53rd Labor Day Weekend Festival: Organ Recital & Orchestra Lawn Concert

Guilford, Vt. – As it has done for over a half-century, Friends of Music at Guilford (FOMAG) opens its 53rd annual music season with a concert in a rural barn on Saturday night of Labor Day Weekend. The Organ Barn is in an idyllic setting near the state line where Guilford meets Leyden, Massachusetts. The intimate Barn seats close to a hundred concertgoers, and on Sunday afternoon, two hundred or more people flock to the lawn outside the Barn for picnicking and an orchestra concert.

At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 1, guest organist James Gerber, DMA, performs solo works by Baroque masters Dieterich Buxtehude, J. S. Bach, and Johann Gottfried Walther, as well as Suite Gothique (1895) by French composer Léon Boëllman and Master Tallis’s Testament (1940) by English composer Herbert Howells. This Organ Barn performance, as others in the past, includes enlightening commentary from the stage.

Dr. Gerber, a life-long church musician, served congregations in his home state of Wisconsin, as well as in Minnesota and Arizona, before becoming Associate Minister of Music at Wayne Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania. His bachelor’s degree in Organ Performance is from the University of Wisconsin, his master’s in Liturgical Music, with an organ emphasis, from St. John’s University, and his Doctor of Musical Arts in Organ Performance from Arizona State. An active member of the American Guild of Organists, he enjoys performing, presenting music-related lectures, accompanying choirs and musical theater, and playing the clarinet in a community band.

At 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 2, the Guilford Festival Orchestra performs a Lawn Concert under the baton of conductor Kenneth Olsson. The annual pick-up orchestra’s members, a mix of professional and amateur players, hail from Vermont, New Hampshire, and several Pioneer Valley towns in Massachusetts. Leading off with excerpts from Henry Purcell’s “Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Revenge” (1695), the program continues with Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, op. 31 (1943), featuring soloists Joshua Collier, tenor, and Jean Jeffries, horn. After intermission, offerings include five chamber pieces by Frank Bridge (1879-1941), arranged for winds, as well as Two Pieces for Small Orchestra by Frederick Delius (1862-1934), his seasonal tone poems “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” and “Summer Night on the River.”

The afternoon’s traditional finale, a sing-in of Randall Thompson’s Alleluia, brings members of the orchestra and audience together for this a cappella work. Attendees are asked to bring the music if they own a copy to share, or they can borrow one from FOMAG’s collection.

Kenneth Olsson, conductor, earned a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Ithaca College. He has appeared in many operatic leading roles in the Northeast and has served as artistic or music director, conductor, and rehearsal pianist for a variety of opera and musical theater production companies. He has also performed as organ soloist and piano accompanist for many concerts and recitals in the Northeast, including several for FOMAG. He directs the West River Valley Chorus, Nordic Harmoni, and the Springfield Community Chorus. He holds leadership roles with the American Union of Swedish Singers, and with wife Julie Olsson founded the Southern Vermont Lyric Theatre, which presented a full-length production of “La Traviata” in late August.

American tenor Joshua Collier, praised for his “thrilling high range” and “passionate commitment to character,” was hailed as “a great Italian tenor on the make” byBoston’s Classical Scene in his June 2016 role debut as Roméo in Roméo et Juliette. A graduate of The New England Conservatory with an M.M. in Vocal Performance, he has appeared throughout New England and beyond in operatic roles from Rodolfo in “La Bohème,” Macduff in “Macbeth,” and Frederic in “The Pirates of Penzance” to B. F. Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly.” His most recent local appearance was as Alfredo in the Southern Vermont Lyric Theatre’s summer production of “La Traviata.” In addition to the lyric stage, Mr. Collier has performed the tenor solos in much of the symphonic and oratorio repertoire. In 2013, Mr. Collier founded Boston’s Opera Brittenica, championing the works of Benjamin Britten, and is currently the artistic director of BARN OPERA in Brandon, Vermont.

Jean Jeffries, a graduate of Harvard College, teaches horn and chamber music at three of the Five Colleges in the Pioneer Valley. She lectures and performs throughout New England on modern, natural, and baroque horn. Her interest in promoting and performing contemporary music has resulted in several commissions, the most recent being a setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan, and “The Rusalka” for horn and piano by Clifton J. Noble.

Grounds open at 12 noon on Sunday for picnicking and lunch sales. A hearty vegetarian meal of assorted salads, eggs, Grafton cheddar cheese, Walker Farm tomatoes, Vermont-made artisan bread, a drink, and Scott Farm apples, is offered for $10/person; lemonade and warm chocolate chip cookies are also available at intermission. Children are welcome, with parental supervision, but dogs are asked to stay at home.

Both Labor Day Weekend concerts are admission-free, with generous donations encouraged to defray the considerable cost of this musical weekend in the country. Follow signs for 9 miles from the Guilford Country Store, on Rt. 5 just south of Exit 1, to the Organ Barn off Packer Corners Rd. The Saturday concert in the Barn is rain or shine.

In case of threatening weather on Sunday, the lunch and lawn concert will be moved to West Village Meeting House, the home of All Souls Church UU, at 29 South St., just over a mile west of Exit 2 off I-91 in West Brattleboro, across the road from the fire station; check the FOMAG website and Facebook page, as well as local radio stations, for any change of venue.

For further information and a full 2018-19 Season Calendar, contact the FOMAG office at 802-254-3600 or office@fomag.org; visit online at www.fomag.org. Friends of Music at Guilford’s 53rd Season enjoys partial media sponsorship by Vermont Public Radio and the Vermont Arts 2018 program of the Vermont Arts Council.

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