Evening Entertainment

Broadway staple Brian Stokes Mitchell steps to Amp stage in last-minute program change


When Chautauquans gather tonight in the Amphitheater, ready for an evening of Broadway hits and a superstar headliner, that is exactly what they’ll get.

Just maybe not from the superstar they’re expecting.

In a last-minute, under-the-wire program pivot, Hamilton star Renée Elise Goldsberry had to cancel her Amp performance; in a matter of hours Thursday morning and afternoon, a new headliner was announced: Brian Stokes Mitchell, a Tony Award-winner whose baritone voice has been a staple on the Great White Way for decades. He’ll perform with his longtime collaborator and friend, pianist Tedd Firth at 8:15 p.m. Friday, July 8, in the Amp for a program titled “Songs and Stories.”

When Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief programming officer, got the call Thursday morning that Goldsberry had tested positive for COVID-19, she and her team sprung into action. 

“When someone cancels — and of course, this has happened before in our programming, and it will happen again, especially in this time of COVID — even on a short timeline like this, the first thing we try to honor is something that’s in the same vein as what everyone was expecting,” she said. “And so for me, the first thing was: ‘Stick with Broadway.’ ”

And since the mid-1990s, Mitchell has been synonymous with Broadway. Nominated for four Tony Awards and earning the win for Best Actor in a Musical for his 2000 role in Kiss Me, Kate, he’s also known for Ragtime, Man of La Mancha, and King Hedley II. Simply put, Moore said, Mitchell is “a Broadway star. People truly think of him as Broadway royalty.”

Honored in 2016 with the Isabelle Stevenson Award for his work chairing The Actors Fund, which supports members of the entertainment community in crisis or transition, he also made headlines at the beginning of the pandemic for similar acts of heart.

“He was the one leaning out of his New York City apartment balcony, singing to the essential workers, honoring them and uplifting them,” Moore said. 

Mitchell took to his tiny balcony on Broadway and West 98th Street, night after night in the spring of 2020 — the height of lockdown, isolation and despair — to sing one song: “The Impossible Dream,” from Man of La Mancha, for which he had been nominated for a 2003 Tony.

Mitchell continued the performances of “The Impossible Dream,” a song with fresh relevancy and comfort during the pandemic, until the crowds outside his apartment grew too large to continue.

“Singing both felt like a performance and I didn’t want to do that,” Mitchell was quoted in the outlet Chelsea News in May 2020. “ ‘The Impossible Dream’ is the perfect song for the moment. It gives people hope. It’s also a song about trying — just to hear the lyrics — ‘to fight the unbeatable foe, bear with unbearable sorrow, and to run where the brave dare not go.’ ”

During the pandemic, The Actors Fund was able to provide $4 million in emergency assistance to thousands of artists and actors left jobless when Broadway went dark.

Beyond his work on Broadway, Mitchell has a longlist of acting credits, from “Frasier,” “Trapper John, MD,” “Glee,” “Madam Secretary,” and many more. He’s twice performed at the White House, and has appeared with such acts as the United States Marine Band, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the Muppets.

“He’s done everything,” Moore said. “I think the minute people see him, see his face and hear his voice, they’ll say, ‘Oh, my gosh. That’s Brian.’ ” 

Moore said that the quick shift in programming, coming together in mere hours between Goldsberry’s cancellation and Mitchell’s confirmation, is a testament to both the draw that Chautauqua has for artists, and the way in which performing arts organizations and venues have leaned on each other during the pandemic. 

“This community has become so supportive of one another. One of the things that has happened with COVID, in our industry, is that it has felt less and less competitive and more supportive,” Moore said. “We’re a closer-knit community. … That’s one of the things that’s come out of this, in a really positive way.”

And when Chautauquans take their seats, they’ll bear witness to what that community has been able to do, and what actors and artists have been able to accomplish with each other, and for each other.

“This is going to be one of those evenings of intimate sharing of stories and personal experiences on Broadway, with incredible singing,” Moore said. “That makes it one of those evenings Chautauquans will love because it’s not just the talent. It’s not just the Broadway songs. It’s going to Brian, with Tedd, who is one of his best friends, sharing their experiences in that way of storytelling that really resonates with this place.”

