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Chamber Music Guest Artist Series to close with Sharon Isbin, Colin Davin’s Latin-American guitar solos, duos

Isbin

It’s difficult to over-emphasize the impact that Sharon Isbin has had on the classical guitar. She has all of the accolades of a top-shelf musician: Grammy Awards, plenty of studio albums, appearances in major motion picture soundtracks and praise from luminaries like Martina Navratilova and Michelle Obama.

But Isbin’s legacy as an educator might go even further than her personal achievements. She’s director of The Juilliard School’s classical guitar program, which she founded in 1989, and since then has trained many of the world’s most successful guitarists.

For example, Isbin’s student Bokyung Byun won the nearby Buffalo Philharmonic’s JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition this past June, and Tengyue Zhang — another student of Isbin’s — was runner-up. Last year at another prestigious international guitar competition, Zhang won first prize, and Byun took second.

At 4 p.m. Mon., Aug. 20, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Isbin will give a concert of Latin-American music in the final Chamber Music Guest Artist Series of the season.

The performance requires a complimentary ticket, which can be obtained on a first-come basis at the Main Gate Welcome Center Ticket Office, which opens at 7 a.m. If available, tickets can also be obtained at the Visitors Center, which opens at 9:30 a.m. Seats are held until 15 minutes before the start of the performance.

Sharon Isbin and Colin Davin

This afternoon, Isbin will be joined by another former student, Colin Davin, a successful guitar soloist in his own right.

“It’s always a great source of pride for me when they launch and they end up establishing their own very prestigious careers,” Isbin said. “(Davin) is teaching on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music and is a beautiful player, and it’s really fun for me to be able to do duets with him because we’ve worked together for so long in one context or another that there’s a real symbiosis.

The two met when Davin was just 15 years old at a master class in Buffalo, and then a year later as student and teacher at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Eventually, Davin would go on to earn his master’s degree studying with Isbin at Juilliard.

When Davin got to Juilliard, he was already playing professionally and entering guitar competitions, so he was already at a high level of performance. But while studying at Juilliard, Isbin’s extreme attention to detail pushed him to the next level, Davin said.

“I recall in particular a lesson we had on a slow movement from a Bach sonata,” Davin said. “Technically speaking, it was the easiest movement of the piece, but that was one of the hardest lessons I ever had because she was so zoomed-in on in the exact shaping of every little micro phrase and how it might fit into the larger phrase.”

The concert will feature solos and duos from composers such as Isaac Albéniz, Leo Brouwer, Enrique Granados and Francisco Tárrega. For Isbin, one of the highlights will be Brouwer’s “El decameron negro” (“The Black Decameron”), a work for solo guitar that she said has quickly taken a central place in the solo guitar repertoire since its composition in 1981.

“It’s inspired by love songs collected from Africa in the 19th century by a German anthropologist, and there are three different ballads in this set,” Isbin said. “One is about lovers fleeing through the ‘Valley of the Echoes,’ another about a warrior who is much beloved by his tribe but is then banished because he plays the harp —  a good metaphor for many things —  and then, about a maiden in love.”

Davin will join Isbin to perform Howard Shore’s “The Departed Tango,” written for the Martin Scorsese’s Oscar Award-winning movie, “The Departed.” The piece was written for Isbin, and she recorded it as a duo with herself for the movie.

“When Howard Shore and Scorsese began to discuss music for the film, they landed on the idea of the tango, which would be evocative of the dance of death between the Bostonian police officer and the Irish mafioso figures in the film,” Isbin said. “The tango, I think, fits in nicely with the South and Latin American flavor of this program.”

Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series finale to explore the history of Trinidad’s Freedom Fighters

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Caitlyn Kamminga’s bio begins as many do, with degrees from a prestigious music school. The next few items reveal her eclectic career as an international orchestral musician, with positions in the United States, Hong Kong, Wales and London — but the current item is probably the most surprising.

Caitlyn Kamminga

In 2009, Kamminga — a member of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra —  left her life as an orchestral player and moved to Trinidad to be on the faculty of the then-new Academy for the Performing Arts at The University of Trinidad and Tobago.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Kamminga will share a slice of Trinidad with Chautauquans in a performance of “River of Freedom: The Journey of Black Freedom Fighters in the War of 1812,” a work with music by composer Adam Walters and words by Kamminga.

This concert will be the final installment of the Resident Artist Series, a chamber music concert series featuring CSO musicians and School of Music instructors.

When Kamminga and her family moved to Trinidad, they were only planning on staying for a few years. It was difficult to raise a family in the hard-working classical music scene in London, so they jumped at the opportunity for a change of pace — nine years later, they’re still there.

“It was just an opportunity to bring the family together,” Kamminga said. “We thought that even if we only had a couple of years there, it would be an amazing cultural experience. Then, we just started planting seeds, and those seeds started to grow, and now we’re just ensconced in the tapestry of Trinidad.”

As Kamminga became more entrenched in Trinidad, she also began to learn more about the culture and history of the island nation. In 2012, Kamminga and Walters came across the story of the Merikins, black Americans who fought for Britain in the War of 1812 in exchange for their freedom.

After the war, the British army gave some of those soldiers and their families land in southern Trinidad. “River of Freedom” is a interdisciplinary work of music and poetry that tells their story.

The “River of Freedom” story involves several different nations: the United States as the place where the black soldiers came from, Britain as the nation that offered them freedom, and Trinidad as the place where they would go. Because of that, Walters has included snippets of the national anthems of all those countries in the music, in addition to a variety of different hymns that one would hear in the spiritual baptist churches of Trinidad.

The land those soldiers received, according to Kamminga, was the heart of the Trinidadian jungle — not exactly habitable territory. But the soldiers persisted: their settlements survive, and are still named according to where each company settled (First Company Village, Second Company Village, et cetera). 

