Evening Entertainment

Coming together for 1st concert as cohort, MSFO launches season with ‘powerful, moving’ opening night in Amp

Members of the Music School Festival Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Muffitt, play during their rehearsal on June 30, 2023, at Lenna Hall. CARRIE LEGG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Mariia Novoselia
Staff Writer

On Independence Day eve, Chautauquans can enjoy a program of orchestral music that evokes national sentiments while testing boundaries. 

The Music School Festival Orchestra consists of 82 young musicians from all over the world. Under the baton and guidance of Timothy Muffitt, the MFSO’s opening concert is at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

“(The audience) will hear some exciting, dramatic, beautiful, uplifting, powerful, moving music, played with great spirit and joy,” said Muffitt, conductor and artistic director of MFSO.

First, the orchestra will perform a tone poem by Richard Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. One of the composer’s most beloved works, Muffitt said, the piece tests musicians by pushing not only their musical skills, but also their emotions — something works by Strauss often do. 

Opting to perform this piece for opening night is “a bit of a gamble” because of how challenging it is to play, Muffitt said. 

“I’ve been doing this job for 26 years now and, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that these musicians step up to the plate when we put something in front of them like this,” he said. 

Following that is “Umoja: Anthem of Unity” by African American composer Valerie Coleman. The  “beautiful and uplifting” composition possesses a very strong American sense to it, he said, marrying strife and conflict alongside remarkable warmth and optimism.

“It meets the moment in a wonderful way … in a powerful, profound way,” Muffitt said. 

After an intermission, the MSFO will perform Symphony No. 100 (“Military”) by Joseph Haydn. Percussion parts of the piece, written in 1794, conjure the Turkish army. 

Recreating the sounds of Janissary music – particular to that time and region – the symphony “gives our percussionists an opportunity to play a unique work,” he said, remarking that the piece is also good at bringing the whole orchestra together. 

This year, a record high of around 450 musicians auditioned for the MSFO. This is “considerably more” than usual, which shows the competitiveness of the program, Muffitt said.

A part of COVID-19’s legacy, the auditions were virtual, which continues to prove effective. However, that could change in the future.

“There’s nothing quite like a live audition and someday, hopefully, we will get back to that,” Muffitt said. 

MSFO students had seven rehearsals before this evening’s concert. This, Muffitt said, is very similar to most professional orchestras, which usually have four. Moving forward in the season, the orchestra will only have six rehearsals for each concert. 

Even after nearly three decades in his role, Muffitt said he most enjoys working with musicians who are immensely gifted, enthusiastic and ready to make music at a high level.

“It’s wonderful to be in the middle of that energy,” Muffitt said.

Acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens returns to Amp stage for CSO collaboration


Grammy Award-winning musician and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens has graced the stage of the Amphitheater on several occasions — as a solo performer in 2017, with her musical collaborator and romantic partner Francesco Turrisi in 2018 and 2020, and with her folk quartet of Black female banjo players, Our Native Daughters, in 2019. 

This season, for the first time, Giddens will be performing with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Stuart Chafetz, the principal pops conductor for the CSO, who has been playing the timpani and conducting with the orchestra for 25 years, will conduct this evening.

“I’m extremely excited to get to work with her on this collaboration with the symphony,” Chafetz said.

An Evening with Rhiannon Giddens will continue the programming for Week Nine’s theme “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture, and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival.” Giddens will perform her music, a blend of original songs and covers that draws on a myriad of influences, with the CSO at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 in the Amp.

Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, is a longtime admirer of Giddens’ music and work. After Giddens performed at Chautauqua with Our Native Daughters, two of her bandmates, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah, returned to Chautauqua for their own programs in 2021.

“(Giddens) talked about wanting to invite more Black and Brown sisters along,” Moore said. “The main thing was lifting up her sister musicians of color.”  

Giddens’ work is focused on reclaiming and emphasizing the rich cultural history of Black American music. She plays in a genre-defying amalgamation of American traditions, including bluegrass, jazz, gospel, country and folk music. 

“She has many influences, from American to Celtic to various other styles,” Chafetz said. “They’re very inspiring and very unique.” 

Giddens is a singer, a songwriter and a multi-instrumentalist, playing the banjo and the fiddle, among other string instruments. She co-composed the score and wrote the libretto for the original opera Omar, which had its world premiere at Charleston’s Spoleto Festival in late May. 

Additionally, Giddens wrote the score for a ballet titled Lucy Negro Redux, based on a poetry collection of the same name by Caroline Randall Williams. She developed the ballet in collaboration with Williams, Turrisi and the Nashville Ballet at Chautauqua in 2018. 

During a Week Eight residency that season, Giddens and Turrisi worked on the material for the ballet, which explores the presence of the “Dark Lady” in William Shakespeare’s sonnets, a figure who many theorize was a Black woman. That week’s theme, “The Forgotten: History and Memory in the 21st Century,” dovetailed with Giddens’ passion for excavating the erased and neglected past.

Giddens’ artistry foregrounds the exploration of Black musical history and the reclamation of historically disrespected instruments like the minstrel banjo. Her 2019 album, with Turrisi, there is no Other, features original tunes and covers that unite musical traditions from opera to Appalachian bluegrass.

“Listening to her records can feel like exploring a well-curated home,” Sam Sodomsky wrote in a review of that album for Pitchfork. “Take, for instance, her banjo. A familiar tool within her favored arenas (folk, bluegrass, old-time music), it serves Giddens as a symbol within a symbol: a custom-made recreation of the 19th century African American instrument adopted by white musicians and popularized through minstrel shows. She plays it as a reclamation, a way to ensure her music’s history remains inextricable from its delivery.”

Chafetz has enjoyed digging into Giddens’ music in preparation for the upcoming concert.

“I’ve just been becoming familiar with her style, which is vast and amazing,” he said. “She sings, she plays the banjo, she plays the violin. And so the question is: How does the symphony fit in with enhancing what she does? It’s really wonderful to listen to her style and her work as I prepare the music and study the scores.”

With Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, CSO presents Moravec/Campbell work ‘Sanctuary Road,’ story of unsung abolitionist Still


The oratorio Sanctuary Road, like any operatic works, has a composer — Paul Moravec — and a librettist — Mark Campbell. It’s a traditional authorship, to be sure, but Moravec likes to say that the two had a third collaborator: William Still.

