The Burlington Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Hopkins, joined with UVM's Department of Dance to present two evenings (Jan. 22-23) for which the BCO provided the music and choreographers Paul Besaw and Clare Byrne provided the choreography: an original work by Hopkins entitled Now Winter Nights Enlarge, the opening line or title of a poem by Thomas Campion and Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring.
Hopkins has written a score that can stand alone, and having heard the first performance I found myself wanting to hear a second performance. My instincts were correct: this is a fine work for a chamber orchestra that should find its way into chamber orchestra programs all across the country.
The themes are established in the first and most lively section of the store and then are heard again in some of the movements at different tempi and for different effect. One of the most notable themes was a single-note that created an arch of volume and intensity that reversed itself back to the original volume and intensity. This particular piece of thematic material somehow underscored both the sadness and the implacability of winter. I was even more favorably impressed by this score of Hopkins' when I heard it the second time. The most amazing thing about the work is that it accomplishes others stated goal: that it should perform the task of relating the work to Copeland's score without just being a stylistic reworking. Hopkins accomplish this task to my complete satisfaction (on the Saturday evening, the second performance, many things such as lighting for the dancers was present, and that aspect of the production was more satisfactory).
The performance by the BCO of the score for Appalachian Spring was polished and demonstrated the lyricism as well as the sharp angularity of contrasting parts of the score.
The choreography created by Besaw for the first work were, like the music,reflective of winter. How integrated they were with the music presented another problem to this reviewer, because the dance seemed to be developed separately from the music, and as with much of the dance that used to be presented in FlynnSpace and even earlier on the main stage with the audience seated on the stage also the juxtaposition of the dance being clearly the only relationship that existed between the two, the music and the dance, being a matter of chance. In this case, and with live musicians, I am not convinced that such an approach can be successful. Also unclear to this reviewer was the relevancy of the music to the dance or the dance to the music. What also was distinctive about the performance was made necessary by the size of the stage in UVM's Redstone Recital Hall, the sections of the orchestra were arranged in six discrete units arranged around the stage(an arrangement which was more pleasing to the ear balance-wise than I have ever noticed it to be). The dance took place in and around the units.
The choreography by Byrne for the Copeland had to be judged by this reviewer based on the performance itself, since he does not have a knowledge of the original choreography. There was a certain amount of structural imbalance: the orchestra, for the second half, was seated on stage right, and most of his days are left of the center line was space for the dance. Had I read the program notes less cursorily, I might have found a better integration between the dancers and the music. As it was, I did not see the relevance of some of the dance vocabulary to the music, and was more puzzled than anything, lapsing finally into the familiarity of the music instead of trying to square the choreographer's vision with the composers efforts.
Both nights the show was sold out.
The Burlington Chamber Orchestra continues to be a major gift to the audiences in Burlington. I., for one, am repeatedly grateful for an orchestra of this caliber's availability locally. It is a real pleasure to go to one of their concerts.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.