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United not divided

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Pink Martini. Submitted photo.

Pink Martini to perform with emphasis on multiculturalism

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

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The band is cosmopolitan, but that’s not why it’s called Pink Martini.

This “little orchestra” founded by politician-turned-musician Thomas Lauderdale in 1994 is difficult to categorize. Each of its six albums span a world of musical cultures, from Brazilian lounge music to Parisian jazz, and represent just as many languages.

But the ideals of the band are near and dear to the Chautauqua frame of mind in that Pink Martini hopes to bring together people from different generations and beliefs to share in a common experience. The band will perform at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater with its temporary lead singer, Storm Large.

“The idea was to bring this atmosphere that liberal people and conservative people, Republicans and Democrats, Communists, skaters and grandmothers could come together and find a brief commonality,” Lauderdale said.

Pink Martini, which was just a funny-sounding band name to Lauderdale, was his response to the drab, colorless music he encountered at political fundraisers while running for mayor in Portland, Ore. He wished for a more swank soundtrack during those fundraisers and soon began to perform his own music in nursing homes and hospitals while supporting his political causes.

“There was a big concert at the end of the week,” Lauderdale said. “I didn’t have an opening act, so I threw on a cocktail dress, found a boy to play the bongos, found a bass player and a singer, and that was the first band.”

As the band grew in popularity, it also grew in size. Musicians Lauderdale met on the road became long-term members. Trombonist Robert Taylor, for example, met Lauderdale during a performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Each band member (there are now 12) brings his or her own cultural experiences to the stage, shaping the sound of Pink Martini into what Lauderdale calls “old-fashioned global pop.”

“The advantage of having such a large band,” Lauderdale said, “is that it’s more fun with a group of people. It’s more fun having a posse as opposed to being a solo performer.”

Pink Martini has represented the United States both musically and politically around the world. Three of its albums have gone gold in Europe, and even international political figures have clamored for copies of Pink Martini’s CDs.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2007 that the Macedonian president of the United Nations General Assembly ordered 30 copies of “Hang on Little Tomato” after hearing the band play in Canada.

“I think it’s a fascinating time,” Lauderdale said. “We are literally living in a multicultural world and a multicultural nation. The challenge is to somehow have the sound of it all come together as united, not divided.”

Pink Martini’s original lead singer, China Forbes, has been one of the driving forces of musical multiculturalism since the band’s beginning. She collaborated with Lauderdale at Harvard, where they both spent their time playing music instead of studying. The duo focused on a multilingual repertoire, performing in French, Spanish and even Turkish on the stages of the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Forbes recently left the band, however, to undergo surgery on her vocal chords. Her temporary replacement is Large, a “legendary” figure in Portland.

“She’s like a super busty Jayne Mansfield with a brain,” Lauderdale said, “and a voice of an angel, or rather a voice of a prophet of some sort.”

Large, who will perform with Pink Martini in tonight’s concert, started her career as the lead singer in the band Storm and the Balls. She has been performing internationally for more than 15 years and has garnered positive attention from her performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Joe’s Pub in New York.

Large made her debut with Pink Martini in April with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Lauderdale said that although he is saddened by Forbes’ absence, he is thrilled for the opportunity to perform not only with Large but also with a variety of new singers.

“It’s been great to take this period of time as an opportunity to work with many singers and to do the variety show that I’ve always wanted,” Lauderdale said.

Pink Martini has been described as the 1960s house band of the United Nations. Its music is not quite lounge, not quite Latin and not quite pop, but it is music that people of all generations, cultures and political ideologies can enjoy.

Togetherness through music

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Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Harth-Bedoya, Gerhardt share musical friendship with CSO

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Gerhardt

“The beauty of music is that it brings people together,” guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya said. “You have to become friends to make music together.”

Harth-Bedoya was speaking about his friendship with cellist Alban Gerhardt. The two appear with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Gerhardt and Harth-Bedoya have performed together frequently, from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City to the Bach Festival in Eugene, Ore. The two were at the festival earlier this summer, where their young children met for the first time.

Gerhardt’s last performance in Chautauqua was in 2005, when he performed Antonin Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. Gerhardt said he has fond memories of Chautauqua.

Harth-Beyoda

“When they asked me again to appear with Miguel Harth-Bedoya, whom I adore very much, I couldn’t say anything but yes,” he said.

He will be performing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33. The piece is given to cello students and is thought of as easy, but is difficult to master, Gerhardt said.

“It’s very short, but in its shortness, there is so much emotion and so many different characters in it that it’s not very easy to bring them all out,” he said. “They are passionate, tender, loving and angry, and they somehow happen all in quick succession. In a very short time, you have to say a lot.”

Gerhardt said it took about 25 concerts until he was happy with his performance of the concerto. He adds octaves in one section, reasoning that Saint-Saëns meant to add them, since the section ends with written octaves. He said this addition makes the concerto much more difficult.

“It’s like a tightrope act — you have to shake a little,” he said. “This is not done on purpose, of course. But whenever I struggled during a performance, people loved it more than when everything went easy.”

Harth-Bedoya said the variety of repertoire Gerhardt can handle is quite impressive.

“The versatility of his playing is amazing,” he said. “Everything he takes on, he’s 200 percent in the work.”

Harth-Bedoya described all of the pieces in tonight’s program as lively, dynamic and far from shy. He likened the program to a meal, in which the cello concerto is a palette-cleanser of abstract music that is served in the middle of two very flavorful courses.

That meal starts with Maurice Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole,” which he described as the spicy appetizer. The piece was influenced by Ravel’s Basque heritage, Harth-Bedoya said.

“(Ravel) is a composer that would hold emotions for a long time and then let them go with great care,” he said.

The program ends with the main course, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, op. 35. Inspired by Middle-Eastern folk takes from One Thousand and One Nights, the piece has an eastern flair. It requires special attention to timing, Harth-Bedoya said.

He said both “Scheherazade” and “Rapsodie Espagnole” are challenging because the pieces are associated with concrete ideas.

“When there are words attached to a piece, then the music is no longer abstract,” he said. “With storytelling, it’s a lot more specific, which makes it harder in one sense because we’ve all read the same book.”

Harth-Bedoya said the conductor’s primary role is to serve the music.

“When you really get to learn about great works of art in composition, you realize what a small part we are in,” he said. “The conductor is just the middle person. It is not about us, and I like that very much, because we are here to serve.”

Harth-Bedoya is visiting Chautauqua as his last engagement of the season, after conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood and before he goes on a summer vacation with his family. He has never been to Chautauqua and said he is looking forward to exploring the grounds and surrounding areas.

Harth-Bedoya is the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. After his vacation, he will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 12 and 13. He recently completed a recording of “Nazareno,” by Osvaldo Golijov, featuring Katia and Marielle Labèque, to be released this fall.

In addition to his career as an internationally acclaimed soloist, Gerhardt frequently plays outside of the concert hall. He is active in Germany’s Rhapsody in School program and also is considering appearances at supermarkets, train stations and soccer games. He said he’s not doing this to be famous but to bring classical music to new audiences and inspire a new generation of musicians.

“I think it’s important that humans express themselves, artistically and creatively,” he said. “Now we are all kind of being seduced by everything that’s out there to just sit on our couch and not do anything. As an artist, it’s my responsibility to work against that.”