Still was a businessman, abolitionist and a conductor on the Underground Railroad, who helped nearly 800 enslaved Black people to freedom before the Civil War. He was also a meticulous notekeeper, and in 1872 published The Underground Railroad Records, whose contents are taking on new life with Moravec and Campbell’s work, which will be performed in the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra concert “Paths to Freedom: Sanctuary Road” at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 in the Amphitheater, conducted by CSO Music Director Rossen Milanov, joined by the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. 

“What makes Sanctuary Road so relevant is that its story is directly inspired by the writings of William Still,” said Laura Savia, Chautauqua’s vice president of performing and visual arts. “He was just a pillar of the Underground Railroad, and kept the most meticulous records of everyone who came through the eastern line who had any connection to him. It’s because of his writings we know as much about parts of the Underground Railroad as we do — but he’s not a household name.”

This evening’s concert features Moravec and Campbell’s oratorio work, though Sanctuary Road is also now an opera that premiered last March with the North Carolina Opera. The oratorio, commissioned by the Oratorio Society of New York and premiered in 2018 at Carnegie Hall, is an example of how Campbell and Moravec are exploring and reinventing the oratorio for the modern era, Savia said. 

The work’s creators have dubbed it an “operatorio.” Even the New York Classical Review, upon its 2018 premiere, described the work as an oratorio “in the full quasi-operatic sense, rich in character, action, and vocal display.”

Moravec, who won a Pulitzer in 2004 for his Shakespearean reimagining Tempest Fantasy, has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, including from the Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts, and three awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He first started work on Sanctuary Road in 2016; it is the second in a three-part series of sweeping oratorios exploring American history. 

“It is remarkable just the sheer amount of documentation that Moravec and Campbell have to work with,” Savia said. “Of course they would consider Still their third collaborator.”

A three-piece oratorio series. Three collaborators on Sanctuary Road. And within the work itself, the rule of threes comes yet again, as Still is not just the central figure: He acts the narrator, a commentator and an active participant in the story.

“He’s editorializing, he’s jumping in and acting out scenes from his own life,” Savia said. “I love the toggling between narration and action. For (Moravec and Campbell), who are aware that they’re two white men telling this story, it’s so important to them that they place William Still, a real-life hero, at the center.”

Tonight, Still will be portrayed by bass-baritone Richard L. Hodges in his Chautauqua debut. He’s joined by soprano Laquita Mitchell, tenor Joshua Stewart, baritone Malcolm J. Merriweather and mezzo-soprano Melody Wilson. 

With Sanctuary Road being performed tonight, in the same way that the Institution programmed a community conversation the day prior to the production of Bill Barclay’s The Chevalier — another work dedicated to an influential Black man nearly lost to history — earlier in the summer, so too was there a conversation held on Sanctuary Road on Wednesday evening, led by Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime. 

“Not only is this an oratorio work and orchestral work that is inspired by literary writings, but with Sony’s vast knowledge of contemporary American writings and writings of the African diaspora, we can really amplify the stories, themes, resonances that are in Sanctuary Road,” Savia said. “This means we get to go deeper for a piece like this, because Chautauqua Institution is committed to growing into more of a year-round incubator for writers and creators. This conversation is an opportunity to understand those processes.”

Between the work itself, the Wednesday conversation, and the talk-back scheduled immediately after tonight’s concert, Savia wanted to create as deep a dive as possible into Still and his story — and all of the dramatic, operatic moments it includes.

In evening including Mozart, Kaza to solo with CSO on Schickele’s ‘Pentangle’


Peter Schickele is many things — a bassoonist, radio personality and a prolific composer of more than 100 works for everyone and everything, from classical music to television shows. But many likely know him by a different moniker: P.D.Q. Bach, and for his comedic compositions that range from satirical to charming, folksy to zany. 

Roger Kaza, principal horn for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, has been a fan of Schickele’s work “forever,” and has even worked with the composer — who he described as a “soft spoken but hilarious guy” — once during a performance in St. Louis, where Kaza also serves as principal horn of the St. Louis Symphony. Now, the horn player joins his colleagues in the CSO as a soloist on Schickele’s “Pentangle: Five Songs for Horn and Orchestra” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. 

Under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov, the CSO’s concert is titled “Wit and Genius” — and with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, serving as the back half of the evening, it might be tempting to argue that Schickele is the “wit” and Mozart the “genius,” but Kaza was quick to point out Schickele’s prowess.

“Schickele comes from a time when there was such widespread musical literacy, that when you talked about (the composer’s) ‘Iphigenia in Brooklyn,’ or ‘The Abduction of Figaro’, everyone would get the joke,” Kaza said (alas, despite fervent research, this writer still doesn’t get the joke). “It was a rarified, sophisticated humor, but incredibly funny to music lovers. He has very thorough composing chops. He could have gone ‘serious’ but that wasn’t his calling.”  

Schickele used “pentangle” to refer to a group of five songs, Kaza said — the piece has five moments — but also as a reference to the 1960s folk rock group of the same name.

“The work indeed has sections that rock and jam, and the final song is reminiscent of an English ballad that a folk rock group might sing,” he said.

In the third movement, Kaza must play multiphonic chords on his horn — a tradition that goes way back.

“The German composer Carl Maria von Weber wrote them into his horn concertino; they are definitely challenging to pull off,” he said. “Another thing (Schickele) requires, in the last of the five songs, is that the performer actually sing the song. OK — I’m not a trained singer, but everyone can sing, right?”

Typically performed with a healthy dose of ham, “Pentangle” is a concerto for orchestra and horn, and while Kaza said Chautauquans can certainly expect some fun, not everything Schickele composes is “one constant joke.”

“‘Pentangle’ has contemplative moments, exuberant moments, wistful moments, but no tragedy or pathos. It’s music that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Kaza said. 

In comparison, pathos and poignancy abound in the Mozart, making the evening balanced in a way audiences may find restorative.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kaza said, “and I think it’s just what Chautauqua needs about now.”


Cellist Pegis to solo with CSO on Elgar work, with Bermel, Nielsen on program


In an evening and program touching on contrasts between eras and emotions, displacement and nostalgia, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11 in the Amphitheater, under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov, sharing a stage with a soloist who’s one of their own.

The CSO will perform three pieces tonight: Derek Bermel’s “A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace,” Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, op. 85, and Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, op. 50.

