Posts Tagged ‘Vermont Youth Orchestra’

leadership news from the vyo

January 24, 2011

Randolph Rowland

The Vermont Youth Orchestra has announced the appointment of their new Interim Executive Director. The position will be assumed by Randolph Rowland, the current president of the Shelburne-based firm Teamswork, and he brings more than two decades of leadership experience to the organization.

Rowland replaces departing Executive Director Caroline Whiddon, who announced her resignation last October.

new director for the vyo

January 20, 2011

The Vermont Youth Orchestra has named its new Music Director. 46-year-old conductor Jeffrey Domoto will get to in February following the ensemble’s final concert on January 30th with the inexplicably short-lived current Director, Ronald Braunstein. Domoto’s experience includes work with the New York City Opera, the Minnesota Opera, and the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra.


vt-made music

January 12, 2011

Last week I learned that Vermont musician Dennis Murphy had passed away in late November. (Here’s the obit from the Times-Argus.) He was born in Plainfield, NJ and he passed away in his longtime home of Plainfield, VT. I never met him but you don’t have to be involved in music here for very long to learn about the his contributions to the local cultural community. Last summer I went to the Blinking Light Gallery’s opening of an exhibition dedicated to his Murphy’s art work, an event that led to my later conversations with several of his former students and close acquaintances.  Through them I got insights into Murphy’s teaching at Goddard College, and about his involvement with groups like the Fyre and Lightning Consort and the Plainfield Village Gamelan Ensemble. He is remembered as a creatively curious and fearless innovator, and a gentle mentor to many.

In other local news, the Vermont Youth Orchestra board of directors met again last night and approved the hiring of a new conductor to replace Ronald Braunstein, who was named the group’s new permanent director six months ago. What happened? Anyone’s guess. Throughout the strange interlude of the last two months since the decision was apparently first made (though not publicly announced), the VYO Board has claimed muteness on the grounds of its legal inability to discuss personnel matters. Fair enough – but no public statement? At all? No cursory blog post on the VYO website, no carefully crafted facebook message, no polite (if uninformative) press release…nothing? The details of the situation are less the issue than the atypically stone-faced way the situation has been handled publically by the Board. How odd. Keep an eye out here for news on the new director, who may be named as early as later this week.

Finally tonight I wanted to leave with a mention of Margaret Whiting, whose sweet voice made “Moonlight in Vermont” a huge hit in 1943. For never having actually been to Vermont she had a good imagination and breathed believable life into the song’s sycamores, meadow larks, and…moonlight-washed hillsides. Whiting passed away on Monday at age 86. There was a nice remembrance of her this evening on Vermont Public Radio.




2010 – conducting the arts in vermont

January 3, 2011

If there is one word that decribes the performing arts scene in Vermont (particularly Burlington) this past year, it must be ‘transitional’.

Here’s the overview:

  • The Vermont Mozart Festival hired Gil Shohat as their new Artistic Director this past summer, replacing founding director Mel Kaplan (who then – less than consenting – was moved into an emeritus advisory role). Then, less than a month ago, the Festival announced it was closing the score after 37 years of summer concerts. Insurmountable financial deficits were cited as the reason.
  • The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts said goodbye to its 30-year founding director Andrea Rogers, and welcomed John Killacky as the next Executive Director.
  • Jane Ambrose retired in June after 23 years as the Director of the UVM Lane Series. She was succeeded by the Series’ former manager, Natalie Neuart.
  • The Vermont Youth Orchestra emerged from a year of interim conductorship with Andrew Massey to hire a new permanent Artistic Director. Ronald Braunstein arrived from New York City this summer to assume the role. In early October, the VYO’s Executive Director Caroline Whiddon unexpectedly announced her forthcoming departure in the end of January. On December 8th, WCAX-TV reported that Braunstein would also be leaving his new post in the end of January. The circumstances of the situation remain unclear to the public. To date there has been no public statement from the Orchestra or its board about the decision, though (apparently inconclusive) closed meetings have been taking place to discuss the situation. At this moment, Braunstein remains in his position as the VYO’s Artistic Director – for how long is a good question. (Here’s a Burlington Free Press article about Braunstein’s performance with the VYO at Burlington First Night.)

