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Derrik Jordan (above, left) has created "Windham Loops" for the Windham Orchestra and his world fusion power trio, Impulse Ensemble, for an impulse of world music and classical, commissioned as a celebration of Vermont.

The Arts

A contrast of the iconic and the iconoclastic

Windham Orchestra presents Beethoven’s Ninth, and a bold new work from local composer Derrik Jordan

BRATTLEBORO—Hugh Keelan wanted to conclude his first season as director of the Windham Orchestra with a piece that uses music to reflect the spirit of the state.

So he went out and commissioned one.

On Sunday, June 12, at 3 p.m., on the lawn of the Brattleboro Retreat, the Windham Orchestra, with Impulse Ensemble, will present a new work that organizers say was inspired by the composer’s love for Vermont — the world premiere of Derrik Jordan’s Windham Loops.

The orchestra will complement this innovative piece with one of the most beloved works of the Western classical repertoire, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

During the concert, which is aptly titled “Ode to Joy,” Keelan will take the audience on a journey through a myriad of cultures and human experiences.

“The program we offer is exciting and relevant for all people, all places, and all times,” said Keelan.

Born in Kingston-upon-Thames in England, Keelan has played the piano since age 8, and later took up the viola. His conducting debut came at 16 in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

Keelan has conducted and played all over the world, from Amsterdam to New Zealand, but he has made Brattleboro his home for the last 15 years.

While he has played a few concerts with the Windham Orchestra in the past, only last year did he become its director.

Keelan said when he commissioned Windham Loops to be a “pure Vermont” piece, the only requirement was that it had to have he same number and the same kinds of instruments as Beethoven’s orchestra.

“Pure Vermont,” however, did not have to mean using a traditionally “New England” musical idiom, such as Shaker hymns and early American folk songs, as in some pieces by Aaron Copeland and John Adams. Keenan wanted the spirit of Vermont expressed in whatever form the composer might want to take.

Jordan, composer of Windham Loops, is an award-winning composer and singer-songwriter who plays five-string electric violin, percussion, guitar, and keyboards.

In fact, Keelan said, Jordan plays 312 different instruments, including ones from Africa and Far Eastern cultures. He also studied under master drummer Milford Graves, who introduced him to the music of Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

“My current musical passion is composing world fusion/classical music, where I marry my many world, jazz, and pop musical influences with the classical world by composing for orchestras and chamber groups,” Jordan said.

Part of the excitement about his new work for the Windham Orchestra is precisely this mingling of diverse influences.

Keelan calls Windham Loops “a “rich stew” from “far-flung cultures” that celebrates Vermont.

The piece “is divided into four movements with four two-minute improvisational solos between movements for the featured soloists of Impulse Ensemble on their unusual instruments,” explained Jordan.

Impulse Ensemble features Tony Vacca on balafon and percussion, Jim Matus on laoutar (electric Greek lute, or laouto) and Jordan on the five-string electric violin.

The movements themselves contain a wide range of influences, ranging from Indian and Middle Eastern fusion to Pygmy polyphonic singing, American funk, and the music of Bali. The purpose is to carry the listener on a journey influenced by a wide range of world music styles.

“My creative process entails listening and opening myself to various styles of music and then letting myself be influenced, creating melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that are inspired by that listening,” said Jordan.

Keelan will contrast this innovative multicultural work with one of the most iconic musical pieces in Western culture.

Regularly listed No. 1 in readers’ polls as the greatest musical work of all time, Beethoven’s Ninth — sometimes called the Ode to Joy — addresses the highest hopes, struggles, and gratifications of the human condition.

The vocal soloists will be soprano Kate Saik, alto Jenna Rae, tenor James Anderson, and baritone Andrew Semegram, and they will be joined by the Windham Festival Chorus, led by Susan Dedell.

In a very short time, Dedell gathered members of many various local singing ensembles to form the 120-piece chorus that the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth employs.

Keelan joked that the quickly-formed chorus feels rather like a “flash mob.”

The concert will be performed at the Brattleboro Retreat, on the lawn in front of Lawton Hall. Keelan said that it will be a striking visual event, with the chorus divided into two groups of 60 on each of “gorgeous balconies” of Lawton Hall while the orchestra will play in the center of the porch.

The surrounding buildings will provide an echo chamber, like “singing inside a guitar, rather like at Tanglewood,” Keelan said.

Keelan thinks that the Brattleboro Retreat will make an even more striking backdrop for Windham Loops. The 20-foot wall of gongs and percussion of the Impulse Ensemble makes for an amazing visual spectacle, as the performers glide like athletes in almost ritualistic movements.

Keelan has no fears about how Vermonters will take to this adventurous program.

Although classical music lovers are notoriously conservative, Keelan sees every audience he faces as a beautiful, open, and receptive vessel, and he believes audiences will especially delight in Sunday’s musical experience.

In case of rain, the Latchis Theatre will host the program. Seated admission is $25, lawn admission (no seating provided) is $12, and student and senior lawn admission is $10. Food and refreshments will be available from Anon Thai, Newfane Gelato and Lemonade, Hardy Foard Catering, Betz Baking, and Commonwealth Yogurt. No alcoholic beverages are permitted on Retreat grounds.

Tickets are available through the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523 or www.bmcvt.org, or in Brattleboro at Maple Leaf Music, In the Moment, and Turn It Up.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #104 (Wednesday, June 8, 2011).

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