A time for ‘Reunions’: Country music star Isbell, 400 Unit headline last Friday of season



Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit’s latest album, Reunions, was released on streaming services May 15, 2020 — but that wasn’t the album’s debut to the world.

No, Isbell and his band opted to release the album a week early, exclusively to independent record stores, to support those small businesses during the first weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I thought about independent record stores and the fact that they’re suffering like all small businesses right now,” Isbell told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on “All Things Considered.” “But even more so, when somebody puts an album out early via streaming platforms, it takes away an opportunity for them to sell the record, in a lot of cases. So instead of putting it out early I thought, well, we’ll stick to the same timeline, but maybe it would be helpful to those folks if we put it out just through independent record stores a week early. I think it was.”

Isbell and The 400 Unit were set to tour last summer following the release of Reunions, but like countless other acts, pushed the tour to 2021, with a stop at Chautauqua at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Isbell is known for his work as both a solo singer-songwriter and guitarist, and his work with The 400 Unit and Drive-By Truckers. He’s been nominated for 16 Americana Music Honors & Awards (he’s won nine of those nominations) and has won four Grammy Awards. Of his seven studio albums, three have reached the top of the U.S. country, folk and rock charts, and Reunions is the fourth album he’s released with The 400 Unit — a band that includes Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, who’s also part of the country music group The Highwomen.

The Dave Cobb-produced Reunions is a collection of 10 “expertly crafted tunes,” Andrew Barker wrote for Variety.

“Isbell’s brilliance has become so commonplace that one risks taking it for granted,” Barker wrote.

Initially, Isbell told Kelly, when he was starting work on Reunions, he was “just trying to write a bunch of good songs, and I think that’s always how it starts for me.”

“I don’t go in with much of a concept because I feel like that sometimes can distract me from doing the real work at hand, which is just writing the best songs I can and documenting where I am at that point in my life,” he said.

After writing a few songs, he told Kelly, he started noticing patterns. 

“I started seeing the fact that I was going back in time and reconnecting, at least on a psychological level, with a lot of the people, a lot of the relationships that I had growing up and when I was younger and before I got sober,” he said in May 2020. “I got sober eight-and-a-half years ago. For a long spell, between the time when I got sober and just the last couple years, it was really difficult for me to revisit those times in a way that was anything less than judgmental. Because I had to look back at myself with disdain and not risk turning back into the person I used to be.”

But, Isbell told Kelly, he realized that after years of sobriety and working with a therapist, he was feeling “not necessarily nostalgia, but more of a connection with the person I was a decade or two decades ago. I felt more comfortable and safer going back into that relationship and not judging myself, but coming to terms with the fact that I had good things to offer as well as bad things in those days.”

Isbell has been vocal in recent weeks about new COVID-19 protocols for his upcoming shows; he announced on Aug. 9 that all attendees at live shows would need to provide proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, and he’s backed out of performances where the venues wouldn’t comply. That decision has drawn strong reactions both in support and in opposition.

Still, he told Joseph Hudak of Rolling Stone that when he and The 400 Unit took the stage in Austin, Texas, hours after he’d announced the protocols, he knew he’d made the right call.

“As soon as we walked onstage, we could tell that the audience was full-on excited,” he said. “They felt more comfortable and they had a better time. It was one of the best shows that I’ve played, because the energy in the room was so good. That, to me, was evidence that we had made the right decision.”

That decision extends to Chautauqua, where the Institution — at Isbell’s request — is strongly encouraging wearing face masks at the concert. Anyone not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the start of the show. Third-party reports of negative results within the previous three days, if a PCR test, and six hours, if a rapid test, will be accepted. At-home test results won’t be accepted. Since this is a requirement of the band, there are no exceptions.

“I don’t feel right onstage while I think people might be getting deathly ill in the crowd. I don’t think it’s fair to the audience or to the crews at the venues or to my crew to put people in a situation where they’re possibly risking their lives or taking the virus home to their kids, or they go to school and give it to other kids,” Isbell told Hudak. “It just didn’t feel right. … I think if we hadn’t put these kinds of restrictions in place and we didn’t hold the line on it, I would feel like I was taking advantage of people while I’m doing my job. I don’t ever want to do that, because that little thing that I love the most about the job that I have is the fact that it spreads something positive. I want to protect that. I don’t want to spread positive tests — I want to spread positive vibes.”

