The 2019 Music School Festival Orchestra will take the stage one last time tonight for its grand goodbye.
The final MSFO concert of the season begins at 8:15 p.m. Monday, August 12 in the Amphitheater, conducted by Musical and Artistic Director of the Instrumental Program Timothy Muffitt and 2019 David Effron Conducting Fellow Maria Fuller.
The orchestra will play three pieces: Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), Op. 24 by Richard Strauss, Symphony No. 10 in E-minor, Op. 93 by Dmitri Shostakovich and Fractals No. 1 for Strings, Piano and Trumpet, by Fuller herself.
“This program is a culmination of what we’ve worked on, and the repertoire that we do in this concert is always repertoire that I know will involve the many elements the players have been working on,” Muffitt said.
The Strauss piece, which Fuller will conduct, is a tone poem — an orchestral piece meant to tell a story. In this case, it is the story of an artist who is reflecting on his life as he is dying. The emotional range of the piece is broad; from nostalgia to fear, to the triumph of transfiguration upon the artist’s death.
Shostakovich’s 10th symphony, which is composed of four movements and is nearly an hour long, will take up the bulk of the program. It is said to be about the death of Joseph Stalin, having premiered in what was then Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, the same year as the dictator’s death.
“It’s a mistake to try to be too specific about the intent of (the symphony) and what it’s really about because of the double-speak that was involved with life in the Soviet Union,” Muffitt said. “But certainly this is a symphony that is a journey from tragedy and despair and terror into turmoil.”
Fuller’s Fractals No. 1 was inspired by her fascination with the mathematics of fractals, and how that translates into sound. The concept of fractals is when a geometric object is made up of the same shape on the smallest level as on the whole — like snowflakes.
To translate that into music, Fuller said, is to be very motivic, repeating a version of the same musical phrase throughout.
The piece is a relatively last-minute addition to the program, and has only ever been performed with trumpet and piano before; Fuller is excited to adapt this piece for a larger ensemble, and for the challenge of conducting while also playing the piano part. The piece will specially feature student Aaron DuBois on the trumpet.
In many ways, Muffitt sees this concert as the culmination of everything the students have been learning and working on throughout the summer. By collaborating with voice and dance students, they learned to listen and be flexible in their playing alongside other types of performers. By playing lots of chamber music, they learned how to cooperate in small groups — and orchestra, Muffitt said, is just chamber music on a larger scale. By living and rehearsing together nearly every day, they learned how to come together in a short time to produce full-scale performances.
“(They’ve) become an orchestra — not just a collection of musicians,” Muffitt said.
For Fuller, it has been a special experience to live alongside the same musicians she works with, and to see those personal relationships translate into an orchestra that works and communicates well together.
“I’m so grateful for how welcoming the Chautauqua community has been,” she said.
For students, this concert marks the end of an eventful summer that has offered them many opportunities to learn from seasoned musicians, perform in different ways and collaborate with many kinds of artists.
“This is an opportunity for us to get to know some of the great staples of orchestra literature,” said horn player Rebecca Salo. “Technically demanding, musically demanding, … this is sort of the culmination of our summer together — we have worked to become an orchestra all summer, and this is our final product.”
Not only is this the final concert of the MSFO, it is the final show of the School of Music as a whole — with the Piano and Voice Programs already concluded, it is the instrumental students who have the last hurrah.
“It’s our last performance, and we’ve all been through a lot together,” said violist Cameren Williams. “I just hope the audience really feels our energy. … It’s our time to really show what we’ve got.”