Dangerous ice jams on the Winooski River forced Montpelier residents to hunker down nervously for weeks earlier this year. This increased the challenge for one of the Capital City's imperiled arts institutions, the Monteverdi Music School. How do you entice weary townsfolk to come out - and open their wallets?
Innovative public events feed the fundraising stream, while showing larger underwriters how the organization contributes to central Vermont's artistic vibrancy. So MMS director Tim Tavcar has planned a spring Saturday "mini-First Night" for all ages and levels of music appreciation. With the "fun events," low admission prices and a pay-what-you-can policy at the door, he hopes not only to maximize turnout, but also to raise the school's profile in the community. Outreach and accessibility are part of Tavcar's mission to dispel the myth that you have "to be a musical intellect to enjoy classical music," he says.
Playing host to all the happenings is Main Street's Unitarian Church, which Tavcar declares is "one of the best acoustic venues in our city." At a morning screening of Buster Keaton's The General (1927), he expects "grandparents bringing grandchildren." Young 'uns might be shocked to see epic train chases accomplished without the use of CGIs or stuntmen. A last-minute hitch derailed plans for live musical accompaniment, but William Perry's recorded soundtrack stays true to the silent era's style: a single instrument (here, a piano) improvising on stock situational themes.
Montpelier's Capital Orchestra is cosponsoring professor David Kaslow's afternoon workshop entitled "Musical Standards: Learning About Ourselves, Our Art, and Our Instruments." The author and French horn player, who splits his time between Vermont and Colorado, appeals to serious musicians with his "philosophical and holistic" approach, Tavcar believes.
"The Musical Mayhem of P.D.Q. Bach" caps the evening with a vigorous mix of music and comedy, featuring Monteverdi faculty musicians and vocalists. P.D.Q. Bach is the 18th-century alter-ego of modern composer Peter Schickele, and his music "is just a hoot," says Tavcar. P.D.Q. claims to be J.S. Bach's illegitimate 21st child, but "he outrageously steals from every other composer known to man," Tavcar explains.
In the program's first half, performers will intersperse pieces such as "The Goldbrick Variations" with dramatic readings of Great Orchestral Disasters: "true accounts of horrendous things that happened during concerts." Think ax and piano keyboard, firecracker and trombone bell - artistic anger management gone awry.
After intermission, Mozart's dark opera Don Giovanni becomes The Stoned Guest in P.D.Q.'s "very ribald parody." Tavcar joins in the partially staged concert version, with "entrances and exits and costumes and a couple of the special effects that are called for in the score, which usually involve a lot of beer and wine drinking," he says with a hearty laugh.
Schickele's parody works because "it is an homage to the source," Tavcar reflects. "Schickele himself writes serious classical pieces, and so there's real craft there. It's not just stealing and doing funny things . . . Although [his pieces] spoof the excesses of the composers that he's stealing from, you can tell that it's done with a lot of love."
'A MONTEVERDI CELEBRATION': Live cello music accompanies a screening of Buster Keaton's The General; then an evening concert showcases multiple faux-Baroque compositions by P.D.Q. Bach. See "State of the Arts," this issue. Unitarian Church, Montpelier, film 10 a.m. $3-5. Concert 8 p.m. $20. Info, 229-9000.