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Opera music

BRATTLEBORO — In 2020, more than half a century since the founding of the Windham Orchestra at the now defunct Windham College (now the Landmark campus) in Putney, the organization separated from its long-standing parent entity, the Brattleboro Music Center (BMC).

And, after the darkness imposed by the pandemic, with a debut gig last month, it reappeared in the local music world as the Windham Philharmonic.

Since 2010 the group has been led by Hugh Keelan, who has introduced stage performances of opera such as Cavalry Rusticana, Pagliacci, Il Trovatore, Tosca, and Turandot at the Latchis Theater, where the Philharmonic Orchestra is producing a concert series through donations as part of its 2021-22 season.

Now the regular home of the orchestra, the Latchis, especially its executive director Jon Potter, have particularly encouraged and supported him and the ensemble, Keelan said.

At the first concert, “there were many familiar faces, supporters of the old Windham Orchestra who were clearly found to support the ambitions and new direction of the Philharmonic,” says Keelan.

This direction, he explains, and the movement toward establishing his own nonprofit, has been fueled by the desire to pursue “a scale of operations that is massively more non-traditional” than is commonly known. had planned before.

Thus, the new website of the Windham Philharmonic boldly establishes its vision, while expressing its deep gratitude to its ancestors.

The journey was not smooth. About three years ago, the Windham Orchestra was forced to fire one of its musicians – retired oboist, composer and teacher Zeke Hecker, whose inappropriate behavior has come to light in recent months. Amid allegations of such misconduct years earlier, Hecker was fired from the Windham Orchestra, and it was firmly and universally agreed by both the Windham Orchestra and its sponsor, the BMC, that he would not be more involved in the musical productions of both entities. .

Hecker’s wife Linda Hecker was president of the new Windham Philharmonic when she was dismissed following the report published in The cities [“No more secrecy,” Voices, Aug. 11]. Keelan notes what he described as an unfortunate freak incident that involved an open call for musicians to join an open public participation opportunity with the new nonprofit. Zeke Hecker introduced himself and was allowed to stay during the session. He was not asked to come back; neither will it be, Keelan assures us.

But despite the associations of the organization that some in the community perceive as painful, is it possible for the Philharmonie to also play a role in the development of the community through this pain?

The organization, says Keelan, “does what art does well: it not only reflects the mores and societal struggles of its time, but it also strives for healing.

The Windham Philharmonic’s concert program choices reflect a need for healing – in our community and beyond – featuring works well outside the classical canon: one major work by an African-American composer and another by a Chickasaw musician and composer.

“We aim to provide a voice,” Keelan explains – “a voice for expression, a way to deal with complex matters, a vehicle through which to examine the basics of good and evil.”

“By conversing through art, sharing and listening, we can examine human fundamentals – tribal conflict, interpersonal conflict, love, death, ways of life,” he adds.

“We are committed to transforming ourselves and becoming influential, necessary, a space of great pleasure, fulfillment and artistry,” Keelan writes in a vision that clearly comes from his guts.

“Right now, the Windham Philharmonic is reformulating, reinventing and seeking out how to be of service to this bubbling and bubbling world as we maintain the physical distance which is currently the vital contribution we can make,” continues the organization.

“Here are our values ​​in this time of emergence: We are committed to love and acceptance, beauty and service. We are committed to being musicians who can hear what’s really going on.

A worldly journey to Brattleboro

Born in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, Keelan, 63, began his life in music at the age of 8, playing the piano. He then established himself as a violist before embarking on a career as a conductor.

After studying music at the University of Cambridge, he was awarded the coveted Harkness Fellowship to study conducting at Indiana University and the Mannes School of Music. Remaining in New York for private studies, he worked with the American Opera Center of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music.

He has conducted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, La Fenice in Venice, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and The Hague Residential Orchestra, among others. In opera (Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and Metropolitan Opera), Keelan has worked with such luminaries as Sirs Georg Solti, Bernard Haitink, Colin Davis and Peter Hall, as well as with Andrei Șerban, Maurice Sendak and Tom Stoppard.

With concerts around the world, Keelan had settled in Brooklyn from where he moved to Brattleboro in 1995: he and his wife at the time had a little boy they wanted to raise among the trees, in the mountains. .

Since then he has taught and conducted in the region and helped shape the progress of the Southeast Vermont Principal Orchestra.

‘Trumpet and drums and wonder’

An eternal non-traditionalist, Keelan has over the years immersed himself in a multitude of unconventional, innovative, inventive and collaborative orchestral productions.

He says that in all of his work he has sought to dissolve the hard lines that tend to separate the amateur and the professional, something that he and the board of directors of the Windham Philharmonic intend to pursue.

“We wanted to be of service to the community as a whole, make ourselves essential to the community at large,” and attract a wide range of audiences and musicians, says Keelan.

“Agility and scale matter,” adds Caroline Cole, trombonist and member of the board of directors of the Philharmonic Orchestra. “We want to expand our capacity to make other partnerships in a more agile way”, to break the mold in which symphonic music tends to pile up.

“We want to listen to what’s being expressed,” Keelan said, saying “it’s toxic to be exclusive”.

“We build our mission from this wish,” adds Cole.

Originally from northern Vermont, Cole earned a master’s degree from the Boston Conservatory and ended up in Brattleboro to pursue circus arts. She now focuses on music.

“I want to be part of the Philharmonic Orchestra’s values ​​reality – creating a place where people feel like they belong,” she adds.

This was the inaugural concert of the Windham Philharmonic in November. “Trumpet and drums and wonder. How touching in every way, ”Keelan recalls. “We had a superlative turnout given the pandemic. “

The donations revealed the public’s appreciation, he added.

The Philharmonic Orchestra is now preparing for Monday, December 6 an evening featuring “The Oak”, a work by African-American composer Florence Price.

This play was not released during Price’s lifetime and only started performing recently. Eric Thomas, Music Director of the Putney School, will be a special guest of the program. A man of color with a deep musical education, he will offer a look at Price’s life and a commentary on his work.

The program will be completed by the Contrapunctus III by JS Bach from The art of running away and Sonata no. 18 by Giovanni Gabrieli.

After the concert, some programs are currently in preparation, including a collaboration with an artistic entity in Wilmington.

Then, in February, the ensemble performed “Ghost of the White Deer” by Jerod Impichcha̱achaaha ‘Tate, a narrative orchestral piece based on the tradition of the Chickasaw people of Oklahoma, with bassoon soloist Diane Lipartito.

“It goes further”

When asked about the ever-growing age of the symphonic audience and the seemingly slim number of young people there, Keelan gets a little fiery.

“People have always worried about this problem,” he says, but what such music offers “meets a deep human need”.

“It’s not entertainment; it goes further, ”Keelan continues. “A deep chemistry is taking place.

Cole adds his own anecdote.

“As a child, I often went to listen to the Vermont Symphony. There was then a lot of criticism about the lack of young people present, ”she recalls.

She also remembers getting up and saying, “I’m right here! “

Cole heard from his 30-something peers that orchestral music is “cool, beautiful, moving.” She doesn’t see the need to belittle it, to try to make it more appealing to young music lovers.

“No apology is needed [for this art]Cole adds.

There isn’t a big cushion under the Philharmonic. Keelan teaches and directs guests; Cole works in Brattleboro and is the lead trombone of the 215th Army Band of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

But both are passionate about their common orchestral home.

“We are determined,” says Keelan.

For Keelan – and perhaps for everyone involved in the Windham Philharmonic – life and art are not separate. These are just different words for a passionate exploration of beauty and transcendence.

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