Composer and clarinetist Bermel — who has been honored with a Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, the Rome Prize, and an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among others — is known for his blending of world music, funk and jazz. His “A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace” draws on Hungarian composer Béla Bartók — particularly Bartók’s last years, which he spent in New York City, holding on to his musical roots in an unfamiliar environment.

The New York Times included the first movement of “A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace” on its list of “The 25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2019,” with a critic calling “amerikanizalodik” a “dizzying melting pot of folklike rhythms, droning tunes and pungent modernist harmonies, spiked with bursts of wailing jazz.” Of the whole, The New York Times described “A Shout, a Whisper, and a Trace,” as a “vibrant homage to Bartók.” The album upon which it appeared, Migrations, received a Grammy nomination.

 The composer is in residence Week Seven, having performed with the Argus Quartet Saturday, and workshopping The House on Mango Street: The Opera with author Sandra Cisneros, the librettist adapting her famous novel for the stage. The workshop, which culminates in a public reading Friday in Norton Hall, comes five years after Cisneros and Bermel first collaborated on the inter-arts production of “House on Mango Suite,” which premiered on the Amp stage.

Following the Bermel, the CSO presents Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Jolyon Pegis as soloist. Pegis steps center stage as the original guest soloist, Pablo Ferrández, withdrew from his Chautauqua performance because of travel circumstances. Pegis is the CSO’s principal cellist, and has performed countless times, in numerous capacities and venues, all across the grounds — and the country. Pegis has appeared as a recitalist, chamber musician, and orchestral soloist across the United States, and is associate principal cellist with the Dallas Symphony and a member of the contemporary ensemble Voices of Change.

Pegis, who has been playing with the CSO for nearly 30 years, knew from the first moment he heard cello music as a child that that was the instrument he wanted to play — “The quality of the register just appealed to me,” he told the Daily in 2012 — and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1990. The evening concludes with Danish composer Nielsen’s dramatic Symphony No. 5, composed in the years following World War I and finally gaining recognition outside of Nielsen’s home country only with a 1962 recording from Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. With an aggressive woodwind motif, and an inspiring, grand finale, the work is a study in contrasts; given an elusive, far-from definitive interpretation, according to “Symphony Notes” columnist David B. Levy, the idea of a “study in contrasts may be the safest answer for those who need to know.”

With new work from Silas Farley, Washington Ballet takes Amp stage


Thirty-nine years ago, Julie Kent first chasséd across Chautauqua as a student in the School of Dance. Now, she returns with The Washington Ballet as their artistic director. 

“Now to be back as a company, in residence … it’s so many circles and meaningful connections,” Kent said. “Having been here as a student, and then as a faculty member and now as a leader, it’s really exciting. It’s a very special place. I think everyone that’s ever been here can see that.”

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, The Washington Ballet will take the stage in the first public performance of the company’s two-week residency at Chautauqua. Prior to the performance, the Chautauqua Dance Circle hosts a Dance Preview at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 in Smith Wilkes Hall with Cassia Farley, costume designer, and Silas Farley, choreographer and dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute of The Colburn School. The preview will be moderated by Chautauqua School of Dance Interim Director Sasha Janes.

The Amp performance begins with the premiere of Dowland Dances, which was choreographed at Chautauqua by Farley, set to music by John Dowland and recorded by British singer-songwriter Sting. The piece is complete with costumes designed by Cassia Farley, the choreographer’s wife.

“It’s a really beautiful sort of use of ancient music with a modern voice,” Kent said. 

Farley originally choreographed this piece in 2014 as a workshop at The School of American Ballet — the training academy of the New York City Ballet. 

He would go to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and flip through CDs; there, he fostered a deep connection with Sting’s album Songs from the Labyrinth.

“He has this husky, modern voice singing these Elizabethan-era songs about themes that are always relevant and resonant — about love, about nature, about melancholy and about relationships. They’re timeless in that regard,” Farley said. “There’s something very intimate about the music, because it’s just the one voice and the one (lutenist). It’s as if we’re just sitting around a living room or a campfire and we’re having this very close, visceral exchange.” 

Farley owes the continuation and growth of this piece to the professional dancers who helped workshop it, and to Cassia Farley, whom he calls his muse, confidant and collaborator. 

“She was assisting me (back in 2014), and we had a great time working with the students on that piece,” Farley said. “It’s not like I’d forgotten about that piece. When Julie asked me to do something, … it was Cassia who said, ‘Well, why don’t you go back to the Dowland pieces? Why don’t you build on that idea?’ ”

Farley had always wanted to expand and deepen the work with the professional dancers.

“Oftentimes, when you work in the professional ballet world, you have a very short timeframe to prepare the piece,” Farley said. “So you need to have some homework done already, so that you can come in and maximize that time with the professional dancers.” 

Following Dowland Dances is a classic Balanchine work, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Kent described the piece as indicative of Balanchine’s brilliance. 

“It’s one of the most famous standalone pas de deux, and is just brilliant choreography and music,” Kent said. “It’ll be both poetic and virtuosic, while showing the depth of talent in our beautiful company.”

Closing the performance is Beethoven Serenade, which The Washington Ballet just premiered in June, choreographed by Jessica Lang. Kent said she thinks Chautauquans will enjoy this wide range of repertoire.

“Our dancers are really facile at moving through different movement languages, different choreographic styles, which makes their performances so meaningful because they’re able to communicate so well with all different kinds of movement styles,” Kent said. “Audiences that discover The Washington Ballet for the first time are really impacted by both the physical beauty and the quality of the work that they bring to the stage.”

Kent feels that The Washington Ballet’s Chautauqua residency, encompassing parts of Weeks Six, Seven and Eight, and the overall environment of the grounds, has already influenced her and the dancers. 

“The creative process is so influenced by the environment. … The environment that you are in as a person reflects everything that you bring to your dance and into your work,” Kent said. “I’m excited to see how this sort of intensive creative, the beauty of the idyllic setting here, will affect the finished product.”

And, she said, having a piece premiere on Chautauqua’s historic Amp stage is extra special.

“Commissions that premiere at Chautauqua will always have that piece of history attached to it,” Kent said. “So as the ballet lives on and is performed on stages all over the world, it takes with it the spirit of Chautauqua. That’s a wonderful legacy.”

British ensemble VOCES8 brings polyphonic a cappella performance to Amp


The Amphitheater will echo the ethereal songs of British vocal ensemble group VOCES8 in a purely polyphonic performance at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9. 

