The Vermont Symphony Orchestra
Holiday concerts abound, and it's difficult to pick and choose which ones one to visit and which not. Since I had not attended a Vermont Symphony Orchestra holiday concert for some time, I accepted an invitation to go to last Saturday evenings concert, entitled Suite Dreams, at The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It was appropriately narrated by John Helzer, a member of the VSO chorus, a board member of one of the local VSO affiliates, and most appropriately, a psychiatrist at FAHC. After the opening number, Leroy Anderson's omnipresent Sleigh Ride, Helzer read quotations that hed researched about dreams, using them as introductions to much of the rest of the program. He has a pleasant personality, and his voice -- as well as his choices of quotes -- pleased the audience and, in the main, yours truly. There were some exceptional moments in the concert. Especially pleasing was the playing of the two movements from Mozarts Horn Concerto No.1, K. 412 by Katie Jordan, who is obviously on a career path in music. Her playing is confident, assertive, and highly musical. Her tone is of the best; her musicianship is excellent; her poise on stage that of a veteran soloist; her rapport with the conductor and with the orchestra almost uncanny. It will be a great pleasure to watch her as she grows as an artist. A program such as this sits outside rules of the usual orchestral performance, because much of the material is geared blatantly towards the emotions -- and the arrangements of some of the music leave something to be desired. However, whenever he had the opportunity, Anthony Princiotti brought the best out of the orchestra. Cases in point: the Troika from Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kij_uite was one, as were the Humperdinck selection, the Mozart concerto accompaniment, the Corelli, and the excerpts from Tchaikovskys The Nutcracker. As exciting, however, as the individual performances were, the programming was very disjunct. It would be far more to the point to turn a holiday concert into something more interesting and coherent by producing, for example, an abridged production of Hansel and Gretel. There are certainly local singers capable of doing a splendid job in such a production, and it would fit Princiotti perfectly, since his flair for opera was made abundantly clear the last opera night. I have been suitably impressed by the last two Masterworks performances. The orchestra is beginning to bloom. It is time, it seems to me, to choose materials that will show off the orchestra better than these poor arrangements -- they would never sound well in any orchestra because of the orchestrations -- that are used in the more popular series. The Made in Vermont tours, for example, are worth the travel time. I believe that the orchestra can choose better and more crowd-gathering literature than the mishmash served up on this concert. It doesn't take much longer to do something worthwhile. Bella Voce
One of the most disciplined ensembles in Vermont is certainly the womens chorus called Bella Voce, which was originated by and is conducted by Dawn Willis, who has put the group on the map in a brief two or three years. The concert at the First Baptist Church in Burlington, on Sunday, December 9, at 3 p.m. perfectly illustrated the discipline and the quality of musicianship that Willis is able to demand of the women who belong to the group (it is also a training ground for conductors and accompanists, surely a direction that could lead to self perpetuation of the group). For the audience, the appeal is surely to hear excellent musical performances of -- usually -- interesting music. Their concert, entitled Tis the Season, was fitting proof that this organization, was a realization of their effectiveness as singers and as organizers. Before intermission, the program contained two pieces by Canadian composer Eleanor Daley that were admirably written and admirably performed. The arrangement of Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head, by Gwyneth Walker, used the addition of a French horn to build a base for the arrangement, and it worked quite nicely. The Richard Osborne arrangement of I Wonder as I Wander gained from its alternation of 6/8 and 3/4 meters. Two Spanish carols were also of interest. After intermission, there was a premiere of Robert DeCormiers Mary Had a Baby A Suite of Christmas Spirituals. The four selections and their arrangements are quite good musically and certainly are crowd-pleasers. The instrumental accompaniments, especially on the first and last selections, added a great deal to the magic of the music. The four carols from the British Isles, which concluded the second half of the concert, ended brilliantly with an impeccable performance of This Little Babe, from Benjamin Brittens A Ceremony of Carols. I did not care for the opening two selections on the program. The first, Magnificat by Z.Randall Stroope, was of the Howard Hansen/Randall Thompson school of composition, and was both trite and uninteresting. The Brahms setting of Ave Maria wasnt one of his better compositions. On the second half of the program, Angels Did Sing by Stephen Rickards was the occasion for, and possible instigator of, the only poor intonation of the afternoon. The group has generally impeccable intonation, but on Sunday this piece was a constant problem to all the parts of the chorus. Bella Voce originally hit the ground running. They have made good the promise of that first concert again this last Sunday -- and they are planning to perform a new Gwyneth Walker work based on Morrow Lindberghs Gift from the Sea in April, as well as a spring concert in May, and to her in Ireland in June... plus they have a new CD available at a number of bookstores around Burlington, Montpelier and Randolph. Dawn Willis is an example of what good leadership can accomplish, including training potential replacements for herself. It takes a vast amount of self-confidence for someone to do that, because she has set up an amazing record for anyone to follow. If the past is any predictor of the future, Willis will be as successful in that as she is in conducting the chorus. A reminder: if your arts organization has items for sale that are appropriate for holiday giving, send me the details at email@example.com so that I can enter you in our holiday gifts in the arts column. It is coming soon!