Thursday November 15, 2012

"It is not that the Englishman can’t feel -- it is that he is afraid to feel. He has been taught at his public school that feeling is bad form. He must not express great joy or sorrow or even open his mouth too wide when he talks." -- E.M. Forster

"Rubbish!" -- Hugh Keelan

BRATTLEBORO -- To counter sentiments like Forster’s, Keelan has summoned powerful allies -- the whole Windham Orchestra and two top-notch soloists -- whom he will conduct in a concert that aims to put Forster to shame at time same time it entertains you.

One of Bratt’s well-known Brits, Keelan has assembled a program of music by British composers who will make a liar out of E.M. Forster. If your idea of Brits is embodied in the politely stoic slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On" this concert begs you to reconsider.

"This music reveals that they’re actually not ‘stiff upper lip.’ The emotion is very close to the surface. They have an extraordinary variety. The content and the meaning of the music is so easily transmitted," explained Keelan.

"British Jubilee," the opening concert of the Windham Orchestra’s 2012-13, will be performed on Friday at 7:30 p.m., at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, and Sunday at 3 p.m., in Brattleboro’s Latchis Theater.

Sir Edward Elgar’s "Enigma" Variations takes center stage, with support from Frederick Delius’ "Irmelin Prelude" and Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

Admission to the concerts? Well, that’s up to you. As part of its mission to make music accessible to all, the Windham Orchestra is offering admission to "British Jubilee" by donation.

"We wanted to throw ourselves at the mercy of the people we serve and ask them to valuate what we do. It’s asking people to consider what value we are to the community," said Keelan.

In addition, there will be an opportunity for concertgoers to make a donation to the Red Cross to support recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy.

And, for an added "Brit" flavor, there will be a "Brits in Bratt" raffle for a chance to win a basket of British goods. There will also be a chance to sing "God Save the Queen."

The music

Elgar’s "Enigma" is much more than a work of musical cryptography. It is a set of portraits of friends, family and self. For musicologists, historians and other sleuths, the guessing games and layers of puzzle are fascinating, but what puts this work at the top of the orchestral repertoire is how warm and revealing the music is of these personalities close to Elgar. It is 15 character studies about love.

A national figurehead of late Victorian and Edwardian England, Elgar composed during the heyday of the British Empire, often writing for royalty and capturing somehow, the national essence. The "Enigma" Variations and "Pomp and Circumstance" are the best-known of his works.

"He caught, and was recognized as having caught, something quintessentially English," said Keelan, who describes Elgar as "a craftsman comparable to Brahms."

Delius was a contemporary of Elgar’s, but very different. He spent some of his childhood in the American South and was influenced by African-American music. He spent much of the rest of his life on the European continent. Yet his music "doesn’t say good-bye to England at all," said Keelan. "It’s got this sentimental dramatic language."

The Windham Orchestra will play an orchestral Prelude based on Delius’ opera "Irmelin." Keelan describes his rarely heard piece as "a total gem" and "a tear-jerker," expressive of love and loss, sadness and blissful memory entwined together.

Britten’s "Serenade" for tenor voice, French horn and string orchestra with soloists James Anderson and Victoria Eisen, tells of the many moods of the night: weary, fantastical, bathed in moonlight, erotic, nightmarish, gentle -- six nocturnal studies expressed in music and English poetry across 600 years.

"It’s a real masterpiece," said Keelan.

Tenor soloist Anderson has enjoyed a career of constant demand in opera houses and concert halls throughout Europe, the United States, South America and Africa. As a member of the ensemble at German opera companies in Duesseldorf, Kassel and Munich, Anderson has sung more than 150 leading roles.

Recently Anderson has recorded Russian opera with Maestro Rostropovich and earned a Grammy nomination for a recording of early Verdi arias. He is seen in Zubin Mehta’s film rendition of Wagner’s "Tannhauser" and recently returned to France for performances of Wagner’s "Die Meistersinger."

In 2004, Anderson returned to the U.S., and now resides with his family in Brattleboro. Locally he was the stage director for the recent production of Puccini’s "Suor Angelica" and sang in Mahler’s "Das Lied von der Erde" and the Windham Orchestra’s Beethoven’s Ninth. In addition to teaching singing, he enjoys lecturing on opera for the Live in HD Met performances at the Latchis Theatre.

Eisen has held long-term principal horn positions with the Stamford Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of New York and Solisti New York. She has also made frequent appearances with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera and in numerous Broadway productions.

Eisen is the founder and artistic director of Unity Hills Arts Centers International, a charitable aid organization whose primary aim is to bring the arts of all cultures to underserved communities across the world. She resides in New York City, Vermont and Copenhagen (Denmark).

For advance tickets, call the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523 or visit bmcvt.org. For more information, visit windhamorchestra.org.