The group, which will sing a variety of covers and classics from its extensive repertoire, has performed at numerous places across the globe within a career spanning nearly two decades, including Wigmore Hall in London, Cité de la Musique in Paris and the Sydney Opera House. Tonight, VOCES8 makes it Chautauqua debut on the Amp stage.

“They’re a British vocal ensemble celebrated not only for their musicality, but also for their innovation onstage and off,” said Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Laura Savia. “Chautauquans might not yet be familiar with them, but I would challenge anyone to listen to their performances and not be completely sucked in. They are truly mesmerizing.”

Coming off the heels of its 2022 European and United Kingdom tour, the group graces Chautauqua on the third stop of a brief four-city United States-Canada tour. 

VOCES8 is composed of eight members: Andrea Haines, Molly Noon, Katie Jeffries-Harris, Barnaby Smith, Blake Morgan, Euan Williamson, Christopher Moore and Jonathan Pacey. 

Roxanna Panufnik is currently a composer-in-residence and Jim Clements is an arranger-in-residence. The group was founded in 2005 by Barnaby and Smith. 

VOCES8 is known for its wide range, sweeping from the classical compositions of the early 1500s to modern works infused with jazz and pop. 

“Their performance will include music by composers from the 1500s, all the way through composers who are living and working today,” Savia said. “This is really typical of VOCES8. They have this impeccable technique that is rooted in classical vocal and choral traditions, but their repertoire spans centuries. It’s really rare that you encounter a vocal ensemble that is proficient in both Benjamin Britten and also the score of Lord of the Rings.” 

In between world tours and performances, VOCES8 has released several albums through its in-house studio VOCES8 Records, founded in 2008. The group has also collaborated with other artists to create an impressive discography of work. VOCES8 most recently appeared on composer Mårten Jansson’s 2022 album Requiem Novum and composer Christopher Tin’s 2022 single “A Hundred Thousand Birds.” VOCES8 released its own album Infinity with Decca Classics label in 2021. 

While only an eight-person company, VOCES8 is more than just an a cappella group. The company prides itself on providing a musical education in charitable forms, and through their foundation.

The VOCES8 Foundation works with the members of VOCES8 and Apollo5, another British a cappella group, to bring musical engagement to communities around the world. The foundation has invested over £1 million in music education in the United Kingdom through master classes, workshops and concerts.

The VOCES8 Digital Academy furthers the educational ethos of the company, teaching over 40,000 students each year through online videos and ensemble coaching. The students come from all over the world to learn from the performers and composers of VOCES8.

“I think there’s an insatiable appetite as well for a cappella and choral singing in the U.S.,” Smith told the Akron Beacon Journal in 2021. “There’s a keenness amongst the student body in America, generally I think, for singing, which is brilliant.”

In summer 2020, VOCES8 launched a global streaming festival called LIVE From London, which has hosted artists to perform for audiences all over the world. Since its debut, LIVE From London has broadcast 65 shows to over 183 territories, raising over £100,000 in donations for free student and school admission. Summer 2022’s LIVE From London festival runs until Sept. 18, featuring performances from multi-choir I Fagiolini, and Grammy Award-winning group Phoenix Chorale. 

Savia anticipates a night of awe and wonder in welcoming VOCES8 to the grounds for its performance.

“VOCES8 is an ethereal, mesmerizing vocal ensemble that will surely enrapture Chautauquans,” Savia said. “… It will be a once in a lifetime experience for Chautauquans, and for me, to hear them sing.”

Opera Conservatory, MSFO collaborate to bring ‘Cunning Little Vixen’ to Amp stage


Chautauqua Opera Conservatory Director Marlena Malas and stage director John Giampietro originally planned to stage Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen during the 2020 season, but shelved the production because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virtual season ahead of them and their students. But at 8:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8 on the Amphitheater stage, the Opera Conservatory and the Music School Festival Orchestra finally get to collaborate on this beloved opera.

The Cunning Little Vixen tells the story of a female fox cub, also called a vixen, that is taken from her woods by a forester who ties her up in his backyard. When she gets older, she escapes. It explores the interactions between the animal and human worlds. 

While the lyrics are originally in Czech, the Opera Conservatory decided to perform the English translation, which will mark this the first English opera the conservatory will present in the Amp.

Giampietro and the Opera Conservatory students started rehearsing after the Week Four close of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, around just two weeks ago.

“That’s just a huge challenge, making sure that, in a very compressed period of time, that we’re still telling the story, that the students are still getting an experience of developing character and developing their own self in the roles,” Giampietro said.

Bass-baritone Henry Griffin first saw The Cunning Little Vixen when he was in high school and visited the Manhattan School of Music. It cemented his decision to attend the school.

Griffin was cast to play the role of the Forester, but tested positive for COVID-19. As of Saturday afternoon, Giampietro said he and the cast were finding creative solutions to fill the role.

A novelty of the opera is that some of the singers play the parts of animals, while others are humans. Griffin said at one point, the character of the Forester scratches behind the ears of the Dog, who is played by mezzo-soprano Anna Maria Vacca.

“It explores this interplay between humans and animals,” he said.

The way the Forester interacts with the natural world is controversial, evidenced by his taking of the vixen. Griffin feels that this is an integral aspect of the character to be unpacked.

“I believe I have a connection to the natural world,” Griffin said, “but there’s also a sense, in the Forester’s thinking, that there’s this innate superiority over the natural world, which of course, I personally believe to be wrong.”

When working with the students playing animals, Giampietro explained the approach to acting does not change.

“You don’t approach acting differently if you’re doing a human or an animal,” he said. “You’re still (asking), ‘What am I doing in this scene? What is my objective? Who am I in a relationship with in this scene?’ ”

Giampietro’s method of keeping the acting approach the same between animals and humans mimics the message Janáček tells in the opera.

“The thing that unifies all of it — and is the core idea of the production — is this idea (of) the paths that we take through life and where we are on that path of life,” he said. “Animals have their specific path in life, or humans have our specific path in life. Sometimes those paths cross, but it’s our own, and we walk it.”

This is far from the first time the MSFO and Opera Conservatory have crossed paths. When they first teamed up to produce an opera together, it did not look like what it does now.

“What started out as short, one-act operas that were part of an existing orchestra program have now evolved into full-blown opera productions,” said Timothy Muffitt, the School of Music’s artistic director and MSFO conductor. “It’s just been so exciting and a great experience for our instrumentalists to work in collaboration with singers so closely.”

