For guest conductor Yue Bao, the title of this evening’s Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra program — “Fateful Encounter” — holds special meaning, as it was her own fateful encounter with Chautauqua Institution that helped launch her on her path.
Bao was the 2018 David Effron Conducting Fellow at the School of Music, mentored by Music School Festival Orchestra Music Director Timothy Muffitt, and led her fellow students in Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, op. 60 in a Monday evening Amphitheater performance.
It was a formative summer for Bao, who is now the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation Assistant Conductor of the Houston Symphony. She returns to the grounds to conduct the CSO at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, in the Amp. On the program are Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, op. 90 — simply known as the Italian Symphony — and Beethoven’s Fifth.
Bao remembers sitting in on CSO rehearsals and attending concerts in 2018. She knew a few of the musicians, but never worked directly with them. Now, to conduct the CSO, “making music with them, sharing the music with the audience, is very meaningful,” she said.
“I’m just looking forward to being back and working with these wonderful musicians,” she said. “Hopefully, I can bring a memorable night to Chautauquans.”
After leaving Chautauqua, Bao graduated in 2019 with an Artist Diploma from The Curtis Institute of Music (she also holds degrees in orchestral conducting and opera accompanying from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Music in orchestral conducting from the Mannes School of Music). After graduating from Curtis, she toured China with the Vienna Philharmonic, made her subscription debut with the Houston Symphony on opening night of its 2020-2021 season, conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the 2021 Ravinia Festival and debuted with both the San Francisco Symphony and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
“I’m very lucky to have these great experiences with great orchestras and musicians — and going back to the CSO? I’m so excited to be back,” Bao said.
The evening’s program, Bao said, is designed to be colorful and delightful — perfect for a summer night outdoors.
“The Italian Symphony is a great choice,” she said. “Mendelssohn wrote it during a trip across Europe, and it’s just perfect for a concert like this. You just feel like you’re out in an Italian field, enjoying the summer.”
As for the Beethoven selection, the Fifth is “inimitable,” Bao said. Arguably the composer’s best-known work (from “Looney Tunes” to a riff in “Saturday Night Fever”), Symphony No. 5 is on tonight’s program as a “delayed celebration” of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, celebrated all across the globe — to the extent possible, or not possible — in 2020.
“We still need to celebrate,” Bao said. “(The Mendelssohn and the Beethoven) are definitely two massive symphonies of their times, and I’m excited because this starts some of my own further exploration of Beethoven’s Fifth — I’ll conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in it next week, as well.”
Those performances, on July 28 and July 29, will mark Bao’s debut with the Minnesota Orchestra. Much of her conducting journey, she said, was made possible through what she learned about “cooperative, collaborative process” at Chautauqua.
“It was a wonderful experience for me,” Bao said. “I not only accumulated a lot of repertoire and experiences — I was just able to enjoy the positive vibe there. Everyone is welcoming, everyone seems to enjoy making music and making art there, and communicating with each other. It’s not just a music festival. … Musicians don’t just collaborate with each other, but with dancers, the visual artists. It was such an enjoyable summer for me.”