NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER
With a grand sweep of the baton, music director and conductor of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Rossen Milanov will launch the CSO’s 2021 season at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 10 in the Amphitheater. With COVID-19 regulations constantly changing, planning and putting together this season proved to be a huge challenge. However, they were able to overcome these obstacles to create a season that includes various performances to look forward to.
“Maestro Milanov has crafted a season for our unique situation this summer,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts. “While a distanced orchestra requires a smaller orchestra on stage, we worked to ‘biggie size’ our ideas and repertoire, if not the number of instruments on stage. We have taken this opportunity to feature what is most special about the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra: the musicians themselves.”
This first performance of the season is special not only because the CSO hasn’t been able to perform together on stage for almost two years, but because the program includes a blend of both contemporary and classical pieces.
“This year features a lot of works for smaller orchestras,” Milanov said. “We decided to focus on the people in the orchestra. We are such a close-knit family of musicians. Some of them have been a part of this orchestra for dozens of years. This first performance on Saturday will be very emotional for all of us, because we will be performing together again. This music on the program is both celebratory and multicultural, in the face of the piece by Gabriela Frank, and also optimistic and triumphant through the music of Beethoven.”
Saturday’s performance will kick off with the traditional performance of the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by R. Strauss’ “Fanfare for the Vienna Philharmonic,” Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Elegía Andina” and will finish with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60.
“ ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is something that unites us no matter where we come from,” Milanov said. “It also gives us this moment of solemnity. Everyone gets to participate and sing. We love it because it suddenly makes us feel as if we are one in the hall and there’s no barrier between the stage and the audience.”
There will be no soloists for this first concert. However, Strauss’ piece showcases the talents of the brass section.
“We sort of planned the season to feature different groups of the orchestra. The opening piece features the brass and we are actually going to do it side by side with the brass members from the Music School Festival Orchestra. You will see both students form the festival orchestra with professionals performing,” Milanov said.
The next piece, “Elegía Andina,” showcases what it means for the composer to be from several ethnic backgrounds, and Frank honors her blending of cultures in this piece.
“I’m very excited because a very big focus of this season is going to be showcasing music by diverse composers,” Milanov said. “We have six of them being featured in this course of five weeks.”
The CSO is closing the evening’s performance with Beethoven. Last summer would have been the celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.
“He remains one of the greatest composers,” Milanov said. “We couldn’t celebrate him last year, so I felt we had to play a Beethoven symphony on opening night in admiration for what he has done for music.”
Concertmaster Vahn Armstrong said the Beethoven is a favorite of his.
“They’re all great, but No. 4 is my favorite,” he said. “This one isn’t played quite as much as the other ones. So it’s a treat to come back to it, and it’s Beethoven in good high humor.”
When planning a season, Milanov thinks of it as creating a nice dinner meal for his audience.
“Everytime I think of a concert I want to make sure the flavors are complemented,” he said. “There’s always something that people have never tried, there’s always a discovery. I want this to be presented at a very high technical level and to give people as much pleasure as a good meal with friends would give.”
One of these new discoveries included in this season is Joshua Stafford, who holds the inaugural Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist.
“It’s one of the most remarkable examples of outdoor organs in the United States,” Milanov said. “We thought it would be very important to feature the organ that seems to always survive.”
July 31 will be the first time Stafford is officially featured as a soloist with the CSO.
“I’m most excited to hear the concert with Rossen conducting and Joshua Stafford playing an organ concerto,” said Steven Slaff, managing director of performing and visual arts.
Slaff is also looking forward to hearing the CSO perform Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony,” calling the July 31 event a “really exciting and special concert.”
Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz will also lead the CSO in coming weeks for live performances of Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beauty and the Beast,” an Opera Pops concert as well as this season’s closing performance with Capathia Jenkins.
“There’s nothing like Christmas in July here in Chautauqua,” Chafetz said. “I’m so thrilled to be back with a live audience. I had no idea how much the audience plays a role in the excitement and how much the audience influences the performance. The players feel the exuberance from the crowd.”
Both the staff and the musicians themselves are elated to be back to a sense of normalcy that is performing live music again in the Amp.
“We perform live. It’s hard to transform yourself into a TV station and try to broadcast all the necessary qualities and depth,” Milanov said. “I’m happy that we’re in Chautauqua. That’s where we belong. I hope we will not have to stop again.”