Coming together for 1st concert as cohort, MSFO launches season with ‘powerful, moving’ opening night in Amp

Members of the Music School Festival Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Muffitt, play during their rehearsal on June 30, 2023, at Lenna Hall. CARRIE LEGG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Mariia Novoselia
Staff Writer

On Independence Day eve, Chautauquans can enjoy a program of orchestral music that evokes national sentiments while testing boundaries. 

The Music School Festival Orchestra consists of 82 young musicians from all over the world. Under the baton and guidance of Timothy Muffitt, the MFSO’s opening concert is at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

“(The audience) will hear some exciting, dramatic, beautiful, uplifting, powerful, moving music, played with great spirit and joy,” said Muffitt, conductor and artistic director of MFSO.

First, the orchestra will perform a tone poem by Richard Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. One of the composer’s most beloved works, Muffitt said, the piece tests musicians by pushing not only their musical skills, but also their emotions — something works by Strauss often do. 

Opting to perform this piece for opening night is “a bit of a gamble” because of how challenging it is to play, Muffitt said. 

“I’ve been doing this job for 26 years now and, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that these musicians step up to the plate when we put something in front of them like this,” he said. 

Following that is “Umoja: Anthem of Unity” by African American composer Valerie Coleman. The  “beautiful and uplifting” composition possesses a very strong American sense to it, he said, marrying strife and conflict alongside remarkable warmth and optimism.

“It meets the moment in a wonderful way … in a powerful, profound way,” Muffitt said. 

After an intermission, the MSFO will perform Symphony No. 100 (“Military”) by Joseph Haydn. Percussion parts of the piece, written in 1794, conjure the Turkish army. 

Recreating the sounds of Janissary music – particular to that time and region – the symphony “gives our percussionists an opportunity to play a unique work,” he said, remarking that the piece is also good at bringing the whole orchestra together. 

This year, a record high of around 450 musicians auditioned for the MSFO. This is “considerably more” than usual, which shows the competitiveness of the program, Muffitt said.

A part of COVID-19’s legacy, the auditions were virtual, which continues to prove effective. However, that could change in the future.

“There’s nothing quite like a live audition and someday, hopefully, we will get back to that,” Muffitt said. 

MSFO students had seven rehearsals before this evening’s concert. This, Muffitt said, is very similar to most professional orchestras, which usually have four. Moving forward in the season, the orchestra will only have six rehearsals for each concert. 

Even after nearly three decades in his role, Muffitt said he most enjoys working with musicians who are immensely gifted, enthusiastic and ready to make music at a high level.

“It’s wonderful to be in the middle of that energy,” Muffitt said.


The author Mariia Novoselia

Mariia Novoselia is a senior at Western Kentucky University studying journalism with a minor in political science. Born and raised in Odesa, Ukraine, she previously attended Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University. She has experience writing for student publications and interning at a local newspaper in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Summer 2023 will be her first season on the grounds of Chautauqua, where she will be covering environmental issues. Mariia is also a music enthusiast, and when not writing, she enjoys singing and playing the guitar.