Concert explores 'Music and Life'

BRATTLEBORO — My mother loves to cook. Personally, I'd rather have my liver removed with a dull butter knife than enter the kitchen, but I've always been amazed by her ability — and her joy in the ability — to combine foods and flavors into a whole meal that tantalizes not merely the mouth, but the whole body. For me, the problem lies in just this process of gastronomic combination. As a composer the process makes sense to me — to some degree — in the realm of sound, but in the kitchen I am not merely baffled but extremely annoyed.

The French term for a conductor is chef d'orchestre, and with some liberty I want to concentrate on the term chef, which actually has the military sense of 'chief'. In the kitchen, this chief is of course responsible for all of the gastronomic blending that must take place. The same, in the realm of sound, is true of the conductor — s/he must not so much combine individual flavors perhaps, but absolutely must put together a satisfying meal, comprised of courses, in which each course reflects upon the others in a meaningful way. This is no small task. I myself did it once, and came up with a musical meal that made an abstract point, but one which also left listeners (so I was told) starving for something well pleasant .

Hugh Keelan, the chef d'orchestre of the Windham Orchestra, has a particular talent for not only literally directing his players, but also for picking various courses (read, pieces of music) that delight, nourish, educate, and as a whole work together to present a musical meal of great substance. This Sunday's concert will be no exception, and his ingredients, as it were, are magnificent and will doubtless combine to present — and please pardon the cliche — a feast.

As someone who likes variety, the Windham Orchestra concerts cannot be beat. Sunday's concert will present a meal in which the individual tries to hold their own against a hostile group and is also a critical examination of warfare. The theme is ancient, as the inclusion of Haydn's "Military Symphony," the Symphony No. 100 — completed in 1793 or 94 — would indicate. This work will stand as traditional in the concert insofar as it delightfully employs familiar Euro-American symphonic form, proportions, and instrumental combinations, and it functions, perhaps, as a yardstick against which other works on the concert can be viewed.

The other compositions are not often grouped together, and will, I think, present a wonderful contrast to the Haydn. I am personally delighted that these works were written in the course of the last century, and thus Maestro Keelan's "meal" demonstrates a certain delicious continuity wherein the music presented works to provide a contrast to the norms presented by Haydn (and others not on the program). Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" is a ballet score written in the 1940s for the great dancer Martha Graham, and thus its form, proportions and instrumentation differ markedly from the Haydn symphony. Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes from 'Peter Grimes'," remarkable for their emotional wildness and use of sonic color, present a form of battle wherein a lonely and tortured character tries — and ultimately fails — to fit into life in a small community on the coast of Britain. It is an extremely ambitious program, one that promises to create a full, rich and delectable musical meal.

One other interesting aspect of Maestro Keelan's stewardship of the Windham Orchestra is feedback — the people who run the orchestra really want to know how you, as an audience member, experienced the performance. For those of you who do not regularly attend art-music concerts, you should know that the surveys that the orchestra passes around represent a very unusual move, one akin to having the chef come out from the kitchen to inquire about your impressions of the meal.

So, should you find yourself looking for an early dinner on Sunday afternoon, do yourself a favor and attend the Windham Orchestra concert. You will not be presented with yet another boiled dinner that uses only salt and perhaps pepper for spices, but neither will you be forced to consume small, indefinable, and gelatinous squares of ingredients which should never be combined. What you will find will delight and expand, which is just what any marvelous and memorable meal ought to do.

The "Music and Life" concert will be held on Sunday, at 3 p.m., at the Latchis Theatre, 50 Main St., Brattleboro. The cost of admission is a donation of any amount. For more information, visit


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