Musicians, Anna Berntson said, are always learning how to relate to people and how to communicate with them.
“And in this case, you are learning how to do it within the confines of a weeklong schedule to prepare for a concert,” said Berntson, concertmaster for the opening Music School Festival Orchestra performance of the season at 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 2 in the Amphitheater.
It’s a constant project, Berntson said, but “one you can definitely invest in at Chautauqua.”
Tonight, the MSFO will perform works by Joseph Haydn, Maurice Ravel and Paul Hindemith. Timothy Muffitt, MSFO music director, said he selects the repertoire with the intention of helping the students grow. Giving a concert performance is how the MSFO communicates to its audience in the Amphitheater, but the process of putting the first concert together is how MSFO members learn to relate to one another as collaborators in an ensemble.
Muffit said the first MSFO concert of every season has a Classical-era work because the “transparency and buoyancy” let the orchestra learn how to work together, even MSFO members who are meeting for the first time.
Tonight’s classical selection is Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 “London.”
“Aside from just being great music, it’s really extraordinary music for getting an orchestra to work together … and develop quickly as an ensemble, rather than a group of individuals,” Muffitt said.
On the other hand, Berntson said, the transparency of the piece means any mistake is going to be immediately apparent to the audience.
“Whereas with a larger symphony, stuff can get very into the texture, and it’s easier to hide, so it really forces the orchestra right away to be focused and aware,” Berntson said. “I think the biggest thing is that it teaches us to listen to each other from Week One, and try and understand everybody is playing that way.”
While the Haydn piece is helpful in teaching students about teamwork, “La Valse” by Ravel, and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber allow MSFO members to stand out with solos.
“There are some works in the repertoire that maybe some parts of orchestra play more of a subordinate role,” Muffitt said. “But in these two pieces, everyone is in the spotlight of one point or another. So, because our MSFO players come here to have a significant involvement, I want to make sure that the first program represented that.”
The Ravel and Hindemith selections are special to Berntson for another reason as well: Both are pieces of ballet music.
“I was a ballet dancer growing up, until I was 17. That was my other career option, so I really enjoy putting it together (as the concertmaster),” said Berntson.
Ian Egeberg, oboist from DePaul University in Chicago, said there is a comradery among the MSFO in “La Valse.”
“In the Ravel, that’s a lot of section playing, like all the winds together. And there is a lot of duets between the principal flute and the principal oboe,” he said. “Some stuff in the Ravel is like full-section playing, which is always kind of fun. You have a lot of people playing the same part.”
That dynamic means that even though 12 people are playing at once, “you want to make it sound like one blended, giant instrument,” Egeberg said.
Muffitt said Chautauquans “will hear a great variety of music” at tonight’s concert.
“They are going to hear a group of extraordinary young musicians that will be the next leaders in their fields,” he said. “It’s a really wonderful opportunity.”
Tonight’s MSFO concert is just the first paving stone the students will place during their nine-week orchestral journey this summer.
And the MSFO members’ time here at Chautauqua is not just about orchestra, Muffitt said.
“One of the great things about Chautauqua as a chapter in their musical training is that they are working in very close proximity not only with other instrumentalists, but with singers, and with dancers, and with actors, and painters and sculptors,” he said. “So they have an opportunity to see other young artists who are really great in their crafts, how they approach the day-to-day challenges of being an artist. I feel like that’s a very positive aspect of our program, and unique aspect of our program.”