“River of Freedom” was premiered by Kamminga and others in those company villages.

“It was both scary and exciting,” Kamminga said, “because when you create a piece of art, then it goes out into the world and people get to have their own reaction to it. But we were delighted that the Merikin population loved it.”

Mia Gormandy

This performance of the piece will be its American premiere and will feature CSO musicians, Kamminga, her husband, Aidan Chamberlain (trombone), steelpan player Mia Gormandy, and Chautauqua Theater Company conservatory actor Elijah Jones as narrator.

The premiere also featured projections of artwork done for the project by Trinidadian artist Che Lovelace, but Kamminga said that this rendition of “River of Freedom” will not include those projections.

“I decided that this would be a great opportunity to make sure that the piece stands on its own as a narrated piece of music, and we know it does.”

This project is the next in a streak of interdisciplinary collaborations that Kamminga has been a part of. Some of that is due to her nature — Kamminga said she has always been interested in the intersections of the arts, reading Goethe alongside Beethoven and studying Manet while learning Debussy.

But another part of it, Kamminga said, is the culture on the island of Trinidad.

“Trinidad kind of reminds me of Paris in the Toulouse-Lautrec times, when you had all of these artists and musicians and actors and choreographers just in this little pool of artistic work. Because it’s so small, people do a lot of different things.”

-Caitlyn Kamminga, Co-creator, “River of Freedom”

Calidore Quartet to compare music of First, Second Viennese Schools in chamber music concert

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Monday, Aug. 13, will be the Calidore String Quartet’s first time performing at Chautauqua Institution, but violinist Ryan Meehan knows the grounds well. He came here with his family starting at age 14 to study with the famous violin teaching duo, Roland and Almita Vamos.

It was intense, Meehan said — the young violinist had a lesson every day, so he spent most of his time practicing while his sister was at Boys’ and Girls’ Club having fun.

That practice has paid off for Meehan. At 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, he and the other three members of the Calidore String Quartet — violinist Jeffrey Myers, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi — will give a concert of the music of Beethoven, Haydn and Webern.

Calidore’s program Aug. 13 is a comparison of the two Viennese schools, Meehan said. The First Viennese School generally refers to Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, three composers who helped to establish the language of tonal music. The Second Viennese School, most notably represented by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, were pioneers of atonal music in the early 20th century.

On this afternoon’s program, the First Viennese School will be represented by Hadyn’s String Quartet in G major, op. 54, No. 1, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, op. 59, No. 3, “Hero.” The second will be portrayed by Webern’s Langsamer Satz (“Slow Movement”).

Langsamer Satz is unusual, according to Meehan, because it’s much longer than most of Webern’s works (the composer was known for incredibly short compositions), and also because it bears little resemblance to the atonal music that Webern is most known for. The piece, Meehan said, is actually more of a Romantic work, likely because the composer was young and in love at the time of its composition.

After Meehan’s time at Chautauqua, he attended the prestigious Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, where he met Myers, Berry and Choi. The group formed to fulfill a class credit and is now a world-class touring string quartet.

There’s no one way for a young string quartet to become a professional ensemble, but many groups try to do so by entering chamber music competitions. Important ears will hear their work, and top prizes can include concert bookings and professional management.

The Calidore String Quartet went that route, and it was successful quite quickly. Within two years after its formation in 2010, the quartet won most of the major U.S. chamber music competitions, including the Fischoff, Coleman, Chesapeake and Yellow Springs competitions.

After that, the group had professional management and a regular concert schedule. It wasn’t an easy life, Meehan said — the group had to split concert fees five ways (four musicians and a manager), buy an extra seat for the cello on flights and cover New York City rent — but there wasn’t much point in continuing to do competitions.

That is, until the University of Michigan announced the M-Prize for May 2016. The $100,000 prize was the largest ever for a chamber music competition, and at 172 applicants, it promised to be the most competitive, too.

The quartet decided it was going to come out of “competition retirement” to take a shot at the competition, for obvious reason.

“Whether you know about the classical music world or not, something about a $100,000 prize seems to resonate with our culture,” Meehan said.

They won, and that victory took the musicians from a respectable chamber music career to a sky-high one. The group’s resume looks like a read-out of classical music’s top venues, and it continues to receive accolades — most recently, Calidore earned a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant.

That success has certainly come as a result of the M-Prize win, Meehan said, especially because they won the prize in its inaugural year. But while the prize helped the quartet’s career, it didn’t change its mindset, according to Meehan.

“Not much changed about our attitudes after we won the M-Prize,” he said. “It helped us get where we already wanted to go, just faster.”

In penultimate edition of Resident Artist Series chamber music concerts, Pearl Piano Quartet to play Mozart and Brahms

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  • Edward Arron

Saturday’s Chautauqua Chamber Music concert on Aug. 11 will be one of the few musical events of the week that doesn’t feature any current members of the Silkroad Ensemble — but there are still multiple connections.

First of all, cellist Edward Arron was one of Silkroad’s original members. Violinist Aaron Berofsky and violist Kathryn Votapek are both on faculty at the University of Michigan, where they are close friends with fellow faculty member and original Silkroad percussionist Joseph Gramley. The Pearl Piano Quartet’s ties with the events at Chautauqua this week are proof that the music world is a small one.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, the Pearl Piano Quartet — composed of Berofsky, Votapek, Arron, and pianist Jeewon Park — will perform Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E- at major, K. 493, and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25.

Mozart’s Piano Quartet was originally meant to be the second of a set of three commissioned by a Viennese publisher.

