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America’s birthday bash: soprano Julie Reiber joins CSO, Stuart Chafetz in festive evening celebrating July 4

Concertgoers seated in the choir loft above the stage wave American flags during the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s Independence Day Pops Concert on July 4, 2023, in the Amphitheater.
HG BIGGS / Daily file photo
Concertgoers seated in the choir loft above the stage wave American flags during the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s Independence Day Pops Concert on July 4, 2023, in the Amphitheater.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra is getting ready for an explosive Independence Day Celebration with the “fantastic” voice of Julie Reiber joining them for a party that will have something for all ages.

At the special time of 8 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, the CSO will present its annual Fourth of July Pops concert under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz with guest vocalist Reiber.

“Julie Reiber is a fantastic soprano who can sing anything; she’s a real pro with a gorgeous voice and beautiful soul,” Chafetz said. “She’s going to be perfect for this concert.”

Reiber said performing with an orchestra is “like nothing else. There’s this fullness right behind you that you just can’t experience in any other way. It’s so special and unique; It just has a real presence and energy in the moment. … It just has a high emotional value to it because it’s so alive.”

Reiber has performed with symphonies around the world, and has performed in seven Broadway shows — Chautauquans may know her from her time as Elphaba in Wicked or Beverley in Come From Away. She and Chafetz have worked together over the years, and she feels lucky to have that relationship because the conductor is a “great showman and so much fun.”

Tonight, the audience can trust there will be a “variety of music that relates to everybody,” Chafetz said. The evening’s program will open with American Dream Fanfare and include “Strings on Fire” by Henry Mancini, the prolific Grammy Award-winning composer.

“Mancini has written so many great arrangements and iconic themes with moving music; he just knew how to write for an orchestra,” Chafetz said. “It’s nice to go back to the root of things, like Gershwin and Mancini to listen to musicians who were really the founding fathers of great orchestral pop music. It melds genres of popular to orchestral music, which is something that I’m interested in.”

The annual concert always features a melding of pop, Broadway, and orchestral tunes; Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is standard fare — with popped paper bags standing in for the cannons — as is the Armed Forces Salute.

Since Chafetz has been a part of the Chautauqua community and CSO for 27 years, he has had the opportunity to establish relationships that have lasted just as long. Even in the off-season, in his roles as principal pops conductor with the Columbus Symphony and Marin Symphony in California, the Chautauqua connections among musicians run deep.

“It’s a wonderful experience to go and visit an orchestra and have two or three members of the Chautauqua Orchestra be there,” he said. “It’s not only wonderful to have the personal connection but also the professional connection. … Music is such a small world; it brings people together from everywhere, and that’s the beauty of Chautauqua. There’s so many connections.”

With so many family and friends in the orchestra and in the audience, Chafetz does feel extra pressure and wants the performance to be “absolutely solid and cared for in the proper way,” especially considering the little amount of time allotted for rehearsals with all musicians in attendance. 

“We’re family. There’s nothing like getting together, being able to reconnect to Chautauquans every summer and come together and make great music,” Chafetz said. “I can look around the orchestra and see all my friends — it’s a wonderful experience. You really do feel supported. It’s all about trust for this orchestra because we’re so connected and being a conduit to encourage everybody on stage to do their thing.”

The Fourth of July concert is one of Chafetz’s favorite as a conductor because of the palpable “excitement in the air,” the music selections, and the encouraged dancing. Reiber’s appearance, he said, is a massive deal for Chautauqua, and an honor for the audience to witness “her vocal prowess and be brought together through incredible sound.”

“The July 4 concert has been really special, because it brings multi-generational families together. It’s a concert that’s designed for the entire Chautauqua community. When I program, I make sure there’s a little something for everyone; Chautauqua is not only big on connections, but also traditions,” Chafetz said. “I’m happy to say that the Fourth of July has become one of these traditions — there’s truly no other place like it on the Fourth. I always look forward to this concert. It’s my favorite of the year and it makes people happy.”

Tags : Chautauqua Symphony OrchestraCome From AwaycsoFourth of JulyIndependence DayJulie ReiberPops concertStuart ChafetzWicked
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The author Gabriel Weber