Amped up: The Roots & Trombone Shorty

The Roots take center stage for their double-bill performance with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue Saturday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


The business of merrymaking: Old Crow Medicine Show set to bring Americana folk music to Amp



Old Crow Medicine Show

The primary function of a musician, in Ketch Secor’s estimation, is to be a merrymaker.

“This is the job we sign up for — as musicians, we ride across America and bring live music to people,” he said. “That’s the job description. … As merrymakers, we go out, hit the road. And it’s really hard to be a merrymaker on a Zoom call.”

Secor, in addition to being a vocalist, plays the fiddle, harmonica, guitar and banjo for the Americana string band Old Crow Medicine Show — back on the road with a stop scheduled at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26 in the Amphitheater.

Secor said the band tries to play music that reflects where they are geographically — so Wednesday’s show in LaFayette, New York, just south of Syracuse and Lake Erie, might have featured “Low Bridge,” with the refrain of “15 years on the Erie Canal.” He’s not sure what the set list for Chautauqua might look like, but “we try to find those common denominators between the audience and the music to remind them that the music belongs to them.”

“One of the tenets of the band is that we attempt to be the hometown boys in every town,” Secor said. “What allows us to at least pretend to do that is that we play this American folk music, which really does come from every place.”

This is Old Crow Medicine Show’s first time playing Chautauqua, but it’s not Secor’s first time on the grounds. His great-great-aunt was a Chautauquan for most of her life, Secor said, and he visited her here in 1991, when he was 13. He remembers seeing the satire group Montana Logging and Ballet Company perform in the Amp, and that same summer he entered the Chautauqua Women’s Club 62nd Annual Poetry Contest, earning an honorable mention in the Elfreda Graham Memorial Division for poets under the age of 16. (His poem was titled “Beneath the Logic,” and was published in the Daily on Aug. 24, 1991.)

Seven years after his first visit to Chautauqua, Secor and Old Crow Medicine Show got their start in 1998, busking in New York state and through Canada. Since then, the band’s released six studio albums, won two Grammy Awards and were inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry. Their single “Wagon Wheel” received the Recording Industry Association of America double-platinum certification in 2019 for selling more than 2 million copies since its release in 2004. 

“It was really kind of a slow growth, you know. Every time we would come to your town, there would be 150 more people, 300 more people,” Secor said. “It was really a word-of-mouth thing, because we weren’t on the radio or the TV in any meaningful way. Mostly it was just that people liked our songs and sang them around summer camps and campfires. You get enough people doing that, you might get yourself a career.”

Secor said it was a “love affair with the United States” that got him into this business, and what still sustains him. He traveled a lot when he was a kid and wanted to keep traveling as a young man and as an adult.

Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor first came to Chautauqua in 1991, and submitted the above poem to the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 62nd annual poetry contest. “It was not a very good poem,” Secor said (the Daily respectfully disagrees), “but apparently somebody liked it.” The Daily published this poem on Aug. 24, 1991, and we’re pleased to run it once more. FROM THE DAILY ARCHIVES

“The books I read spurred me on, too,” he said. “They made me want to go see the places that felt full of magic and mystery, all across the continent, as a traveler and musician. I’ve been able to be in all these places and see people at their best — people in a gregarious flock, singing along together.”

To him, that’s “the antidote” to the troubles of the world — troubles that he sees as part of a “continuum of the troubling tendencies of our species. War, discord; those things are always there. But another thing that’s always there is unity, and song.”

One of those songs, released last June, is “Pray For America,” written in eight days for NPR’s “Morning Edition” Song Project. Old Crow Medicine Show was the first band to participate in the series, and Secor tried to put his feelings about the pandemic, mask mandates and politics “into a sermon that could be for everybody, and not just the people who think like I think.”

He told NPR he wanted to write a song that “felt like ‘God Bless America,’ but I also wanted to have a little ‘This Land is Your Land,’ too. I think we, as songwriters, got to keep adding to the canon of songs about America because we need to update it. These are troubling times, and we need new songs about our country to inspire unity.”

Old Crow Medicine Show has solidified its place in that American canon and tradition of songwriters, and there may be no better example of that canon’s growth and evolution than the band’s hit “Wagon Wheel.” 

