A composition by a member of the Burlington Civic Symphony Orchestra sits between the Mozart and the Copland on the program for the group's concert this Saturday, March 22. "Cataclysmic Lament" is a concert overture by Shelburne cellist Noah Marconi. It's one of two orchestral works the composer has written; Burlington Chamber Orchestra commissioned the other.
That's a pretty impressive résumé for a 19-year-old. It's also, arguably, unsurprising, given the composer's lineage. Marconi is the great-grandson of flute player Marcel Moyse, who helped found the Marlboro Music Festival with his son Louis. (Louis' sister was Marconi's grandmother.) And Marconi's maternal grandfather, BjÖern Andreasson, played first violin in the New York Philharmonic for more than 30 years.
Yet, during a recent phone call, Marconi talks of his passion for music as a matter of happenstance rather than destiny. As a child, he says, "I was not musically oriented. I played some piano, but I didn't listen to classical music or study it." When he took up the cello in third grade at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, he was "fulfilling a requirement."
Marconi might not have begun composing during his first year of high school, either, had he not lived in Vermont. His school, Champlain Valley Union in Hinesburg, makes the Vermont-based, online composition mentoring program Music-COMP available to its students. Marconi submitted an early version of "Cataclysmic Lament" to program mentors in the summer of 2012. He completed it in the fall, and the Vermont Youth Orchestra, in which he played, premiered the piece during First Night that year.
What can audiences expect? "It's a dark piece. In some sections there's hope, but it quickly goes back to its brooding character," says the teenager. The final musical "cataclysm" isn't a reference to any particular event, he adds. But, between "the Mayan calendar ending in 2012 and all those films about the end of the world, and 'The Walking Dead,' I get the sense that our culture is dealing with that."
The BCSO's existence indicates that the culture holds at least as much hope as apocalyptic despair. The audition-based community orchestra was founded in 2011 by three renegades from the Amateur Musicians Orchestra in Burlington: horn players Helen Read and Marti Walker and AMO conductor Daniel Bruce. The trio wanted to give themselves and fellow musicians a chance to play (and conduct) at a higher level without driving long distances. Previously, the area's only auditioned community orchestras were the Champlain Philharmonic in Vergennes and the Vermont Philharmonic in Barre.
"It was really scary," recalls Read, now copresident of BCSO with Walker, of the orchestra's first year. "But here we are in our third season." With Bruce as music director, the nonprofit BCSO now has more than 60 members.
That the orchestra should provide an outlet for promising composers as well as musicians seems fitting. While Marconi awaits the orchestra's performance of his work, he is composing a third orchestral piece. He has submitted a piece for four cellos — a reworking of a string quartet he wrote at the request of now-defunct Burlington Ensemble — to a Florida-based competition. And he's been auditioning at music conservatories; he hopes to begin studying composition at one of them next fall.
Marconi's unplanned entrée into music now seems like fate. As the composer puts it, "I cannot dream of doing anything else."