“At that time, chamber music with piano was meant to be played by amateurs for their own pleasure,” Votapek said. “Supposedly, it wasn’t supposed to be written for concert performance, and the publisher wanted something he could put out there that people could buy and play for fun, and (the first piano quartet) was definitely too hard for that.”

Because the first one was so difficult, Mozart’s publisher ended up canceling the commission for the remaining two pieces. But Mozart composed a second piano quartet anyway, and that is the one that will be heard on Saturday’s concert.

According to Berofsky, this piano quartet is “delightful, charming, and pretty,” but also subversive in its structure. Unlike many heavily structured pieces of that time period, this work resembles a realistic conversation: sometimes themes or motifs are repeated for no apparent reason, and sometimes the piece goes off on tangents. These are all elements that improve the piece’s value, Berofsky said, but may have been edited out if the composer was writing under commission.

“Thank god he didn’t have an editor because there’s all of these things that you could have taken out, and it would have just been a pretty parlor piece,” Berofsky said. “But it’s much more intriguing this way because he was just so imaginative.”

Mozart would not go on to write a third quartet, but the other composer in Saturday’s program — Johannes Brahms — did complete three. For Votapek, they’re gems of the chamber music repertoire.

“Brahms’ three piano quartets, I think, are the most personal chamber music that he wrote, and also the most effective chamber music that he wrote,” Votapek said. “They’re more effective than his string quartets or anything else.”

The first piano quartet, she said, is so effective because it contains everything Brahms is known and loved for — the dark, brooding Brahms, the Romantic love song Brahms and the Hungarian gypsy music Brahms.

This concert will be the penultimate installment of Chautauqua Chamber Music’s Resident Artist Series. On Monday, Aug. 13, the Calidore String Quartet will complete the Guest Artist Series, and on Aug. 18, the Resident Artist Series will conclude with a program titled “River of Freedom: The Journey of Black Freedom Fighters in the War of 1812.”

Fry Street Quartet and School of Music faculty Kelly Markgraf to present afternoon of chamber music

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At 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, the Fry Street Quartet will perform the music of Haydn, Bartok and Barber. For Barber’s “Dover Beach,” the quartet will be joined by School of Music faculty member and baritone Kelly Markgraf.

The Fry Street Quartet — named after the location of its first rehearsal space — was founded in 1997 in Chicago. The group discovered some success fairly quickly; just a few years after forming, they were one of three American ensembles invited to compete at the Banff International String Quartet Competition.

Although the quartet did not place in that competition, it was a watershed moment, said Rebecca McFaul, founding member. After the process of preparing for and performing in a big chamber music competition, two of the quartet’s members decided that they wanted to pursue chamber music more seriously, but the other two decided that they did not.

After adding two new members, the Fry Street Quartet would go on to win several chamber music competitions and establish a presence as a string quartet to be reckoned with. But before that success, the group embarked on a three-year “Rural Residency” fellowship, which McFaul described as “Peace Corps for chamber music.”

The fellowship, which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Chamber Music America, pairs chamber ensembles with rural areas that would like to have an ensemble in residence as part of their community. The Fry Street Quartet was placed in Hickory, North Carolina.

It was a formative experience for the group, McFaul said. In addition to allowing for more rehearsal and performance time, the fellowship gave the members a new perspective on their craft.

“I think sometimes a life in classical music can be pretty rarefled. Leaving that bubble and interacting with audiences that are not seeking you out — there’s a lot to be learned from that.”

-Rebecca McFaul, Founding Member, Fry Street Quartet 

The program the group is presenting today includes string quartets by two innovators in the genre — Haydn and Bartok — and Barber’s “Dover Beach,” written for string quartet and baritone.

“Honestly, we wanted to do (“Dover Beach”) because it was an excuse to collaborate with our friend, Kelly Markgraf,” McFaul said.

The quartet and Markgraf have collaborated before on the opera As One, which they will perform with Chautauqua Opera Company at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug 7, in Norton Hall. They’ll need to draw on their previous experience working together: Barber himself said that “Dover Beach” is a challenge for all involved.

“‘Dover Beach’ is a very difficult piece because nobody is boss, so to speak,” Barber wrote. “Not the singer or the string quartet. It’s chamber music.”

The pieces by Haydn and Bartok will be familiar for the quartet — in fall 2016, the group began a concert series in which it paired each of the six Bartok string quartets with one of the six Opus 76 string quartets by Haydn.

Saturday afternoon’s concert will feature Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5 and Haydn’s String Quartet in G Major, op. 76. The piece by Haydn, McFaul said, will be a “life-affirming” exhibition in both joy and humor.

Bartok’s quartet, written more than 100 years later, has its own kind of humor. Like much of the composer’s music, the piece uses musical scales that weren’t standard to the Western classical repertoire at the time of its composition, McFaul said. Bartok received a fair amount of criticism for not using the standard musical scales of the time.

As a sarcastic response, near the end of String Quartet No. 5, Bartok writes in several major scales — the most standard scale in Western music — with instructions to play them “very mechanically and with indifference,” McFaul said.

“It’s him saying, ‘You want your major scales? Well, here you go.’ It’s a fabulous moment,” McFaul said.

Sō Percussion to present new music from Dennehy, Iyer, and Shaw in Chamber Music’s Guest Artist Series

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Sō Percussion

Jason Treuting’s musical mentors include the drummer for Steely Dan, a Balinese gamelan master, the timpanist of the Rochester Philharmonic, several renowned marimba players, a pianist and a jazz trumpeter.

That’s the kind of diverse training that Treuting and the other three members of Sō Percussion — Eric Cha-Beach, Adam Sliwinski and Josh Quillen — will bring to Chautauqua Chamber Music’s Guest Artist Series at 4 p.m. Monday, July 30, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

As a result of his diverse training, Treuting possess a wide range of skills — and as a percussionist, he said versatility is critical.

