Beloved Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals to feature Sunday matinee

School of Music students perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” on Aug. 10, 2016, in the Amphitheater.
Eslah Attar / Daily file photo
School of Music students perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” on Aug. 10, 2016, in the Amphitheater. Piano Program students will perform “Carnival of the Animals” with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amp

Musicians from both the Chautauqua Piano Program and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra are getting ready to let loose a variety of wild animals into the crowd — through music. 

Piano students in the School of Music will take the stage with the CSO, under the baton of Principal Symphonic Conductor and Music Director Rossen Milanov, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater for what Piano Program Chair Nicola Melville called a “lovely little diversion in the day” — Camille Saint-Saëns’ beloved “Carnival of the Animals.”

A humorous piece with 14 total movements, “Carnival of the Animals” is one of Saint-Saëns’ best-known works — but because of its frivolity, he was adamant that the work not be performed publicly during his lifetime as he felt it would damage his reputation as a composer of serious works.

One of the students taking the Amp stage with the CSO on Sunday is Sean Yang. He began playing the piano at the age of 5, and has found that children and families are his favorite audiences to perform for. His devotion to his craft developed during his teen years when he realized the community that music could provide. He had the opportunity to perform in an ICU, for patients often far removed from the outside world, and started to “understand the impact” music could have.

“Community is second only to healing for me; lately, the role of music as a healing mechanism for the stressors of our daily lives has been at the forefront of what I consider the purpose of music,” Yang said. “There’s quite a bit of overlap with healing and community. The fact that music can serve as an avenue for creating community, that alone is already a method of healing.”

Yang is a returning student in the program, drawn back largely because of the community; it’s “by far the strongest (out of other festivals) both at the student level, the faculty level, as well as the community of supporters that we have on the grounds.” 

He pointed to simple acts of kindness “all over the place” at Chautauqua, both among the students and faculty.

“The admirable way that we communicate about music is something that I love, and what I find to be really generous,” Yang said. “Here, there’s such an emphasis on making sure that each of the students are aware of their strong suits so that they never lose their grasp on what makes them unique, while they polish their musical sense across the six weeks.”

For students in Chautauqua, he said faculty makes sure that “there’s always a comfort for students to be able to explore pieces at their own pace;” the culture is one of encouragement to have conversations to have about these pieces being practiced and performed. 

With Week Two focusing on “The AI Revolution,” Yang was particularly interested in “what it means to be a creative artist in our day and age.” Many School of Music faculty members appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of Chautauqua, Yang said, as their journey to becoming great artists had so much to do with these winding paths of self-discovery, of contemplating and exploring every, and any, interest.

“You also hear how much fulfillment there is, in that they have no regrets because they were able to explore the crevices of every interest that they’ve had,” he said. “They’ve been happy with choosing music on piano specifically as their medium to communicate most effectively to their audience.”

Usually, pianos are placed in the back of the orchestra, alongside percussion, but for “The Carnival of the Animals,” the pianos will be front and center. Not only is this an exciting opportunity for the piano students, but the set is inclusive as well; normally, movements have two pianists playing the whole piece, and this event has five sets of pairs. Everyone gets a chance to play. 

Melville describes “The Carnival of the Animals” as a “musical caricature” with satire laced in it — it’s just very entertaining — and Sunday’s concert would be the perfect place for children to experience live music.

“I’m very excited for us as performers to also be able to reach back into our inner child, so that we can not only better communicate with the type of audience we’ll have, but also explore this part of our childhoods that we rarely get to reflect on,” Yang said. “Like, that same type of joy and amazement that I had as a kid when I first visited a zoo — that’s the type of exhilaration that we want at the Amphitheater on Sunday.”

Tags : Camille Saint-SaënsCarnival of the Animals.Chautauqua Piano ProgramChautauqua Symphony OrchestracsoNicola MelvilleRossen MilanovSean Yang

The author Gabriel Weber