Soundbites: The VSO Dreams Electric and Epsilon Spires Hosts a Pipe Organ Series | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Soundbites: The VSO Dreams Electric and Epsilon Spires Hosts a Pipe Organ Series

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Published January 25, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


Tracy Silverman - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Tracy Silverman

Being the music editor can occasionally feel a little like being Sloth from The Goonies. If you're not familiar with the 1985 Richard Donner-directed classic, there's a character named Sloth that the bad guys keep chained up in a basement, feeding him Baby Ruth candy bars to placate him.

Now, there are certainly no bad guys chaining me up (unless you count student debt — hiyo!) and my coworkers thankfully stopped throwing candy at me after a stray Snickers bar killed the office iguana, Queen Elizardbeth. (I'm kidding, we don't have an office iguana — anymore.)

Still, whenever I creep out from my nocturnal desk, squinting at the sun and hissing at the sounds of birds, to cover something slightly out of my normal bounds as a music journalist, it feels a little like the uncultured side of the culture team has been unleashed.

Case in point: Last week, our intrepid and highly sophisticated food writer Melissa Pasanen let me ride shotgun as she journeyed to Burlington's South End to check out the Paradiso Hi-Fi Lounge, the newest venture from Dedalus Wine Shop founder Jason Zuliani. The place serves a lot of functions, with tasty food and killer cocktails (and a Miller High Life on the menu for lowbrows, such as myself), but its real draw is its state-of-the-art sound system and vintage vinyl collection. Be sure to check out Pasanen's piece in next week's issue to get all the details and hear about our night at Paradiso!

Maybe it was the venison tartare, maybe it's just the creeping hand of age turning the hair around my temples gray, but all that high-society living made me feel like taking Soundbites on a classier run this week. And it doesn't get much classier in these parts than the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, which performs a show titled "Electric Dreams" on Saturday, February 4, at the Flynn Main Stage in Burlington.

The event offers a wildly varied program conducted by Andrew Crust. The Lima Symphony Orchestra music director is the VSO's final candidate in its search for its own music director.

The evening begins with a performance of Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock's Oiseaux bleus et sauvages, a symphonic showcase for the flute, and also features the Vermont premier of Ficciones. Composed by Latin Grammy Award winner Roberto Sierra and inspired by a short-story collection of Argentinean writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, the piece was actually co-commissioned by the VSO. At the heart of the music of Ficciones is a virtuoso solo from six-string electric violinist Tracy Silverman. The New York-based musician is considered the world's foremost expert on his instrument. He was called "the greatest living exponent of the electric violin" on BBC Radio and has been lauded by composers such as Terry Riley and Grammy Award winner John Adams.

The night wraps up with a performance that the VSO describes as "one of the most passionate and profound works in the Romantic orchestral repertoire." The orchestra will perform Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, a work early American reviewers once considered too violent, or even crude. I won't reach back over a century to argue with the fine folks at the Musical Courier or the Boston Evening Transcript (who labeled the symphony "pandemonium" upon hearing it in 1892), but I think it's safe to say that ol' P-Tchaik got the last laugh.

Pop over to flynnvt.org for tickets and more information on the VSO's performance of "Electric Dreams."

Organized Chaos

Dr. Justin Murphy-Mancini - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Dr. Justin Murphy-Mancini

I know one classical concert isn't exactly offsetting the 10 or so Grateful Dead tribute nights that happen every week in the local music scene, so don't worry: I've got even more high-class music for those in search.

One of the absolutely coolest venues in the state is Brattleboro's Epsilon Spires. The converted church hosts a regular event called the Lunchtime Pipe Organ Series, which invites an assortment of musicians to play the venue's majestic Estey pipe organ, which was built right in Brattleboro in 1906 at the Estey Organ factory. (In addition to that series, the venue also often invites musicians to score classic films on the organ, such as a live version of Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 thriller, Blackmail, planned for March 18.)

For the lunch series, Dr. Justin Murphy-Mancini takes the seat at the old Estey on Wednesday, February 1, at noon for a truly wide-ranging organ performance. Starting with 17th-century composer Dieterich Buxtehude and moving through the works of Franco-Lebanese organist Naji Hakim and American Emma Lou Diemer, Murphy-Mancini explores medieval-style poetic forms "with an emphasis on timbre as the meaning-generating dimension of the music," according to his press release.

"Every piece on the program is a set of variations of one kind or another, allowing for the instrument's great variety to be communicated by composers throughout history," the Massachusetts-based musician wrote. "The concert will show off the many different colors and sound combinations possible only on the organ."

Note to those visiting Epsilon Spires in the winter for the first time: The old church is heated by an environmentally friendly system. While most of the church is cozy enough, the sanctuary, where the organ series is held, is kept at a lower temperature to protect the vintage instrument. So be sure to wear layers at the show, people!

Don't get me wrong: I'll be right back in a dark club packed with undulating bodies full of booze and narcotics before too long. It's my element, after all. But, thankfully, Vermont's music scene is wildly varied and unpredictable. It pays to remember that and step out of your comfort zone occasionally to catch live music you might not otherwise. Just maybe iron that shirt before you go out, all right?

BiteTorrent

Phil Henry and the News Feed - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Phil Henry and the News Feed

Two folk-rock acts from Rutland are making long-delayed returns to the stage. George Nostrand's band, George's Back Pocket, and Phil Henry and the News Feed are playing on Saturday, February 4, at the West Rutland Town Hall. The venue last hosted both bands in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live music.

"The 2020 show seems like a decade ago," said Nostrand, who also operates A Sound Space, a Rutland-area recording studio and rehearsal space. "I think we're at the point where it's important for people to get out and experience live music again."

It will be a welcome return to the stage for both bands.

The 2023 Farmers Night Concert Series has kicked off at the Vermont Statehouse. Taking place right in our fair state's house of government, the series features live music, comedy and spoken-word performances every Wednesday night through mid-April, and admission is free.

On January 25, the series hosts Young Tradition Vermont, a collection of young musicians playing an assortment of folk music. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra performs on February 1. For the full list of acts and more information, visit legislature.vermont.gov.

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