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Sunday Afternoon Entertainment

Gonzalez returns for special ‘Aesop Bops!’ show

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SARA TOTH – EDITOR

David Gonzalez, a professional storyteller and poet, conducts a sing-along during an August 2017 Family Entertainment Series performance in Smith Wilkes Hall. CAM BUKER/ DAILY FILE PHOTO

Most of us know Aesop’s classic fables from childhood — but even the classics stand to be reinvented sometimes.

Enter David Gonzalez, a storyteller, musician, poet and actor who’s bringing an interactive afternoon of stories to the grounds for Chautauquans of all ages with “Aesop Bops!” at 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22 in Smith Wilkes Hall.

“It’s classic stories done with a fresh twist, and it’s really a wonderful intergenerational experience,” Gonzalez said. “Parents and grandparents will know these stories — but not in this way, and sometimes the little ones had never heard them before, so it’s a very fresh, intergenerational storytelling bonanza.”

It would be a mistake to say that Gonzalez will be the only performer at Smith Wilkes on Sunday. He’s lined up an event filled with audience participation and imaginations running wild, and he can’t predict which way it will go — right, left, up or down?

“These shows unfold beat by beat, moment by moment,” he said. “The thing about live performance is that it makes the present moment so very precious. … We’re diving headlong into that moment we’re sharing.”

Sharing those spontaneous moments with an audience is, indeed, precious after a year of virtual performances.

“We we can see and hear each other, we create an environment that’s not three-dimensional, it’s six-dimensional. We are activating our own imaginations, sharing imaginations — and understanding these stories through our own lens, and other people’s points of view,” he said. “So much can go on. So much that can never happen virtually.”

By the end of the show, Gonzalez said, young people in the audience won’t just know the stories of “The Lion and the Mouse” or “The Fisherman’s Wife” — they’ll actually feel like they had a part in creating those stories.

“There’s a ton of laughter and communal sharing and participation, and the kids end up doing the stories along with me,” Gonzalez said. “They end up taking these stories home with them. They own those stories when we’re done.”

This isn’t the first time Gonzalez has performed on the grounds — he did a stint with the Family Entertainment Series in 2017 — and he finds himself drawn to Chautauqua because of a few simple words: “Exploring the best in humanity.”

“My work is eliciting wonder and supporting the exploration of joy and wisdom through a range of stories,” he said. 

Premiere jazz pianist Charlap, trio to perform Sund

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SARA TOTH – EDITOR

Bill Charlap Trio

In July 2020, in the middle of the first summer of COVID-19, parts of Pennsylvania were moving into a “green phase” of re-opening, allowing for somewhat limited indoor dining and live music. The Deer Head Inn, a hotel, restaurant and storied jazz club in the small town of Delaware Water Gap, made the decision to re-open, with widely spaced tables, open windows, temperature checks, the works.

The first musical act of Deer Head’s re-opening? Renowned jazz pianist Bill  Charlap. It had been more than four months since his last performance, and as he told John Marchese of The New York Times, the hiatus was “definitely the longest I can remember. I’m minus a central part of my life.” 

When he took the stage, he told his audience: “There is no substitute for humanity and connection. I wish that I could be closer physically. But I will do everything I can to be as close in every other possible way with the music.”

More than a year later, Charlap is back on the road, with two stops this week at Chautauqua. The first is at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington — the group, known as the Bill Charlap Trio, was formed in 1997 and is recognized as one of the leading groups of jazz.

Charlap has recorded seven albums for Blue Note Records and received two Grammy Award nominations, for Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein and most recently for Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard.

“Charlap approaches a song the way a lover approaches his beloved. …When he sits down to play, the result is an embrace, an act of possession,” TIME magazine once lauded. “The tune rises, falls, disappears and resurfaces in new forms as Charlap ranges over the keyboard with nimble, crisply swinging lines, subtly layered textures, dense chords and spiky interjections.”

Charlap will again take the Amp stage at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday with celebrated jazz pianist Renee Rosnes — who happens to also be Charlap’s wife —  to play songs from their first collaborative album, Double Portrait, which is a set of four-hand piano duets.

Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus returns to Chautauqua with songs of both joy, solemnity in wake of pandemic

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LAURA PHILION – COPY & DIGITAL EDITOR

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus joins the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rossen Milanov, to perform Verdi’s Requiem at the Amphitheater on Saturday, June 30, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Adam Luebke had a simple description of the last year: “Pretty tough.”