Mood for a Melody

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Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk performs with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the Amphitheater during Week Two. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Chautauqua favorite Gavrylyuk to present solo evening performance

Ellie Haugsby | Staff Writer

Many consider a week at the Chautauqua Institution a vacation, a chance for relaxation. For some, this comes in the form of engaging in social dialogue or listening to lectures; for others, it means watching the waves of Chautauqua Lake lap against grass and sand.

For Alexander Gavrylyuk, a visit to Chautauqua assumes no less than performing in front of thousands of spectators hanging on every whim of his keyboard.

Gavrylyuk will offer a solo performance at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

He remembers how, while studying choir and piano in his home country of Ukraine, his chorus master suggested he approach his musical studies.

“He told me quite frankly, ‘You are a bit too loud and a bit too much of a soloist for the choir,’” Gavrylyuk said, “‘so why don’t you just go and play your piano?’”

So play his piano he did.

Gavrylyuk has become a staple of the Chautauqua music scene. He first performed here in 2006 — at age 20 — and has returned each summer since, much to the delight of Chautauqua’s visitors and staff alike.

“There has been an overwhelming response from audience members,” said Timothy Muffitt, director of Chautauqua’s Music School Festival Orchestra. “His is a talent that we enjoyed from the very first time and want to get to know even more.”

Since his first public performance at the age of nine, Gavrylyuk has earned a steady stream of acclaim. His awards are numerous: first place in the third International Horowitz Piano Competition, the fourth Hamamatsu International Piano Competition and the 11th Arthur Rubinstein Competition. He has toured worldwide since the age of 14.

Despite his jet-set lifestyle, the piano virtuoso said he enjoys each visit to Chautauqua.

“This is a very unique place,” he said, “because so many different human ways to interact and express themselves come together here. It is a very enriching, spiritually speaking, experience.”

Gavrylyuk has performed at Chautauqua both as a soloist and with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. He also teaches master classes with students of the MSFO, many of whom are of a similar age to the 26-year-old pianist.

“It is not the traditional teacher-student relationship where the teacher is telling the student and teaching the student the wisdom of music,” he said. “It’s actually more of a mutual discovery throughout the process of working in the master class. I’m using my experience as much as I can, but I also end up learning a lot myself.”

Even when performing in the open air of the Amphitheater, Gavrylyuk said he finds the relationship between himself and the audience to be one of intimacy.

“As a performer, I feel very connected to the overall environment around me,” he said, “and it makes me feel very comfortable because it’s such a cozy atmosphere for me to be in and make music.”

Gavrylyuk has already performed once at Chautauqua during the 2011 Season; on July 7, he joined the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major.

At tonight’s concert, audiences will have the opportunity to see the pianist demonstrate his skills in a solo performance.

“There is great demand for him, and what we get in a solo recital,” Muffitt said, “in that there is a broader scope and range of repertoire and in a recital it’s more intimate — the audience is more up close and personal with the performer.”

Those who are present tonight will witness performances of such works as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin, and works from the Russian masters Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.

Despite being alone on the stage, Gavrylyuk said he knows he will be able to engage with those around him.

“I feel the people here are very open towards music,” he said, “and this makes it very easy to establish a very special connection during the concerts. When I play, this connection provides an opportunity to share music together with people, and to experience those emotions and the inner-worlds territories together at the same time.”

On their toes

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Addul Manzano and Anna Gerberich of North Carolina Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Jeff Cravotta.

Dancers, musicians fuel each other in tonight’s performance

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

North Carolina Dance Theatre in residence with Chautauqua Dance will perform its first seasonal collaboration with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

From waltzes and polkas to a soft pas de deux, the evening will be less about the stories behind the pieces and more about the musicians and dancers fueling one another.

“There’s nothing like not knowing what the music will bring,” said Master Teacher Patricia McBride.

The show will open with Mark Diamond’s La Fille Mal Gardée, featuring two of the NCDT’s younger dancers. Diamond, associate artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, said this classic pas de deux is soft, with some comedic elements as well.

“This is much more delicate and playful and a little more casual,” he said.

“La Fille Mal Gardée” means “the badly guarded girl.” It’s an 18th-century ballet with a story; however, Diamond opted to leave out the story and focus on the dance, he said.

George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, a pas de deux, will follow Diamond’s piece. McBride staged this ballet, which she herself performed many times.

“It’s exuberant,” she said. “People tend to take it very lightly when they see it, but it’s quite difficult.”

Balanchine created this work in 1958. It’s an illustration of his love for America, McBride said. The woman is the Liberty Bell, and the man is “El Capitan.”

NCDT members Anna Gerberich and Pete Walker will perform this piece for the first time. McBride said it’s very technically challenging for a dancer, but every couple can bring something new to it.

Gerberich and Walker bring chemistry, McBride said.

Following Stars and Stripes will be Diamond’s dance set to Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro,” a Chautauqua favorite since it premiered here in 2006.

Diamond said the piece is set in a Latin American village on a warm day. As the men take their siesta around the stage, the women attempt to revive them.

“The thing that’s interesting about this music is that it’s one theme played over and over again by different instruments in the orchestra,” Diamond said. “It just gets built more and more until it becomes very intense.”

The evening will end with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s “July’s Delight.” Bonnefoux, artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, collaborated with Guest Conductor Grant Cooper to fuse Johann Strauss Jr. waltzes, polkas and marches. The piece requires many dancers to match the fullness of the music, Bonnefoux said, so he’s using company members, apprentices and festival dancers.

“July’s Delight” is a bit backwards in that it begins with a very strong, energetic march, much like a finale, and finishes a bit more wistfully.

“I’m really curious to know how the audience will react to that because it’s the end of the evening, and it’s just dreamy instead of really strong music,” Bonnefoux said.

Bonnefoux approached Cooper with the idea of creating this dance last summer. Cooper shortened each piece and linked them so the music could flow more naturally.

This kind of collaboration is crucial to dancers, Bonnefoux said.

Because of its size, NCDT does not get to perform with an orchestra on a regular basis. Bonnefoux said he always enjoys working with the musicians and certainly with Cooper.

“Grant is really interested in doing pieces that are good for the dancers,” he said.

And live music changes things. It creates a deeper connection for the dancer.

“The orchestra is there to sustain you,” Bonnefoux said, adding that the audience is already a source of energy for a dancer, but live music creates an even more stimulating atmosphere. It creates energy and, most of all, inspiration.

It’s the perfect environment for a dancer to lose him or herself to the piece, and Bonnefoux said it’s up to the dancer from there.

“If you cannot get lost in a dance, then you are not a good dancer,” he said.

Chautauqua Dance Circle will host a pre-performance lecture at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hall of Philosophy. Bonnefoux and Diamond will speak briefly on tonight’s performance.

CSO and Cooper prepare smorgasbord of styles

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Grant Cooper

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Ballet returns to the Amphitheater at 8:15 p.m. tonight with the music of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Grant Cooper.

Cooper likened the process of building music for the ballet to the skills a surgical team uses.

“If an emergency happens in an operation, the fact that it would be no problem if I had three hours to take care of this doesn’t change the fact that the patient will die in three minutes,” he said.

To make musical adjustments to fit the dancers’ needs takes trust, collaboration and the ability to work quickly and efficiently, Cooper said.

