springing forward with the vso

Spring officially arrives around a half hour from now, at 1:32pm ET today.

Unofficially, it’s already been here for a several weeks lurking around in the wings and waiting for a proper introduction. If you’re thinking about all of the dramatic reports of heavy winter snow in the mid-Atlantic states, and all along the Eastern seaboard in the last couple of months: none of that made it to northern Vermont. In fact it never got cold again this year after the annual “January thaw”. The rivers broke up in late January and never froze again. The only significant snowstorm we’ve had this winter came in late February, and within a day or two the warm torrential rains and sunshine came and it’s been early spring mud season ever since.

Quite anti-climactic.

Along with the sagging snow pack of this winter’s whimpering conclusion, has melted away my anticipation for the ice-breaking, the sunlight-fueled springy optimism, and the visceral Rite of Spring rejuvenation that usually pulses through the landscape at this time of the year. I’m trying to get on board with the general glowing sentiment around here and join the frothing over the 60-degree days of the past week, but I keep coming back to “What’s the big deal? It’s been warm for the last two months – and we have at least five more months of this stuff coming!”

I am a diehard winter-lover – the more, the better- so it’s not surprising I’m feeling a little ambivalent about all of this. I never got cold enough, snowbound enough, winter-weary enough to accept the early spring as the kind “relief” other folks are expressing these days.

I’ll come around. But – it is abnormal.

At least a couple of the season’s transitional mile-markers are on cue this year. We reset clocks last weekend to Daylight Savings Time. The Green Mountain Film Festival is underway in Montpelier. It’s also sugar season now, with little wood houses all over the landscape puffing out clouds of steam as vats of maple sap boil away late into the night. And the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s annual Farmer’s Night concert at the State House came right on time this past Wednesday – the “Luck of the VSO” concert, with a lovely program of faves from the British Isles for St. Patty’s Day.

Today I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the music of springtime as I get ready to host tonight’s Musically Speaking session before the VSO Masterworks concert this evening. I’ll be talking with guest conductor Sarah Hicks and composer Richard Danielpour. Among other works, the program includes On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring, an optimistic work by Frederick Delius; Copland’s bouyant ballet music, Appalachian Spring; and Danielpour’s new double concerto – A Child’s Reliquary – featuring VSO conductor/violinist Jaime Laredo and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, as the soloists.

How I love the opportunity to refresh myself in the history of a piece like Appalachian Spring, and recall the non-intuitive nature of its title. Copland was ready to call the work “Ballet for Martha” (after Martha Graham, the choreographer who had commissioned the piece), until Graham suggested that he call it “Appalachian Spring” after a verse from The Dance, one of the fifteen poems in Hart Crane’s, The Bridge:

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!

The ballet itself revolves around a newly wed couple in the Pennsylvania Amish country, and the friends and neighbors who have gathered to help the couple to raise a new barn.

Interesting, that the orchestral suite made from the Copland’s original ballet music has nothing to do with either the Appalachians or the spring of “springtime”. In fact the “spring” in the title is actually a reference to the water source in Crane’s poem, which only incidentally became associated with the music through an offhand, last-minute suggestion from a friend. Yet it works. Can you even consider hearing that music now and not calling it by that name?

Looking forward to sharing (and learning, I’m sure!) more about the program in this evening’s event. I’ll hope to see you there.

And…happy springtime.

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