Luebke is the music director for Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus — which, like other choral groups, had to abandon gathering in person indefinitely when COVID-19 hit in early 2020. There was no safe way to perform or even practice in person, since droplets travel even farther through singing than talking, which already had the now-familiar 6-foot distance rule.

“We met regularly on Zoom,” said Luebke, who has been with the Chorus for five years. “We kept going — to provide connections and music making for our chorus members.”

At long last, the Chorus will reunite onstage at Chautauqua at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 8 in the Amphitheater. They will sing Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D Minor, Op. 48, in remembrance of victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then Antonio Vivaldi’s arrangement of the hymn “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” RV 589, usually simply known as the Vivaldi “Gloria.”

“Everyone is really excited (to perform in person),” Luebke said, “but we want to reflect, and remember those who did not make it through the year.”

The year 2020 wasn’t a total wash for the Chorus, though — the group won its first-ever Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for appearing alongside the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in a recording of Richard Danielpour’s “The Passion of Yeshua,” conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Luebke said he was proud of the Chorus’ involvement in the project, which was a full-length oratorio with multiple soloists.

The Chorus’ other achievement in the last year and a half was finding a way to continue its yearly tradition of singing Handel’s “Messiah.” 

An in-person performance wasn’t possible, so Luebke and the Chorus found creative ways to record. Small groups of safely distanced singers were recorded separately, and then stitched together. Their performance was broadcast on Buffalo and Toronto’s WNED just in time for the holidays.

Returning to Chautauqua will be the mark of returning to normalcy for Luebke and the Chorus. 

“(We will sing) the Requiem in memorial, and (then the) exciting, thrilling Vivaldi,” Luebke said, “and we’re excited to do this at Chautauqua — a favorite place of the Chorus to perform. We’re thrilled to sing at Chautauqua and share great choral music.”

70th Barbershop Harmony Parade to showcase key ingredients of a strong quartet

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Members of the male quartet group The Praetzel Brothers Aaron Praetzel, left, Brian Praetzel, Gray Cullen and Sean Praetzel perform “What a Day for a Daydream” during the Barbershop Harmony Parade on Sunday, August 20, 2017 in the Amphitheater. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The recipe for a barbershop quartet is simple: one lead singer, a pinch of tenor, a dash of baritone and a scoop of bass.

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Chautauquans will be treated to the Barbershop Harmony Parade. Now in its 70th year, the annual event will feature performances by some of the top barbershop quartets in the region and will culminate in a patriotic finale that will feature over 100 singers on stage.

George Jarrell, Chautauqua show chairman, said the best barbershop quartets have three key ingredients — perfectionism, comradery and stellar song choices.

“We’re ear singers, basically,” Jarrell said. “Most barbershoppers are just guys who hear it and that’s what they follow. They have good intonation and they can produce some really good music.”

Sunday’s performance will include songs like “Cheer Up Charlie,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Sweet Caroline” and “Bare Necessities” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Jarrell, who sings baritone for Harmony Production Company, said that while many barbershop tunes are from the turn of the 20th century, the genre is expansive.

“For instance, my quartet does a lot of gospel songs. They’re not barbershop, but they’re arranged in the barbershop style,” he said.

Jarrell said the harmonies are barbershop’s greatest appeal.

“We’re not allowed to say ‘ring,’ that’s not a technical name,” Jarrell said. “When the four notes in a barbershop chord are done as perfectly as possible, there’s an overtone or other tones, some of them under, too, and that’s amazing. That’s why when people hear barbershop, their ears perk up.”

Jarrell said this year’s quartets, which include Barbershock and The Harbor House 4, vary in age.

“Since there are four in a quartet, they all have to get along together. If you’re going to produce harmony, you’ve got to have harmony in the whole thing,” Jarrell said. “They’ve got to enjoy each other’s company. That’s what makes a quartet experience really great.”

Sunday’s performance will also feature larger choirs alongside the quartets. The Seneca Statesmen and Harmonic Collective will sing a number of songs, as will the women of Buffalo Gateway Chorus, ensuring that female voices will also be heard in songs like “Wee Small Hours” and “Somewhere Out There.”