“Even in an orchestra, if somebody writes for a police whistle, they’re not giving it to the piccolo player,” said Treuting. “You know they’re going to give it to a percussionist. So we’re kind of always being called upon to do the other thing.”

Sō Percussion are experts in “the other thing.” When Sō performed at Chautauqua in 2016, the group played the expected drums and mallet instruments, but also used a trumpeted conch shell and the Chordstick, a newly invented instrument described on the group’s website as a cross between an electric guitar and a hammer dulcimer.

Founded in 1999, Sō Percussion has gained a reputation as the standard bearer of the percussion quartet genre. As the group’s career has developed, so has percussion music in general: The New York Times credits Sō with setting off an “explosive new enthusiasm for percussion music old and new.”

Treuting thinks the inherent nature of percussion instruments has something to do with the recent surge.

“I feel like percussion is a wonderful vessel for new things because the audience can relate, in a certain way, to the way sound is made. You can look at these objects on stage — whether it’s a drum, vibraphone or flowerpot — and everybody can imagine hitting them to make a sound. It’s very primitive in a wonderful way. But then the way these sounds and notes are put together makes something extraordinary.”

-Jason Treuting, Percussionist, Sō Percussion

The group will be playing several “new things” on today’s concert. “TORQUE,” a mallet quartet by jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, was commissioned by Sō and premiered last month. Iyer’s music often explores the interconnectedness of music and human movement — fitting for Sō, as it has been praised for the choreographic quality of its performances.

Sō will also play Caroline Shaw’s “Taxidermy” and Donnacha Dennehy’s “Broken Unison,” both written specifically for the group. “Broken Unison,” also a mallet quartet, involves “crazy canons all over the place,” according to Sliwinski (a canon occurs when a melody is begun at different times by different players — think “Row Your Boat”).

Dennehy included many canons after attending a rehearsal of “Broken Unison” when the piece was still in draft form, and he saw that the quartet was particularly good at playing them. In a way, the piece is custom-made for the group’s specific strengths. “Taxidermy,” written for  the group in 2012, makes use of mallet instruments, flower pots and spoken word. Towards the end of the piece, according to the composer, the group repeats the phrase “the detail of the pattern is movement,” which comes from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton.” Shaw said she loves trying — and failing — to imagine that concept, which she describes as “a kind of whimsical existentialist mantra.”

In Sō Percussion’s mission statement, the group says that it aims to create and present “new collaborative works to adventurous and curious audiences.” The group is certainly doing its half: two of the works mentioned were premiered this year, and all were written in the past 10 years.

Resident Artist Chamber Music Series continues with pianist Jon Nakamatsu in collaboration with CSO members

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In May 1997, Jon Nakamatsu was a German teacher. By June, he was an internationally known concert pianist.

That’s because in June 1997, Nakamatsu won the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. It changed Nakamatsu’s life forever. In addition to international notoriety, his winnings included a debut recital at Carnegie Hall, concert tours, two years of professional artist management and a record deal. His career as a concert pianist had officially begun.

“Getting to the competition was amazing. Winning was completely unexpected, but the next day I was on tour, and it hasn’t stopped since then. That was 21 years ago.”

-Jon Nakamatsu, Artist-in-residence, Chautauqua Piano Program

At 4 p.m. Saturday, July 28, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Nakamatsu will present an afternoon of chamber music by Mozart, Faure and Clementi as part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series. Nakamatsu will be joined by Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra members Vahn Armstrong (violin), Eva Stern (viola) and Jolyon Pegis (cello).

Nakamatsu would find his way to a performance career in circuitous fashion. He never went to a music conservatory — instead, he chose to attend Stanford, where he would earn degrees in German and education, making him an unusual victor for a major piano competition.

“(I went to Stanford because) I understood that a performance career may never happen, despite my best efforts,” Nakamatsu said. “It’s a business, and you have to break into it somehow.”

During his time at Stanford, Nakamatsu kept up his piano studies with his life-long teacher, Marina Derryberry. Derryberry, he said, was the kind of teacher that could teach a student their first notes at age 6, but also prepare a young concert pianist for a major career.

“That is, I think, the most rare kind of individual on the planet,” Nakamatsu said. “She was there at my first lesson, and she accompanied me to the Van Cliburn Competition 20 years later. It was an amazing journey.”

Now, as a artist-in-residence for Chautauqua’s Piano Program, Nakamatsu acts as a mentor for the next generation of pianists. He brings a unique perspective because of his non-standard path, and he tries to impart upon his students that there’s no prescribed path to a career, especially in the arts.

“The hardest part about what we do is that you feel so often that you’re alone on your journey because no one understands or has experienced your personal trajectory,” Nakamatsu said. “I think that’s partially true, and it’s partially not. … If you’re open to any possibility, then a career is probably on the horizon for you.”

Wilburs underwrite Phan’s performance as part of chamber series

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John and Margaret Wilbur pose, Friday, July 13, 2018, in their home on the grounds. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Like many people, John and Margaret Wilbur first heard about Chautauqua Institution through word of mouth.

“We came and we started to figure out what it really was,” John Wilbur said, “just like everybody else who has some sort of brief description that never is quite adequate to what the whole place is about.”

One of the many facets of the Institution they discovered and grew to love was the Chautauqua Chamber Music Series. They began to look forward to the performances every season, and their years of enjoyment led them to underwrite a show in the series for the 2018 season.

They were especially motivated to sponsor a performance when they heard the series might have been discontinued following the passing of its former namesake patron, Kay Logan.

The Wilburs’ donation is underwriting the performance of guest artist Nicholas Phan at 4 p.m. Monday, July 23, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. Phan has performed with San Francisco Symphony, Toronto Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The Wilburs’ interest in music goes back to their early adulthood. They enjoy many genres of music, including classical music, jazz and rock.

