all-Haydn CD (Dorian), recordings of the complete Mendelssohn and Brahms Trios (Vox Cum Laude), as well as Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra (Chandos).

Musical America named the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio the “Ensemble of the Year” for 2002. The 2003-04 season was their first as “Chamber Ensemble in Residence” at the Kennedy Center, an honor which has continued to thrill the Trio throughout subsequent seasons. They were also awarded the first annual “Samuel Sanders Collaborative Artists Award” (2002) by the Foundation for Recorded Music as well as in 2011. The steady stream of honors marks the high esteem that the classical music field holds for the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.

During their past seasons, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio has maintained a heavy touring schedule that has taken them across the globe. Memorable concerts over the years include the Trio’s performance on Carnegie Hall's Centennial Series; tours of Japan, New Zealand and Australia; a series with the Guarneri Quartet featuring Brahms’ entire literature for piano and strings; the Beethoven cycle on Lincoln Center's Great Performers Series (the first time the complete Beethoven piano trios were performed at Lincoln Center), premieres of Richard Danielpour’s piano quartet, Book of Hours, and performances across America and Europe of new concertos written exclusively for the Trio by David Ott and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Other performances include dates in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, Dallas, Cincinnati, Portland, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and the Tanglewood Music Festival.

In Europe, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio has performed in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Lisbon, London, Vienna, and Paris, as well as at major international music festivals in Aldeburgh, Edinburgh, Granada, Helsinki, Highlands, South Bank, Stresa and Tivoli. They have toured the British Isles with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in performances of solo, double and triple concertos.

Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson both serve on the esteemed instrumental and chamber music faculty at The Cleveland Institute of Music, where they began teaching in 2012. Previously, both Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson were professors at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music since 2005, while Joseph Kalichstein continues as a long-revered teacher at the Juilliard School of Music.

The Trio is honored that the Chamber Music Society of Detroit has created the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award (KLRITA), an initiative with a two-fold purpose: to salute the Trio’s contribution to chamber music worldwide and to encourage and enhance the careers of promising young piano trios. The KLRITA, in which 20 major presenters nationwide participate, is awarded to a new ensemble every two years. The first ensemble was the exciting young American group, the Claremont Trio, the second award was presented to the Trio con Brio Copenhagen of Denmark, the third to the ATOS Trio of Germany and the current award to Morgenstern Trio of Germany.

In the words of The Washington Post (February 15, 2012), “Among the superstars of the chamber music world, few induce as much open-mouthed rapture as the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.”

Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra and Piano Obbligato

Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)

Yehudi Menuhin described Bloch as “a great composer without any narrowing qualifications whatever.” Born in Switzerland, Bloch spent his later years in America, where he founded the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1920 and also served as director of the San Francisco Conservatory. Although Bloch achieved his greatest fame with those of his works which reflected his Jewish origins, he carried out his musical studies in Brussels, Munich, and Paris, with the result that the structural procedures of the Franco-Belgian school are strong influences as well.

Bloch’s Concerto Grosso harks back to the baroque tradition of one or more solo instruments combined with orchestral strings. It marks a decided reaction against the grand soloistic concertos of the Romantic period. The piano part can be compared with the keyboard continuo in an eighteenth-century concerto grosso, although the piano exerts a much more prominent presence here.

The composer's daughter, Suzanne, wrote that everyone was skeptical when Bloch told them that it was possible to write original music with old-fashioned means. He had decided to compose his Concerto Grosso in response to complaints from students at the Cleveland Institute of Music about “the inadequacies of tonality in shaping the music for the next century.” When a student orchestra played it with obvious enthusiasm, Bloch shouted, “What do you think now?!” And so it is that we have today a work that demonstrates the vitality of traditional approaches while remaining unmistakably twentieth-century.

The piece is in four movements. Prelude is Handelian in style, strong and declamatory with alternating unisons and chords. Dirge is a solemn, haunting, and lyrical movement with several string solos, ending in a quiet and mysterious mood. Pastorale and Rustic Dances is full of song and dance rhythms as well as folk melodies reminiscent of Switzerland. Fugue is a sturdy, brilliant movement that provides a rousing rhythmic closing to this rich and powerful piece.

Pulcinella Suite

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

In 1909 the impresario Diaghilev requested Stravinsky's association with his new Ballets Russe. Stravinsky wrote The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring, bringing violent denunciation for forsaking tradition, and recognition as one of the most original creative musical forces to emerge since Debussy. In 1919 during a walk in Paris one spring afternoon, Diaghilev suggested that Stravinsky look at “some delightful eighteenth century music with the idea of orchestrating it for a ballet.” Finding the composer was Pergolesi, Stravinsky was initially unenthused, but he later recalled “I looked, and fell in love.”