“That’s the secret of the CSO — it’s an orchestra that is extremely skilled individually, and they bring these skills together as a collective unit in a very special way, like a surgical team does,” he said.

Cooper has been working with the North Carolina Dance Theatre, Chautauqua’s resident ballet company, since 1997. At Chautauqua, he gets a lot of creative energy by witnessing how the dancers learn the ballet from the first steps. It’s a whole new way of looking at how music informs the other arts, he said.

To create tonight’s program, music was selected not just to fit the needs of the dancers but also to satisfy the audience. Like much of the programming at Chautauqua, the music is deliberately programmed to be a smorgasbord of styles, Cooper said.

The evening opens with a pas de deux from Ferdinand Hérold’s La Fille mal gardée.

The piece had an interesting journey to the Amp, Cooper said. The idea for the music came from a recording that choreographer Mark Diamond, associate artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, heard, which is titled La Fille mal gardée. Unfortunately, the documentation for this recording was not complete, and there are several pieces called La Fille mal gardée. After an extensive musical search, no one could track down the music from Diamond’s preferred recording.

Instead, the team decided to use Ferdinand Hérold’s La Fille mal gardée, a piece that has a certain cachet in the ballet world, Cooper said. He said the piece is pretty, graceful and grateful, and is music that does not get in the way of the dance.

Cooper complimented Diamond for adapting to the Hérold piece.

“It’s like the surgical team now, suddenly, has a different nurse on it,” he said. “You make it work, because this is what it is.”

Following the piece by Hérold is a second pas de deux, from John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” as arranged by Hershy Kay.

Cooper stressed the ballet does not contain the “Stars and Stripes Forever” march that audiences know as a patriotic tune. In addition to being a composer of famous band music, Sousa was a trained violinist and had a successful career writing operettas, he said.

“We’re hearing materials from Sousa, but it’s really filtered through Kay’s imagination and then put on a template for the ballet,” he said.

Kay’s arrangement of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” still sounds like it has Sousa’s DNA all over it, Cooper said.

“They’re not twins; they’re not identical … but it’s unmistakably Sousa because it has that optimistic, upbeat feel to it,” he said.

Following the pas de deux is Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro.” Famous for its recurrent motifs and steady build of dynamics, Cooper said the piece is far from repetitive.

“When you really look at it, Ravel is constantly making alterations and changes in the most subtle way,” he said.

Music lovers may have seen Boléro in the concert hall, but few have seen it in its intended format — as a ballet.

“When you add the balletic dimension to it, you get a whole new appreciation for the possibility that exists in the music,” Cooper said. “To me, that is the secret of any piece of music. We want to sense that the music has new things to tell us every time that we experience it.”

Cooper and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, collaborated to create the program’s next piece, an arrangement of waltzes and marches by Johann Strauss Jr.

Cooper called the arranging process very Chautauquan because of the collaboration involved. Bonnefoux gave Cooper a list of Strauss recordings he liked, and from this, Cooper created a 21-minute ballet with seven works represented in six movements.

Strauss marches and waltzes are still catchy to audiences more than 100 years after their creation because of the illusion of a simplistic construction. In reality, the “road map” of how repeated phrases fit together is rather complicated, Cooper said. To make the roadmap easier to read, Cooper photocopied, cut and taped together phrases to give musicians a more linear, 30-page score.

Cooper said the ballet is one of the more challenging assignments for a conductor.

“There are certain musical elements that may be your choice to bring to the fore in a purely symphonic performance, but which cannot be at the fore in a balletic performance,” he said. “The priority is to give them the right tempo but then still create an expressive performance.”

The North Carolina Dance Theatre in residence, the CSO and Cooper will perform dance in the Amp again on Aug. 13. Cooper and the CSO will return on Aug. 20 for an evening of symphonic works.

Luisa Miller: Opera Company stages Verdi’s seldom-performed melodrama Saturday

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Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer

Sex, rivalry, secret identities, extortion, poisonings, sword fights and murder.

Sound like a typical evening in Chautauqua?

These may not be normal occurrences in this placid town, but Saturday is an exception, as the melodrama of Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller explodes across the Amphitheater stage in operatic proportions.

For one night only, the Chautauqua Opera Company will stage this rarely performed oeuvre of the 19th-century Italian composer. Verdi’s melodramma tragico in tre atti, as the librettist describes it, was first heard in Naples in 1849. It is based on the play of Friedrich von Schiller, “Kabale und Liebe,” which, loosely translated, means “Politics and Passion.”

The story is full of over-the-top drama. Jay Lesenger, the Chautauqua Opera Company’s artistic/general director, said the size of the story fits the size of the stage.

“It’s larger than life,” Lesenger said. “I think that’s great for the Amphitheater because it’s a larger-than-life venue.”

The Drama

The scene is Tyrol, in what we now know as Austria, in the 1700s. Luisa is the daughter of a soldier, and she is in love with a man who the town knows as Carlo, but who is really Rodolfo, the son of the powerful Count Walter.

The two pledge their undying love. Luisa’s father, Miller, is not so certain about the scheme. His fears are confirmed when Rodolfo’s true identity is revealed by Count Walter’s henchman, Wurm, who is as evil as his name suggests.

Wurm also is in love with Luisa and plans to marry her. He tells the Count about Rodolfo’s love for Luisa. The Count does everything he can to break up the relationship. The Count wants to have his son marry a recently widowed duchess, Federica. Rodolfo reveals to Federica that he loves another woman, but that does little to deter the duchess.

Later, Miller tells Luisa that Rodolfo is not being honest and is about to marry the duchess. Rodolfo comes to Luisa to try to convince her that he still loves her. Count Walter storms in and threatens to throw both Luisa and her father into prison. Rodolfo secures their freedom by blackmailing them with information about how the Count and Wurm murdered his cousin to gain power.

Act II opens with Luisa learning that her father has been imprisoned for being impertinent toward the Count. Wurm tells Luisa that she can save her father by admitting she sought to be with Rodolfo for his status. She does as Wurm asks and must go to the castle to declare her love for him in front of the duchess and the Count. Rodolfo hears of Luisa’s confession of love for Wurm and considers violent retribution against him when the Count enters and convinces him that the best way to seek vengeance against the treacherous Luisa is to marry Federica.

As Act III begins, Miller is released from prison, and he and Luisa agree to leave the village the next day. Rodolfo enters with a vial of poison to confront Luisa about her disloyalty, and havoc ensues.

Politics and opera in Verdi’s Italy

Luisa Miller came at an important time in Verdi’s career development. Many historians break Verdi’s opera writing into three periods. The first period began in 1839 with the composition of his first opera, Oberto, and continued to approximately the composition of Luisa Miller in 1849.

In this first period, the subject matter toward which Verdi was drawn was mostly political, and the operas were very grandiose. He wrote an opera about Joan of Arc and the Crusades, one about Nebuchadnezzar and the Hebrews in Babylon, and one based on “Macbeth” and the tensions between the Scotts and the Brits.

In all of these, Verdi was making masked political statements about his homeland of Italy. During Verdi’s time, Italy was not yet united but rather was a collection of city-states, some belonging to Austria and some to France, among others. Verdi was heavily involved in the movement to unify Italy under one flag, and many of the statements he made in these early operas had subtexts to that effect.

