The Heliand Consort: Vermont woodwinds delivering ‘life and joy’

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Staff Writer

The Heliand Consort, an ensemble of some of Vermont’s finest woodwind players and their friends, took its name from an epic poem in Old Saxon that recounts the life of Jesus, and Helianthus, or sunflower.

“We were thinking in terms of Helliand bringing light to people, and bringing feeling to people, the spiritual side of music,” explains bassoonist Rachael Elliott,” a founding member. “It brings life and joy — that was how we were approaching it.”

Now in its 11th season, the Heliand Consort will bring its latest program, “Old World/New World Legends,” to three Vermont communities: at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the York Street Meeting House in Lyndon Corner; at 6 p.m. Saturday at Zenbarn in Waterbury Center; and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Brandon Music Café in Brandon.

Flutist Berta Frank, oboist Katie Oprea, clarinetist Elisabeth LeBlanc and bassoonist Elliott will perform music of Claude Debussy, Jean Francaix and Benjamin Britten. Familiar folk dances include a Brazilian waltz by Francisco Mignone and a habañera by Cuban-American composer and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera.

One of several pieces inspired by Greek mythology is “What Pan Was Doing,” written for Heliand by Burlington composer Don Jamison. In it, he sets a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning which recounts the story of how Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and music, created his “pan pipe” or reed flute. Jamison’s poignant setting takes the unusual step of alternating pairs of voices and instruments to sing and accompany.

“It’s a wonderful quartet, but usually it’s two voices and two instruments that he pairs off back and forth,” Elliott said recently by phone.

“The Francaix quartet is one our favorites,” Elliott said. “But we’re adding a new work to our repertoire, the quartet by (Brazilian composer Heitor) Villa-Lobos, which none of us have done before.

“His music is so wild — it’s always turning, it’s very unexpected,” she said. “He’ll have these folksy moments, then he’ll have these driving kind of martial moments, and then sort of odd experimental harmonies. It just goes from one thing to the next. He takes you on an interesting journey.”

The program was built around these two disparate quartets.

“We came up with some music based on Greek mythology, most of which are the solos that we’re going to play,” Elliott said.

Frank will perform Debussy’s “Syrinx,” originally titled “Flûte de Pan,” for solo flute. Oprea will be heard in Britten’s “Metamorphoses,” based on the Ovid, for solo oboe. LeBlanc chose “Homage to Manuel de Falla” for solo clarinet by Béla Kovács.

“So they’re doing the European pieces,” Elliott said. “And I’ll do one of the wonderful Francisco Mignone waltzes, a Brazilian composer, to tie in with the Villa-Lobos.”

The Heliand Consort’s first concerts in 2007 were as the Heliand Trio — LeBlanc, Elliott and pianist Annemieke Spoelstra. In 2009, Spoelstra was replaced by Cynthia Huard, and Frank and Oprea joined.

“We expanded to become Heliand Consort, not in the Renaissance term, but a group that shuffles around,” Elliott said. “Sometimes it’s winds, sometimes its piano and winds; occasionally we do play with strings, or percussion, or a singer, or a dancer. So it’s meant to be a flexible group of musicians playing together.”

Heliand Consort

The Heliand Consort, a Vermont woodwind quartet, performs “Old World/New World Legends”:

– Friday, March 9: Lyndon Corner – Tickets: $15, $8 reduced, York Street Meeting House, 153 York St., 7:30 p.m.,

– Saturday, March 10: Waterbury Center – Zenbarn, 179 Guptil Road, 6 p.m., 802-244-8134,

– Sunday, March 11: Brandon – $20, Brandon Music Café, 62 Country Club Road 3 p.m., 802-247-4295,

For information, call 802-735-3611, or go online to