Now that the foundation has been recreated and reshaped for many of these important organizations, let’s hope for a prosperous, creative – and stable – 2011!

braunstein leaving the vyo

December 8, 2010

Ronald Braunstein

Late this afternoon WCAX-TV reported that the Vermont Youth Orchestra‘s new conductor Ronald Braunstein would be leaving his post in the end of January.

Braunstein arrived in Vermont from a well established career in New York City late this summer to lead the Orchestra. When I spoke with him in September he shared his vision of focusing on the classics: Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann. True to his word, the concerts include both classics and a few more contemporary works by Leonard Bernstein, and composer-in-residence Rob Paterson.

With the next Orchestra concerts planned for New Year’s eve and late January, there’s precious little time to waste and the Orchestra Association is actively seeking Braunstein’s replacement. (It hasn’t been publically announced at this time whether Braunstein will be leaving before or after the  January 28th and 30th concerts. He is still listed as the conductor for those performances at the VYO website.)

This Sunday there will be a meeting at the Orchestra’s home , the Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester, to talk about this surprising mid-season development.

It’s a time of some fundamental changes at the VYO, as Executive Director Caroline Whiddon also announced her impending late January departure earlier this fall.

news from the vyo

October 8, 2010

Late today the Vermont Youth Orchestra announced that Caroline Whiddon, the organization’s Executive Director for the last 12 years, will be leaving her post as of January 31st. Caroline has been with the VYO since 1998. Under her supervision the organization has experienced many successes including a threefold increase in the orchestra’s student population, and a $2 million capital campaign to renovate the Orchestra’s offices at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester.

What’s next? That’s not clear – at least, not to the public, not yet.

What is clear is that Caroline will continue to sieze whatever new adventures life brings. We send along our thanks for all she’s done to help make our own Vermont Youth Orchestra one of the best experiences a young musician can have.  (On the purely selfish side – they make for a pretty great audience experience too!)

vyo fall concert

September 26, 2010

Geese flew over downtown Burlington late this afternoon. The season’s traditional “V”s and “half-Vs” were pushed along by the lone stragglers, flying behind and honking an impatient “wait up!” to their more prescient mates.

With autumn comes the start of the concert season…I guess. That’s a qualified statement because in Vermont, it doesn’t seem like there’s ever a NON-concert season. Summers are filled with festivals and intimate outdoor gatherings while the other three quarters of the year hold their own with recitals and informal get-togethers along with the regular season concert series at all of the area venues.

This fall’s two opening concerts with the Vermont Youth Orchestra were especially anticipated events as they also marked the debut of the Orchestra’s new conductor, Ronald Braunstein.

He’s offered a vision that includes a focus on core orchestral repertoire, and self-empowerment of the Orchestra’s young musicians through dedicated coaching and personalized training sessions. The approach seems to be working so far.

While the maestro stuck strictly to the music in today’s concert and didn’t offer any words of introduction to his new audience, the Orchestra spoke volumes in Dvořák’s colorful Op. 46 Slavonic Dance #8, Bach’s stately Air on the G String, Bernstein’s brilliant Overture from Westside Story, and – occupying the entire second half of the program – Beethoven’s regal Symphony #5.

I’ve never heard the VYO’s brass and winds sound better than they did today in the Bernstein and Beethoven (the final movement of the 5th was outstanding!). Principal cellist Joshua Morris’s solo pizzicato passage in the Westside Story Overture showed supreme musicianship, as did the clarinet/bassoon tradeoffs in the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 5th, and many percussion moments throughout the entire concert. Bach’s familiar Air was glassy and serene (if not memorably interesting), while Dvořák’s potent Slavonic Dance delivered satisfying syncopation of  joyful abandon and metered precision.

This “concert season” is off to a great start!


September 25, 2010

Ronald Braunstein and me

I wasn’t sure what to expect this past Thursday morning.