Pulcinella reflects a turning point in Stravinsky’s work with its tendency toward economy and simplicity. Isolated from his Russian homeland by World War I and the Bolshevist Revolution, his move to Paris in 1919 paralleled a move away from the Russian romanticism of his previous works. With Pulcinella, Stravinsky for the first time consciously strived to work within certain historical conventions. Those who had previously criticized him for his iconoclasm now held his early works as his masterpieces, and were appalled by Stravinsky the neo-classicist. As Stravinsky recalled: “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late works became possible. It was a backward look, of course – the first of many love affairs in that direction – but it was a look in the mirror, too. No critic understood this at the time and I was therefore attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing ‘simple’ music, blamed for deserting ‘modernism’, accused of renouncing my 'true Russian heritage’”.

Pulcinella is a traditional character of early Neapolitan theater. In the ballet, all the girls are in love with him and their spurned suitors plot to kill Pulcinella, who wisely arranges a double to take their blows and feign death. Triumphant, the suitors all disguise themselves as Pulcinella and ardently woo their sweethearts. Meanwhile, the real Pulcinella dresses as a sorcerer and revives his double, but rather than spoil the suitors' conquests he arranges their marriages. He himself weds Pulcinella, receiving the blessing of his double who has donned the sorcerer's cape.

For the ballet's score, Stravinsky chose twenty excerpts attributed (some doubtfully) to Pergolesi, using a chamber orchestra (with strings divided into a solo quintet and a tutti) and a soprano, tenor and bass. The three singers sit in the orchestra pit and are not identified with any of the stage characters. From the twenty numbers of the ballet, Stravinsky arranged eleven for the eight-movement orchestral suite we hear tonight.

-- Hilary Hatch

Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C Major, Op. 56

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Beethoven wrote most of the Triple Concerto in the astonishing winter of 1803-4, when he managed to compose a whole series of masterpieces. He had more or less finished his Third Symphony by November, at which time he must have begun the Triple Concerto, for the then unique combination of piano, violin, and cello. The Eroica proved a great liberator: in it Beethoven had broken away from the confines of the traditional half-hour symphony, and had discovered how to write with a new spaciousness.

This was the first of a number of works that Beethoven wrote for his young pupil, the Archduke Rudolph, who wanted it for performance by his private orchestra. The Archduke was a good pianist, and there can be little doubt that he himself took the piano part in the first performance. The cellist was Anton Kraft, who had been Haydn's leading cellist at Esterhaz; and it is obvious from Beethoven's score that either the Archduke asked him to give Kraft special prominence or that he did so on his own account because he so admired Kraft's playing.

The Triple Concerto begins with a mere thread of sound on cellos and double basses. Almost at once Beethoven builds into an old-fashioned "Mannheim" crescendo, followed by an ingratiatingly lovely theme. As in the later movements, the cello is the first of the solo instruments to be heard, and the minuscule discords with which it is accompanied are supremely satisfying. The soloists' exposition is magnificent, the themes expansively broad, the tonal scheme splendidly unconventional. There cannot easily be a cadenza with three soloists taking part, which no doubt explains its absence.

Beethoven followed his long first movement with one that is short but exquisite, in theme and variation form. The coda leads without a break into the finale, which is marked rondo alla polacca. By the 1790's, the popularity of the polonaise, a festive and ceremonial dance, had become widespread all over Europe. Its individuality lay in the combination of energetic movement with three slow beats to a bar. The second rondo episode is in the minor, and anticipates the mood of the noble polonaises Chopin was to write for the piano soon after Beethoven's death. The end of this movement seems casually written: perhaps Beethoven hurried to finish the work when the Archduke became impatient. Nevertheless, this concerto overall rewards attention most generously.
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Friday, September 14, 2012

Program notes: Made in Vermont Music Festival

The Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s annual Made in Vermont Music Festival statewide tour is coming to a town near you! Join friends and neighbors for some brilliant music to go along with Vermont’s brilliant fall foliage. The program includes a sparkling work by Haydn’s baby brother Michael; a world premiere by University of Vermont composer David Feurzeig; a darkly appealing piece for string orchestra by Dmitri Shostakovich; and Schubert’s richly melodic Symphony No. 5. Anthony Princiotti conducts. Keep reading for the complete tour schedule and program notes.

