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Classical Musicians Prepare for a Live Concert Season


Published June 9, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated June 21, 2021 at 1:55 p.m.

Vermont Symphony Orchestra concert tent - COURTESY OF BILL JALBERT
  • Courtesy of Bill jalbert
  • Vermont Symphony Orchestra concert tent

On a Wednesday in mid-May, I entered the Stowe Community Church to see the first live performance of classical music I had experienced in more than a year: Middlebury pianist Diana Fanning playing works by Maurice Ravel, Frédéric Chopin and Franz Schubert. The formidable entrance requirements included emailing an image of my COVID-19 vaccination card to Stowe Performing Arts, which hosted the concert. Audience members were led to seats spaced six feet apart. But the payoff was hearing those nuances of interpretation and volume that virtual mediums never quite capture.

As masks fall away and the weather warms, classical musicians' schedules are filling up with live gigs, and festivals are reviving their summer seasons. There's even a new concert series in a Jericho barn. With so many performances cropping up as the state lifts its pandemic restrictions, the following list is only a sample — but a good start for enjoying Vermont talent in person again.

Music in the Barn

Various Wednesdays, June 23 through September 15, 7:30 p.m., in Jericho. $20. Limited capacity; email to check availability; bring your own chair and beverages.

Essex-born Liam John, who studied with Vermont Symphony Orchestra principal cellist John Dunlop, recently returned to Vermont to attend the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont and — in his free time — to start a concert series. "People yearn for that in-person experience," the 27-year-old cellist noted by phone.

The informal series Music in the Barn evolved from John's friendship with Dunlop, the latter's violinist partner, Laura Markowitz, and violinist Sofia Hirsch. The venue, an "amazing" barn untouched since the 1940s, is attached to the renovated milkshed apartment that John rents from Dan and Amanda Goosen; the couple has agreed to let him host six concerts in the barn's hayloft. 

Two string quartets will perform: Eclectica (Hirsch, Markowitz, Dunlop and Ana Ruesink on viola) and the Jennings String Quartet (Hirsch, Ruesink, Ira Morris on violin and Perri Morris on cello). At some concerts, the string players accompany indie-folk duo Cricket Blue. 

Saturday Sounds

Saturday, June 26, 11:30 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., at Shelburne Museum. Free.

Vermont Symphony Orchestra flutist Anne Janson and Rebecca Kauffman, a Burlington-based harpist who is the principal harpist of Pennsylvania's Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, pair up for this half-hour program. "For both of us, this program is a celebration of the joys of live music. We just rehearsed the other day, and we were enjoying every second of it," Kauffman wrote in an email. Programming includes François-Joseph Gossec's jaunty "Tambourin" and Maurice Ravel's "Pièce en forme de habanera." The latter, originally composed for wordless voice and piano, is beguiling when played by flute and harp.

Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival

June 30 through July 20, various times, at Elley-Long Music Center, Colchester. $25.

Artistic director Kevin Lawrence has moved the festival and its students — emerging string players — from the UVM campus to the Elley-Long Music Center this year. Six weekday artist faculty concerts include "Mysterious Beauty" on July 9, which starts with John Cage's Nocturne and ends with Johannes Brahms' Piano Quintet in F minor. Hiromi Fukuda — the anchor of Vermont's Champlain Trio — plays piano.

Rochester Chamber Music Society

July 1 through August 15, various times, at Federated Church of Rochester. Donations.

Artistic director Cynthia Huard, a pianist and harpsichordist, has scheduled four concerts in this picturesque central Vermont village, including a final one featuring herself and violinist Mary Rowell playing works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert and Arvo Pärt. Audiences can make their own music at the Community Music Share on July 17, from 1 to 3 p.m., "where we have invited any level musicians in the community to share 4 to 5 minutes of music that sustained them during the pandemic," Huard wrote in an email. 

A Far Cry

Sunday, July 11, 6 p.m., at Trapp Family Lodge grounds in Stowe. $30 in advance; $35 at the gate; $10 for kids and teens 5 to 18; free for kids under 5.

The acclaimed, self-conducted early music chamber orchestra of 18 Boston-based musicians includes violinist Jesse Irons from Berlin, Vt. The concert is part of Music in the Meadow, presented by Stowe Performing Arts. 

Marlboro Music Festival

Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., July 17 through August 15, at Persons Auditorium, Marlboro College. $30; sold out; wait-listed tickets only.

The premier destination for top chamber musicians and their audiences is back after a virtual season in 2020.

Craftsbury Chamber Players

Wednesdays and Thursdays, July 14 through August 19, at various venues in South Burlington, Colchester, Hardwick and Craftsbury Common. Donations.

