Under the direction of Maestro Hugh Keelan, “Psalms & Fireworks” takes musicians, singers, and audience members on an extraordinary musical journey that begins with Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” for strings, Mozart’s passionate “Susanna’s Aria” from “The Marriage of Figaro,” and Handel’s rousing “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” The concert draws to a dramatic close with a powerful performance of Stravinsky’s masterpiece “Symphony of Psalms” during which the orchestra is joined by the combined forces of the Bellows Falls, Brattleboro, Leland & Gray, and Twin Valley High School choruses.
The string section of the orchestra opens the performance with Grieg’s “Holberg Suite,” an imaginary dance suite evoking the mid-1700s from the point of view of a 19th-century Romantic nationalist. The music is alternately vigorous, charming and warmly expressive. The orchestra is pleased to have this opportunity to highlight the strings as an independent ensemble in a program that otherwise explores a predominantly wind-and-brass sound-world across 300 years.
Taking center stage next is Brattleboro Union High School senior Aurora Phillips singing Mozart’s “Susanna’s Aria” from “The Marriage of Figaro.” To the accompaniment of strings, obbligato flute, oboe, and bassoon, Susanna teases Figaro on their wedding night. Although intended as a trick, threatening betrayal, the aria reads as an expression of love for Figaro, of heartrending simplicity and directness.
Phillips has studied voice at the Brattleboro Music Center with Kristen Carmichael-Bowers for six years, has performed in plays at the New England Youth Theatre, and sung in the BUHS chorus, madrigals, jazz band, and a student-run a cappella group Renegade. She will be attending Tufts University in the fall.
At this point in the concert, the strings are now joined en masse by the wind section for Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks” – a work of triumph, celebration, and peace from 1749. The countless ambiguities in Handel’s writing provide a great degree of freedom and opportunity for performance and modern arrangement. Keelan has prepared a performing edition for the Windham Orchestra, which brings the piece alive. Fireworks displays, regal affront, public debacle, international incident, warfare, and drama are all suggested in this magnificent work of martial glory and ensuing peace.
For the final piece in the program, the wind, brass, and massed choral forces take over for Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms,” written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1930. This work is direct and powerful, covering a range between dramatically vivid and ecstatically poised; it is a cavernous cathedral of sound and contemplation with deep invisible recesses where we are finally left with elevation and an awareness of eternity.
For this performance of “Symphony of Psalms,” the Windham Orchestra will be joined by the Bellows Falls Union High School chorus, directed by Mary Westbrook-Geha; Brattleboro Union High School chorus, directed by Patty Meyer; Leland & Gray Union High School chorus, directed by Ron Kelley; and Twin Valley High School chorus, directed by Sue Maddern.
This project is supported in part by the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. “Psalms & Fireworks” will be performed on Friday, January 25, 7:30 pm, at Bellows Falls Union High School and Sunday, January 27, 3 pm, at Brattleboro Union High School. To purchase tickets ($15, $10 seniors & students) call the Brattleboro Music Center at (802) 257-4523, or visit www.bmcvt.org.