“My mother was very musical,” Margaret Wilbur said.

Growing up, her mother was a music teacher and played many instruments. Yet Margaret Wilbur was not very interested in music as a child.

“I had never heard an orchestra play until I was in college,” she said. “The first time I heard the orchestra was in Cleveland when I was in college. And, of course, we went to a lot of rock concerts in the ’70s.”

John Wilbur also discovered classical music in college.

“I got introduced to classical music mostly when I went to school at Case (Western University),” he said.

As a native of Cleveland, Ohio, he also enjoyed the Cleveland Orchestra, which he said ranks as one of the best orchestras in the world.

Although the music programs at the Institution stand out to the Wilburs, they also explore a variety of events — from lectures to the swan races during the CHQ Olympics. Their philanthropic investment expands beyond the Chautauqua Chamber Music Series, as they also have created a garden endowment in memory of John Wilbur’s mother.

Some of the couple’s most cherished memories at the Institution are the times spent with their families. For them, endowing a garden represents that the Institution is a gathering place for their family.

“Everybody does gather here at least once a year,” John Wilbur said. “That’s why we made the memorial gift. … As (our family) keeps coming and their children come, it becomes part of the family, and the family has a relationship to the space.”

For chamber series, tenor Phan to weave Baroque love stories into ‘A Painted Tale’

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Few things remain as constant throughout the ages as love — and the fact that people write songs about it. When tenor Nicholas Phan was learning Baroque love songs, he was surprised by how relatable they were given that they’re around 400 years old.

“The experience of falling in love with somebody is not really that different than it was 500 years ago,” he said. “As a teenager, I’m sure I could relate to the angst of it all, too.”

Phan will perform a selection of those songs in a program called “A Painted Tale” at 4 p.m. Monday, July 23, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. He will be joined by flutist Michael Leopold and violist da gamba Ann Marie Morgan as part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.

The trio recorded “A Painted Tale” for album release in 2015. The album received outstanding reviews and earned accolades from the Chicago Tribune and Gramophone Magazine. In addition to collaborating with renowned chamber musicians, Phan has performed and recorded with the world’s foremost orchestras and opera companies.

Today’s program consists of just under 20 songs from Baroque composers that Phan has selected and arranged to form a narrative about two young lovers. It begins with the song from which the program’s name is derived — “A Painted Tale” by Thomas Morley, which serves as an introduction to the story.

The tale then winds through a tale of unrequited (but consummated) love, complete with eroticism, longing, triumph, jealousy and ultimately, rejection. Phan modeled the program after Franz Schubert’s famous song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin, which explores similar themes. But composers in the Baroque era (which came before Schubert, a Romantic) didn’t weave their songs into 20-part cycles, so Phan researched the repertoire and put together his own cycle.

Phan said he discovered his love for Baroque songs when he was a student at Interlochen Center for the Arts. He was taking a class on early music and his teacher — Morgan, who will join him on stage today — had him learn a song by John Dowland, whose music will also be heard this afternoon.

“The first thing that grabbed me about it was the sheer beauty of the song,” Phan said. “I was fascinated.”

Those songs stuck with him, so when Carnegie Hall requested that Phan perform a concert of early music in the prestigious Weill Recital Hall, Phan put together “A Painted Tale.” Phan did many hours of research for the project, but he said the narrative that binds the songs together came to him naturally.

“This (program) is something that’s revealed itself to me through the song texts,” Phan said. “We tend to look at this music as if it were in a museum, when actually the reason we keep coming back to this stuff is because it still holds relevance today. There’s nothing timeless like a love story.”

Sacred Song Service to celebrate life and work of ‘West Side Story’ composer Leonard Bernstein

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The work of musician Leonard Bernstein illustrates a deep understanding of both classical music and musical theater. From West Side Story to Candide, Bernstein demonstrated his sweeping knowledge of the arts with each composition he wrote.

At 8 p.m. Sunday, July 22, in the Amphitheater, in honor of Bernstein’s 100th birthday, Jared Jacobsen and the Chautauqua Choir will present “Chichester Psalms and More: Celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s Centenary.” This Sacred Song Service includes excerpts from two of Bernstein’s most acclaimed works.

“I think Bernstein would have been tickled that in this American place, we are honoring him with these two pivotal pieces,” said Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music.

Jacobsen, who first heard Bernstein’s music on the radio as a high school student, believes the musician was the ultimate “crossover character” who redefined musical theater. Though some of Bernstein’s music was not understood at the time, Jacobsen said, it has left a lasting impression on the musical community.

The first Bernstein piece the choir will perform is a portion from the Chichester Psalms, which were written in 1965 for the Rev. Walter Hussey.

“They’re very difficult because it’s Bernstein exercising his musical theater chops and also including mid-20th century dance rhythms,” Jacobsen said. “These are dance rhythms done by some of the greatest dancers in the world that Bernstein had envisioned would be doing his pieces on Broadway and in concert halls. That unusual rhythm also parallels the rhythm of the text.”

Jacobsen said the texts, originally written in Hebrew, were a welcome challenge for the choir. Though difficult to perform, they are enticing and represent the true purpose of worship music.

“Sacred music of all faiths is sort of an attempt to wrap ourselves around things we don’t understand,” he said. “Something magical happens when you put words and music together. You don’t even have to know what you’re singing about. If the music is good enough, it just takes you and it says, ‘Come with me.’ ”

Following the Chichester Psalms, Jacobsen and the choir will perform “Mass,” a large composition written in 1971 for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Mass” was composed after Bernstein was approached by Jacqueline Kennedy following her husband’s assassination. She requested a musical piece that both honored the former U.S. president and celebrated the arts.

