The VYO summer tour of Québec and France is fast approaching. Tour rehearsals begin on June 29. Students are beginning to think about the sheer excitement of traveling and performing music together in four breathtaking locations that formed the path of Samuel de Champlain’s voyage four hundred years ago.
After the tour kickoff concert at the Flynn Center, where Troy Peters will bid a fond adieu to Vermont, the orchestra will perform at the beautiful Palais Montcalm in Old Québec City, founded in 1608 by de Champlain. From there, the students depart for Paris. It simply does not get better than performing at L’église de la Madeleine – or – experiencing first-hand what Gershwin may have felt and heard before inspired to compose An American in Paris. From Paris, it’s on to the quiet coastal town of Fouras, where the group will glimpse a more serene style of life, and hopefully enjoy an amazing meal of fruits de la mer. The tour culminates in historic Poitiers; a city filled with remnants of medieval riches, now bustling with university students and academic life. In Poitiers, the VYO will meet alumnus Drake Mabry (VYO-oboe, ’67). Drake was commissioned to write Prelude and Tango specifically for this tour, so it is fitting that we would give our final concert in his town. Prior to the concert, the orchestra will be treated to a farewell dinner, hosted by the mayor and other dignitaries. Afterwards, the orchestra will perform their final concert on a specially built stage in the breathtaking Palais de Justice, which dates to the 10th century.
Ten VYO students will be documenting the tour on this blog, submitting posts and photos on a regular basis. From concert halls to cafés, poutine to café au lait, the VYO will take you into their Canadian and French experiences with gusto and a unique perspective. We invite you to visit our blog frequently, and hope that you are inclined to comment on what you read and see!
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During last weekend’s VYO concert, we performed an amazing program! It consisted of Mr. Peters’ world premiere piece, Champlain’s Voyage, the Fauré Pavane, the Brahms Schicksalsied, Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 2, and An American in Paris by George Gershwin. Often a program will include a “rest” piece, such as a concerto, that is not musically or technically difficult. Not this time!
Each piece possessed individual challenges. The Gershwin was the hardest, definitely, but we worked at it so that it sounded tight and dance-like. The Chorus added 60 more musicians to the mix when we performed the Brahms and the Fauré, so adjusting to this large, additional presence was a part of the challenge.
Our conductor wrote Champlain’s Voyage in honor of the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial celebration, celebrating Samuel de Champlain’s voyage from France to Québec and Vermont. It is a cool piece, with extraordinary textures and well-done orchestration. We were fortunate to work with the composer every week. Mr. Peters told us exactly what he wanted for sound in each spot and he answered our questions about style and tone. A sentimental note: he wrote the piece with this orchestra and all its players in mind, including a big cantabile solo for our amazing tuba player.
As for the other works: The Fauré is very pretty; the Brahms is a phenomenal combination of gorgeous and tormented music. The Carmen Suite is fun because the melodies are recognizable; the Gershwin is a journey through several different themes and styles, as the “American” strolls thorough a musical Paris. I don’t think I had a favorite piece…
The VYO will tour Québec and France this summer. Actually, we are following Samuel de Champlain’s route in reverse, starting with our kickoff concert in Burlington at the Flynn Center on July 3. From there, we drive to Québec to perform at the Palais Montcalm in Québec City. Then, we board a plane and fly to Paris to perform, and of course, to do some sightseeing! We will visit La Rochelle, the port where de Champlain initially set off for North America. We will also visit Poitiers, where we hope to meet Drake Mabry, a former VYO member who composed a piece for our tour, entitled Diary of Perspectives.
For me, the atmosphere at our spring concerts was not one of finality…most of us will get to play together again and spend time together on our tour.
I can’t wait!
—Suzanne Calhoun (Photo: David Yandell)
Our spring concert has come and gone. It is strange to realize that my Sunday afternoons will be free for the rest of the school year. Even stranger, the heavy feeling of finality that hung over this concert weekend. This concert was especially unique, adding an extra spark that helped us focus and appreciate our music like never before.
The first half of the concert felt smooth. Mr. Peters’ piece was energetic and the collaborative pieces with the VYO chorus were beautiful and delicate. The second half of the concert was even better. Sometimes, the orchestra struggles after an intermission because of physical and mental fatigue, but on Sunday, our focus level remained high and we delivered a performance of which we could be proud.
In my opinion, the last piece on the program, An American in Paris, was better than ever. Our enjoyment of the piece came through with an electric intensity. This is not to say that our playing was entirely free of mistakes, but it was so full of passion! Playing An American in Paris demonstrated to me the sheer power of music. Live music is a gift. When performers and listeners connect with the heart of a piece, it captivates and leaves one thirsty for more. This kind of magic gave many of us chills as we played the final notes of Copland’s beautiful music.