Muffitt believes Janáček’s music has a strong interconnection of vocals and instruments.

“They almost play an equal role, in a way, where sometimes in operas, the orchestra is just providing a foundation and the singer sings over the top. This is a very closely integrated score,” he said.

When the two are so intertwined, there cannot be a misstep in the music and, in Muffitt’s opinion, Janáček does not miss.

“He has a unique musical language. No one else sounds like him, and this score is a masterpiece,” Muffitt said. “There just isn’t a single note out of place or anything extraneous. It’s really beautifully conceived and crafted.”

Giampietro echoed a deep appreciation for Janáček’s score and is excited to share it with Chautauquans.

“I imagine for a lot of people, (this) may be their first encounter with Janáček, who is my spirit opera composer, and it will be the first time for them to hear this absolutely ravishing score,” he said. “It’s profound and utterly moving, and our students sing it so beautifully.”

With CSO, Stuart Chafetz, Young Artists to bid adieu with annual Pops concert


Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and Chautauqua Opera Company are teaming up for the company’s final performance of the summer with “Opera & Pops” at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6 in the Amphitheater under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz. 

Inspired by Week Six’s theme “After Dark: The World of Nighttime,” the collaboration presents a range of music from well-known showtunes, a world premiere by 2022 composer-in-residence Mary Prescott and, of course, arias — all with themes of night.

“It’s kind of like ‘Greatest Hits of Theater and Opera,’ and we have an opportunity to show ourselves both soloistically and in ensembles,” said mezzo-soprano Hilary Grace Taylor.

In choosing the programming, Music Administrator and Chorus Master Carol Rausch made a point to select Broadway music with which the audience would be familiar, such as fan favorites from Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, Kismet, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

While it will be a joy for audience members, Rausch thinks it is a fantastic opportunity for the 2022 Young Artists, as well.

“I think this is one of the nicest opportunities we offer, because in some cases, there are tunes that people have sung before, and they maybe even audition with them all the time, but they’ve never gotten to do them with orchestra,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic put live orchestra performances on pause, so the musicians welcome the return to more normal performances..

“Any opportunity to sing with orchestra is a great blessing, especially after not being able to do that at all,” Taylor said. “I’m just like, ‘Yippee!’ for everything. ‘Yay, we’re singing!’ ”

Both of Taylor’s parents came to the Institution as Young Artists, so Taylor grew up hearing about Chautauqua. She was originally scheduled to join Chautauqua Opera on the grounds for the 2020 season, but she instead had to participate virtually.

When she finally got here this summer, and saw the view of Chautauqua Lake coming down the road from Mayville, it made her tear up.

“We were not able to collaborate. And that is invaluable,” she said. “I think that’s also why we have no favorites pieces, because there’s no way to describe collaborating with each other, and singing in a room with people, or singing with an orchestra.”

Soprano Emily Michiko Jensen said that the pandemic turned opera singers into sound engineers because they had to figure out how to record themselves singing — and make sure it sounded good.

“It is very lonely because, even if you can get a track done by a pianist you trust, that person’s still not in the room with you,” she said.

The camaraderie between the Young Artists feels even more surreal after the time spent apart from other musicians. 

“The group — not only onstage, but back home — is really, really supportive in a really lovely way,” Jensen said. “Because you have 17 singers living together, plus some other people in Connolly as well, it could really (Residence Hall) be hit or miss with that many people, that many personalities. But there’s just such gratitude for being able to do a season.”

Chautauqua Opera just finished its Opera Festival Weekend last week, where the singers performed a different opera every night for three nights. On top of that, the Young Artists still had coachings and other rehearsals.

“It’s a whirlwind, and we love the work that we do because, when you think about it, it is kind of crazy what we’re doing,” said bass-baritone Phillip Lopez.

Jensen shared that when the Young Artists receive their schedule for the next day the night before, they can get a bit overwhelmed at how busy their schedule looks.

“But it was nice to be like, ‘I missed this,’ ” Jensen said.

Lauded mezzo-soprano Susan Graham to accompany CSO in evening of opera, Broadway hits


Opera singer and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham has a secret agenda behind agreeing to perform alongside the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

“The reason that I’m here this week, really, is to celebrate Marlena Malas, who has been my voice teacher for 35 years,” Graham said.

Malas, director of the Chautauqua Opera Conservatory, has taught voice at the Manhattan School of Music for the past 40 years. This summer she has also taught a weekly public master class for students.

“I like to say that the reason I’m here was just an excuse to get free lessons with her, so I just agreed to do concerts and master classes along the way,” Graham said.

Even with Graham joking about the truth behind her concert alongside the CSO at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 in the Amphitheater, the music she selected is quite special to her. The program starts with Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” and ends with composer Richard Rodgers’ “The Sound of Music.”

“I think that every important event should begin with Mozart. That’s my personal belief,” Graham said. “Because Mozart is perfect, and it sets the bar high, and it sets the tone for the evening.”

The music selections transition from opera to Broadway classics, such as selections from Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady. The final operatic piece Graham will sing before beginning the Broadway portion is “Vilja,” from The Merry Widow, by Franz Lehár.

“I wanted to, of course, honor my first love, which is opera, and then the second half is Gershwin and showtunes,” Graham said.

“The Sound of Music” is the final song of the evening, although the song was a part of the beginning of Graham’s musical career. When she was in high school, she sang the part of Maria in The Sound of Music.

“I just loved it so much. It was really when the theatrical bug bit me. Because until then, I had mainly focused on being a student of piano, and when I got to be on stage as a character and sing that glorious Rodgers and Hammerstein music in The Sound of Music, it became very clear that I’d rather be onstage in front of the piano than sitting behind it,” she said.

Singing alongside an orchestra rounds out the experience for Graham, as well.

“It’s lovely to feel so supported by this massive sound coming from behind you,” she said. “It feels like you can just lean back into it like a La-Z-Boy recliner.”

While this is her first time working with the CSO and Music Director Rossen Milanov, she has no qualms.

“We speak the same language: music,” she said.

When everyone plays music together, Graham believes that it creates a sense of connection between everyone involved.

“They’re all striving at the exact same moment to make something beautiful happen,” she said.

Ballet Hispánico strives to shatter stereotypes on stage


Ballet Hispánico will shatter stereotypes while dancing across the Amphitheater stage. This multicultural group hopes to lead the conversation on advocacy and artistic excellence through innovation on stage. 

