CASTLETON — The loudest response the Vermont Symphony Orchestra has received in memory greeted the opening concert of its annual Made in Vermont tour Thursday at Castleton University’s Fine Arts Center. The capacity audience, largely students, roared its approval with shrieks, yells and whistles as well as traditional applause.
Violinist-conductor Soovin Kim and 29 VSO instrumentalists had just delivered a program largely of traditional classics that will be heard at six locations across the state. Not so traditional, the VSO commissions a new work by a Vermont composer each year to premiere on the tour. For the second year, it has been in collaboration with the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival.
University of Vermont composer Matthew LaRocca composed a compelling score for Robin Starbuck’s short but touching film “How We See Water.” Filmed in Chiapis, the poorest of Mexico’s 31 states, the video mixes scenes of humanity, nature, animation and printed poetry forming a collage portrait. There is delight, drama, darkness and sweetness, in short, a sympathetic vision.
LaRocca’s score creates more than a backdrop to the film, becoming a seemingly essential part of the experience. The writing is largely tonal and traditional, but imaginatively uses unexpected effects and sounds to accentuate parts. Ranging from tenderness to drama, and everything in between, the short score has all the richness of a major film soundtrack.
Perhaps most musically rewarding was a really classy performance of Mozart’s not-often-heard Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat, K. 207. This is an unpretentiously brilliant piece, full of spirit and lyrical beauty. Kim was the able soloist, delivering its exacting rhythms with incisiveness and singling lines with a silky sound, passion and depth, for a performance that was both compelling and elegant.
Elegant, too, was the orchestra’s performance, despite a minimum of rehearsal time. The strings in particular mirrored Kim’s spirit and nuances for a truly joyful Mozart experience.
Haydn’s six-movement Symphony No. 60 is titled “Il Distratto,” or “The Distracted,” and is filled with unexpected moments and silly sounds. While Friday’s performance of Haydn wasn’t as precise as the Mozart, it was spirited and fun and engendered an enthusiastic response from the audience.
The concert closed with Brahms’ rousing Hungarian Dance No. 1, full of familiar melodies. The VSO enjoyed itself thoroughly, as did the audience, and offered Kim an opportunity for some bravura violin.
The VSO’s Made in Vermont may be classical-lite, but the music was glorious.