Thursday May 16, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- I thought the Windham Orchestra was presenting its season finale concerts tonight and Sunday, but it appears I was mistaken.

"We have a new orchestra," said Maestro Hugh Keelan in a sweeping declaration.

Turns out, it is, actually, the Windham Orchestra, but a more robust, dare I say, buff version, ready to flex the muscles it has developed in six months of arm wrestling with two titanic Beethoven compositions.

"The time was right for a big dollop of Beethoven," said Keelan. It was up to the orchestra to "really, really develop the muscle and the authority to do it."

They have, said Keelan, and are ready to show you.

The Windham Orchestra presents "Beethoven in Vermont" tonight at 7:30 p.m., at The Putney School in Putney, and Sunday at 3 p.m., at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro.

Direction by Keelan, the orchestra performs works both old and new, as Beethoven’s works are joined by the premiere of local composer James Adams’ Concertino for Tuba.

Central to the program are Beethoven’s "Egmont Overture," in which a slow, dour introduction climbs inexorably to blazing victory; and "Symphony No. 7," one of the most powerful and enduring masterpieces in any artistic medium, and a work Beethoven himself held in exceptionally high regard.

"It’s a thrill. I love these works from the bottom of my heart," said Keelan. "Both of these works are extraordinary ensemble pieces.


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They live in unrelenting intensity."

The Windham Orchestra will also give the first performance of a brief Prelude written when Beethoven was 19, orchestrated by Keelan.

The prelude was written by a young Beethoven probably as a keyboard exercise. It is little-known and barely resembles the monumental works that are also on the program, but it offers a glimpse at another side of Beethoven’s genius.

"It’s just intriguing. I kind of wanted to bring it life," said Keelan, who arranged the piece specifically for the Windham Orchestra.

Enough about that Beethoven guy; let’s talk about James Adams.

A resident of Chester, Adams composed the Concertino for Tuba for fellow Chester resident and tuba soloist Sue Lemei. The Windham Orchestra is giving the piece its premiere.

"He’s an accomplished composer," said Keelan. "It’s a highly evolved, well-organized, imaginative, really bewitching composition. It handles mood and shape really well."

The piece explores and expands the range of the tuba. A little bit of the instrument’s goofy side comes out; but its lyrical, dramatic and dreamlike sides are also there.

On why he chose to compose a concerto for tuba Adams says "One reason is to write music for friends to enjoy. Another is that the tuba has more need of repertory than most instruments. Most musicians who are able to name a tuba concerto at all will only know the one composed by Vaughan-Williams. The tuba is the last instrument to join the orchestra, having only been invented in the mid-19th century."

Adams holds a bachelor of music in performance in oboe from DePauw University, a master’s of music in composition from the University of Redlands where he studied with Barney Childs, and a doctor of musical arts degree in composition from The University of Texas at Austin. Other training has included master classes with John McCabe and Aaron Copland, among others.

Adams has composed numerous pieces for a wide variety of ensembles including music for the theater, in particular scores for productions of Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing" and "All’s Well That Ends Well." His compositions have had numerous performances across the country including performances by leading interpreters such as soprano Bethany Beardslee and percussionist Thomas Siwe.

Lemei holds a master’s degree in music history and criticism from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She was a member of the Imperial Brass Quintet and was also in demand as a freelance player. In 1991 she "retired" from the musical scene to pursue her studies at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, receiving her MD degree in 1995. 

Upon arriving in Vermont in 2004, she resumed her musical interests and is now the principal tubist for the Windham Orchestra, Keene Chamber Orchestra and the Brattleboro American Legion Band. She performs regularly in the area as a member of the Monadnock Brass Quintet.

Lemei lives in Andover and maintains a private medical practice in Chester. Later this year, she will celebrate 10 years of breast cancer survivorship.

Tickets are $15 general, $10 students and seniors, and are available by calling the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523 or www.bmcvt.org.