Forcing the spring

Never mind the snow, the VSO welcomes a new season at the Latchis

BRATTLEBORO — Although this year, winter in Vermont may seem to be never-ending, on March 16, at 7 p.m. at the Latchis Theatre, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra (VSO) is presenting a Masterworks program tantalizingly entitled, “Paris in the Spring.”

Partnering with Brattleboro Music Center, the orchestra will be led by its Music Director Jaime Laredo, and joined by its guest soloist William Short.

Living up to the program's name, VSO will perform the Symphony No. 31, “Paris,” by Mozart, and Symphony No. 1 “Spring,” by Schumann.

The orchestra will also be giving the first performances since its world premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra in November 2013 of “Pictures from the Floating World” by David Ludwig, the New Music Advisor for VSO. Ludwig's new bassoon concerto has a French connection as well.

Consciously written in homage to Debussy, Ludwig's piece invokes the Japanese art prints that fascinated that great French composer.

To celebrate its 80th Anniversary season, VSO has commissioned seven Vermont composers to write fanfares lasting 80 seconds which will open each of the full orchestra concerts. Completing the program for “Paris in the Spring,” VSO will perform the world premiere of Fanfare in B-flat by Erik Nielsen, a composer from Brookfield, Vt.

Guest artist William Short was appointed principal bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, having won the position two years ago fresh out of music school. He previously served in the same capacity with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and has also performed with the Houston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra.

He received his Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Daniel Matsukawa, for whom Ludwig's “Pictures from the Floating World” was written.

Composer David Ludwig's music has been performed internationally by leading musicians in some of the world's most prestigious locations. NPR Music listed him as one of the Top 100 Composers Under Forty in the world in 2011. Born in Bucks County, Pa., Ludwig comes from several generations of eminent musicians. His grandfather was the pianist Rudolf Serkin and his great-grandfather, violinist Adolf Busch.

“I am related to the Serkins on my mother's side,” says Ludwig. “In some ways I am lucky that my last name isn't Serkin. I probably avoided a lot of pressure I might have felt from the outside, otherwise.”

Ludwig is on the composition faculty of the Curtis Institute, where he serves as the Artistic Chair of Performance and as the director of the Curtis 20/21 Contemporary Music Ensemble. He was the Young Composer in residence at the Marlboro Music School for three consecutive years.

After a three-year residency with the Vermont Symphony, funded by Meet the Composer, he is now the permanent new music advisor for the orchestra.

“When I tell people I am the new music advisor to VSO, they are invariably confused,” says Ludwig. People are unsure whether he is the new (as in he just got the job) music advisor, or the advisor for VSO on new music. “I have had the role since 2008 when my position as composer in residence ended, so the job is hardly new. I now work with VSO to develop projects with new music.”

Where does he find interesting and exciting music written today?

“I wear a lot of hats,” he says. “I teach a lot at Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where I also direct a new music ensemble. Through that you get to know a lot of folks who are writing music.”

He also discovers new music through something as mundane as social media.

“Many composers, even well established ones, share their work through places like Facebook, and I stumbled on some incredible things,” he says.

Ludwig's “Pictures from the Floating World” (2013) was commissioned for solo bassoon and orchestra for Daniel Matsukawa and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Ludwig says that in composing “Pictures from the Floating World,” he wanted to use the bassoon in a concerto differently from the showy fashion it is traditionally used, such as in “The Sorcerer's Apprentice.” Disney famously animated this piece in Fantasia where Mickey Mouse played the apprentice hectically running around with a broom to accompaniment of a bassoon.

“Danny Matsukawa and I have talked about this piece for a long while,” Ludwig writes at his website “If I think about it, he's been asking me for a piece since we first met at Marlboro in the late 90s. Danny asked me to write a bassoon concerto that captures the silvery lyrical tone of the instrument (and avoids the Mickey vs. The Brooms effect).

“Danny wanted music that lived in melodies, that brought forward the beautiful flowing bassoon lines that so many composers of past centuries have fallen in love with and wrote into their music.”

This led Ludwig to start thinking about the idea of floating lines.

“This led led to thoughts of water, which led to floating, which led to thoughts of the Japanese art tradition of Ukiyo-e printmaking (the “floating world” of our everyday life), which led me to think of Debussy who became obsessed with Japanese prints that he saw at the World Exhibition of 1881,” writes Ludwig.

“Pictures from the Floating World” has five movements, each taken from the title of one of Debussy's “Water Pieces.”

Ludwig used Debussy as model so he could emphasize the lyric and sung beauty of the bassoon.

“This piece is different than some other bassoon concertos, but I mean different in a good way. I wanted to emphasize the lyrical and melodic quality of the instrument that is so beautiful, it's very close to the human voice.

“Before I wrote that piece, I never realized what the bassoon was capable of,” Ludwig told The Commons. “I quote Debussy throughout the piece, as I explore Debussy's quiet relationship to Japanese art.”

Ludwig is eager to hear how Short plays the piece. Short had been his student at Curtis Institute of Music, and together they had toured the country as part of Curtis on Tour.

“I have collaborated with Billy a lot and he is incredibly talented,” says Ludwig. “But also, I am curious to see how 'Pictures from the Floating World' is performed by someone besides the guy for whom it was written.”

VSO again this year will collect food items at its concerts as part of the national “Orchestras Feeding America” project. Audience members and the public may bring a nonperishable food item to the concert.

The project is also accepting cash donations. All food and cash contributions collected will be donated directly to the local branch of the Vermont Foodbank and the donors will receive “Classical Cash,” good for a discount on a future VSO ticket purchase.

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