'Saxtons River Suite' makes its world premiere at Main Street Arts

SAXTONS RIVER — On Saturday, Nov. 7, and Sunday, Nov. 8, Main Street Arts (MSA) hosts the world premiere of the “Saxtons River Suite,” composed by Carol Wood and performed by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Ensemble and the Counterpoint Chorus.

The suite and the art curtains it inspired will be the center of a musical and visual tribute celebrating this 500-person village, its seasons, and the beauty of the region throughout the year.

The Nov. 7 premiere performance will be part of a fundraising gala at 7 p.m., with community matinee performances on Nov. 8 at 2 and 4:30 p.m.

According to the U.S. Census, the Village of Saxtons River has only 545 residents but while the village may be small, it includes a number of nationally significant artists, designers, poets, and composers.

Much of that talent will be on display at Main Street Arts in a long-anticipated multimedia celebration centered on the first public performance of composer Carol Wood's “Saxtons River Suite.”

That original musical work for chorus and orchestra will be accompanied by the art it has already inspired - a series of large scale “art curtain” paintings by area artists with national reputations.

Members of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Counterpoint Chorus will perform “The Suite” in the Heptebo Theater at Main Street Arts' newly renovated headquarters, the village's historic Odd Fellows Hall.

Wood is best known as a composer of melodic interpretations of poetry ranging from Chaucer and Donne to Yeats and the Modernists. The Saxtons River Suite is a work for harp, flute, violin, cello, and voices and is set to five poems by Vermont poets; one for each season of the Vermont year (including mud season).

Vocal coach and choral director Kristen Carmichael-Bowers has said, “The 'Saxtons River Suite' moves the soul. Deeply evocative, and replete with a mindful lyricism, Carol Wood's music honors poetic text with a lush but honest specificity. I can think of no composer better suited to 'painting' the year-round beauty of the Village of Saxtons River.”

While the work was in development, Wood's composition caught the attention of Main Street Arts Board members including international landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy.

Messervy, another Rockingham resident, had created Toronto's Music Garden, a design inspired by and developed in collaboration with noted cellist Yo-Yo Ma. She and the MSA board both agreed that Wood's work deserved their support and that it could inspire additional creative work celebrating the region and its artistic community.

Since its founding 27 years ago as a community-minded arts, music, and theater education and outreach center, MSA has become known for the world's largest collection of historic painted theater curtains by Charles Henry, the preeminent scenic artist in pre-World War I New England.

Popular with audiences and performers alike, these curtains have remained in regular use to today. Wood's composition gave MSA board members an idea. They contacted five of the country's artists with Saxtons River roots. Then they commissioned another round of new works asking Donald Saaf, Eric Aho, Charlie Hunter, Julia Zanes, and Michele Ratté to step out of their comfort zones.

Each artist would paint an 18-foot long original art work that could be used just like the original theater curtains. Each painting was inspired by a different one of the “Saxtons River Suite's” seasons.

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