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Champlain Philharmonic plays gypsy tunes

MIDDLEBURY — Da da da dummm… Da da da dummm…. Yup, we all know it: Bethoven’s Fifth — but if that’s all that comes to mind when you think classical music, it’s probably time to update your repertoire. Good thing the Champlain Philharmonic has a concert coming up this Sunday, Oct. 21, 4 p.m., at the Mahaney Center for the Arts in Middlebury.
Come hear what Music Director Matt LaRocca describes as “old-school, gypsy-folk traditional songs put into classical music.”
The program, entitled, “DANSA — Music from the Old Country,” includes the wild and wonderful eastern European dances of Brahms and Dvorak (based on music of the traveling “Gypsy” or Roma bands); “Veils and Whirlwinds,” a piece by Middlebury College faculty member, Peter Hamlin; and the “Doppler Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise, Op. 26” and Bizet’s “Fantasie Brilliant Sur Carmen,” both featuring Karen Kevra on flute.
“These two pieces sometimes remind me of those commercials back in the ’60s and ’70s for the Vegematic — you know the one that ‘slices, dices and whirls!’ — in the way that they show off the capabilities and innovations of the flute,” said Kevra, who moved to Cornwall in 2016. “There are single, double and triple tonging, arpeggiated passes and long runs… They’re sometimes referred to as high wire pieces.”
But Kevra’s not scared. “I’ve been playing both pieces since high school and have performed them many times,” she said. “They feel like old friends to me.”
That’s a pro for ya.
However, the orchestra backing her up this weekend — first on Saturday at Ackley Hall at Green Mountain College in Poultney, then on Sunday in Middlebury — is not professional; in fact, they’re all volunteers.
The Champlain Philharmonic will present its fall concert DANSA at the Mahaney Center for the Arts in Middlebury on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m.
PHOTO / MAX KRAUS
“That’s part of the reason I love this group,” said La Rocca, who took over the baton from Paul Gambill in 2017. “There are no auditions, people who want to play simply get in touch with the orchestra, then come and try out a rehearsal to see if it’s a good fit and a comfortable level for their skills.”
The orchestra, established by Addison County residents David Gusakov (violin) and Dieuwke Davydov (cello) back in the fall of 2004, practices weekly on Monday nights at the Vergennes High School. Every year they offer two performances: one in the fall and one in the spring. This is the orchestra’s 15th season.
“Community music making is something I believe a lot in,” said LaRocca, who graduated Middlebury College in 2002 with a degree in Chemistry, then did a 180 and decided he really wanted to be a musician. “The goal is to be very welcoming. A place where musicians up and down the valley can come and continue making music.”
LaRocca is a violist and guitarist himself. After earning his Masters of Music from Carnegie Mellon University and a doctorate from Boston University, he got a gig teaching composition and music theory in the Music Department at the University of Vermont two years ago. The Waterbury resident is also the chair of creative projects for the Vermont Symphony orchestra and the director of Music-COMP — an  organization that teaches composition to students throughout Vermont and facilitates live performances of their music by professional musicians.
“Connecting the community with music is becoming more and more important to me,” LaRocca, father of three, said in an interview last week.
And connect he does. While bringing pros to play with the Champlain Philharmonic is nothing new, this is Kevra’s first time playing with the group. LaRocca got to know her through one of his chemistry professors (Bob Cluss), who’s Kevra’s husband.
“I was delighted when they asked,” she said. “It’s always great fun to play with an orchestra.”
Kevra rehearsed with the group on Monday and Wednesday, and went over the pieces with LaRocca to mark in certain expressions and details. But that’s it.
Just two rehearsals might not be enough for most of us, but for Kevra it is. After all, she began playing the flute at age nine in her elementary school band in suburban New Jersey. Then went on to study with the late New York City flutist Eleanor Lawrence, and Philip Dunigan, who was her flute teacher at the North Carolina School of the Arts. But it was Kevra’s connection with her late teacher Louis Moyse, whom she studied with for more than a decade, that had the biggest impact on her playing.
MUSIC DIRECTOR MATT LaRocca
“The constant advice that I got from Louis was, ‘Be alert. Be aware,’” Kevra remembered. “It’s not only good advice for flute study, but for life… The other thing he’d say is ‘beautiful flute playing is how you get from one note to the next, it’s all about connection.’”
And indeed, Kevra’s tone and musicality is what she’s known for. She earned a Grammy nomination and other accolades in 2004 for her premier recording of  “Works for Flute and Piano of Louis Moyse.” Her latest CD, “Romantic Music for Flute and Piano,” was praised by superstar flutist Sir James Galway, who wrote: “There are special moments which truly touched me. An outstanding performance.”
“She’s a virtuoso,” LaRocca echoed. “She is just an unbelievable player, very musical. She has a stunning tone, it’s just beautiful.”
Kevra has been soloist with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra for numerous concerts, and has performed throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe at venues including Carnegie Hall, the French Embassy in Washington D.C., and on French National Television. She has shared the stage with Jaime Laredo, the Paris Piano Trio, Borromeo String Quartet, Boston Chamber Music Society, members of the Emerson and Talich String Quartets, and Trey Anastasio of Phish.
A sought-after flute teacher with award-winning students, Kevra maintains studios in Montpelier and at the Middlebury Community Music Center. She is the founder and artistic director of Capital City Concerts based in Montpelier, her home for 21 years before moving to Cornwall. Catch Capital City Concert’s next performance Nov. 3 and 4 when they present an all J.S. Bach concert in Montpelier and Burlington featuring world-renowned vocal soloists, a five-part choir, and an unusually large and colorful orchestra. More info at capitalcityconcerts.org.
But first, go see the Champlain Philharmonic in Middlebury. Tickets are $15, $12 faculty/staff/emeriti/alumni/parents, $10 youth, $6 Middlebury College students, and are available at the door or in advance online here.

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