“Ballet Hispánico is beyond its name. It’s very much what we’re all talking about today; don’t judge a book by its cover or its name. There’s more to a name, especially when at the time this organization was developed, Hispanic was the word being used. And funny enough, Hispanic is not in the Spanish vocabulary,” said Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director and CEO of Ballet Hispánico.

Vilaro said the group draws from cultural traditions, but also brings modern concepts to their performances.

 “It’s still our history and our legacy, and we love it, but we are a contemporary voice of the Latinx community. We build new narratives to show who we are as Latinate people today.”

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 at Hultquist Center, Chautauqua Dance Circle hosts a Ballet Hispánico dance preview before the main performance at 8:15 p.m. on the Amp stage, which will feature a wide variety of Latnix-inspired dancing and Mexican music. Immediately after the Amp performance, Ballet Hispánico will host a Post-Performance Fiesta, at 10:30 p.m. in the Carnahan Jackson Studios, which will require a ticket purchase. With all their events at Chautauqua, Ballet Hispánico, a self-described BIPOC organization, hopes to inspire through dance. This mission first started over five decades ago.

“We are 52 years old. We have been serving the community, giving them voice and also access to good arts, education and pride,” Vilaro said. “We continue that mission today. It’s needed today so that we understand each other a little bit more, and we understand that the culture is not singular, it’s not a monolith. It’s full of intersection and intersectionality.”

The Amp performance will feature three pieces: “Con Brazos Abiertos,” “Tiburones” and “Club Havana.” The opener, “Con Brazos Abiertos,” translates to “with open arms,” and is choreographed by Michelle Manzanales who is Mexican-American. 

“It really looks at the struggle of all the immigrants and fitting in, from the social and the personal side, in a very beautiful, bittersweet way. But also there’s mirth,” Vilaro said. “This is a gorgeous piece. It’s all Mexican music — some that are contemporary, and some that’s a little bit more dated. Even poetry is included. It’s a beautiful work.”

“Tiburones” follows the performance’s intermission, bringing Ballet Hispánico back onto the stage. Vilaro described “Tiburones” as their answer to the recent conversation surrounding the Steven Spielberg film “West Side Story.”

“For the Latinx community, ‘West Side Story’ is something that is very full of scars. It pigeonholed and stereotyped us,” Vilaro said. 

“Tiburones” is choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, a Latina choreographer, and it works to reclaim culture from mainstream media. 

“She is really talking about who we are as a community, that we’re not what the media tells us or shows us that we are. We’re much more than that,” Vilaro said. “This is a fun and athletic piece.”

“Club Havana” finishes off the performance with traditional celebration. Choreographed by Pedro Ruiz, this piece is described by the group as Latin dancing at its best. 

“We bring in the gorgeous ‘Club Havana,’ which is harkening back to the 1950s Ballroom Cuba, as a celebration and an end,” Vilaro said.

The celebration does not stop with “Club Havana” though, as the night continues with the Post-Performance Fiesta in hopes of bringing people together through movement and rhythm. 

“That entails dancing together and exploring movement because dance is for everyone,” Vilaro said. “Here in the States we’re so terrified of, ‘Oh, I have two left feet.’ ”

But, Vilaro said that in Afrocentric cultures, dance is incorporated into every part of life. He hopes to bring that to Chautauqua, with a sense of “community in learning to be in those rhythms.”

Vilaro also hopes Chautauquans walk away from the evening able to have conversation on what it means to be Latinx in the current world. 

“I hope it starts an inquiry and a dialogue and just sheer joy at these incredible, beautifully diverse dancers on stage,” Vilaro said. 

Guest pianist Shaham joins CSO, Milanov for Schumann concerto, prior to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’


As the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra reaches the middle of its season, it’s preparing an evening of Schumann and Tchaikovsky under the baton of CSO Music and Artistic Director Rossen Milanov.

The program set for 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, in the Amphitheater, with guest pianist Orli Shaham, features Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 54, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 — “Pathétique.”

Shaham takes her piano bench in place of previously scheduled Martin Helmchen, whose tour plans changed two weeks ago. With a pianist of Shaham’s caliber joining the CSO on such short notice, CSO Managing Director Kimberly Schuette said the Schumann concerto is in wonderful hands. It’s a piece that’s already part of Shaham’s repertoire, and highlighting her in a week at Chautauqua themed “The Vote and Democracy” is apt, in an unexpected way. 

Shaham immigrated to the United States from Israel when she was 7 years old; in a 2020 interview with Lily O’Brien of San Francisco Classical Voice, she noted that while she didn’t feel she had a “typical immigrant experience,” a key tenet of her new country was particularly interesting for her.

“The American Constitution was a whole new thing for me, and I was fascinated by it and by constitutional law,” she told O’Brien in advance of a concert with the Marin Symphony in March 2020 that was ultimately canceled in the early days of the pandemic. The piece she was set to play? Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor — the same she is set to play tonight.

The Chautauqua dovetails don’t end there; Shaham is co-host and creative for NPR’s “From the Top,” a nationally broadcast program that showcases the talents of teenage musicians — the same “From the Top” that has featured live show tapings from the Amp stage in years past. 

A Steinway Artist since 2003, Shaham is on the faculty of The Juilliard School, and this year on the juries of both the Cliburn and Honens International Piano Competitions. 

For 14 seasons, she has served as artistic director for the Pacific Symphony’s chamber music series, and has performed with orchestras across the United States and internationally, including with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in her native country.

Shaham is also artistic director of a concert series she founded in 2010, called Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard (previously titled Baby Got Bach), which provides children with hands-on activities and instruments while teaching music concepts amid performances.

The educational audience tonight will be more multi-generational, as after the concert Milanov leads an installment of the CSO’s post-performance Q-and-A program “Into the Music.”

“I love seeing how Chautauquans want to engage with the music and the performers,” Schuette said. “We’ve had such thoughtful and interesting questions from audience members at each of our ‘Into the Music’ sessions so far this summer. It’s a great opportunity to ask the conductor a question and find out what goes on behind the scenes in preparing for a concert.”

Before that, however, Milanov and the CSO will present Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” — his Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74. His sixth symphony was his last symphony. He died just nine days after its premiere in 1893 under mysterious circumstances, and Schuette said knowing that makes the work all the more striking.

“One of my favorite symphonic moments is the second movement, an off-kilter waltz in 5/4 time,” she said. “Knowing how close he was to his own end, and the personal turmoil he was going through, the charming melody is also just quite heartbreaking.”