“I think it’s fascinating that what she wanted, after he was assassinated, was for his memorial to be a center for performing arts, a cultural center in our nation’s capital,” Jacobsen said.

In the Catholic faith, the word “mass” represents a structured form of worship with necessary elements and, of course, a priest. Bernstein’s approach recognized this type of order, but also added a theatrical twist, Jacobsen said.

“There are certain things you would recognize from the Catholic Mass, but then around the edges, Bernstein puts his unique touch on everything,” Jacobsen said.

This composition guides the audience through a warm-up but picks up speed with a narrative about a priest slowly unraveling during a service.

“He just gets so mad at himself that he tips over the altar and hurls the Communion cup out into the audience,” Jacobsen said. “It is the most amazing piece of theater.”

Though Jacobsen first acquired a portion of “Mass” in 1971, he saw the composition live for the first time this past spring in Los Angeles. Seated near the front of the stage in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he said the experience was an unforgettable moment, as a musician.

“It was overwhelming,” he said. “Now as somebody who makes his way through life working through the church and also educating people, it was everything I am. It was Chautauqua wrapped up in a nutshell.”

String quartet ETHEL to present program of varied devotional music

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People from all over the world admire the scope and achievement of the Western classical music canon. But cellist Dorothy Lawson said Western classical music can often seem condescending to those of other musical traditions. Lawson, co-artistic director of the string quartet ETHEL, is devoted to combatting that trend.

“We’ve worked very hard in various relationships over many years to overcome that, to detoxify that, to actually bare our own vulnerabilities to people from other places and learn from them,” Lawson said. “We want to use this beautiful equipment from the Western tradition to partner and dance with people who have their own perfectly authentic and deeply developed masteries — centuries and centuries of tradition — in other musical languages.”

ETHEL will be speaking many musical languages in its recital at 4 p.m. Monday, July 16, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. The program, “Devoted,” features devotional music of a plethora of cultures, from South Asian Qawwali music to Native American Zuni chants.

ETHEL, formed in 1998, consists of cellist Lawson, violist Ralph Farris, and violinists Kip Jones and Corrin Lee. Each of the four began at prestigious music schools but would go on to have distinctly diverse artistic careers. Their cumulative resume includes Broadway shows, experimental folk music, Brazilian jazz and solo appearances in classical music’s hallowed venues.

In the group’s own words, ETHEL is a fusion of “uptown, conservatory musicianship with downtown genre-crossing,” making it difficult to tell whether ETHEL is a band or a string quartet. ETHEL’s exploratory spirit has led to collaborations with a menagerie of artists from around the world.

One of those collaborations was a 10-year partnership with the Native American Composer’s Apprenticeship Project. Each fall, the quartet worked with a group of high school students from the Navajo Nation, helping them to record and share their musical ideas with the larger world.

Lawson said ETHEL’s decade-long experience with those Navajo teenagers was transformational because it revealed a new way of relating to music.

“Music is an applied art among Native American communities,” Lawson said. “They don’t even really regard it as something for specialists, they regard it as a human birthright. Music is something that people do. They make songs when they need them, and then they share them with each other.”

By participating in that holistic approach to music-making, Lawson began to realize how intellectual Western classical music can be. She said she found herself wanting to go deeper — to search for a greater depth of emotion and spirituality in her own musical life.

The “Devoted” program, which will receive its first performance this afternoon, is a sampling of the many different ways cultures around the world engage music in worship. Lawson said she’s excited to premier “Devoted” at Chautauqua Institution because of the Institution’s reputation for exploring those themes.

“Devotion itself is such a beautiful human capacity,” she said. “We love to illuminate that, bring that into a concert environment and let the audience embrace it themselves.”

Vamos, Pacht, friends bring family together for chamber music

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Almita Vamos
Rami Vamos
Nurit Pacht
Eugeni Monacelli

 

For Chautauquans, this weekend’s chamber music concert will be an eclectic mix of familiar and foreign repertoire presented by members of the School of Music faculty. But for the performers, it will also be a miniature family reunion.

“It’s really fun to play with your family because you get to see each other,” said violinist Almita Vamos. “We don’t always get to see each other because we’re all so busy.”

At 4 p.m. Saturday, July 14, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Vamos will be joined by her sister, Eugenia Monacelli, daughter-in-law, Nurit Pacht, and son, Rami Vamos, for the latest installment in Chautauqua Chamber Music’s Resident Artist Series.

For Vamos, music and the arts are at the center of the family. The extended family includes actors, a painter, and classical musicians; each of the four performers in Saturday’s concert hold impressive resumes, as well.

Pacht, a concert violinist, has given recitals and concerts all over the world, including a U.S. State Department funded tour of Ukraine with Monacelli, a pianist. In her own career, Monacelli has performed as soloist with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Guitarist Rami Vamos has a multifaceted career as an educator, composer, and performer in New York City. He teaches at all levels, coordinating the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s children’s concert series while also serving on faculty at Concordia University.

Violinist Almita Vamos, the coordinator of Saturday’s concert, is one half of the teaching duo affectionately referred to as the “Famous Vamoses.” In addition to leading performance careers, Roland and Almita Vamos have taught many most prominent violinists, including Rachel Barton Pine and Jennifer Koh.

Pacht was also a student of the Vamoses. In 10th grade, she left her home in Texas for Minnesota, where she moved in with the Vamos family to study with the couple. She lived in the room next to her future husband, Rami Vamos — but they didn’t immediately hit it off.

“We didn’t really get along — we didn’t even like each other too much,” Pacht said. “It was when we met at a party of musicians many, many years later that we became friends, and then more.”

