Vermont Symphony Orchestra

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Guest Conductor Christopher James Lees

Interview with Christopher James Lees

VSO Executive Director Ben Cadwallader recently spoke with Christopher James Lees about the 2017 TD Bank Summer Festival Tour. Before we asked Lees our crowd-sourced questions, he wanted to express his excitement about this year’s program:

I couldn’t be more excited to conduct the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 TD Bank Summer Festival Tour. This is a program that celebrates our nation’s rich cultural history beyond just the moments that we all expect. The artists and I are thrilled to share this picnic-perfect evening for our country’s birthday.

For some of our Summer Tour audience members, this is their first experience with live, classical music. What would you say to someone who has never been to a classical music performance before?

I would take it out a step further and say: if you have heard classical music before or if you’ve never heard classical music, these are programs that you won’t want to miss, because the orchestra has a remarkable sense of power and expression. They bring an intense energy to the stage that one will hear and never be able to forget.

You are responsible for programming the actual pieces that we will hear this summer. What is that process like?

In putting together a program, some conductors will say that is it like putting a great meal together, where you want to have a balanced course from every area. We have the Star Spangled Banner, John Philip Sousa, and these great pieces by immigrant composers.

I think of it slightly differently, which is not just the consumption of the music as a listener. You want to put composers next to each other like guests at a dinner table. Each has something interesting to say to the other about this same period of time and life: in this circumstance, the experience of coming to America.

Favorite piece on the program: impossible to ask but pick one.

At this moment I am most excited about the world premiere of Speak by Syrian composer Kinan Abou-afach.

Tell us about this piece.

Speak was originally written for a small chamber group of Syrian instruments and western instruments. This is the premiere of the orchestral version that the composer arranged for us.

It starts with an improvisatory, atmospheric feeling, with these great Syrian and Middle Eastern harmonies and melodies that then erupt into a force of driving energy. It is like an enormous dance for the next four minutes. The energy doesn’t let up, and you feel completely propelled by the power of the piece.

Why did he call it Speak?

In our correspondence, Kinan said: “At this point in history, it is really important that not only do we listen but people whose voices need to be heard have the opportunity to speak.”

If you were picnicking at tonight’s concert, what dish would you bring?

For this concert, I would not forget the pasta salad…because out of many ingredients comes one great salad.

What are you most looking forward to for your first trip to Vermont?

When I think about Vermont, I think about natural beauty. I think about the beautiful, rustic elements of the great parks; these amazing forests, and how that translates into the honesty of the people. That kind of forward thinking, yet quite grounded in our nation’s natural resources, is a remarkable blend. I can’t wait to get there.

What is one thing that you want to eat?

Local cheddar cheese!

Very good, we would have also accepted maple syrup or Trapp Lager.

Those too! I love IPA – double or triple if you have it. For maple syrup…my son loves to paint with it!

Hello Vermont

Watch a short “Hello Vermont” message from Christopher.

Join us for the 2017 TD Bank Summer Festival Tour

Locations and ticket information are available on our events page.