Chautauqua Opera alum Gray to join CSO for evening of ‘American Song’

Music Director and Principal Symphonic Conductor Rossen Milanov leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra last Tuesday in the Amphitheater. Brett Phelps/Staff Photographer

Sarah Russo
Staff writer

A “life of literature,” the Week Six theme, can extend beyond just books.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform “American Song” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater featuring one piece with written words directly from America’s 16th president, with vocals sung by Chautauqua Opera Company alumnus Yazid Gray. 

Under the baton of Music Director and Principal Symphonic Conductor Rossen Milanov, the CSO will perform two selections: Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring andMichael Daugherty’s “Letters from Lincoln.”

“(These are) two influential and captivating compositions that offer unique perspectives on American history and culture,” Milanov said. 


Both pieces showcase these perspectives, but in different ways, he said. 

“Daugherty’s work combines the power of Abraham Lincoln’s words with an imaginative and contemporary musical language,” Milanov said, “while Copland’s iconic piece captures the essence of the American spirit and landscape with its evocative melodies and rural imagery.” 

Gray will accompany the CSO for this evening’s program on the Daugherty. 

Gray performed with Chautauqua Opera as an Apprentice Artist and baritone soloist in As the Cosi Crumbles: A Company Developed Piece in summer 2021. Gray also participated as a featured Young Artist in Chautauqua Opera’s digital season for 2020. 

The CSO will begin with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Originally composed for dance and choreographer Martha Graham, the work has become a representation of American culture. 

The final selection in tonight’s program is Daugherty’s “Letters from Lincoln,” featuring soloist Gray. First performed in 2009, Daugherty’s work creates a musical portrait of the 16th president, capturing his eloquence and hope that humanity could overcome prejudice to create a better world. The piece was also composed and premiered during the bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. 

Daugherty wrote in his program notes that he “discovered ways to bring (Lincoln’s) historic greatness into the present.” 

The composer read speeches, poems and letters for Lincoln to study his life. He even visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and traveled to the battlefields of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. 

Daugherty said many historians and the American public “regard Lincoln as America’s greatest president who successfully led the United States through the Civil War and initiated the end of slavery.” 

Lincoln’s life, full of spectacular opposites, ironies, contradictions and pathos, provided Daugherty “with an abundance of musical dramatic possibilities.” 

The baritone solo features words from Lincoln based on historical documentation. The 25-minute performance includes seven movements.  

“Both compositions not only showcase the immense talent and creativity of their respective composers,” Milanov said, “but also serve as an important part of the musical canon, resonating with audiences for generations to come.”


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.