One element that Verdi uses to create these grandiose dramas is the chorus. In the early operas, the choruses are huge and play major roles, often depicting enormous battle scenes.

In the middle period, the beginnings of which are seen in Luisa Miller, Verdi turns the focus of his operas to more domestic issues. He explores the complexity of humanity and moves away from political statements to some degree.

“In the middle period, he begins to explore human relationships,” Lesenger said. “The chorus often shrinks in size. Sometimes there are just men in the chorus like in Rigoletto of 1851,” Lesenger said.

With these operas, the chorus is not used to fight large battles, and there are fewer scenes as gargantuan as those in the early operas. Another difference is in how Verdi uses the orchestra. The orchestrations in these middle operas are more subtle. He plays with tone color, texture, motif and slight changes in character. Opera critic Julian Budden has observed about Luisa Miller in particular, “In no other of (Verdi’s) overtures is so much musical thought concentrated in so few notes.”

Verdi was starting to become a very celebrated opera composer at this time in his career.

“These are what he called his years in the galley,” Joseph Colaneri, who will be conducting the production. “These were his work years. He was turning out a great number of operas — about one every other year.”

It was in this period that Verdi composed the opera La Traviata, which has come to be the second most-performed opera of all time, behind Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

In the later period, beginning roughly around the time when he composed Un Ballo In Maschera in 1859, Verdi began combining the large themes and productions of his early operas with the human focus of the middle operas. Some of what are considered his most rich operas were composed during this period, like Aida and Otello.

“In the later operas, like Aida and Otello, the chorus takes on a larger persona again,” Colaneri said. “But this time, Verdi is combining his love for the large, elaborate scene with all the things he explored and did in the middle period, which is all about personal relationships.”

Luisa Miller today

For reasons both known and unknown, Luisa Miller remains one of the least performed operas that Verdi ever wrote, despite coming at an important crossroads in his composing career.

Lesenger said the main factor in limiting the performance of this opera is the heavy load that is placed on the singers.

“This is a piece that doesn’t get done all that often,” Lesenger said. “Part of the reason is because putting together a really strong cast of this particular work is not so easy. It’s a really demanding of everybody.”

Tenor Gregory Carroll, who will be singing the role of Rodolfo, agreed.

“There are two main reasons this opera isn’t done much: Luisa and Rodolfo,” Carroll said.

Soprano Barbara Quintiliani, who will be singing Luisa, said her role is particularly difficult.

“It’s extremely demanding,” Quintiliani said. “You need a spinto soprano with great agility and a huge range. Also, you need stamina. The soprano is on stage for a large portion of the whole show.”

A spinto soprano is a category of voice that combines the ease in the upper range of a lyric soprano with the ability to be pushed dynamically to slice through lush operatic orchestration rather than floating over it like a dramatic soprano.

“And it’s very demanding emotionally, too,” Quintiliani said. “If you allow yourself to go there as an actor, your emotional health is on the line.”

Colaneri is no stranger to conducting Luisa Miller. He got his introduction to conducting the opera when he led the Metropolitan Opera’s production of 2001. He said he fell in love with it then.

While the staging and costuming of this production are very traditional, other companies have experimented with more modern versions. Earlier this year, the Bavarian State Opera mounted a more esoteric performance of the piece, which featured five Luisa Millers, and a set the entirety of which rotated on a turntable and employed a dizzying array of mirrors. In this production, directed by Claus Guth, the character of Wurm is not a separate entity but exists in the reflection of other characters in the mirrors, representing their evil influences.

Chautauqua Opera Company’s version is nowhere near as abstruse but will still be thrilling to audiences, especially in the Amphitheater, Lesenger said.

“What’s fun about the Amp is that it enables me to pick repertory that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to do in Norton Hall, and Luisa Miller works great in that regard. It’s got a larger-than-life aspect, and we can use the full orchestra rather than a reduction,” Lesenger said.

Portraits of two singers

The two lovers in this production, played by Carroll and Quintiliani, said they are both excited to be able to be a part of the production.

Carroll said this is his first introduction to Chautauqua, and so far he’s liking the experience.

“I never heard of Chautauqua until I got offered a contract to come do this opera,” Carroll said. “As Jay puts it, its ‘opera camp.’ It’s very laid-back, but incredibly high-caliber art that goes on here.”

Carroll is from the Seattle area and earned an undergrad degree at Western Washington University and a graduate degree at the University of Washington in Seattle. He started off as a percussionist until his first year at the university, when he switched to voice. It was in that time that he transitioned from singing baritone to tenor.

He then took part in the Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Opera, which led to a stage audition for James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera Company. That resulted in even more opportunities.

“I’m at the beginning of my career,” Carroll said.

He said his character, Rodolfo, is a simple man.

“He’s young and in love,” Carroll said. “He’s just a good guy in love who doesn’t want a lot of attention drawn to himself. That’s why he prefers to not be known as the Count’s son.”

This is not the first technically challenging role Carroll has sung. In fact, he’s found himself gravitating toward them seemingly by chance.

“This is the pinch I’m in,” Carroll said. “I’m going to be thrown into demanding roles time and time again. Since becoming a tenor, I’ve done three roles repeatedly: Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Pagliacci (by Ruggero Leoncavallo.)”

This is Quintiliani’s fourth production with the Chautauqua Opera Company. She said the atmosphere keeps bringing her back.

“I’ve come back because it’s a nice place to work and everyone’s really nice to you and friendly,” she said. “It’s just a good time. It’s a good place to spend three weeks.”

She hails from Quincy, Mass., but with her stepfather in the Navy, she grew up “all over the world.”

“We even lived on Guam for three years,” Quintiliani said.

She describes her childhood as a sort of vagabond, gypsy lifestyle.

She went to the New England Conservatory of Music for her undergraduate degree. She won the Metropolitan National Opera Council Auditions in her senior year and went to the Houston Grand Opera Studio. She then continued her education at the Washington National Opera.

She said she can relate to aspects of her character Luisa.
“I’m a tough broad from humble beginnings, too,” Quintiliani said. “I’m from south Boston. My family is blue collar, too. I relate to her entirely.”

Like her character, Quintiliani said she found herself in close contact with people of higher status.

“Opera has allowed me to move into different circles,” she said, “going from living in public housing to singing at the Kennedy Center Honors and sitting next to Rudolph Giuliani and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“In some ways, I felt uncomfortable there. So I understand when Luisa meets these noble people for the first time and how overwhelming it is. And she doesn’t really know how to behave, and it’s very uncomfortable.”

‘Part of the Chautauqua Mix’

Lesenger said that Chautauquans will come to the opera even if they know nothing about opera because of the experimental mindset that is present at Chautauqua.

“I think this is part of the Chautauqua mix,” he said. “Why come to Chautauqua and not try all the different things that are here?

“On Thursday night, you can go see ‘Three Sisters’; Friday night, you can go see Natalie Merchant; and on Saturday, you can go see an opera,” he said. “That’s the great thing about this place.”

Luisa Miller: Colaneri brings love of Verdi to Luisa Miller guest conducting role

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Joseph Colaneri

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

For one night only, opera fans have the chance to see the Chautauqua debut of Giuseppe Verdi’s rarely-performed work, Luisa Miller. The Chautauqua Opera will perform the work in Italian with English subtitles. Maestro Joseph Colaneri will conduct members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

A self-professed Verdi lover, Colaneri last conducted Luisa Miller in 2001 with the Metropolitan Opera. At Chautauqua, he’s conducted several operas, including last year’s production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma and Verdi’s Macbeth in 2002.

