A performance by School of Music students this afternoon is set to honor a history of cooperation between religion and the arts at Chautauqua, preserving that relationship for future generations.
At 3:15 p.m. today, Chautauquans can stop by the Everett Jewish Life Center to hear a series of solo performances by recipients of the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua’s scholarship program for School of Music students.
The Hebrew Congregation is one of three Jewish groups at the Institution and has been operating since 1960. The organization was started after two Jewish students at the School of Music sought out religious services, traveling first to Jamestown before bringing a rabbi to the Institution to deliver the first Jewish service on the grounds.
To honor these roots, the Hebrew Congregation now sponsors a few music students every year to study, subsidizing their tuition and board fees.
“I’m able to be here in Chautauqua for six weeks completely free, just to focus on my music and studying and working with lovely colleagues and new teachers,” said clarinetist Katia Waxman, a recipient of the scholarship this summer.
This year marks the program’s 50th year of offering young musicians the opportunity to come to Chautauqua.
“It all goes back to the music students,” said Esther Northman, president of the Hebrew Congregation. “We really treasure the relationship and want to continue that tradition.”
This year’s recipients include five students from the School of Music’s various departments, with three studying in the Instrumental Program and two at the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory. The recital this afternoon is organized to give them an opportunity both to express their thanks, and to share their musical talents with a welcoming audience.
“We were each asked to prepare a short solo piece that showcases our instrument and just give a brief introduction of ourselves and the piece of music we’re going to play,” said Waxman.
The students did not have formal rehearsals for today’s recital, instead preparing for the event individually under the coaching of School of Music instructors.
Waxman will be performing “Three Smiles for Tracey,” a series of short miniatures written by African American composer Adolphus Hailstork.
“He actually wrote this piece in … 1989 for a student to play on her graduation recital,” she said. “I’m excited to share it with people because that’s not necessarily a composer that a lot of people are familiar with, and it’s very near and dear to my heart.”
Alison Kessler, a soprano studying in the Opera Conservatory, is the only one of the Hebrew Congregation’s scholarship recipients for this summer who is Jewish herself. She decided on Richard Hundley’s “Arise My Love” and Kurt Weill’s “What Good Would the Moon Be” for the occasion.
“I thought since I happen to be Jewish, it would be nice to have a connection to it. And so I picked the Ruchard Hundley one because the text is a Biblical text – it’s from Songs of Solomon,” Kessler said. “Then I picked the Kurt Weill one because Kurt Weill was Jewish, and so I wanted to connect that to the Congregation.”
Kessler and Waxman will be joined by Nora Wang, a violinist; Jooahn Yoo, a cellist; and Cameron Howard, a tenor; in this afternoon’s performance.
Each of the students is delighted to take advantage of the opportunities an education at Chautauqua’s School of Music offers to aspiring young musicians.
“I have the ultimate goal of playing clarinet in a major orchestra in this country, and Chautauqua gives you the opportunity to get an immense amount of experience in the orchestral setting,” Waxman said. “We turn over repertoire every week, so you have to learn at a pace that’s really blistering and challenging, but it’s been really exciting.”
Kessler, for example, performed in her first opera — Suor Angelica — last Monday in the Amphitheater. She’s also rehearsing for L’Enfant et Sortileges, which is scheduled for Week Seven.
“That one is totally out of my comfort zone; it’s a different type of singing that I’ve never done before,” she said. “But I feel like in this community, with the people around, I feel supported to take that risk.”
Members of the Hebrew Congregation are happy to support the students in their educational journeys.
“For the past five decades, we, the Hebrew Congregation, played an active role by contributing to the religious, educational and social mission of Chautauqua Institution,” said Northman. “So we really believe in the arts and supporting the arts.”