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Music Review: Percussion gives VSO Jukebox exotic flair | Vermont Arts

Some of the many fans of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Jukebox Quartet may have been a little surprised when they showed up at the Valley Players Theater in Waitsfield on Thursday for the opening of its four-concert tour. For there was only half a string quartet, a whole slew of colorful percussion instruments, and two percussionists. Jukebox took on an exotic flair.

Not all tradition was forgotten: There was a string quartet of local Vermont Youth Orchestra players who actually performed the most beautiful piece on the program.

The VSO’s spring Jukebox program, curated and hosted by Matt LaRocca, may not have been as musically rewarding as some, but it was certainly its most entertaining. Violinist Brooke Quiggins, cellist John Dunlop and percussionists Nicola Cannizzaro and D. Thomas Toner, all top VSO instrumentalists, mixed and matched to form some of the most unexpected — and most fun — combinations.

Still most beautiful were the “Opening” and “Closing” from Phillip Glass’ Glassworks, arranged by LaRocca. Cannizzaro and Toner provided a steady bed of repeating lyrical sounding notes on marimba while Quiggins and Dunlop played simple singing lines above. Although “Philip Glass simple and quiet” the “Closing” became slightly more dramatic and darker. The performance was warm for Glass, but it was gorgeous.

After “Opening,” the fun began. In Molly Joyce’s “Head to Toe,” Cannizzaro played skewered lyrics on the xylophone, punctuating it with rhythmic foot-stomping. Also entertaining was Andy Akiho’s “Hammers” where Quiggins was accompanied by Cannizzaro on toy piano and Mason jars.

Perhaps more serious was Caroline Shaw’s “Boris Kerner.” Toner accompanied Dunlop on 10 tuned flower pots. In “Slide Rule” by Jeanne Woodbury and Josh Gottry, the two percussionists beat on two cajons, box-shaped hand percussion instruments originating in 18th century Peru.

Most intriguing and frankly beautiful was “Bawa,” arranged by Sowah Mensah. Both percussionists were joined by LaRocca on an exotic Guinean xylophone called the yil. The effect was haunting with a sound not far from the Indonesian gamelan.

Back to traditional, the third and final movement of Jessie Montgomery’s ragged and virtuosic Duo for Violin and Cello was given a riveting performance by Quiggins and Dunlop. In fact, all of these works were given fine performances by these four excellent players.

Jukebox was forced to change its personnel when two of its founding members were forced to back out temporarily. Violinist Letitia Quante withdrew for the season because of a pinched nerve and violinist Stefanie broke her wrist in December.

As for the most beautiful piece on the program, local violinists Justin Lee and Emma Xia, violinist Elizabeth Messier and cellist Jonah Hutchin performed the Notturno (third movement) of Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2. It also is well known as the melody of the song “And This Is My Beloved” from the 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet.”

The two quartets joined to close the program with Irene Sazer’s Latin-flavored “Fonte Abondonada/Passatempo,” arranged by LaRocca. It was charming and a real crowd-pleaser — as was the entire program.

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