“I’m happiest when I’m immersed in (Verdi’s) works, because they’re so dramatic; they’re so human, and the characters are so real,” Colaneri said. “He can do, with musical notes, things that would evoke just about any human emotion. … We hear the music and know just what the character’s feeling, without words.”

Luisa Miller’s orchestra serves a dual function as accompaniment and as a character who comments on the plot, Colaneri said. The orchestra includes parts for organ, one reason why the Amp, and its Massey Memorial Organ, is a perfect venue for Luisa Miller.

Each Verdi opera features an “instrumental color,” Colaneri said. In Luisa Miller, this color is provided by CSO principal clarinetist Eli Eban in a part that Colaneri called “a real tour de force.”

The opera also features two bass vocalists in title roles and includes a duet between them, which is uncommon in opera. The bass voices create a dark and somber tone in the music, Colaneri said.

Because the opera is based on a German play and set in 17th century Tyrol, which is now part of Austria, Verdi scored the opera with Beethoven and the German symphonic school in mind, omitting bass drum and cymbals, Colaneri said.

Though Luisa Miller is one of Verdi’s earlier works, audiences can hear stylistic choices that are echoed again in later works.

“There are things about it that will remind you (of Rigoletto),” Colaneri said. “Verdi was always influencing himself, as all great artists do. You will hear things in Luisa Miller that you will hear ‘Aha, when you get to Otello, there’s that same idea.’”

Colaneri said he expects Chautauqua audiences to fall in love with Luisa Miller.

“I think they will be taken by the drama and the pathos and the wonderful music, and the way that music merges with the drama,” he said. “And the cast is wonderful.”

One Fine Night

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Natalie Merchant

Jamestown native Merchant to perform with CSO

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer

When internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter Natalie Merchant comes to Chautauqua, it will be a homecoming of sorts.

Merchant is a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y. Her earliest venture into the musical world was with the band 10,000 Maniacs, the members of which also hailed from Jamestown.

Merchant told NPR host Scott Simon that some of her prominent memories of Jamestown are the times she snuck into local bars when she was 16 years old to play shows.

“The only places, the only venues that were available to us were … a strip of biker bars, actually, and the biker groups would get in fights every once in a while,” she said.

Tonight’s concert, at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater, will feature Merchant with members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Bagwell, who heads the music program at Bard College.

Merchant’s concerts with orchestras have become a staple of her performance activity.

“I’ve been doing these concerts with orchestras for a couple of years now,” Merchant told The Chautauqua Region Word. “It’s… been in preparation for a while to get the repertoire to the point where the scores are flawless.”

Merchant’s introduction to performing with orchestras was abrupt.

“I started with the Boston Pops,” Merchant told the Word. “That was my first performance (with an orchestra), and kind of a baptism by fire. Then I took my scores and went and kind of woodshedded for a while.”

Merchant said some of the songs she’ll be performing are familiar and some new.

“Some of them are from previous albums, some are unreleased,” she told the Word. “Some are tested in the studio, and others we still have to test onstage with different orchestras. It’s been a two-year process to get this program together.”

Merchant’s latest album, “Leave Your Sleep,” was released in 2010, her first studio album since 2003. In a video interview on her website, Merchant said the album is the result of five years of work; she calls it “the most elaborate project I could ever conceive of.”

Merchant said the project originated when she started writing songs for her baby daughter. As her daughter grew, the project started to shift into a more universal exploration of childhood. “Leave Your Sleep” includes poetry touching on these themes that Merchant uncovered through years of research.

“The project has opened my eyes to the power of the word, the beauty of the word, and the whole art form,” she said.

A musical journey

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Moody, CSO prepare Russian program, featuring Gavrylyuk

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Guest conductor Robert Moody and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk have never met, but they have a common goal: They want everyone in the Amphitheater to experience a shared musical journey. Moody, Gavrylyuk and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra perform at 8:15 p.m. tonight.

“We’re in on it together,” Moody said. “We are not performing for you; we are joining in on a journey with you in the audience.”

Gavrylyuk said his musical goal is to connect everyone, including himself, through the music for a spiritual and emotional experience.

“This will prove that actually, deep inside, we are all quite similar, because we are all being moved in the same manner and in the same way, no matter what language we speak or what beliefs we have,” Gavrylyuk said.

Gavrylyuk is returning for his sixth consecutive Chautauqua season. A Steinway artist, Gavrylyuk performs around the world, from the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow to the Sydney Opera House. The Ukrainian pianist first came to Chautauqua after winning the First Prize, the Gold Medal and the award for Best Performance of a Classical Concerto at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Masters Competition in 2005, at the age of 20.

When he was called a Chautauqua favorite, Gavrylyuk laughed and said that Chautauqua is his favorite, too.

“It shows that it’s quite possible to bring people from different backgrounds, beliefs and talents together in a harmonious way and to create a spectacular bouquet of wonderful human expression and interaction,” he said.

Although he’s never been to Chautauqua, Moody knows many of the members of the orchestra from other ensembles.

“I’m not just walking into a group of complete strangers but fellow colleagues and musicians that I already know and love working with,” he said.

Moody is is no stranger to western New York, either. He earned a master’s degree of music in conducting at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.

Moody initially studied cello and voice. He struggled with choosing between the two until he saw conductor Donald Neuen interacting with a choir and orchestra at a South Carolina honors choir festival. Moody went on to study with Neuen at Eastman.

Moody is the music director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Maine and the Winston-Salem Symphony in North Carolina. He is also the artistic director of the Arizona Musicfest. He has been conducting for more than 20 years but is still thought of as a “young” conductor. Moody attributes this to the way his career has developed over the years.

“Everyone has their own path, but that was mine,” he said. “I feel very satisfied with the way I’ve been fortunate to have a certain musical growth trajectory that’s been slow and steady.”

Moody’s program for tonight features a theme of Russian composers. The concert opens with Dmitri Kabalevsky’s overture to the opera Colas Breugnon. With powerful whirlwind tones and tempos, Kabalevsky’s compositions are frequently confused with the work of another Soviet composer, Aram Khachaturian, Moody said.

After the fast and furious overture, Gavrylyuk will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26. Gavrylyuk said the concerto reflects the political turmoil in Russia during the time the piece was composed in the early 20th century. Though the piece is turbulent and filled with the uncertainty and brutality of the period, it also contains plenty of Prokofiev’s “spiky” humor, he said.

“At the same time, it is not a dark concerto,” Gavrylyuk said. “In my eyes, it’s still full of a positive outlook despite all of the reflections on negative events.”

Although the focus is often on the pianist in a concerto, Moody said the audience should pay attention to the dialogue between piano and orchestra. The concerto is also good example of Prokofiev’s haunting melodies, he said.

“If you listen to the five- or six-note motif all by itself, he doesn’t take you in a place that you would expect, but nonetheless, it remains completely lyrical and beautiful,” he said.

The concert concludes with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27, a piece Moody has conducted more than any other symphony. This is in part due to Moody’s magnetic attraction to Rachmaninoff’s works. The symphony will be performed with edits the composer made, which trims the work to 48 minutes and removes many repeated phrases.

