Art Notes: New Upper Valley music ensemble goes for Baroque

  • Music Director of the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra Filippo Ciabatti conducts as Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 plays in his head on stage at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, March 7, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Music Director of the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra Filippo Ciabatti at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, March 7, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/9/2022 10:15:41 PM
Modified: 3/9/2022 10:15:07 PM

When Filippo Ciabatti first came to the Upper Valley, to work as an assistant to Louis Burkot, the longtime artistic director of Opera North, he was already in the habit of following his career where it takes him.

A native of Florence, Italy, who began his musical education with piano lessons at age 5, Ciabatti studied at a conservatory close to home. But in his 20s, he participated in an exchange program at Truman State University in Missouri. The conductor there said he should come back to pursue further studies. He got a scholarship in the opera department at the University of Illinois, and that’s what led him to Opera North.

That was several years ago, when Dartmouth College also had an opening for a conductor following the departure of Anthony Princiotti in 2015. Ciabatti became interim conductor, then was hired full time.

“I think it has been a surprise,” Ciabatti said of how one opportunity has led to another. “This career is very mysterious in many ways.”

Now well-established at Dartmouth, Ciabatti, 34, conducts the Dartmouth Symphony, as well as the Handel Society and the Glee Club. Last year, he was awarded The American Prize in conducting, a recognition of his stature among college and university conductors.

He most recently has become conductor of Upper Valley Baroque, a new chamber ensemble of musicians from around New England of musicians specializing in early classical and Baroque music.

UV Baroque will hold its second concert, a program of music by Bach, Corelli and Veracini, at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday in the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College. The early show is sold out, and there aren’t many tickets available for the evening performance.

Jo Shute and Allan Wieman, the married couple who founded Upper Valley Baroque, said that while other local organizations present classical music written before 1750, including Cameo Baroque, the Handel Society and Classicopia, there was a niche the size of a chamber orchestra that went unfilled, they said.

They approached Ciabatti and Mark Nelson, a veteran conductor and educator who moved to the Upper Valley in 2014.

“They both agreed that this is something worth doing,” Wieman said. Nelson leads the community ensembles and runs the education program and Ciabatti conducts the orchestra and chamber choir.

Shute and Wieman, who retired to Hanover in 2015, are lifelong classical music lovers and performers. They sing with the Handel Society, and are passionate about preserving early music for future generations of listeners. Concerts are free for students and the organization is working to set up programs in area high schools.

Music from the Baroque period, from around 1600 to 1750, isn’t as accessible as later works of the Romantic era, but they are at the root of classicial music.

“I think Baroque music appeals to both the heart and the mind,” Wieman said.

The organization puts a deserved emphasis on J.S. Bach. Nelson leads the Bach Study Group, a clutch of around 50 people who meet regularly to learn about Bach’s works.

“Bach is the whole architect,” Ciabatti said. “He was able to construct things of incredible sophistication,” and at the same time give them great emotional weight.

Not all of the music the organization focuses on is so complex, Shute said.

“There’s quite a range of Baroque and early music styles,” she said; many are based on dances. “It’s very accessible and very pleasant.”

In addition to keeping early music alive, UV Baroque also is emphasizing early instruments. The Boston area — and as a result New England — is a hotbed of early music performers, many of whom are playing with UV Baroque.

“We’re having fun finding people who are particularly experienced in these period instruments,” Shute said.

In Ciabatti, said Shute and Wieman, the organization has a conductor who is devoted to the work and has the charisma and ability to command the musicians’ respect.

Ciabatti sees it a little differently. The ensemble brings in “a lot of wonderful musicians,” he said. “It’s a collaboration, really. You get to learn so much yourself.”

More broadly, all of these opportunities to lead ensembles signify to Ciabatti that he is in a place that takes music seriously.

“This community is wonderfully interested in music,” he said. The DSO, which comprises musicians from across the college, not just music majors, “is so special, in how it’s constructed, in the audience that it has.”

Like other musicians, conductors need opportunities to grow, Ciabatti said: “As a condcutor, it’s more difficult, because the instrument is not always with you.”

Here, he’s now surrounded by them.

Although the Upper Valley Baroque performances on Saturday are nearly sold out, Shute and Wieman said they would open Friday’s dress rehearsal to as many as 50 people who reach out to them via email at baroqueuv@gmail.com.

Getting back on stage

Also performing Saturday night in a white, clapboard church in the Upper Valley is a native who’s come home.

Singer-songwriter Allison Fay Brown, who grew up in Hartford and Hartland and graduated from Hartford High School and UVM, plays the Anonymous Coffeehouse at 7:30 p.m. in Lebanon’s First Congregational Church.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Brown was living in Burlington and had a weekly gig at Radio Bean, playing with a rotating cast of guests every Wednesday night. She’d released a five-song EP and was playing regionally with a band.

The pandemic halted that momentum, so she took some time off. Months after the lockdown, she picked up her guitar and started playing again. Soon after, she recorded a song, Fast Forward, that refired her interest.

“It was just so affirming to be with other musicians,” she said this week.

Since last summer she’s been performing and reaching out to local venues. There’s room here for a musician to perform and grow, she said.

“I feel like with each gig it will direct me to where I want to go,” she said.

Admission to the coffeehouse is free. A hat is passed for the musicians. More info is available at anoncoffee.org.

Sounds of the South

Also in Lebanon, St. Paul and the Broken Bones bring their blend of Stax soul and Muscle Shoals deep fried rock to the opera house at 7:30 Saturday night. For information and tickets ($38-$68), go to lebanonoperahouse.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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