Where We’ve Been
In 1934, a group of musical enthusiasts meeting in Woodstock convinced each other that they could assemble the necessary musical and financial resources from across Vermont to create a statewide orchestra. At their center was a young conductor named Alan Carter, fresh from musical studies abroad, and eager to lead the effort. In the fall of 1934, Carter began to gather the scattered musical forces of this rural state to try to fulfill that dream.
Right from the start, the VSO was extraordinary. Whereas most other orchestras originate in a single city, performing there in one concert hall and touring occasionally, the VSO dedicated itself to traveling to any gymnasium, armory, racetrack, or hillside where an audience could be found. The musicians, whose numbers included barbers, lawyers, mail carriers, doctors, and farmers, came from all across the state. Before the advent of modern highways, this represented a major commitment. The highlights of those early years included an invitation in 1939 to perform at the New York World’s Fair, and the founding of a contemporary composers’ conference.
In observance of its fiftieth birthday, the VSO and its second music director, Efrain Guigui, envisioned a journey which would literally realize Carter’s dream. To commemorate a half-century of music-making, to recognize that the VSO was the first state-supported orchestra in the nation, and to dramatize the fact that the VSO does belong to all of the people of Vermont, the Orchestra held musical birthday parties in every one of the state’s 251 towns between 1984 and 1986 The “251 Project,” as it became known, brought the VSO to town halls, churches, parks, and schools in every corner of the state. The response was overwhelming. In addition to bringing joy to the audiences and musicians who participated, the VSO story was told in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, on NBC’s Nightly News and CBS’s Sunday Morning, over NPR’s All Things Considered, and on the overseas network of Voice of America.
The appointment of Kate Tamarkin as the VSO’s third music director in 1991 represented another important milestone. Public acclaim for her work was excellent, and audiences responded by attending concerts in record numbers. Each of her performances was an exciting event. She was also responsible for the formation of the VSO’s acclaimed statewide volunteer chorus.
In 2000, Jaime Laredo was named Music Director. Laredo is known worldwide in the multiple roles of violinist, conductor, recitalist and chamber musician. He and his wife Sharon Robinson, who make their home in Guilford, Vermont, have appeared with the VSO on a regular basis since the 1991/92 season.
While the Orchestra has grown over the years, its basic philosophy and much about its operation have remained the same. The steps taken by a farsighted Vermont legislature of 1939 (to provide $1,000 for the performance at the New York World’s Fair), have been followed by subsequent lawmakers, so that today the legislature continues to be a major source of funding. Volunteer committees are still crucial to the symphony’s existence: as in the past, they generate enthusiasm and awareness, sell tickets and raise funds, accommodate musicians in private homes, and are integral to the overall production of concerts in every community. The musicians still travel many hours, often in bad weather, to get to rehearsals and concerts.
At the same time, the organization’s impact on the people of Vermont is greater than ever before. This season, the VSO performed 39 concerts in 27 communities around Vermont. The VSO’s SymphonyKids educational programs reached over 26,000 school children in 278 presentations, serving 175 schools in 141 towns. The Orchestra’s season begins with the annual Made in Vermont Statewide Tour, which brings a chamber orchestra to smaller venues around the state during peak foliage. A five-concert subscription series takes place at the Flynn Center in Burlington and a three-concert subscription series takes place at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland between October and May. The VSO tours the state with a summer festival late June through early July, accompanying family picnics in many of Vermont’s most beautiful outdoor settings.
It is the wide geographic distribution of these performances which best tells the story of the VSO. Since the beginning, the Orchestra has shuttled from town to town, overcoming geography with such energy and persistence that it has earned a national reputation. The VSO is a unique shared resource among America’s orchestras, belonging to the communities it serves.