Friday, September 21, 7:30 pm
Johnson State College Dibden Center for the Arts, Johnson
Visit the event page

Saturday, September 22, 7:30 pm
Vergennes Opera House, Vergennes
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Sunday, September 23, 4:00 pm
Haskell Opera House, Derby Line
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Thursday, September 27, 7:30 pm
Lyndon State College Alexander Twilight Theatre, Lyndonville
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Friday, September 28, 7:30 pm
Bellows Falls Opera House, Bellows Falls
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Saturday, September 29, 7:30 pm
Chandler Center for the Arts, Randolph
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Sunday, September 30, 3:00 pm
Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans
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Monday, October 1, 7:00 pm
Castleton State College Fine Arts Center, Castleton
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Symphony No. 25 in G Major, P. 16
Michael Haydn (1737-1806)

Johann Michael Haydn was an Austrian composer of the classical period, the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn. His Symphony No. 25 was composed in 1783. The opus was for a long time believed to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Symphony No. 37, but it is now known that Mozart only added an Andante maestoso introduction. The work is in three movements: Allegro con spirito, Andante sostenuto, and Allegro molto.

Michael Haydn's fame is now considerably overshadowed by that of his older brother, Franz Joseph Haydn, but he was a prolific composer who in his day was much admired. Further, the passage of time has allowed an appreciation of his music's impact upon succeeding generations: he influenced both Mozart and Schubert, and he was the teacher of such notable composers as Carl Maria von Weber and Anton Diabelli.

Like Franz Joseph, Michael Haydn was born in Rohrau, in Lower Austria. He left home around 1745 to attend the choir school at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where he received instruction in general subjects, singing, keyboard and violin. It was at St. Stephen's that Haydn gained a reputation for his unusually clear and beautiful voice, as well as for its extremely large range of three octaves. He was dismissed from St. Stephen's when his voice broke.

In 1757, Haydn was appointed Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein in Hungary. He served the Bishop until 1763, when he accepted the position of Konzertmeister to Archbishop Sigismund Schrettenbach in Salzburg. This appointment put Haydn in a position to have a profound impact on the young Mozart, who spent his formative years in Salzburg.

With the death in 1777 of the first organist at Trinity Church, Haydn was appointed to the post. Concurrently, Mozart became the organist at the cathedral. When Mozart left the employ of the Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo in 1781, Haydn took over at the cathedral as well. He died in Salzburg in 1806 and was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter's.

Haydn was an extremely versatile composer who wrote in both the stile antico, represented by the music of Fux, and in more modern styles; his masses followed the tradition of concluding the Gloria and Credo with fugues. Haydn made his greatest contribution in the area of sacred music, but fortunately also made time to compose some wonderful secular music like the symphony we hear today.

Sinfonia for String Orchestra, arr. Drew
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and pianist and was one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. He achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Leon Trotsky’s chief of staff, but later had a difficult relationship with the government. Nevertheless, he received many accolades and state awards during his lifetime.

The String Quartet No. 8 in c minor is the most loved of all Shostakovich's quartets, and is performed more frequently than all of the other fourteen together. It has also been arranged by various people for string orchestra. The quartet has five linked movements and lasts about 20 minutes. Despite its popularity, the work can evoke feelings of gloom and melancholy. What is it about this quartet that, in spite of its austere and tragic music, explains its outstanding appeal?

Unlike most of Shostakovich's other quartets, the meaning of the Eighth, like its origins, was initially believed to be easily understood. It is the only substantial work that Shostakovich composed outside Russia. It was written in 1960 while Shostakovich was visiting the former Communist State of East Germany. Officially he was there to write the score for the Soviet film Five Days - Five Nights, a film centering on the ruin of Dresden. The center of that beautiful baroque city had been destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945 by a massive and infamous aerial incendiary attack by British and American bombers. The film used the destruction of the city as the background for a fictional story. While working on the film score, Shostakovich also composed the quartet, which too him just three days. In the USSR the quartet was referred to as the “Dresden Quartet.”

All five movements of the quartet are written in the minor mode, but the first and last are in c minor, which traditionally, from Purcell through Schubert to Brahms, has been a tragic key (although some composers, notably Beethoven, have used it for works conjuring up heroism). But Shostakovich gave the work a dedication which firmly identified it with the tragic: “In Remembrance of the Victims of Fascism and War.”

The sombre dedication fits well with the gravity of the quartet, whose moods throughout its five movements range through various shades of darkness. The anguish of the quartet, according to Shostakovich, reflected his thoughts on visiting the ruined city. This explanation, then universally accepted, was reinforced at the beginning of the fourth movement, when four notes are repeated against a low drone, bringing to mind the sound of anti-aircraft fire and the menacing whine of a bomber high in the sky above.

