NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, now well into its highly anticipated season, is playing a jam-packed week filled with pieces both new and old. Starting this week off, guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru will lead the CSO at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 in the Amphitheater.
Măcelaru has solidified himself as a well-known and well-respected conductor, and in January 2020, he won his first Grammy Award. Măcelaru has also won several other awards, including the Solti Emerging Conductor Award and the Solti Conducting Award. Before his current position as the chief conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Măcelaru conducted all over the world with some of the world’s best orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and National Symphony Orchestra.
“The orchestra enjoys his precision in conducting and his approach to colors and sound,” said Marian Tanau, CSO violinist. “We actually went to the same music school in Romania. He was a terrific violinist first and then became a conductor. His career took off, especially lately when he got appointed in Cologne.”
The CSO musicians are excited to work with Măcelaru.
“The way he conducts, it’s spontaneous. It’s not like it’s preconceived — he’s just in the moment, and with whatever’s happening at the time,” said Cynthia Frank, violist.
The program tonight starts off with Dvořák’s Selections from Legends, B. 122, Op. 59. After this piece, there will be a short intermission and the concert will then end on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.
The Selections from Legends is a collection of 10 pieces that Dvořák originally wrote as a piano duet in early 1881 that he later rearranged for the orchestra. The pieces themselves don’t really have a story, but “it seems to be telling some sort of story because it’s so narrative,” said Karen Lord-Powell, CSO violinist.
The CSO will be performing seven out of the 10 pieces for tonight’s performance. The CSO frequently performs pieces by Dvořák, and the musicians enjoy playing the composer’s melodies. However, tonight will be the first time Legends is played on the Amp stage and the first time being performed overall for many of the musicians.
“I think I’m excited to play the new piece because it satisfies my curiosity as an artist,” Tanau said. “It also has such a beautiful variety with the typical beautiful tunes of Dvořák.”
The piece itself is also technically challenging for the musicians, given that it was originally written as a piano duet.
“We only have four fingers as string players, so there’s quite a few passages that I had to think hard about for practical fingerings. I realized I needed a fifth finger. But it was really fun, because I love playing more difficult pieces,” said Olga Kaler, first violinist. “I’m sure everyone is thrilled to have a fresh piece by one of our usual favorites. It’s amazing no matter how you look at it.”
The Beethoven symphony itself is a grand piece that is recognized by both non-musicians and musicians alike. Even at its premiere, Beethoven apparently remarked that it was one of his best works. Beethoven composed this piece around 1811 when Napoleon was at war with Russia. This turmoil can be heard throughout this highly emotional piece.
“The (Seventh) Symphony is just huge,” said concertmaster Vahn Armstrong. “I actually think of (Beethoven) as the first rock ‘n’ roll composer. He’s got all this heavy backbeat and the last movement of the piece is the perfect example of that.”
The piece takes the audience through a sequence of emotions, from hopefulness to sadness.
“Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is one of my favorite pieces. It has this sort of hope in the first movement with then a sadder march in the second. It’s just really beautiful and one of my favorite symphonies in the world,” Tanau said. “The first movement starts with scales that keep going up. When you play it, you feel like you’re walking up to the sky. It’s just an amazing feeling of raising your spirit. The second movement is actually really sad but the last movement is then full of hope and joy again. I think it translates to our story and COVID-19.”
The Seventh Symphony also has a deeper meaning to several members of the CSO themselves. Through this piece, each musician is able to tell their own stories.
“Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is always everyone’s favorite and it’s going to be spectacular,” Kaler said. “It happened to be the very first Beethoven symphony that I’ve played in my life. At that time I thought I wanted to be a solo artist, but this piece made me want to commit my life to a symphony orchestra. It was like fireworks, being part of something so grand, yet so intimate. It has every sort of emotional state in it. I love all Beethoven symphonies, but combined with my personal history, I’m beyond excited to revisit this.”
For others, this piece is a reminder of those lost.
“I actually have a little bit of a Chautauqua connection with Beethoven’s Seventh,” Armstrong said. “The second movement is kind of a funeral march, and one of the first times I played that symphony was when I first came to Chautauqua. I remember playing with my stand partner at that time: Gerald Jarvis, who was the concertmaster here when I first came. He was terminally ill and had lung cancer. So whenever I play that piece, I think of Jerry. He was a wonderful colleague.”
The piece includes such high energy in other movements that the musicians can give their all — and have some fun on the stage as well.
“They all work together but each has a different character,” Lord-Powell said. “The second violins add a lot of texture when we’re filling out lines with a lot of sixteenth notes. I have a lot of fun doing it, because most conductors don’t mind if we play as loud as we can — because these textures are needed.”
Tonight’s performance is “a big concert, because of the conductor and the bigger program with vigorous instrumentation,” Frank said.
“This is the heart of our season,” Lord-Powell said. “This week is at the heart of our repertoire.”