When he’d finally convinced the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to bring the annual “Made In Vermont” tour to the Bellows Falls Opera House, says Ray Massucco, “I felt like the dog chasing the car – now what am I gonna do?”
A year of back-and-forth emailing between Massucco, a lawyer and part-time concert promoter, and VSO Executive Director Alan Jordan led to a site visit early this spring.
Jordan was immediately taken by the recently renovated opera house. “I don’t think they were here an hour before Alan said, ‘we’re coming to Bellows Falls this year,’” recalls Ray. “He told me, ‘this is ideal acoustically for the kind of show we present.’”
So, on Wednesday, October 1, the oldest state-sponsored orchestra in the country will make its first appearance in Bellows Falls, with a musical salute to autumn. The program includes “Holberg Suite,” Grieg’s Baroque homage to the Danish writer originally written for piano, George Gershwin’s lilting “Lullaby,” and Vivaldi’s masterpiece, “The Four Seasons.”
The centerpiece of the performance is the premiere of “Autumn Rhapsody,” a commissioned piece composed by Pierre Jalbert.
Jalbert grew up in South Burlington, winning regional composition and piano competitions while still in his teens. Later, he studied at Oberlin Conservatory and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently, Jalbert was awarded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s 2007 Stoeger Award, given biennially “in recognition of significant contributions to the chamber music repertory.”
Currently, Jalbert serves as an Associate Professor at Rice University, where he’s taught since 1996.
The show began as a labor of love, but as it started to gel, Ray Massucco saw an opportunity to meld it with another big part of his community work, the Rockingham Free Public Library. He chaired the organization for many years, and recently stepped down to become secretary, and head up the library’s Centennial Committee.
He realized the show corresponded almost perfectly with another important event in the town’s history.
“This concert is 100 years to the week of the day we laid the cornerstone for the library – October 8, 1908,” says Massucco. With that in mind, he decided the concert should kick off a year of celebration, in advance of marking the centennial of the building’s official opening, in November of 1909.”
“The inaugural concert of the VSO in BF kicks off the centennial year,” says Massucco. “It really brings it all together.”
He’s faced significant challenges organizing such a large undertaking. For starters, there are 35 musicians to house and feed. There’s marketing for an event that’s worlds away from the “Roots on the River” Americana music festival he’s been staging since 2007, or the occasional shows he promotes at Boccelli’s on the Canal.
Realizing that, under the best of circumstances, he’d only make back 60 percent of the show’s costs – that was when he most felt like the dog catching the car.
Massucco has succeeded in courting underwriters for the show, “Angels” paying up to $500 a ticket to defray his expenses. He’s also sold many second-tier underwriter tickets, which include a pre-show reception with Pierre Jalbert and VSO conductor Jaime Laredo.
Laredo will both conduct and play violin. Classical neophyte Massucco said, “I had no idea how famous he is everywhere else.” The Bolivian-born musical prodigy began his musical career at age five, and has recorded with Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax, as well as collaborating with Glenn Gould.
“It’s been steep learning curve, but I’m getting excited,” says Massucco. In typical fashion, he’s already looking towards the future. “I asked them, ‘if I sell out the house, will you come back next year?’”
“They said, ‘if you sell out the house, we will be back next year.”