For Moody, one challenge for tonight’s performance is getting to know the orchestra very quickly, so that together, they can interpret the unwritten qualities of the symphony.

“Capturing the things that are not on the page becomes extremely important with a work like the Rachmaninoff,” he said. “There’s a lot of rubato — what it means is robbing the tempo, pulling and pushing the tempo. It’s not marked by the composer, but it needs to happen for the piece to have an ocean wave-like lunge, ebb and flow.”

The piece also has a surprise in the third movement for anyone familiar with 1970s pop ballads.

“You sense it on the podium; you sense a lot of wry smiles, and you’re trying to decide if people in the audience want to admit they know where it comes from or not,” Moody said. “I say embrace it. It’s great that pop music embraced a great theme from the world of orchestral music.”

After he leaves Chautauqua, Moody will remain in New York to conduct at the Skaneateles Festival. He has upcoming guest conducting appearances with the Louisville Orchestra, California Symphony, Stamford Symphony and his international debut with the Slovenian Philharmonic.

Gavrylyuk will perform in the Amp again at 8:15 p.m. July 13. Pianists in the School of Music can attend his master classes on July 8, 9 and 11. After Chautauqua, Gavrylyuk will perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on July 26 at the Hollywood Bowl.

A performance that really pops

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Seen here in 2009, Stuart Chafetz will lead the CSO in a Fourth of July celebration at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amp. Daily file photo.

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Stuart Chafetz

Get your paper bags ready and watch for the cue — tonight is your chance to perform with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as one of 5,000 cannons in the “1812 Overture.” The Independence Day pops concert takes place at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

The fun doesn’t stop when the bags are popped. Stuart Chafetz, guest conductor and CSO principal timpanist, promises a program full of music the whole family will enjoy. From patriotic tunes and festive symphonic pieces to music from the stage and screen, tonight’s concert will be a mix of new music and Chautauquan traditions.

This is Chafetz’s ninth year conducting the CSO’s Independence Day concert. He said he can think of no better place to be during the July 4 holiday.

“The family can come out and have a good time and celebrate our independence in a way that pulls out all of the stops,” he said.

Chafetz said he wants to create a relaxed, loose atmosphere, which helps both the audience and the musicians have fun at the concert. Interaction is not always welcome at classical music performances, but the pops concert gives people the opportunity to enjoy themselves in a spontaneous way.

“I like to have the audience feel comfortable that they can sing along, they can dance, they can do whatever they need to do to enjoy themselves and celebrate this Independence Day,” Chafetz said.

The concert opens with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by the Festive Overture, Op. 96 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Though not specifically an American piece, Chafetz said the overture is a “barn burner” for the orchestra and builds the evening’s excitement.

After the overture, the CSO will perform John Philip Sousa’s “Invincible Eagle March,” which is new to Chafetz’s Independence Day program at Chautauqua. Then, the orchestra will perform selections from “The Music Man,” concluding with “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

“I always like to do an old-school, Broadway medley where the audience can sing along,” Chafetz said.

For muggles young and old, the CSO presents its first performance of “Harry’s Wondrous World” by John Williams. Chafetz chose the piece to commemorate the final installment in the “Harry Potter” movie series, which opens July 15.

“It’s also a tribute to the army of readers ‘Harry Potter’ has established during its wonderful run of movies and books,” Chafetz said.

Also new this season is “The Great American TV Westerns,” the first piece Chafetz has ever commissioned. The six-song medley was arranged by Larry Moore, who will be attending tonight’s performance.

Chafetz said he hopes the piece will inspire nostalgia for audience members of all ages, from those who remember the original TV series to those who’ve seen them on TV Land.

The patriotic portion of the evening starts with “Liberty for All,” a piece for orchestra and narrator by James A. Beckel Jr. Chafetz chose Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley to narrate the piece.

“Mr. Chautauqua,” as Chafetz dubbed him, will read quotes from the Declaration of Independence and excerpts of speeches by the Founding Fathers.

The “Armed Forces on Parade,” arranged by Robert Lowden, salutes each branch of the U.S. armed forces with their official songs and hymns.

This year, Chafetz announced “a special twist” to the tribute but issued no further comment.

CSO’s pops concert closes with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Op. 49. The audience will pop more than 15,000 paper bags in lieu of cannon fire. In the semi-enclosed space of the Amp, the rustling of bags sounds like rain and the bursts are deafening, on par with real gunpowder, Chafetz said.

When the cannons settle, the CSO will perform an encore of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” before audiences shuffle off to Chautauqua Lake to view the fireworks displays.

Chafetz said he loves to see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they hear music that brings back good memories.

“I’m just so anxious to share it with everybody,” he said. “I’m really excited about this particular summer.”

Chafetz has been in the CSO as principal timpanist since 1997. He has been a guest conductor for several ensembles around the country and is currently the resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

“I start out with two sticks as a timpanist, and I end up with one stick as a conductor,” he said.

Chafetz said that when he guest-conducts with other orchestras, they return to their families and he returns to his hotel room. Conducting the CSO is like returning to his family, Chafetz said.

“It’s just a great experience to play with them but also have the opportunity to conduct them because they’re so responsive, they’re wonderful and I’m one of them; I’m part of the family,” he said. “For me, when I conduct them, I feel like I’m truly at home.”


Further reading:

  1. Chafetz bio 
  2. Liberty for All

A night of reunion

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Daily file photo.

Guest conductor Mester, violinist Gomyo open CSO season

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Jorge Mester

When the members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra reunite after their 10-month break, they will also welcome back guest conductor Jorge Mester and violinist Karen Gomyo. The CSO performs with Mester and Gomyo at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

The last time Mester was in Chautauqua, in 1980, it was so hot that he went swimming in the lake past midnight, which was illegal.

“Maybe I’ll get arrested, although I think the statute of limitations will probably protect me if I meet a policeman there,” Mester said.

Mester has been conducting for decades and began studying the art when cellist Gregor Piatigorsky gave him a scholarship to attend the Tanglewood Music Center in Boston. There, he studied with Leonard Bernstein, who encouraged him to continue with his craft. Mester is the music director of the Louisville Orchestra and of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in Naples, Fla.

Karen Gomyo

He’s looking forward to reconnecting with some of his colleagues from Naples and conducting the CSO again, which he remembers as a very rewarding experience.

“It’s amazingly easy because everybody knows the repertoire,” he said. “They’re there because they love the music and they love the summers there.”

Mester will also reunite with Gomyo, who last visited Chautauqua in 2006. Gomyo and Mester last performed together “when she was very tiny,” Mester said.

Gomyo remembers Mester as being extremely kind and open to letting her perform the way she wanted to.

“I remember him always being very inviting and very encouraging,” Gomyo said.

Gomyo got her start in music when she was 5 years old. At age 11, she began studying at The Juilliard School in New York with violin instructor Dorothy DeLay. Gomyo won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions at age 15. She plays the “Ex Foulis” Stradivarius violin, which was bought for her exclusive use by a private sponsor.

The last time she was in Chautauqua, Gomyo was still studying at school. Now, as an adult performer and a highly sought-after professional soloist, Gomyo looks at music in a more intellectual way.