CSO, led by Stuart Chafetz, to perform Williams’ score to live film of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

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The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra returns to a galaxy far, far away as it journeys back to the Star Wars series with “The Empire Strikes Back,” two summers after it first performed “A New Hope.”

The orchestra is picking the trilogy back up at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23, in the Amphitheater under the direction of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, performing live John Williams’ original, Oscar-nominated score alongside the full 1980 film.

“It’s great to be back now, after COVID, in full gear, being able to do July 4 and premiere ‘Aladdin,’ which was fun,” Chafetz said. “This is just amazing music, and people have been looking forward to this since the first Star Wars that we did in 2019. So, this is really fun.”

George Lucas’ “The Empire Strikes Back” is the second in the Star Wars film series, but the fifth chronological chapter in the Skywalker saga. The film features not just the iconic cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams, among others, but Williams’ well-loved and respected original score, which won a Grammy.

“John Williams writes amazing music, but it’s extremely difficult,” Chafetz said. 

For Chafetz, the real difficulty is in the concentration of following the movie exactly. 

“It’s easy to get off of the movie. We have to follow the movie exactly for the music, for the drama,” Chafetz said. “So, the hardest thing is just staying focused for two hours and four minutes.”

To stay in time with the film, the CSO musicians use a click track, which clicks the rhythm in their ear. This rhythm changes often and almost out of nowhere. In addition to the difficulty of staying in time with the film, the original score was not made to be played in concert. 

“These film scores were designed to be recorded in chunks, not the entire film to be played at once. They would do one section, take a break, go back, maybe fix it,” Chafetz said. “For this, we just play it in concert with the film. So it’s extremely intense, and it takes a lot of concentration.” 

This enormous feat is mostly done through individual practice, as CSO only meets twice to fully run through the movie before the performance, and only once with the full screen. 

The CSO is used to this quick turn around, as they regularly perform a wide variety of music. 

“Every week is something different, and yet very challenging. But it says a lot about the orchestra because they’re able to play a variety of styles. They could be doing classical one night and then pop the next,” Chafetz said. “It takes a great orchestra, with many great musicians, to be able to just change on a dime like that.”

At Chautauqua, the CSO’s audience is ever-changing, like its music. Star Wars In Concert opens up classical music to a wide range of people, Chaftez said. 

“You get a lot of different varieties of people. Plus, you get mom, you get dad, you get grandparents, you get the kids, and this is one of those things where you can take the entire family and really enjoy,” Chafetz said. “That’s the beauty of it — being able to look out into the audience and seeing a packed Amphitheater with generations of families enjoying this wonderful film.”

The CSO enjoys submerging the audience in the experience.  

“The biggest compliment we always get is ‘Oh, I forgot there was an orchestra.’ That means that we’ve lined up perfectly with the film,” Chafetz said. “That’s my goal.” 

CSO joins Bill Barclay for theater-concert work ‘Chevalier’


Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was a composer who counted Mozart, Salieri and Haydn as contemporaries. He was a private tutor to Marie Antoinette, a violinist, conductor, fencer, war veteran and abolitionist — and, as the son of a wealthy French planter and an enslaved African woman, the first-known classical composer of African ancestry. 

His story is one for the history books that have largely ignored his legacy. And when Bill Barclay went searching for Bologne’s compositions, he had to dig deep into archives across the world to find them. It’s a frustrating, ongoing process, but now Bologne’s compositions are the score for a piece of concept theater titled “The Chevalier: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.”

The work is a play with music, or a concert with actors, depending on how one looks at it, said Barclay, artistic director of Concert Theatre Works, former director of music at Shakespeare’s Globe, a director, composer, writer and producer — and the creative force behind “The Chevalier,” which will have its Chautauqua debut at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 16, in the Amphitheater, with a small group of actors. Ian Unterman plays Mozart, Merritt Janson plays Marie Antoinette, RJ Foster plays Bologne, and Brendon Elliott is the solo violinist — and they’re joined by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Rossen Milanov.

“The Chevalier” was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2018, with a debut the following year at Tanglewood Learning Institute, and in 2021 was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Grant.

Photo by Elliott Mandel The concert version of “The Chevalier: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges” makes its Chautauqua debut 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Barclay wrote a full-length play of Bologne’s story, all the way through the French Revolution — 18 actors, 16 musicians, on a sweeping scale akin to Les Miserables. It’s a Broadway juggernaut, he said, and is continuing to be workshopped. Saturday’s performance is the concert version of the work, centering its dramatic and comedic scenes of Marie Antoinette, Mozart and Bologne against the backdrop of the French Revolution. It’s an 80-minute show, and will be followed by a talkback session in the Amp. 

Not much of Bologne’s music is played by modern orchestras; his Violin Concerto in A Major Op.7 No.1 is most common, Barclay said. “The Chevalier” is “an attempt to give Bologne a more full examination. We’re contextualizing his music, contextualizing his character and attempting to demonstrate the kind of work that can be done in order to make up for lost time.”

Among the musicians performing with the CSO Saturday are some of the 2022 CSO Diversity Fellows — nine of whom came to Chautauqua via the Sphinx Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to diversity in the arts, and with whom the Institution has frequently partnered in recent years. Concert Theatre Works’ touring production of “The Chevalier” benefits the Sphinx National Alliance for Audition Support — work that Barclay hopes will eventually create equity in the classical music world and “make orchestras look like the audience they deserve.”

“It’s slow moving work, but it’s important work,” he said. 

Saturday’s performance is of special note to Kimberly Schuette, who started in her role of managing director of the CSO in January 2022. “The Chevalier” had been on the books for the 2022 season long before she joined staff, but she had previously served as associate producer on the concert version of “The Chevalier,” and thinks she’s seen nearly every staging since its inception. She’s watched how the music has grown to better suit the story and how the story has grown more focused — and how deliberately the selection shows how influential Bologne was.

“It’s pure stage magic,” she said. “And it’s a good piece for Chautauqua because there’s just so much to dig into and learn about. It’s a concert that brings to light a history that is not well-known.”

Schuette was a music history major, and when she first saw “The Chevalier,” she dug out her old college textbooks. Bologne wasn’t even listed in the indexes. And when Barclay embarked upon this work in 2018, he was starting from “nothing,” and the more he learned, he was “shocked, embarrassed, and a little bit ashamed” to have not heard of Bologne before. As such, he said that “The Chevalier” is a social justice project about “restoring Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, in history where he belongs, and where he never should have left.”