Now, they’re married with three children. Saturday they will perform “Two Pieces for Violin and Guitar,” which they composed together. Pacht said that the couple enjoys writing and performing their own music because it allows them to write for their own instruments in the way that they want to play them — so it ends up being more fun.

The program will also feature Almita Vamos performing music of Respighi and Schnittke with Monacelli accompanying her on piano. Vamos is particularly excited for those two pieces, she said, because they will likely be new to audience ears but are extremely interesting and enjoyable pieces.

Vamos said the Respighi is rarely performed because it’s difficult to put the violin and piano parts together due to their rhythmic complexity. But she’s not worried — performing with her sister is easy, she said.

“(When we were young), we had lessons and coachings together many times, even though we play different instruments,” Vamos said. “So we think of music similarly.”

Some of those lessons and coachings took place at Chautauqua Institution. While in school, Vamos and Monacelli came to the Institution in the summer to study with Mischa Mischakoff, then concertmaster of the CSO.

That’s part of the reason why Vamos chose to organize this concert — she said that she only gives performances at special times, and her time at the Institution this week is certainly that.

 

 

Massey Organ recital to showcase humor and laughter through music

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Jared Jacobsen directs the the Chautauqua Choir during the Sacred Song Service in the Amphitheater, Sunday, June 24, 2018. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The fun and laughter will continue this week during the Massey Organ Mini-Concert, with a selection of humorous music.

At 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 11, in the Amphitheater, Jared Jacobsen will perform “ROTBLOL, Again!” on the Massey Organ. This mini-concert is an extension of last year’s “ROTBLOL!,” an abbreviation for “Rolling Off the Bench Laughing Out Loud.”

“I’m doing a couple pieces I did last year to repeat them, then I’m doing some different stuff that I’ve discovered out of my fun piece drawer,” said Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music at the Institution.

Within his “fun piece drawer,” Jacobsen discovered “Birthday Parodies for Organ” by Dan Miller, a collection of “Happy Birthday” variations. Jacobsen noted that the song “Happy Birthday to You” only recently became public domain, and that is cause for celebration.

“The woman who wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ copyrighted it, and her family sensed a cash cow because everyone sings ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” he said. “For years, theoretically, you were risking jail time to play ‘Happy Birthday’ at your kid’s birthday party.”

The “Happy Birthday” copyright case surfaced in 2013, and the dispute was settled about three years later when the song was released for public use.

Jacobsen will also play “Variations on an Oriental Air,” which he developed as an ode to the classic tune “Chopsticks.”

“ ‘Variations on an Oriental Air’ is my fool title for this,” he said. “The Oriental Air is chopsticks, which everybody who has ever sat down at a keyboard has to try.”

The mini-concert picks up with the “Showpan Boogie,” a variation of the “Minute Waltz.” The “Minute Waltz” is a popular piece of music known for its lively tempo, though not all variations clock in at exactly a minute. The waltz, Jacobsen said, has created friendly competition among musicians who write variations in hopes of being the shortest.

In the spirit of carefree laughter, Jacobsen will include a piece from musician Charles Edward Ives. Ives, an American composer, created music that Jacobsen deemed “ahead of its time.”

The concert will include Ives’ “Variations on ‘America’ for Organ.”

“He had enough money to buy musicians to play his music, even if they didn’t understand it,” Jacobsen said. “So he’d have these legendary concerts in his home just so that the pieces would get heard once or twice. He didn’t really care if anybody understood it.”

Though much of Ives’ work went unnoticed during his time, Jacobsen sees value and humor in his compositions. The selected piece is fast and bold, and Jacobsen knows it will be well-received.

“It works at Chautauqua because here, audiences get the joke,” he said. “I’ve played it a lot of places around the world and most of the time people don’t get the joke because they’ve never been to a concert where they’re allowed to laugh.”

The concert concludes with a “Television Theme Trio” by Mark Peterson, a piece that includes three famous theme songs: the theme from “Perry Mason,” the theme from “Mission: Impossible” and Fugue in F Minor from “The Munster.”

“I’m going to try this out because I haven’t played it anywhere yet before,” Jacobsen said.

Chamberfest Cleveland to bring audience ‘Behind Bars’ in Lenna program

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Thematically programmed concerts are usually centered around grand narratives or specific time periods, not around prison. But at 4 p.m. Monday, July 2, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Chamberfest Cleveland will be performing the music of four composers who have all served jail time in a program titled “Behind Bars.”

The subject of imprisonment plays into the Chamberfest Cleveland’s larger theme, “In Search of Freedom.” In this case, it’s a lack of freedom that unites the composers.

Some of the names might come as a surprise — Johann Sebastian Bach is featured because the composer was jailed for a month by an angry boss, and Franz Schubert because he spent a few nights in prison for opprobrious language.

Henry Cowell, the early 20th-century American composer, earned his spot on the program because of a much longer sentence. In the 1930s, Cowell spent four years in San Quentin State Prison after being arrested for committing homosexual acts.

Perhaps the most serious imprisonment featured this afternoon will be Olivier Messiaen’s yearlong stint in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. While imprisoned, the composer wrote one of his best known works, “Quatuor pour la fin du temps” (“Quartet for the End of Time”).

He also premiered it in that prison camp, to an audience of prisoners and guards. The Messiaen quartet, at almost an hour long, will be the entree of the program. It’s a challenging work on many levels, said Chamberfest clarinetist and co-founder Franklin Cohen. Messiaen weaves a complex tapestry of sounds that captures the frantic, apocalyptic fears of World War II Europe.

Messiaen weaves a complex tapestry of sounds that captures the frantic, apocalyptic fears of World War II Europe. From the audience, it demands an attentive ear, and from the performers, it requires tremendous focus and technical skill.

