Last night we heard, for the first time since moving to Middlebury,
Vemont last spring, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the only professional
orchestra in our new home state. The draw was that the program featured
the orchestra's conductor, Jaime Laredo, playing the Beethoven Violin
Concerto. Which he did and which he did gloriously. It had been some
time since I'd heard it in the concert hall and once again I thrilled
with those throbbing timpani strokes with which it begins, knowing what
was coming. The orchestra, which is really more a chamber orchestra --
strings 6, 6, 4, 4, 2 -- is really much better than I'd imagined it would
be whose only major weaknesses are some roughness in horns and trumpets.
They are in the process of playing this same concert nine times, each
time in a different venue (most of them in tiny towns) somewhere in this
tiny state. Their so-called 'Made in Vermont Tour.'
The concert was unusual in that it was put together backwards to what
one generally encounters. The Concerto came first, then the intermission,
then the premiere of Middlebury College composer Peter Hamlin's Green
Mountain Variations (a huge success with the audience if partly because
it is based on a well-known local fiddle tune 'Green Mountain Petronella'
and featured among other things a Bachian fugue and a variation limning
the local Nessie, a monster in Lake Champlain named 'Champ', and a
hilariously boozy variation he'd originally called 'Middlebury College,
Saturday Night, 3AM' but then changed to 'Hard Apple Cider'), followed
by Bartok's orchestration of his Romanian Folk Dances, Faure's Pavane
and Rossini's Overture to The Italian in Algiers. Laredo spoke briefly
about this programming, noting that it was 'backwards, so we'll start
the concert, before the Beethoven, with an encore' -- audience laughter
-- whereupon he played the delicious Adagio in E, K.261 by Mozart. An
entirely winning program, with serious Beethoven followed by what one
could call a pops second half. The fairly sophisticated audience, in
the Center for the Arts at Middlebury College, was hugely enthusiastic
as was I.