by Nat Frothingham
MONTPELIER — Michael Arnowitt who has been a musical force in Montpelier and Central Vermont for 32 years as a classical pianist, jazz performer and arts organizer is leaving Montpelier and moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In an email message of a few days ago and in a subsequent phone call, Arnowitt confirmed his decision to leave Montpelier.
“It’s true,” he wrote in his message, “I am relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan, not for a position of my own, but because my girlfriend (Therisa Rogers) found a job in the Detroit area.”
Arnowitt said that he’s begun his move to Ann Arbor in stages. But he wants to keep coming back to Montpelier and Vermont and hopes to keep his house here, rent it out and perhaps, as he wrote, “use it as a foothold so I can come back to perform in the future in Vermont and New England.”
In saying goodbye, Arnowitt will be playing Chopin’s 24 Preludes and will conclude the concert by playing Chopin’s “Barcarolle” (“or boat song”) that he described as “a lovely piece of sunshine evoking the atmosphere of Venice.” That farewell concert is set for Sunday Afternoon, March 5 at 3 p.m. at Montpelier High School’s Smilie Auditorium.
Many people in Central Vermont know Arnowitt as a classical music pianist. And many others remember his deep involvement in all kinds of music-making across the 32 years he has lived in Montpelier.
Early in his time in Central Vermont, Arnowitt organized performances of two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest choral works — Bach’s “B Minor Mass” in 1988 and Bach’s great “St. John’s Passion” in 1991. Arnowitt brought together the singers and musicians and conducted the orchestra and chorus.
“Living here, you can pull off these projects,” he said.
When asked to name some of the other major musical events from his time in Montpelier, Arnowitt spoke about two concerts he had a hand in organizing.
“In the 1990s,” he said, “we did a memorable concert for Bosnian War refugees at the Unitarian Church and we raised $10,000 in one concert.”
But the benefit concert was just part of a community-wide Bosnian relief effort. “We had schoolchildren making first aid kits that were sent over,” he said. In the days just before the big benefit concert, Arnowitt recalls, “My phone was ringing, ringing, ringing.” People wanted to help. “It was the greatest humanitarian cause I was involved with,” he said about how the Montpelier community responded.
In May 2016 — more than 20 years after the Bosnian relief concert — Arnowitt and others organized another benefit concert this time to benefit Syrian refugees. “That was a little different,” Arnowitt said as he compared the May 2016 concert to the 1990s Bosnian relief event.
“For the Syrian refugees, I wanted to present a program of Syrian music and Syrian readings. We only hear bad things about the country (meaning Syria),” Arnowitt said.
But he believed strongly in celebrating Syrian culture with readings of short stories, plays, poetry, along with religious and secular music. The benefit concert for Syrian refugees included 27 local performers.
In all the years that Arnowitt lived and worked in Montpelier, the largest project he undertook was the Vermont Millennium Music Festival at the dawning of the 21st century. The idea of the festival was to trace the progress and development of music from the year 1000 to the year 2000.
Arnowitt remembers the sheer size of the endeavor. “It was Catherine Orr’s idea originally,” he said of the big concept of celebrating 1,000 years of great music. But once the idea was in the air, Arnowitt refused to let it go.
“We had 24 concerts,” said Arnowitt — 24 concerts over a four-day period with 400 people performing in one way or another.
It was a big, big effort. People came from other states. It was great, great fun for me. It showed the progress of how much changed over 1,000 years.”
These musical efforts, large and small, go forward, then come to an end. But as Arnowitt remarked, the memory of these events stays with us. Arnowitt said that once in a great while he will get a letter from someone, like a member of the chorus who sang in one of Bach’s great oratorios, and the letter-writer cherishes a lively memory of having participated.
Toward the end of our phone conversation, Arnowitt said about Montpelier and Central Vermont, “Without doubt, this is a special community and it’s been my good fortune to have been part of it for the last 30 years.”
“I’m 54 now,” he said via phone. “I feel I’m still young enough to add another chapter to my life.”
Tickets for the Michael Arnowitt’s farewell concert on March 5 at Montpelier High School’s Smilie Auditorium at $20 apiece (students are free) are available in advance at Bear Pond Books (cash or checks only) and at the door on the afternoon of the performance.