The venerable six-week chamber music series, led by cellist Fran Rowell and violinist Mary Rowell, is now in its 55th continuous season: It toured outdoor venues last year using a refurbished trailer. This season, the sisters will present one indoor and one outdoor concert each week. 

Programming melds traditional and pop music because, Fran said by phone, that's how it's always been: "Maroon Five did Pachelbel's Canon a few years ago, and Mozart had to write minuets for dances because he had to feed his kids." One representative program moves from Freddie Mercury's "Bohemian Rhapsody," arranged for solo violin, to Jesse Montgomery's "Strum" for string quartet. It finishes with "Craftsbury Trio" for violin, cello and piano — written for the group by former Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker. 

"Yes, we are schlepping a Yamaha upright around this summer" on the trailer, Fran confirmed.

Music at the Beach

Wednesdays, July 21 through August 4, 6 p.m., at Charlotte Town Beach. Free.

The Charlotte recreation committee is sponsoring three evenings of music featuring a string quartet of rotating VSO musicians, according to music coordinator Jane Kittredge. The opening concert features Kittredge and Woonkuo Soon on violin, Russell Wilson on viola, and cellist Dunlop playing a "tour de folk," according to Kittredge, including "works by [Antonín] Dvorák, [Alexander] Glazunov, [Gwyneth] Walker, [William Grant] Still, and a suite of classic American musical favorites."

Vermont Symphony Orchestra's Summer Under the Stars

Saturday, July 24, 7:30 p.m., on the Green at Shelburne Museum; and Sunday, July 25, 6 p.m., at Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland. $5-35.

These two outdoor concerts, conducted by VSO creative projects chair Matt LaRocca, feature 25 musicians playing arrangements from Georges Bizet's hummable opera Carmen and selections from Harlem Renaissance composer William Grant Still's summery orchestral suite Wood Notes. Francesca Blanchard, a French-born singer-songwriter based in Burlington, will sing several of her songs to orchestral arrangements by LaRocca and fellow Vermont composer Kyle Saulnier. 

The VSO also has three traveling chamber-group tours (on various dates). The Breweries Tour features the Jukebox Quartet (violinists Letitia Quante and Brooke Quiggins, Stefanie Taylor on viola, and cellist John Dunlop) at four Vermont breweries, including Foam Brewers in Burlington. The Gazebos & Bandstands Tour hits four of those picturesque structures with brass quintet performances by Andrew Sorg and Stephen Banzaert on trumpet, Shelagh Abate on horn, Matthew Wright on trombone, and Takatsugu Hagiwara on tuba. 

Finally, various wind and string ensembles appear in eight different venues on the Homes & Gardens Tour, including Snow Farm Vineyard in South Hero and Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury.

Barn Opera presents Tosca by Giacomo Puccini

Wednesday, August 18, 7:30 p.m., at Isham Family Farm in Williston; Friday, August 20, 7:30 p.m., at Cedar Meadow in Castleton; and Saturday, August 21, 7:30 p.m., at Estabrook Park in Brandon. $50.

Rivaling the trials of the pandemic are the herculean efforts of Floria Tosca in this opera to save her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, which end in the death of both. Barn Opera artistic director and tenor Joshua Collier said the production will be the first post-pandemic live opera in Vermont. 

"We all have such a renewed sense of how important the communal element of live opera is," he said by phone. "This is an opportunity to be completely awash in the glory of the human voice." 

Collier's "multinational, multiethnic" cast includes Nigerian American soprano Andrea Chinedu Nwoke as Tosca and Collier himself as Cavaradossi. The fully costumed production uses projections in place of sets; English supertitles are included. Felix Jarrar provides piano accompaniment. 

Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival

Saturdays and Sundays, August 21 through 29, at the Elley-Long Music Center in Colchester. Pricing not available at press time.

Northern Vermont's premier festival has undergone some changes recently. Resident composer David Ludwig was named dean and director of music at the Juilliard School in New York City, so his presence at LCCMF will be virtual this year. And new executive director Robert Whipple replaces Jody Woos, who is retiring. 

Married artistic directors Soovin Kim, a violinist, and Gloria Chien, a pianist, named the festival's 13th season (intended to be its 12th) "Epiphanies" for its now-timely focus on works of music that "respond to big, life-changing events," Kim said by phone. 

Among these are pieces written just before each composer's death, including Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C major and Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs. The fest will also see the premiere of a new chamber opera, A Song by Mahler, by Marc Neikrug, co-commissioned by LCCMF and four other chamber music entities. Written for two singers, string quartet and clarinet, it tells the story of a singer with early-onset Alzheimer's and her accompanist-husband.

"There's something undeniably powerful about these works," Kim said.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Tuning Up | Classical musicians prepare for a live concert season"