At the beginning of his research, Barclay read what he called the “only one gold standard of solid musicology” on Bologne, written by Gabriel Banat. It’s extensive, Barclay said, and a “gift to the community.” It led him to realize that what he was working on was not just a play about Bologne, but about Marie Antoinette and Mozart.

“There was a need to correct heinous misunderstandings about Marie Antoinette; that classic misogyny thrown at her … mirrored the racism that has prevented Bologne from taking his rightful place in our culture,” Barclay said. “… If you’re kicking off a week on ‘The Future of History,’ we need to reexamine how and why we have learned these assumptions about these people. Not for their sake, but really for our sake. Because, history rhymes.”

After afternoon of chamber, Aldo López-Gavilán, Ilmar Gavilán join MSFO


Pianist Aldo López-Gavilán first had his original compositions performed at Chautauqua in 2017, when he joined the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for an evening of Cuban music. Now, he’s back with another of Chautauqua’s orchestras. The Music School Festival Orchestra, under the baton of their Artistic and Music Director Timothy Muffitt, will perform with López-Gavilán and his violinist brother, Ilmar Gavilán, at 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 11, in the Amphitheater.

The evening’s program includes Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo García’s “Huapango,” Alberto Ginastera’s “Four Dances” from Estancia, two of López-Gavilán’s own compositions — “Viernes de Ciudad” and “Emporium” — and a piece from the brothers’ father, Guido López-Gavilán, titled “Guaguanco.”

López-Gavilán and Gavilán come from a deeply musical family — both musicians, they’re the sons of a concert pianist and a composer and conductor. While Gavilán moved abroad to study music, López-Gavilán stayed in Cuba. 

The two collaborated for the first time in 2019 on the album Brothers, featuring the title song that they wrote for a PBS documentary which first aired in 2021. Growing up, Gavilán “was a very big factor,” in his brother’s musical journey, López-Gavilán told the Daily in 2017. “When I was a teenager, he always reminded me to keep composing and doing my own musical language.”

It’s a language he wants to keep perfecting. Earlier this year, López-Gavilán told Robin Lloyd of “KNKX Public Radio” that he wants to enhance his composing career.

“I want to compose more for bigger formats, like symphony orchestras. I want to play. I want to compose for piano concertos. I’ve been composing a clarinet concerto for a long time — I haven’t finished yet,” he told Lloyd. “But yes, I want to enhance my composition side.”

He also told Lloyd he would also like to collaborate with other musicians more. 

“I love collaborations with different people from different parts of the world,” he said. “I would like to collaborate with Indian musicians because I really enjoy Indian music, and African composers and players. And of course, here in the U.S., there are so many musicians I would love to collaborate with.”

CSO to take audience to ‘a whole new world’ with ‘Aladdin Live in Concert’


The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra has a brand of magic that never fails; some power in their corner. The double bass and the percussion section? Some heavy ammunition in their camp. One might even say that they’ve got some punch, pizzazz, yahoo — and how.

All they have to do is rub that lamp.

illustration by alexander graham / design editor

And at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, July 9, in the Amphitheater, under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, the CSO will grant the audience a wish (or two, or three) with “Aladdin Live in Concert” as they play Alan Menken’s Academy Award-winning score while the 1992 animated Disney classic plays on screens overhead.

In a phrase: “It is going to be ridiculously fun,” Chafetz said.

“Aladdin” earned two Oscars for its soundtrack, which includes, of course, “Arabian Nights,” “Prince Ali,” and “Friend Like Me” — as well as the first and only song from a Disney feature film to earn a Grammy Award for Song of the Year: “A Whole New World,” sung by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. The film led to two direct-to-video sequels (the third installment featured Robin Williams’ return to the role of Genie.) Then came the Broadway adaptation, and a 2019 live-action film starring Will Smith.

“For the audience, there’s always that ‘wow’ moment, when a movie plays, and you hear the music, and it reminds you of your childhood. It takes you right back to where you were,” Chafetz said. “For me, that’s definitely the case (with live movie score performances). With ‘Aladdin,’ all those familiar tunes, it’s such a part of the culture.”

The CSO has been performing live to classic, popular movies for several years now, so they’ve got the likes of the Harry Potter series, “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” under their belts. Chafetz often conducts live-music movies, from “E.T.” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” all across the country.

They know the pacing, the use of click tracks, the locking in of every single cue. But “Aladdin,” Chafetz said, is a bit different.

“There is a lot of music — it barely stops,” he said. “Other films, you might have five, six minutes without music, but with ‘Aladdin,’ it’s more like 12 seconds, and then it’s on to the next thing. We’re constantly playing. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration.”

Recording a film’s score in a studio would occur in chunks: record a section, take a break, maybe re-record. But live? 

“This was never designed to be played live, because it’s so difficult. And on top of that, you have to play it all the way through,” Chafetz said. “There’s a lot of adjusting you need to do, tuning changes, percussion sets moving from wind chimes to gongs and back. In the studio, you stop, reset, take the next section. Here, you have to anticipate it as it’s going by, which means it requires incredible virtuosity.”

More than that, it’s not just that “Aladdin” features almost-constant music; it’s that the kind of music is incredibly varied.

“There’s jazz, there’s this Middle Eastern sound, there’s classical,” Chafetz said. “The variety of styles within the music is truly amazing, and will really show off just how awesome the CSO really is, to switch styles like it’s nothing, because it’s not nothing. You have to know jazz, bossa nova, and it takes years to do something like that. But that’s why it works so well here: The CSO is amazing, the Amp is perfect. I just love it.”

In a film packed with nearly non-stop music, beloved lyrics, stunning visuals and the voice talents of such heavy hitters as Williams, Gilbert Gottfried — and then the addition of Smith to the roster by virtue of the live-action adaptation — Chafetz pointed out another diamond Chautauquans can experience: One of their own.

Jonathan Freeman, who voiced Jafar in the original 1992 film, and in the Broadway stage adaptation, is the nephew of longtime Chautauquans vic gelb and his wife, Joan.

“When I realized this, I was just starstruck,” Chafetz said. “That one line, when he asks Aladdin, ‘Where are you from?’ and the answer is, basically, ‘Places you’ve never been.’ And then Jafar says: ‘Try me.’ I love that line, the way he delivers it. And to have that Chautauqua connection is really, really cool.”

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