The poignancy of the moment was amplified by the knowledge that this would be our last “regular” concert with the VYO. Mr. Peters will be moving to Texas later this year and along with the other seniors, I will graduate soon. I reflect on these changes with a mixture of sadness, gratitude for the past and excitement for the future. Playing with the VYO has been such a significant part of my life for the last two years that I can’t believe my time is already ending.
Fortunately, most of us can still look forward to playing together again at our Tour Kickoff concert on July 3rd and to our exciting tour. If our spring concert was any indication, our summer performances in Vermont, Québec and France will be magnifique!
—April Burbank (Photo: David Yandell)
“It sounds too ‘Wonderbread’.”
This is Mr. Peters’ description of our recent rehearsal rendition of Danse Boheme from Bizet’s Carmen. We were playing all of the notes correctly, but we weren’t dancing. His unique description made us laugh and loosen up. It got us to lean into the notes and play the piece with character. This became the tone for the entire rehearsal, which was our last regular meeting before the concert. Most of us had just enjoyed a week of school vacation so perhaps we were a less focused, making little mistakes. However, I am confident that the adrenaline of the concert will iron out these final details as long as we remember everything we’ve learned.
For the second half of our rehearsal, we were joined by the VYO Chorus to rehearse Brahms’ Shicksalsied and Fauré’s Pavane. This was our first joint rehearsal before we will perform these pieces together in the concert, as Suzanne mentioned in the last post. I’ll admit it: I was expecting a train wreck, but the two groups worked together surprisingly well. Of course, we all had to adjust to the sound of both groups working together and to the different conducting styles of Mr. Peters and Dr. Buettner, but by the end of the rehearsal, we were united.
Both conductors urged us to play and sing with expression. Mr. Peters told us that the first part of Shicksalsied represents “a vision of heaven”, and is the most powerful, heartbreakingly beautiful art in Western civilization. The middle section – the toil of life on earth – he likened to “beautiful Viking violence” and, if you can believe it, Metallica! As we explored the contrast between those two sections, our playing/singing reflected deeper emotion. During the Pavane, Dr. Buettner encouraged us to think of the music as “brushstrokes” in a beautiful painting. Now that we have the chorus and the orchestra together, the painting feels complete. The holes in both pieces have been filled in and they sound great. I can’t wait for the concert!
–April Burbank (Photo: April Burbank)
I should tell you: I am a member of both the VYO and the VYO Chorus.
The VYO Chorus will be joining the VYO to perform two pieces during the upcoming VYO concerts in May. Jeffrey Buettner, our choral conductor, will lead Fauré’s Pavane and Troy Peters, our VYO conductor, will conduct the Brahms Shicksalsied. Very exciting, this is the first time the two groups have performed together.
Being a member of both ensembles provides some interesting perspectives. When I’m rehearsing with the orchestra, there are occasional silences for a few bars where the chorus will be singing without accompaniment. Mr. Peters has been reminding us that when Dr. Buettner is conducting, he may be paying more attention to the chorus, which is a bit different from our usual rehearsals because we do not routinely rehearse with the chorus.
Dr. Buettner has been saying similar things in our chorus rehearsals. Because Mr. Peters is used to conducting an orchestra with many parts, he may not cue every entrance of every choral part. He has been trying to convince us to not rush or drag at all in the Brahms, because the orchestra has to play many more notes than we have to sing. For example, in one part of the piece, the strings in the orchestra are playing fast sixteenth notes while the chorus is singing loud dotted half notes; if the chorus rushes this particular part (as we’ve been prone to doing), we’ve been warned that the string players’ arms will probably fall off!
The Chorus just sang in two spring concerts this past Thursday and Friday. These concerts included the two pieces we will be also singing with the VYO in May. Sammy Angstman was our piano accompanist and she did an amazing job with a piece that normally features a full orchestra. During the final moments of the Brahms, which is purely orchestral, Sammy played the ending as a piano concerto. Kelly Herrmann played her flute along with Sammy on the Pavane to help fill out the accompaniment. The piece is flowing and beautiful; Kelly’s sound really enriched the orchestra-less rendition.
The concerts went well; one was at the VYOA’s home, the Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College, and the other was in the Middlebury College Center for the Arts Concert Hall. It is always exciting for musicians to explore the acoustics of a new space, and the Middlebury hall is a great venue, especially for vocal music.
All this musical activity has me anticipating our joint concert to perform the Brahms and the Fauré… You should definitely try to see one of our concerts!
