Who are Vermont’s top violinists?

Jim Lowe / Staff File Photo

Jim Lowe / Staff File Photo

Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN

Thirty years ago, when I began writing for The Times Argus and Rutland Herald, there were far more fine fiddlers in Vermont than classical violinists. Today there are still excellent fiddlers around, but the level of violin playing is at an all-time high.

Emblematic were Katherine Winterstein’s performances of the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto last weekend with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, at Burlington’s Flynn Center and the Paramount Theatre in Rutland. While a Boston-area resident, Winterstein has become integral to the musical fabric of Vermont since taking on her duties with the VSO more than a decade ago. In addition to soloing regularly with the state’s community orchestras, she has long been a member of the venerable Craftsbury Chamber Players in summer.

Still, the king of Vermont violinists is Jaime Laredo, the VSO’s music director since 2000. In 1959, Bolivian-born Laredo won Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth Competition at 17, launching a career that world result in solo performances with most of the major orchestras in the world.

But, according to Laredo, it was at Vermont’s famed Marlboro Music Festival that he became the musician he is today. Arriving as a teen, he was concertmaster for Pablo Casals’ orchestras, his conducting inspiration, and he made the contacts that have become the VSO’s soloists.

Now 75, a legal Vermont resident in Guilford, he continues to tour as a soloist, with his Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, and teaches at Cleveland Institute of Music. Over the years, his students have included Pamela Frank, Hilary Hahn, Bella Hristova and Soovin Kim.

Kim is another nonresident who is integral to Vermont musical life. Growing up in Plattsburgh, New York, he spent his youth in the Vermont Youth Orchestra. From there, his experiences at Cleveland Institute, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and Marlboro led him to win Italy’s Paganini Competition in 1996. Now teaching at Boston’s New England Festival, he returns to Vermont each year to direct his Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, which he founded in Colchester in 2009, and perform regularly as chamber musician.

(Kim will conduct and perform as soloist with the Burlington Chamber Orchestra on Jan. 28 at the UVM Recital Hall; information at www.bcovt.org.)

Undoubtedly Vermont’s most unusual and versatile violinist is Mary Rowell, who travels between Brandon and New York City. An East Craftsbury native, she grew up with the VYO, going on to Juilliard and a career in New York’s avant-garde. A founding member of the new music string quartet Ethel, the Grammy-winning Tango Project, and a member of the indie band The Silos, she has also been an electric violin soloist with orchestras around the world.

Today, while remaining concertmaster of the Radio City Hall Music Hall Orchestra and the Broadway hit “Newsies,” Rowell is spending a lot more time in her native Vermont. A charter member of the central Vermont avant-garde chamber ensemble TURNmusic, she also teaches at Middlebury College and is a longtime member of the Craftsbury Chamber Players.

Some of Vermont’s best violinists are much less visible. Brattleboro’s Kathy Andrew is concertmaster at Opera North in Lebanon, New Hampshire and assistant concertmaster of the VSO, and performs in ensembles around the state. Another from southern Vermont is one-time New England Bach Festival concertmaster Peggy Spencer, who keeps popping up here and there.

And there are up-and-comers like Letitia Quante, who seems everywhere these days, Jane Bearden of the now-defunct 802 Quartet, Sofia Hirsch of the Northern Third Piano Quartet, and newcomer Brooke Quiggins, all VSO members. With the Vermont Mozart Festival’s Michael Dabroski, the list goes on and on. (Undoubtedly I have momentarily forgotten some, but you get the idea.)

Although Vermont now has the greatest number of fine violinists it ever has had, the tradition of great violin is not new here. Few now remember that Blanche Moyse, co-founder of Marlboro Music Festival and the New England Bach Festival, was a renowned violinist until bow-arm trouble ended her performing in the 1960s. And solo performances by Sadah Schuhari Colodny, concertmaster of the Vermont Philharmonic in the ’60s, would match any of the aforementioned, save Laredo.

It is truly a good time for violin in Vermont.

Jim Lowe is music critic and arts editor of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald, and can be reached at jim.lowe@rutlandherald.com or jim.lowe@timesargus.com.