Eighty-seven years ago, a group of music enthusiasts meeting in Woodstock convinced each other that they could create a statewide orchestra. At their center was a young conductor named Alan Carter, fresh from musical studies abroad. In the fall of 1934, Carter began to gather the scattered musical forces of this rural state to try to fulfill that dream. After a period of separate north and south rehearsals, the musicians came together in January of 1936 to present the fledgling orchestra’s first public concert.
Whereas most orchestras originate in a single city, performing there in one hall and touring occasionally, the VSO was dedicated 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, hailed from all across the state. Before the advent of modern highways, this represented a major commitment.
In observance of our 50th birthday, the “251 Project” held musical celebrations (with birthday cake!) in every one of the state’s 251 towns between 1984 and 1986. This story was told in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, on NBC Nightly News, CBS Sunday Morning, and NPR All Things Considered.
The appointment of Kate Tamarkin as the VSO’s third music director in 1991 represented another important milestone. Public acclaim was excellent and audiences turned out in record numbers. Along with renowned choral director Robert De Cormier, Tamarkin founded the VSO’s statewide volunteer chorus, which De Cormier led for 20 years.
In 2000, Jaime Laredo was named Music Director. Laredo has seen the orchestra through a period of exponential growth, gaining rave reviews from critics, and attracting internationally-renowned guest artists. After 20 years at the helm, Laredo stepped down in spring 2021. The search to hire his replacement will take place over a two-year period.
The steps taken by a farsighted Vermont legislature in 1939 to provide $1,000 to send the VSO to the New York World’s Fair have been followed by subsequent lawmakers, so that today the State continues to be a major source of support. Volunteer committees are still crucial to our existence: as in the past, they generate enthusiasm and awareness, sell tickets and raise funds, host musicians, and help with concert production in their communities.
Each year, the VSO performs dozens of small and large concerts around Vermont, and our SymphonyKids educational programs reach thousands of school children. Subscription series, our core offerings, take place at The Flynn in Burlington and the Paramount Theatre in Rutland. In December, we present a holiday pops tour, a tour with our brass quintet and the Counterpoint chorus, and “Burlington Does Broadway” on New Year’s Eve. Jukebox quartet concerts provide informal, non-traditional programs designed to break down preconceptions about classical music. The Summer Festival Tour brings us to Vermont’s most beautiful outdoor settings for picnicking and fireworks.
It is the wide geographic distribution of these performances which best tells the story of the VSO. For 87 years, the orchestra has shuttled from town to town, overcoming obstacles with such energy and persistence that we have earned a national reputation. Vermont is truly fortunate to have an ensemble of this caliber dedicated to serving a broad and diverse public and enriching lives through music.