But this explanation did not long survive Shostakovich's death in 1975. In 1979 a book appeared in the West entitled Testimony, which claimed to be the composer's memoirs, as told to, and subsequently edited by, an associate named Solomon Volkov. The book was highly controversial because it showed Shostakovich not as a passive supporter of the Soviet regime, but as a closet dissident. Protests followed the book's publication. It was first accused of being a forgery (which in parts it was), but it was also hailed as reflecting the spirit of Shostakovich's thoughts (which it is now generally believed to do).

Music critics also found much to ponder in the book because it included passages which upset their previously held consensus, like this one concerning the Eighth Quartet. “When I wrote the Eighth Quartet, it was also assigned to the department of ‘exposing fascism.’ You have to be blind to do that, because everything in the quartet is as clear as a primer. I quote “Lady Macbeth,” the First and Fifth Symphonies. What does fascism have to do with these? The Eighth is an autobiographical quartet; it quotes a song known to all Russians: “Exhausted by the hardships of prison.”

High Water
David Feurzeig, composer

High Water, an impression of Irene and its aftermath, is in three continuous sections. “Rain” starts off with gentle falling figures representing the storm’s deceptively mild onset. The descending music builds but is soon overpowered by ascending gestures depicting the rivers’ inexorable and destructive rise.

A precipitous climax is abruptly silenced by the slow central section, “Silt.” The emotional heart of the piece, it begins with brooding string chords which suggest the tenacious muck left in Irene’s wake and the feeling of paralysis as people struggled to dig out from the mire. A tortuous climbing melody emerges from the chords only to fall back repeatedly, ending “Silt” where it began. The melody is punctuated by mourning dove cries from the woodwinds—a lament, but also an augur that the waters will eventually recede.

A haunting statement of the refrain from “Goodnight Irene” links to the final section, “Grit,” a celebration of the communal resolve that followed the devastation. It is announced by a rousing theme from Castleton composer Ebenezer Child’s hymn “Vermont,” which reads in part: Lord, thou hast called thy grace to mind, Thou hast reversed thy heavy doom. Thou made thy fiercest wrath abate, And brought thy wand’ring captives home.

Following a triumphant development, a brief coda reprises the gentle rain music of the opening, as the horn bids Irene one last goodnight. The flute, though, has the final word: “I’ll see you in my dreams….”

Thanks to the VSO for commissioning High Water, to Anthony Princiotti and the musicians for realizing it, and to Pete Sutherland for helping me find “Vermont.”

Symphony No. 5 in Bb Major, D. 485
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

It is sometimes difficult to believe that Franz Schubert lived fewer than thirty-two years. He wrote about 600 songs and almost 1000 more compositions, music in almost every form that existed in his time. We even divide them into periods – early, middle and late works. His was an extraordinarily full, long life, condensed into a short period of time. Mozart and Mendelssohn, in their thirty-six years, had important public careers, though very different ones, and were well-known figures in the musical world. Schubert was not altogether unknown, but he never really had a place in concert life. There is no record of a public performance of any of his symphonies until after his death.

He was born when Beethoven was twenty-seven years old, and he died sixteen months after Beethoven, but they inhabited different Viennas. Schubert had few connections with the great and wealthy families who had supported Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Some of his friends were people of “quality” and he even spent two summers in Hungary as a music teacher to the Esterházys, but for the most part he lived his life as an ordinary Viennese. It was a simple life of the kind later called “Bohemian,” lived with a group of friends, many of them talented and some of them from rich families, compared with Schubert’s. They attended concerts when they could, admired the great musicians of their time and worshipped Beethoven from a distance.

Schubert wrote his Bb Symphony during a few weeks in the fall of 1816, when he was nineteen. It was played soon afterward by a sort of teaching orchestra that the composer’s father had organized, at a friend’s home. The light scoring probably tells us exactly what instruments were on hand. The music was put aside and forgotten until about fifty years later, when George Grove, the original editor of the famous Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan, went to Vienna to search for the lost manuscripts of Schubert’s unpublished works. Among the treasures they brought home to London were this and three more symphonies.

The four movements of the Fifth Symphony follow the classical models that young Schubert had before him: Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven. The first is a gracious Allegro movement and the second, a smooth and expressive Andante con moto. The Minuet, Allegro molto, is patterned directly after that of Mozart’s great g minor Symphony, and the finale, Allegro vivace, is richly melodic. All but the Minuet are in variants of the sonata form.

-- Hilary Hatch
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