‘Powerhouse’ soprano Lawrence joins Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Chafetz, for beloved Fourth of July celebration

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, led by Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, and accompanied by soprano Dee Donasco, perform during the Independence Day Celebration on July 4, 2022, in the Amphitheater. Dylan Townsend/Daily File Photo

Sarah Russo
Staff Writer

At Chautauqua Institution, music has become the backbone for celebrations. Whether it’s the start of a season or a national holiday, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra is there to bring joy. And today, for the Fourth of July, is no different. 

The CSO will perform its annual “Independence Day Celebration” at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. For Stuart Chafetz, principal pops conductor for the CSO and conductor of the Independence Day concert for more than 20 years, music may be the best way to celebrate.

“We have a lot of things to be thankful for,” he said. “Mostly the fact that we have the opportunity to be in this magical place every summer or for the first time. And it’s always interesting to introduce this concert to people who this is their first time and sort of getting a taste and a sense of what Chautauqua is all about.”

Tonight’s performance will include a wide range of fan favorites like John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” John Williams’ “Born On the Fourth July” and Samuel A. Ward’s “America the Beautiful.” In true “pops” fashion, the bill will also include a tribute to the late Tina Turner and hits by Aretha Franklin.

“As always, [the program] is geared for the entire family so that we can spend it with our loved ones and good friends and relatives,” Chafetz said.

Actress, writer and singer Tamika Lawrence, who will be featured during tonight’s performance, is “fantastic” and “blew (him) away,” when Chafetz worked with her in the past on a Aretha Franklin tribute show.

A two-time Grammy-winner Lawrence has performed in “Rent: Live” in 2019, “Caroline, or Change” in 2021 and “Better Nate Than Ever” last year among other credits.

“I’m just so excited to share Tamika with the Institution and with our audience because she’s just such a powerhouse, and her voice is so exciting,” Chafetz said.

Chafetz said audiences should expect to enjoy every second of the program.

“There’s a lot of really great music packed into 90 minutes,” he said.

Chafetz also shared how important this performance is on a personal level as someone who was first involved in the CSO playing timpani for more than 25 years. 

“I think this concert sort of culminates so many positive elements of Chautauqua and just the feeling of togetherness on such an important holiday…” Chafetz said. “Chautauqua Symphony is such an institution within the institution… I feel really fortunate to be at the helm for this one. This is the concert that I look forward to most during the year of anything that I do, because Chautauqua has the best audience. Chautauquans sing, they dance. They really get into it. And to me, that’s a reflection of the spirit here.”


The author Sarah Russo

Sarah Russo is a senior at Syracuse University studying broadcast and digital journalism. At Syracuse, she reports and hosts for CitrusTV and writes for The Daily Orange and Baked Magazine. Sarah also interned at the National Comedy Center last summer. When she’s not reporting, she enjoys being outside biking, swimming or reading. As a Chautauqua County native, Sarah is excited to work in a place close to home and her heart this summer. She will be covering the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.