“When I was younger, I used to create stories about the images that the music gave me,” she said. “Now I’ll look at a score, see the structure of it, and I’ll try to unlock the secrets about why certain things are written the way they are. Not to say that I perform according to that, but I think this knowledge does help the emotional relationship that you’re going to have with the music.”

Saturday’s program was created to complement Gomyo’s performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, a piece that Gomyo has been performing since she was 13 years old. She characterized the piece as beautiful and lyrical with a famously fast and difficult last movement.

When Gomyo performed the piece for DeLay, the teacher related the piece to a romance in her youth. Gomyo said she wondered whether Barber wrote the piece with romance in mind, or if it evokes Barber’s travels in Switzerland, where he wrote the concerto.

“As with any piece, the wonderful thing about music is that it is timeless, but as the performer grows up and matures, I think the performer has a different perspective of the same music throughout his or her life,” she said.

To complement the concerto, Mester chose to open the program with Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi’s “Symphonic Minutes.” The CSO has never played this piece before.

“I always like to bring a fresh piece to orchestras wherever I go,” Mester said. “It gives them an extra jolt of energy and vitality.”

The piece is written in five short vignettes, which Mester said were incredibly witty and surprisingly beautiful. He added he fell in love with the piece when he recorded “Ruralia Hungarica,” an all-Dohnányi album, with the West Australia Symphony Orchestra in Perth.

To close this evening’s performance, Mester selected Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which he called a “warhorse.” Mester said the piece is challenging because it’s so well known.

“It’s very easy to lapse into automatic pilot,” Mester said. “The challenge for a performer is how to find what made the first performance of that piece such an amazing experience for the audience.”

After his Chautauqua concert, Mester hopes to find more opportunities to teach conducting.

“It is my way of passing down what my teacher gave me,” he said.

In addition to her busy soloist schedule, Gomyo has recently started performing more chamber music. She is also working on a collaborative project with Pablo Ziegler, a pianist who was in Astor Piazzolla’s quintet. Gomyo and Ziegler created a program in which Ziegler performs arrangements of Piazzolla’s famous tango music and Gomyo performs the Brahms, Bartók and Bach that inspired Piazzolla’s music.

After their performance in Chautauqua, Mester and Gomyo will meet again on Feb. 2, 2012, when Gomyo performs with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra.

‘There’s a million ways to be inspired’

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Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers

Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

Steve Martin and his wife, Anne Stringfield, sat in a small venue in New York City called Joe’s Pub.

Martin had released his bluegrass album “The Crow,” but that was mostly a solo album, although it featured several famous musicians. He didn’t expect the band playing onstage — one that his wife had known since before their marriage — to ask him to join them.

But that’s just what the band members did.

So he went backstage and practiced a bit with the band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Martin said he kept thinking, “This song has never sounded this good before.”

And when it came time for him to choose a band to tour with, the Steep Canyon Rangers stuck out in his mind. He worried his joining would damage their reputation in the world of bluegrass, as Martin had focused primarily in recent years on the comedy and acting for which he is most known. As it turned out, though, his joining “doubled the size of their audience.”

As part of their current tour, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers will be performing a bluegrass show at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. It will be Martin’s first Chautauqua experience.

“The show we do is not a comedian who goes out, turns his back on the audience, and plays 20 songs in a row and then says, ‘Good night,’” Martin said in a teleconference held June 9.

He said some of the songs might be inherently humorous, but the members of the band are still serious musicians.

Aside from music and comedy, Martin is also an accomplished playwright and novelist. Though he has many talents, he said there are people better than him in each skill. Before joining the Steep Canyon Rangers, he said, he had to “practice like mad.”

“I hadn’t done a stage show in 25 years, and I had never done a stage show of music,” he said. “But I think, certainly, I had to prove myself to them, and I had to prove myself to myself, you know, of whether I could do it.”

The first performance was for a crowd of 60 people; he said he couldn’t take his eyes off his banjo because of his nerves. Now, though, he said he feels more like a professional musician.

Martin said he plays an arrogant Hollywood idiot on stage, while the rest of the band plays modest North Carolinians. It’s all in good fun, he said, and it’s the basis of their comedic relationship on stage.

He said he chose the banjo when he was in his teens because of its unique sound. Folk music stars like the Kingston Trio and Earl Scruggs turned him on to the banjo.

“The banjo sounds to me like it comes from a place,” he said. “Like it comes from a locale. Like it comes from America. And, you know, I can tell sometimes that the audience almost gets inadvertently moved by — not by my playing, but by the sound of the banjo. I’d like to think that sort of runs through Americans’ DNA, you know?”

He said that his work in bluegrass seems to be inspiring interest in bluegrass. It wasn’t his intention, but the record’s been selling well, so he think it’s happening accidentally.

Martin views himself as a writer, musician and comedian — he doesn’t give himself just one title. He said each aspect comes together under an “umbrella of creativity,” adding that inspiration comes to him in many ways.

“Sometimes, there’s a million ways to be inspired,” Martin said. “For example, playing the banjo and making a mistake, hitting the chord and going, ‘That sounded good, what was that? I’ve never heard that before.’ Sometimes, you’re inspired by deadline. It’s mostly just letting your mind wander and finding something fresh that you never thought of before.”

Good versus evil: Dance Salon to express age-old conflict

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Sarah Hayes Watson and Anna Gerberich pose for a portrait. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.


Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

North Carolina Dance Theatre in residence with Chautauqua Dance will confront a notorious conflict in its first performance: good versus evil.

The annual Dance Salon, held at 8:15 p.m. tonight at the Amphitheater, will include five dances. It’s a chance for the audience to see a performance with more challenging and abstract works, said Mark Diamond, associate artistic director of Chautauqua Dance.

With only nine dancers, the salon evening is often viewed as a more personal experience.

The first piece, titled “Zokusuru,” is set to traditional Japanese drumming. The dance tells the story of a woman who is married very young, Diamond said. Two spirits, represented by two dancers, symbolize her duty to her marriage versus her desire for free will.

“They whisper in her ear,” Diamond said. “And it’s just something in her mind.”

Sasha Janes, rehearsal director and guest choreographer, then will present his original piece, “Last Lost Chance.” This 16-minute dance is performed only with soft shoe, though Janes said he normally choreographs on pointe.

“It’s a lot more contemporary than what I’m used to doing,” he said.

Janes, who has been coming to Chautauqua for 10 years, said this will be the first season in which he does not perform with NCDT. He said he’d like to focus more on his other responsibilities, including choreographing.

Following Janes’ piece, the dancers will perform “Sunset Road,” a pas de deux, or partnering, and “The Advocate.”

In “Sunset Road,” a woman comes to a preacher for help.  Young dancers will represent a gospel choir during the piece.

“They will be in the back doing a kind of countermovement to what they (the woman and preacher) are doing,” Diamond said.

“The Advocate” perhaps most literally demonstrates the struggle between good and evil.  Four dancers will tell the story of an exorcist who goes to combat the demons in others’ personalities. Diamond said this piece will be set to organ music, though it is pre-recorded, unlike in past performances.

The last dance will be Diamond’s original choreography. Appropriately titled “Good and Evil,” it deals with human interaction and is set to a Vivaldi concerto.

“It’s very, very abstract,” Diamond said. “It’s about the way people treat each other and manipulate each other and the way they help each other.”

