COLCHESTER — The Vermont Symphony Orchestra continued its online season Saturday with “Music for Days Like This,” an eclectic program of classics and lighter material. While the program was a bit timid, the performances and filming at the Elley-Long Music Center were quite fine.
Stunningly beautiful was “Amazing Grace,” a rearrangement of the Christian hymn by Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) for string quintet. In this very lyrical work, the familiar melodies are played, divided, intertwined, layered and brought to a glorious hymn-like climax.
The VSO players — Brooke Quiggins and Jane Kittredge, violins; Stefanie Taylor, viola; John Dunlop, cello; and Luke Baker, bass — played with relish and warmth as well as expertise
. It was a splendid opportunity to focus on the high quality of the VSO both individually and in an ensemble.
“Music for Days Like This” joined Juke Box as a format for the VSO’s four-performance 2020-21 season, with the next episode Dec. 19. Juke Box concludes Jan. 16, with further concerts to be announced. Interestingly, Juke Box is streamed live from the Burlington nightclub ArtsRiot, while this concert was pre-recorded.
Who knows why?
Another thrill in Saturday’s concert were two dance movements. “Tamborito” and “Cumbia y Congo,”from “Danzas de Panama” by African-American composer William Grant Still (1895-1978). The quintet enjoyed the Latin rhythms and colors of this rich music, playing with flavor. Still, one of America’s major 20th century composers, is enjoying renewed interest. About time.
The program was hosted by David Serkin Ludwig, the VSO’s new music advisor, virtually from his Philadelphia home. His commentary — which was actually added to the filmed performances — was knowledgeable and probing, interesting to both the newcomer and aficionado.
Mary Jane Austin, a particularly fine and sensitive pianist, joined the quintet for perhaps the most delicious moment of the program. “Salut d’amour” by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is high-class schmaltz, beautiful and irresistible. Austin and the strings thoroughly enjoyed these qualities without going over the edge — just barely. As the final work, it was a great dessert.
The concert introduced two high school composers, both members of the Vermont composer-mentoring program Music-Comp. Arianelle Arroyo (b. 2004), from New York City, was represented by her “Uncertainty” for piano and string quintet. Reflecting the COVID-19 pandemic, tonal work was largely lyrical, well and imaginatively crafted, and emotionally dramatic.
Alex Wick (b. 2003) of Burlington eloquently introduced his “Proletarian Pandemic & Bourgeois Bandemic,” reflecting American economic disparity underscored by the pandemic. Also completely tonal and well crafted, it began happily classical, becoming more introspective, and finally dark.
The Allegro giusto from Schubert’s beloved “Trout” Quintet, D.667, for piano, violin, viola, cello bass, despite excellent paying, felt muted.
The piano sound was distant — either from placement or sound engineering — and the performance lacked the rhythmic incisiveness that can give this final movement joy.
There were no problems with the excellent performance of the Adagio from Grand Sextet in D Major, Op. 110, but this music from the 15-year-old Mendelssohn, though charming, is hardly compelling. Conversely, opening the program, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 6 in D Major, arranged for piano trio, was an absolute delight, rich sounding and rhythmically charged.
Some may have been disappointed by the programming of the hour-long concert, barely different from that of Juke Box, made up of short selections to introduce newcomers. The large VSO audience, that pays to hear major works at Burlington’s Flynn Center and Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, seems to have been forgotten — which may prove a mistake for a classical music organization attempting to maintain visibility during the pandemic.
Still, it is doubtful that anyone left this concert unhappy. It really was a delight.