Ronald Braunstein, the new permanent conductor of the Vermont Youth Orchestra, was due in the VPR Classical studio at 9 to talk with me on the air about his new job with the Orchestra. In the conversation we’d had a week earlier in his sunny office at the VYO building, I couldn’t get a good read on him at all. When I arrived that day I found him standing in the office lobby, in conversation with a young man who may have been an Orchestra member. Ronald greeted me, but he seemed distracted. Had I interrupted his conversation? Did he need to get back to that before the two of us talked? I said, “I hope I haven’t interrupted – do you have time?”  He glanced at his wrist, and still with a very serious face he looked me in the eye: “yes, it’s 2 o’clock!” Good news, he has a sense of humor!

And our time together that afternoon ended as it had begun. After an hour or so of intense discussion that ranged from conducting technique to contemporary music and art, and Braunstein’s personal history – I was on the way out of his office when he said “that’ll be 50 cents.” I must have looked puzzled. “For the pomegranate juice,” he explained, deadpan, pointing at the now empty glass he had brought to me earlier. (Um, OK…)  I gave him my best ‘indignant diva’ voice: “I don’t PAY for interviews!” and we both had a good laugh.

This Thursday morning, we were scheduled to bring that conversation to the air on VPR Classical. Would his understated sense of humor come through in an interview setting? Would mine? And how could we get at those personal details that make his life such an interesting story, without making this private, quiet man audibly uncomfortable on the air? Or worse yet, make him want to discontinue the discussion. No need to worry, I soon found out. The conversation we’d had a week earlier had apparently gone some way to break the ice and he was ready to talk when he got to the studio.

Braunstein is 55, he came to Vermont from (most recently) New York City after a career that included studies at Juilliard, teaching at the Mannes School of Music, and studies with some big names in 20th century music: Herbert Von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Elliot Carter and Milton Babbitt. So, why Vermont? And with credentials like that, why take a position with a Youth Orchestra? “Well first of all it was the Orchestra’s incredible reputation, I’d heard about them for years. And I always wanted to go somewhere beautiful, to be the music director. It never quite worked out, I was always in places like Houston or other places that were not so green or not so nice to live.  And the other thing that was really interesting to me was that it was not connected, it was free-standing. It didn’t have any connections to any other institutions, and therefore to be the music director there I could really use my creative opinions, my philosophies and  what not to shape and guide the organization.”

Here’s something you didn’t hear if you listened in to our conversation on Thursday morning: the recording I chose to fill out the rest of the hour was the electrifying 1962 classic of Beethoven’s 5th, with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. At the downbeat of the first iconic opening notes, Ronald asked off-air, “wait – which recording IS this?” I said, “there IS only one,” and handed him the CD jewel case. For the next half hour we listened to that magnificent recording together, Ronald occasionally sharing von Karajan anecdotes and leaning in excitedly and pausing to say “listen to that!”. I’d turn up the volume, and then he would go on to point out some masterly nuance: von Karajan’s omission of the repeat in the first movement; the bassoon sixteenth notes that quietly act as the engine in the third movement; the dotted eighth notes of the celli that support the second movement; and the heroic horn entrance in the fourth. I had never listened to a piece of music before with a conductor. And I will never be able to hear to Beethoven’s 5th again now that I’ve had that special experience.

One of the best stories Ronald told was a recollection of Herbert Von Karajan’s reaction to the first time he observed the younger conductor in a performance of Beethoven’s 5th. (Imagine Ronald speaking in the elder master’s thick German accent here –) “”I have one thing to tell you,” von Karajan said, “you don’t know this piece.” I just shook my head, trying to imagine what it would be like to have a comment like that aimed my way as a young musician. It could be devastating. For Ronald it was a challenge. He smiled, “Yah, well I do NOW! And I’m younger than he was!”

Maestro Braunstein makes his debut with the Vermont Youth Orchestra in two concerts this weekend. The first took place last night in St. Albans, and the next one is tomorrow at 3 at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Arts. Keep a close eye on his conducting gestures, Braunstein often talks about “elasticity” being one of the guiding principles of his journey through music. I wonder how that will translate to his time on the podium, and his interpretation of the classics they’ll be playing like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and Bach’s Air on the G String?