Prior to the salon, the Chautauqua Dance Circle will host its first pre-performance lecture at 7 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. Both Diamond and Janes will speak about the evening’s dances.

Karen Dakin, media communications director for the CDC, said the idea of the lecture is not only to introduce the dances but to also help the audience better understand and appreciate the choreography.

Artists who happen to be brothers who happen to be twins

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Will and Anthony Nunziata

Mary Lee Talbot | Staff Writer

If the way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practice, practice, practice, how do you get to the stage of the Amphitheater?

For Will and Anthony Nunziata, it was practice and the PBS special Chautauqua: An American Narrative.

They will present “An Evening with Will and Anthony Nunziata” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Seasoned cabaret performers, they sing the American Songbook, Italian Songbook, Broadway tunes, jazz favorites and contemporary music.

Will and Anthony were in Florida at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach at the end of January. Between shows, Anthony turned on PBS, and “heaven came on the screen.”

“I pulled up the website and everything that I have come to love, everything about what I do, I saw on that screen,” Anthony said. “It’s about faith, arts, family, education and especially education in the arts.”

Anthony told Will about the special, and Will watched it as well.

“What I saw was community, a true environmental space,” Will said. “It was the indoor-outdoor aspect of the place that caught my attention. There is something very American about it. In a fast-paced world, it is cool to remember the freedom we have, especially the right to expression through the arts.

Anthony got in touch with Sheryl Thayer in the Program Office and told her, “What a wonderful place you have.”

He also mentioned that he and his brother were performers and then told his booking agent to drop a line to Marty Merkley, vice president of Chautauqua and director of programming.

“I checked them out,” Merkley said. “They have made a name for themselves in the cabaret world. They are young, fun and different. Why not invite them?”

Will and Anthony have been performing since they were children.

“Our mom said we had been singing since the womb,” Anthony said. “One of my earliest memories is having a karaoke machine. Mom was filming while Will and I were singing, and Dad was wrapping our Christmas presents behind our backs. We were singing ‘Jingle Bells.’”

Both sang in high school musicals. One of their early professional jobs was singing in a commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios.  A real turning point came when they both went to Boston College.

“We were on our way to try out for the Division I tennis team,” Anthony said. “We are both very competitive. We saw a poster for tryouts for Godspell and decided to try out. I got the part of Jesus and Will got the part of Judas. We were able to revel in our individuality yet share the stage as brothers.”

Yes, they are twins.

“There is no twin shtick on stage,” Anthony said. “We are artists who happen to be brothers who happen to be twins.”

Will agreed: “We were raised as individuals.  While other kids were listening to Madonna and other pop artists, we were listening to Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.”

Dubbed “a dynamic duo with beautiful voices and charming personalities” by Cleveland Pops conductor Carl Topilow, Will and Anthony have traveled the world with their duo concert act.

Some of their recent television appearances include ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Columbus Day Parade” and “The Rachael Ray Show.”

Will and Anthony have headlined as guest artists with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Colorado Pops Orchestra, Brockton Symphony Orchestra and the Cape Cod Pops Orchestra to an outdoor audience of more than 20,000.

They have had multiple nightclub engagements at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City. They also performed in the chorus finale of the PBS special “Sondheim: The Birthday Concert” celebrating the 80th birthday of Stephen Sondheim.

One achievement they are proudest of is their “Double Duty” program.

“Double Duty” is an educational outreach program where the brothers travel to colleges, high schools and elementary schools and speak to students about the importance of arts education and about their personal journeys in music and the entertainment business.

While on tour, they work with a venue’s education director to take time to speak with students. They offer advice to students while engaging them in a dialogue about the arts and living out their dreams. Arts education and radiating a positive outlook for the arts and in life are of prominent importance to both Will and Anthony.

“One of my biggest thrills as a child was when performers came to school to talk about the arts,” Will said. “The motto of Boston College is, ‘Men and Women for Others,’ and we want to inspire kids to follow their dreams.  Here are two real guys who happen to be brothers and twins. It is cool to be a ‘Gleek,’ and I want them to see that if these two can do it, anyone can.”

The brothers had their own teachers along the way.

“We had mentors to help us,” Anthony said. “We tell them to look for mentors and to do what they love. Especially today, with arts education being cut, kids need to find the people who can help them make their dream come true. And since we are not much older than they are, we can show them that we are still on a journey and we enjoy it.”

Apollo’s Fire to spark interest in Protestant history

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Apollo’s Fire brings a musical story on Protestant church history to the Amphitheater tonight.

Cast of Apollo’s Fire. Submitted photo.

 

 

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

The members of Apollo’s Fire bowed to the audience’s applause after their performance at Chautauqua in 2007, but this year’s performance of “Come to the River” may yield even better results.

“This program is really special for Chautauqua in particular because Chautauqua has this long tradition of focusing on Protestant church history and the different ideals that have been discussed,” said Jeannette Sorrell, the founder of Apollo’s Fire.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, the performers will gather again to give a concert complete with a mixture of singing, acting and instrumental music.

Of the 11 performers, six are singers and five are instrumentalists. The music includes folk, baroque and old-time music, and the instruments include a hammered dulcimer, fiddle, harpsichord, wooden flute, cello, guitar and banjo.

“This show is pretty unique,” said Tina Bergmann, who plays the hammered dulcimer and sings in the show. “It’s unusual; it’s both old-time music and really different instruments you would not find in an old-time band for sure. It’s its own animal.”

A story line about a 19th-century preacher’s journey drives the performance. The plot, which is written by Sorrell and is loosely based on historical figures, follows a preacher’s journey with his family from Pennsylvania to Kentucky.

The show begins with ballads and barn dances and ends with American Protestant revival-themed music as one of the characters murders a man, spends 20 years in prison, finds faith in Jesus and changes his life.

“I feel really akin to what Jeannette does, putting story and drama first, and not just making pretty sounds,” said Ross Hauck, a guest artist in Apollo’s Fire and the character who finds his faith.

Many of the musicians in Apollo’s Fire joined the group with varying backgrounds, interests and musical styles. Trained in old-time music, Bergmann prefers to memorize her music, even though she only has two weeks to do so before the first show. Hauck was classically trained in piano and cello for years and then switched to studying voice in college.

“There’s a virtuosity,” Hauck said. “Every musician on stage comes with years and years of experience and training. … We’re tight as a unit.”

Hauck said there is a feeling of professionalism combined with the sense of immediacy that comes with folk music.

Apollo’s Fire is a Cleveland-based orchestra that Sorrell formed in 1992 when she saw a need for a group that was dedicated to baroque music. Because the ensemble is primarily an instrumental group, Sorrell invites guest artists like Hauck to sing in specific programs.

“It’s always interesting to hear classically trained musicians do crossover stuff and still keep it authentic,” Hauck said.

Bergmann also said she is confident in the group members’ ability to combine their talents to produce this crossover show.

“This group has been around for about 15 years, and it did take a little bit of time for us to find truly common ground, but I believe that we’ve done it, and I’m pleased with the product,” Bergmann said.

Although Sorrell said she was amazed by the enthusiasm and setting of Chautauqua a few years ago, she is just as excited about this year.

“I’m excited about the chance to connect with an audience that is interested in Protestant-American church history, which I think most people at Chautauqua are,” Sorrell said.

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