vso summer festival tour

vso during intermission

For the last month or so a regular topic of conversation with friends has been the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Festival Tour: Where to meet? What time? And, maybe most important of all – who’s got the wine for the picnic?

Each summer the VSO packs up to take the show on the road – “the only orchestra that tours the state every year”, according to executive director Alan Jordan.

My reference points for the outdoor symphonic experience before moving to Vermont include the Hollywood Bowl concerts I cherished so much when I live in Los Angeles. Warm summer nights, world class music played outdoors – all tucked into a compact bandshell, lit up like a bright, glowing gift waiting to be unwrapped. The Bowl is the off-season summer home for members of the LA Philharmonic – though the high “regular season” quality of the music certainly made a good case to question the “off” in off-season.

And, years before I moved to LA, I frequently got together with highschool friends for regular summertime outings in my hometown to see the Denver Symphony Orchestra (predecessor to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra) in their series of summer concerts at City Park. Same formula: starry skies, potluck picnics, and punchy classical hits like the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture and basically anything by Gershwin to round out the musical part of the experience.

It’s very much the same story for the VSO, but instead of migrating to a single summer locale the group’s seasonal home is actually the entire state. And nothing musically is lost in the translation from indoor (regular season) to outdoor (off-season).

This year’s tour kicked off with a big BOOM! last night at Sugarbush Resort in Warren – you know, the new lodge/spa that looks like an enormous barn (complete with silo) right at the base of Lincoln Peak:

sugarbush resort

I got off work later than planned and arrived at the concert a few minutes into the program, with the final bars of Antonin Dvořák’s lively Carnival Overture already resounding into the parking lot and surrounding hills. Boo-ya! In arriving at that moment, with the performance of that piece in progress, I felt as if I was the very person Dvořák envisioned in his description of the Overture: “The wanderer reaches the city at nightfall, where a carnival of pleasure reigns supreme. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of people giving vent to their feelings in the songs and dance tunes.” 

vso's glowing bandshell

The theme of this year’s tour is “Symphony Royale”, with music all somehow relating to the theme of royalty: a medley by Edward “Duke” Ellington, another one from The King and I, Meyerbeer’s Coronation March, and many other favorites along those lines. I can’t tell you exactly how the Dvořák Carnival Overture ties in – maybe there’s a musical reference in there somewhere to a “Carnival King”? (If you know, let me know with a comment here and I’ll share it with everyone.)  Nonetheless, musically if not entirely thematically(?), the work’s raucous celebration fit right in to set the stage for the festive occasion.

One highlight of the very pleasing evening of music was the Kalendar Prince, a sensuously exotic moment (2nd movement) of orchestral lushness from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful suite, Scheherezade. The bassoon solo was sumptuous and beckoning while the muted horns and trumpets painted a deep backdrop of portent, and majesty. And you just can’t go wrong at a summer concert with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and a little splash of firework-punctuated Sousa to round out the program.

The VSO’s Summer Festival tour is just getting underway. Here’s where you can catch up with them next:

  • Friday, 7/1 – Sugarbush Resort, Warren (last night)
  • Saturday, 7/2 – Hildene Meadowlands, Manchester
  • Sunday, 7/3 – Grafton Ponds, Grafton
  • Monday, 7/4 – Shelburne Farms, Shelburne
  • Thursday, 7/7 – Mountain Top Inn, Chittenden
  • Friday, 7/8 – Quechee Polo Grounds, Quechee
  • Saturday, 7/9 – Three Stallion Inn, Randolph
  • Sunday, 7/10 – Trapp Concert Meadow, Stowe

the grand finale

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