Oh – and don’t look for a score on his music stand, he doesn’t use one. In fact there won’t be a music stand at all. The reason why goes a long way toward giving some insight on the relationship he plans to have with this motivated, exceedingly talented group of young musicians:  “I don’t want anything between me and the Orchestra.”

vyo winter concert

January 24, 2010

This afternoon’s winter concert with the Vermont Youth Orchestra featured a melodic mix of an overture, a concerto, a symphony, and a concertpiece…the performance beginning and ending with the dancing Bohemian sounds of Smetana and Dvořák, respectively.

I’m always impressed with the VYO’s exceedingly high level of musicianship, from the delicate viola pizzicatti and lovely flute and clarinet passages at the start of 8th symphony to the heroic timpani, cellos, low brass and third violins in the last movement.

I’m very much looking forward to hearing how the VYO’s relationship continues to unfold with Music Alive composer-in-residence Robert Paterson. While I didn’t personally love today’s Paterson original, Enlightened City, that doesn’t mean there was anything “wrong” with it. Music is like that: it hits you or it doesn’t. And I can honestly say I don’t think Paterson would find much to enjoy about my composing either. (I don’t write music. I admire the talent of those who do.)

Next event in the VYO’s busy calendar is coming up on Friday, Feb. 12th. That evening they’re hosting a live recording session with From the Top, the nationally-broadcast radio program featuring young musicians. (Ticket info at

vyo bon voyage

July 4, 2009
VT Governor Jim douglas, honoring maestro Troy Peters

VT Governor Jim Douglas honoring VYO maestro Troy Peters

Kind of hard to believe it’s over. For months I’ve been hearing about the preparations, and looking forward to the July 3rd “bon voyage” concert with the Vermont Youth Orchestra. The promising program included music by Corigliano, Mendelssohn, and Gershwin along with two new world premieres written for the Orchestra. The date fell on the eve of the Orchestra’s summer tour (stopping in Québec City first, then on to several appearances in France) and it was their last home turf concert with Troy Peters, the group’s beloved conductor of fourteen years.

Governor Jim Douglas set the celebratory tone for the evening with a fitting tribute to the outgoing maestro. He cited in particular Peters’ artistic vision and dedication to challenging and adventurous programming, as well as the positive effect it’s had on developing the skills of the Orchestra and broadening the scope of audience awareness and interests. True enough. I would further that fact by adding that Troy has not only done this with his choices of repertoire for the Orchestra in his role as conductor, but also in the music he’s personally written for them, as a composer. Including the brand new work that opened the concert: written with the Quadricentennial and the upcoming French tour in mind, it is the bouyantly optimistic concert piece, Champlain’s Dream.

7/4/09 - VYO's final hometown concert with maestro Troy Peters

7/3/09 - VYO's final hometown concert with maestro Troy Peters

Apart from the considerable sentimental and historic import of last night’s concert, the group flat-out played great. I’ve never heard the low brass sound better, they were regal and sonorous in Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The shimmering violins in Corigliano’s Voyage wove a luminescent aura that delicately hovered around the whole piece, and Saint-Saëns’ potboiler, the exotic, ferocious Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, was a nearly off-the-road juggernaut that brought the first half to a thrilling end.

How to follow that up for the second half? With the lovely Fauré Pavane; a fresh, saucy, Daugherty-reminscent Prelude and Tango (written by VYO alum Drake Mabry); and – what else? Gershwin’s An American in Paris – complete with dead-on taxi horns and all the cosmopolitan busy-ness one would want from that bustling Parisian street scene.

Undoubtedly it will be a different Orchestra in the coming season as Troy Peters moves on to his new post with the youth orchestra in San Antonio, and the VYO moves forward under new leadership (yet to be announced). But, as with any living organism, every new day brings changes. Some expected, some less so, yet every change brings with it opportunities that are only revealed when the time is right. Now concluding its 46th season, the VYO is every bit up to the challenge.

Bon voyage and very best wishes to Troy and the Orchestra as they embark on the tour together this weekend, and after, on their own undoubtedly interesting life paths.

Remember, among friends it’s never “adieu“. Just say, “a bientôt “!

7/3/09 - Post-concert fireworks over the marina at the Lake Champlain waterfront

7/3/09 - Post-concert fireworks over the marina at the Lake Champlain waterfront

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