Music Review: VSO’s Holiday Tour Returns to Its Glory | Vermont Arts

Nearly a thousand people of all ages greeted the return of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s summer festival tour Friday to the Suicide Six ski area in South Pomfret, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. And if their enthusiastic response was any indication, they were thrilled, especially the kids! (The tour is scheduled to visit five other Vermont locations.)

Julian Pellicano led the VSO in a program of mostly American music during the orchestra’s annual Independence Day celebration. Currently principal conductor of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and associate conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and a dual US-Canadian citizen, Pellicano is the fourth candidate to audition for the position of Music Director of the VSO.

From the opener “Liberty Fanfare” by John Williams, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be your usual “holiday schlock” collection of Americana pops. His 1986 fanfare turned out to be superficially simple but, in fact, was a more complex joyous celebration of the Statue of Liberty.

Also unusual for a holiday pop program, Pellicano sensitively dissected the work to show its internal and superficial beauty. It was even more effective in two movements, “Buckaroo Holiday” and “Corral Nocturne”, from Aaron Copland’s ballet “Rodeo” – the nocturne was incredibly sensitive for an outdoor performance.

Throughout the program, Pellicano took a detailed approach that probably wasn’t obvious to most viewers. The attentive listener heard the intricacies and structure of the music – what makes it work – while everyone enjoyed its beauty and power. At the same time, the VSO musicians seemed to respond comfortably to the conductor, and it showed in the largely excellent performances. Indicative of the concert’s success was the attention from the audience throughout – including many children – until the end.

One of the orchestra members, VSO principal trombonist, VSO principal trombonist Matt Wright proved himself and more in the first movement of Eric Ewazen’s Trombone Concerto No. 1. (Ewazen was once a member of the Craftsbury Chamber Players of Vermont). this richly attractive music. He even took on an almost vocal quality in what followed, an adaptation of John Blackburn-Karl Suessdorf’s 1944 hit song “Moonlight in Vermont.”

A real highlight of the concert was “Running” from “A Joyous Trilogy” by promising young African-American composer Quinn Mason (b. 1996). Hundreds of small, almost pixel-like patterns seeping through the entire orchestra combine to create the joyful themes and melodies of this work. It probably takes more than one listen to take in all there is to this masterful piece, but Friday’s audience certainly seemed to appreciate it right away.

The other African-American composer represented was Florence Price (1887-1953), a recognized master now enjoying a newfound and deserved fame. The energetic rag “Nimble Feet” and the more dreamy “Tropical Noon” from his 1953 piano suite “Dances in the Cranebrakes”, orchestrated by William Grant Still, were far more sophisticated than their delightful exteriors.

Other more serious works included Nancy Bloomer Deussen’s rich “American Hymn” and Morton Gould’s “American Salute”. Lighter, but delightful, was Franz von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture. The introduction of the light show, instead of fireworks, was the familiar finale to Rossini’s Overture to John Philip Sousa’s “William Tell” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Still, the crowd favorite of the night was Leonard Bernstein’s overture to “West Side Story.” Not only was this masterpiece performed well, but audiences were left thrilled. More unusual, children throughout the day were happily “led” with light wands. (A little boy led most of the second half of the program.)

The most charming was the little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, in front of the orchestra, who since the beginning of the Price dances, moved to music in the style of modern dance. It wasn’t professional, but it was beautiful.