Despite the oppressive circumstances of its composition and the intense turmoil that takes place for most of the piece, Messiaen — a devout Catholic — ends the quartet with the violin slowly ascending to the highest extremes its range. Cohen said it represents hope for a positive outcome to a dismal situation.

“In the end, I think we’re all feeling this kind of uplifted feeling that Messiaen probably has been searching for throughout his whole life,” he said.

Cohen, principal clarinet emeritus of the Cleveland Orchestra, along with his daughter Diana, concertmaster of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, are the minds behind the inventive program and Chamberfest Cleveland itself. The duo began the festival in 2012 at Diana Cohen’s suggestion. She knew that she and her father had a large network of friends and colleagues in music, and she saw potential for an organized concert series.

“When the opportunity to reach into our community even more deeply and more intimately through Chamberfest came up, we seized at the opportunity,” Cohen said. “Ultimately, when your daughter wants to be your partner, how can you say no?”

For the duration of the festival, the participating musicians stay in Cohen’s and his neighbors’ houses. In between rehearsals and socializing, they even have their meals together. Chamberfest — started by a family — still functions like one.

From pulpit, Gushee to focus on America, Kingdom of God

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“A moral compass and a spine. How desperately we need them today,” the Rev. David P. Gushee, Christian ethicist, tweeted on June 22.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous question: Who stands fast? Who remains steadfast? Who, in other words, has both a moral compass and a spine?” Gushee tweeted in part.

“When a regime is telling daily lies, who retains a hold on the truth? When every effort is being made to obscure reality, who sees clearly?”

Gushee is the current president of the American Academy of Religion and immediate past president of the Society of Christian Ethics. He will serve as chaplain for Week Two at Chautauqua.

He will preach at the Ecumenical Service of Worship at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, July 1 in the Amphitheater. His sermon title will be “The Kingdom of God and America.”

Gushee will share his faith journey at the 5 p.m Sunday, July 1, Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy. This week, his sermon titles include “On Dignity,” “On Justice,” “On Peace,” “On Love” and “On Community.”

At Mercer University, where he has worked for 11 years, Gushee is a Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life. He also teaches seminary students at Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology.

As an activist, Gushee has been involved in efforts dedicated to peace, justice and human dignity — specifically in regards to torture, climate change and, as his Mercer faculty webpage states, “the continued harm being inflicted on LGBTQ persons by Christian churches and families.”

Regarded as one of the world’s leading Christian ethicists, Gushee is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 22 books, including Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Texts, The Sacredness of Human Life, Evangelical Ethics, A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism and the upcoming Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: Fourteen People Who Dared to Change Our World.

Gushee holds a bachelor of arts from the College of William and Mary, a master’s of divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a master’s of philosophy and doctorate of philosophy from Union Theological Seminary.

 

Sacred Song Service to celebrate American progress and challenges

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  • Director Jared Jacobsen and the Chautauqua Choir perform during the Sacred Song Service in the Amphitheater, Sunday, June 24, 2018. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A true celebration of American independence means recognizing the country’s complete history, including aspects people wish to bury.

At 8 p.m. Sunday, July 1 in the Amphitheater, Jared Jacobsen will dig deeper into that history during the Sacred Song Service “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”

“We do a lot of the traditional waving of the flag, roasting of the hot dogs and shooting reworks as part of the fabric of Chautauqua,” said Jacobsen, Chautauqua Institution’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “So for the worship part of it, we have tried to help people understand that there’s more to experience than that, than just the physical trappings of the Fourth of July.”

The title of the service comes from the sonnet “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, which appears on a bronze plaque on the base of the Statue of Liberty. During large waves of immigration, those arriving at Ellis Island in New York could see the famous statue and read Lazarus’ words, which extended a warm welcome.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Lazarus wrote.

Jacobsen frequents Ellis Island and believes the sonnet has taken on a new meaning, given the ongoing debate over immigration.

“The whole reason for Ellis Island is much more in people’s consciousness with all of these issues that are going on with immigration,” he said. “We’ve switched the focus of it to border issues, and not so much people coming in by boat,but it is a part of who we are as a melting pot.”

He said he hopes the hymns will spark conversation among Chautauquans about immigration issues, rather than shying away from the debate. Jacobsen included “This is My Song,” a hymn by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness, that speaks to a worldwide audience.

“Essentially, the hymn is telling us we don’t have an option on everything,” Jacobsen said. “We are part of a global community, but we are more than ever seeming desperate to build walls and tell people who can be there and who can’t.”

In addition to addressing immigration, Jacobsen included several African-American choral anthems to broach the topic of slavery and segregation in America.

“The choral music is really all over the map,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine any national celebration that doesn’t address the whole issue of slavery in America.”

In regard to America’s long, grueling effort to desegregate, Jacobsen noted that when Tuskegee University was established as one of the first educational institutions for black Americans, Chautauqua extended an eager invitation to the university’s choir.

“They were the first to invite the Tuskegee Choir to come and sing, and that was a gigantic step,” Jacobsen said.

To help celebrate and encourage a diverse Chautauquan community, Jacobsen’s choir will perform a “Freedom Trilogy” that encompasses a 16th-century chant, a South African song and John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace.”

The service will conclude, at last, with the song “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” for which Irving Berlin wrote the music to accompany Lazarus’ sonnet. Though this is the second year in a row Jacobsen will perform this service for Independence Day, he said the choice was clear.

“It’s important to repeat it because we are in a different place than we were last year,” he said.

“Every time you turn around, people are asking what to do when someone new comes into this country. Do we say get out, or do we say come in? Chautauqua exists because, from the beginning, people have been saying ‘Come in.’ ”

-Jared Jacobsen, Organist, Coordinator of Worship and Sacred Music

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