The Barbershop Harmony Parade began in the 1950s with a performance by the Buffalo Bills of The Music Man fame. Jarrell, a longtime barbershop devotee, first fell in love with the style 35 years ago in the Amp.

“I know it has been an important ingredient in my life. It’s the only thing I do other than work,” he said. “I don’t bowl, I don’t golf, I don’t do those other things, but I do sing.”

Jarrell said he is grateful for the a cappella Renaissance in the age of Pentatonix, and that the music creates a shared experience between singers and audiences.

“You feel the music in your heart that goes to the other person, and it just is a unique experience and makes the connection between the people, and that’s what life is all about,” he said. “And I love all kinds of music; I just happen to enjoy the harmony.”

Chautauqua audience keeps Brass Band coming back to Amp

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The Brass Band of the Western Reserve. Submitted photo.

Patrick Hosken | Staff Writer

The term “Western Reserve” refers to a patch of land in northeast Ohio previously owned by the state of Connecticut in the 18th century. Members of the Brass Band of the Western Reserve picked that name over, say, “Brass Band of Akron,” to highlight the group’s diverse geographical makeup.

“It just seemed like a good name,” said band director Keith M. Wilkinson. “We didn’t want to pinpoint the name to any particular city, because that’s not the band.”

Though it has rehearsal space in Akron, players from Youngstown, Sandusky, Columbus and other Ohio cities comprise the group, which will play at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

Wilkinson resides in Columbus, where he teaches mathematics at Capital University. He was a successful brass band director in England before moving to Ohio in 1996. He first took a position as music director for the Salvation Army, which ended after funding dried up. He then sought out local musicians for a new project, one that would eventually become the Brass Band of the Western Reserve.

Since its genesis in fall 1997, the band has performed in venues both large and small, including multiple visits to the Amphitheater. Wilkinson said it’s the audience that keeps the group coming back to the Institution.

“We’ve always found that the Chautauqua audience likes what we do, the variety of music we perform and the quality of the band’s performance,” he said.

That quality comes from camaraderie among band members, Wilkinson said. They play what they like to play, but they also play what audiences respond to and enjoy.

The band has seven recorded albums, and most are usually available to purchase at shows. The latest album, “Without Reserve,” is a play on the band’s name but also serves as a mission statement of sorts, Wilkinson said.

“When we play, we give our everything in terms of making music,” he said. “We play high quality, and we play good repertoire, so we don’t hold anything back.”

Sunday’s show is one of the band’s farthest destinations for a concert. Members travel from the Akron area, where the band played some “fireworks events” last weekend for the Independence Day holiday, Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said audiences can expect the big brass sound the band has become known for — glamorous show tunes and marches — as well as some guest soloist performances and sectional ensemble items.

The band chooses this type of set list, above all, to keep the audience entertained and engaged.

“We’re not out to educate; we’re out to entertain and send people home enjoying music we’ve played with a spring in their step,” he said.

The band has played Chautauqua almost every year since 2004, and Wilkinson said he hopes this collaboration will continue.

“We just love the venue for all sorts of reasons,” he said. “It’s a lovely place to play.”

Award-winning Legion Band returns to Amp

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Seen here in 2010, the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, Post 264, performs on Sunday afternoon in the Amphitheater. Daily file photo.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

The American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, Post 264, will perform at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. The award-winning concert band, established in 1929, draws its membership from various musicians in western New York.

“(Chautauquans will) get a chance to hear a band that is a special band, really,” said Jim Scott, personnel manager and 50-year member of the band. “We have a handful of professional musicians, and we have some good band music that you’re never going to hear from any other band at Chautauqua.”

The band draws its membership from a great variety of people. The roster includes people involved in management, engineering, medicine, government, sales and education. Scott said diversity is an advantage for the band because members get the chance to work with musicians who are just as talented as they are.

No one in the band is compensated for the work they put forth. Scott said people stay involved because of the opportunities the group offers.

“The band just keeps getting better and better because we just keep getting better musicians,” Scott said.

The band, he said, has a good reputation in the area simply because people like to hear the members play. The following even extends beyond New York because people who move away join other bands all around the country. At national competitions, they encounter former members on a regular basis.

At the band’s past performances, many Chautauqua residents came from beyond the grounds to see the group, Scott said.

“We get a variety of people coming to listen to us that live in Chautauqua,” he said.