Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Princiotti’

vso summer festival tour

July 2, 2011

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

vso masterworks concert #2: on a wire

December 5, 2010

eighth blackbird

“This should be fun.”

Those words came from the gentleman sitting behind me at last night’s Vermont Symphony Orchestra Masterworks concert, in the break between the concert opener (Carl Maria von Weber’s dutifully dramatic overture Euryanthe) and the second piece, Jennifer Higdon’s newly commissioned work On a Wire. He was seeing the same thing I was: a piano being wheeled out on stage, risers being set up around it, and a variety of instrument stands arrayed along the entire length of the stage in front of the orchestra. I smiled, convinced he would be right.

When I spoke with Jennifer Higdon last week we talked a lot about the “extended techniques” employed in the new work, a concerto for sextet (the contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird) and orchestra (last night, the VSO). She mentioned that the work’s structure was partly inspired by the ensemble itself, and its high comfort level for using their instruments in alternative ways to produce unusual sounds and effects.

And so the concerto began (and ended), with the piano – bowed piano, with each of the six members of eighth blackbird using mallets and strings and finger plucking on the prepared piano wiring to elicit effects that ranged from ethereal to eerie, and whimsically percussive. (In our interview Jennifer mentioned that the piece started with all six of the eighth blackbird members “inside the piano” – true enough!) One of the interesting things about bowed piano technique is that it expands the range of the piano’s voice from its strictly percussive nature to include more nuanced sounds like those more commonly associated with string instruments.

From its unusual opening, the concerto moved into a more traditional concerto grosso form with equal doses of tension and interplay between the smaller ensemble of six players and the larger orchestra. The movements progressed continuously, marked by mood and tempo changed rather than real breaks in the music. Higdon promised a vibrant and rhythmic experience, and the piece delivered. Each of the eighth blackbird members had solo opportunities, revealing the individual strengths that support their collective might. For the most part the sonically complex and technically difficult nuances of On a Wire were navigated proficiently, although the coordination of the slower, dreamlike middle section seemed to drift at one point and create a passing disjunct between eighth blackbird and the orchestra. Under-rehearsal is a likelier explanation than intrinsic structural problems with the piece itself. The concerto concluded with all of the individual instrumental lines converging, a perfectly coordinated musical clock ending precisely – with a visceral “wow!” from the audience. A great success.

On a Wire was jointly commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Akron Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Cabrilo Festival, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the West Michigan Symphony, and Vermont’s own Flynn Center for the Arts and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. It will be released by eighth blackbird and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on February 22nd, as the debut release on the ASO’s own label. And while I’m sure I will enjoy the recording there is nothing like seeing creativity like this enacted live on stage! Congratulations are in order for everyone, from those who commissioned the work to Jennfer for writing it and the performers who breathed life into it. In particular conductor Anthony Princiotti for having players behind AND in front of him, and keeping everything moving together in the right musical balance. No easy feat.

The VSO has several holiday concerts and the annual Farmer’s Night concert coming up, and the next Masterworks series concert will be on Saturday, January 22nd.

See also:

eighth blackbird’s website

NPR’s feature on the Bowed Piano Ensemble

masterworks 2

December 5, 2009

(photo by Kathleen Landwehrle)

Busy season for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra (is there a non-busy one?) with Anthony Princiotti leading the latest Masterworks concert tonight, and the Holiday Pops series getting underway soon.

I like that the VSO blog posts concert program notes in advance. Makes the concert-going experience nicer. I can spend the pre-concert and intermission time talking with friends and enjoying the evening, instead of having to fiddle quietly with the paper program booklet and try to read the notes in the Flynn’s half-light.

Musically Speaking, the pre-concert talk, starts at 7. Music at 8.

See you there.

vso – made in vermont

October 5, 2009
VSO, warming up

VSO, tuning up

Friday night was my first time visiting the Vergennes Opera House, a grand space built in 1897 and reopened in 1997 after more than two decades of dormancy. The ensemble that heralded the rebirth of the renovated theatre that year was the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.

Fitting, then, that the Opera House is also one of nine venues around the state to host the annual Vermont Symphony Orchestra “Made in Vermont” fall foliage tour.

Maestro Anthony Princiotti led the concert’s opening with Mozart’s Quartet #4 in C, K157 – a childhood creation whose prescience and lyricality was only enhanced by Princiotti’s tastefully delicate arrangement for string orchestra. The piece’s energy made for a perfect show opener.

From there we moved on to the program’s newly commissioned work, Derrik Jordan’s Odzihozo and the Lake. It’s a programmatic piece, musically realizing Odzihozo’s part of the Abenaki creation story.

Odzihozo – “The man who made himself” – is the mythical being who conjures himself from the dusty remains left over from the Great Creator’s work in making the world. There’s enough material initially to create a full man’s body except for the legs. So Odzihozo drags himself through the land, piling up dirt into  mountains and leaving behind deep trails and trenches that become river beds.

Odzihozo’s real masterpiece is Lake Champlain, and when he’s done making it he loves this work so much that he becomes an island (Rock Dunder), so that he can live in it forever.

Jordan’s work, I believe, will likely be less enduring.

From the plaintive opening bassoon figure (Rite of Spring, anyone?) to the heavy-handed “native” percussion motif that ran the course of the piece, this is one version of the creation story that could withstand some evolution. I appreciated the interwoven subtelty of the two traditional Abenaki themes, and the oboe solo near beginning was utterly lovely. I also have to offer a special kudos to principal percussionist Jeremy Levine, who stole the show with his entertainingly wonderous one-man versatility. Overall Odzihozo offered a mixed experience, while I didn’t deeply dislike it I was left considering the many missed opportunities it had to be a grander effort.

George Bizet’s whimsical Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games) brought the first half of the program to a marching, leap-frogging conclusion. Alyssa Weinberg’s respectful reduction recalled the joy and imaginative excitement of the original version, for two pianos.

Next stop for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra is the opening Masterworks concert, on October 24th.

Rumor has it we’ll actually get to hear Soovin Kim perform the Sibelius Concerto that eluded the audience the last time it was on the program – remember that? It was springtime a year and a half ago when a mean ice storm blew through on the night of the concert and knocked out power everywhere downtown, including the Flynn.

Always gracious, Soovin took the stage in the dark and offered instead a gorgeous selection of impromptu solo violin music for the disconsolate audience.

Music in Vermont. It’s always memorable.

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