–Suzanne Calhoun (Photo: Lisamarie Charlesworth)
This week, the VYO visited the Saint Albans Town elementary and middle school. During these visits that we call school tours, our primary goal is to share music with the students; specifically, to inspire as many students as possible to play instruments and to participate in their school’s music programs. At the St. Albans school, we taught the students about our instruments and gave music lessons. The day ended with a full VYO concert.
During the morning, we visited first to seventh grade classrooms in small groups, arranged to demonstrate the various instrument “families”. My group included clarinet, oboe, bassoon and flute. These sessions were especially fun for me because many of the kids hadn’t seen or heard an oboe before. As I entered one of the classrooms, a first-grade boy looked up at me and exclaimed, “Boy, that sure is a funny looking instrument.” I showed the class how this “funny” instrument could produce beautiful sounds… the excited chattering in the room when I played an excerpt of a Hindemith sonata was great! Taking questions from the students at the end of the session was the most fun with younger students. The questions ranged from logical (“How long have you played your instruments?”) to slightly offbeat (“Which of your instruments is oldest?”) to completely obscure (“Do you have your driver’s license?”). I love the unpredictability of these classroom visits!
In the afternoon, the entire school gathered in the gym to hear the VYO present a preview of music from our Spring Concert; we played Gershwin’s An American in Paris and the Carmen Suite by Bizet. This was great practice for our upcoming concert and it helped place a fresh perspective on our music. Mr. Peters explained many musical concepts to the students, including the role of the conductor, composition techniques, and dynamics. As I listened to him describe the story behind An American in Paris, I was reminded to play with emotion rather than being overly concerned with correct notes and rhythms. I wanted the students to feel the weight and beauty of each note we played.
The day consistently reflected my own journey in music. Although I can’t remember if my elementary school ever hosted a youth music ensemble, I distinctly remember being inspired by older oboists. When I was in fourth grade, I played in my private instructor’s annual recital for the first time. I remember being awestruck by the skill with which the high school musicians played. I thought they played at a level I could never achieve. After the recital, some of these older musicians made a point to compliment my playing. They told me that I could become an amazing oboist someday. I’m not sure that I believed them at the time, but I have never forgotten those kind words. There’s just something special and terribly important about older musicians mentoring younger musicians.
I hope that our school visit will have a lasting effect on the students we met on Wednesday. This visit gave us all a valuable opportunity to share our passion for music. I hope the kids enjoyed it as much as we did.
–April Burbank (Photo: April Burbank)
I’m very excited for the spring VYO concerts.
This week’s VYO rehearsal went well; the orchestra is gradually sounding better as everyone practices their part and grows more comfortable with how the pieces sound. As part of the upcoming May concerts we are playing An American in Paris by George Gershwin; we will also play this piece when we are actually all Americans in Paris during our concert tour in France in July. This is an awesome piece, with great melodies, intertwining counter melodies, and an incredible enthusiasm inherent to the music.
Like the Ravel Piano Concerto we played with Sammy (Angstman) in the fall, the Gershwin is definitely influenced by jazz. One trumpet solo in particular has a cool groove. Gershwin also admired contemporary French classical composers. When the younger Gershwin asked Maurice Ravel for some composition lessons, the story goes that Ravel replied, “Maybe I should be taking lessons from you.”
This piece has difficult spots for everyone in the orchestra, but this week everything started to flow together into a cohesive work, becoming cleaner and clearer. Mr. Peters always tells us to play like we mean it… We often hear, “I’d rather have you be wrong and strong, than right but inaudible.” It’s great advice. Following it is really important to making a great sound, but also to having a good energy in the orchestra. This Sunday I could hear that people were paying attention and playing with conviction, and it had a big effect on the music we were making together. If we keep this up, we will have superb concerts in May.
–Suzanne Calhoun (Photo: Stina Plant)
Concert season is in full swing at the VYOA and with it, a continuation of the VYO blog. From the beginning of April through May 3, students April Burbank (oboe) and Suzanne Calhoun (horn) will be creating blog posts about their enthusiastic preparation for the VYO spring concert, “Choral Fireworks”. They’ll offer perspective, commentary and a glimpse into life at the Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College during the height of spring rehearsals.
“Choral Fireworks” is an exciting musical program, featuring the first-time collaboration between the VYO and the VYO Chorus. Audiences will be treated to the sound of one hundred and fifty of Vermont’s finest, young instrumentalists and singers performing together, led by VYO conductor Troy Peters and VYO choral conductor Jeffrey Buettner.
Catch the concert in two locations: Friday, May 1 at 8:00 pm at the Dibden Center for the Arts at Johnson State College, and again on Sunday, May 3 at 3:00 pm in Burlington’s historic Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.
Please feel free to check the blog often! For more information or for additional details about our concerts, please check our website at www.vyo.org.