“Some songs are magical,” Secor said. “They don’t just come out of your pen. Some songs that go No. 1 simply aren’t magical — that’s not a prerequisite. But magic songs belong to the people who sing them. They get passed along, and they get scuffed up along the way and are reshaped.”

Secor first heard Bob Dylan’s bootleg version of “Wagon Wheel” when he was 17 — it was about 36 seconds long, titled “Mama Rock Me,” with a mumbled, hard-to-decipher verse. Secor heard the song, wrote his own verses to it, and immediately thought, “Wow, this is a good one.” And then it took him 10 years to bring it out into the world. 

To release the song, the band needed Dylan’s permission. When they finally got in touch with Dylan’s management, they responded: “Well, Bob was flattered. But he didn’t write the song.”

Dylan learned the song from Delta blues singer-songwriter Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup — the same man who wrote Elvis Presley’s debut hit “That’s All Right.” So Secor listened to Crudup’s 1944 version, titled “Rock Me, Baby,” and looked at the liner notes, where things got even more interesting.

“Arthur Crudup mentioned that he learned ‘Rock Me, Baby’ from (blues singer-songwriter) Big Bill Broonzy, on a record from the 1920s,” Secor said. “So, wow, if you believe the story, it went from Big Bill Broonzy, to Big Boy, to Bob, to me, to Darius (Rucker, who covered ‘Wagon Wheel’ in 2013). It took the song 100 years to go No. 1, and in its nearly century-long gestation, sees the shared authorships of three African Americans, a Jewish musical icon and a skinny white kid from New Hampshire.”

It’s about as American as you can get.

A family tradition: Father-daughter Assad duo to draw on rich family musical legacy for evening of Brazilian jazz, samba, classical guitar



Sérgio & Clarice Assad

Clarice Assad remembers the first time she played music professionally with her father, the legendary classical guitarist Sérgio Assad. She was in her early 20s, they were in a huge concert hall in Europe and, she said, “looking out, there were just so many people” in the audience.

“It was sort of scary, but I felt this sense of comfort because I was with him,” Assad said. “I was alright. It was amazing, and a great way of easing myself into the world of performance.”

Assad, a pianist, vocalist and educator, grew up surrounded by music — her father is one-half of the preeminent guitar duo the Assad Brothers — and Sérgio Assad first started to help her create her own music starting at age 6. She’s now a Grammy-nominated composer with more than 70 works to her name, and she’ll be bringing some of those original compositions to Chautauqua when she and her father present an evening of Brazilian jazz vocals, samba and guitar at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25 in the Amphitheater.

“(My father and I) love to make music together as a duo; it’s always an exciting thing to share with people, with a live audience,” Assad said. “It’s definitely not the same when you don’t have that energy exchange. The virtual experience is just not the same.”

Assad, born in Rio de Janeiro, is one of the most widely performed Brazilian concert music composers of her generation. She’s the recipient of numerous honors, including an Aaron Copland Award, a Morton Gould Young Composer Award, the Van Lier Fellowship and many others. She’s released seven solo albums and performed with the likes of Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma — and, of course, her father and uncle, Odair, who make up the Assad Brothers, whose prolific careers have taken them the world over and netted them two Latin Grammys. 

When the father-daughter duo take the Amp stage, they’ll be bringing the rich tradition of Brazilian music with them.

“The music we play is full of life and joy,” she said. “We’ve chosen these songs and compositions because of their energy, and a celebration of joyful music from our original country of Brazil.”

On the setlist for tonight is several compositions from Relíquia, a 2016 album on the Adventure Music label, which was written together by the two Assads to honor their family’s musical legacy.

“The works are important to us,” said Assad, who wrote several of the songs on that album when she was a teenager. “I’m fond of these songs to this day.”

Ultimately, Assad said, she wants the evening to be a celebration of the return of live music.

“As two generations of musicians, related by blood, to be able to share that connection with audience members is a beautiful thing,” she said. “Listening to music is a very personal experience, and this is something my father and I have been doing for a long time. We have a very strong connection, and it’s not just because we’re related. There’s something really special about our relationship, our love for music and love for each other that comes across, and I think people can relate to that.”

And even if the audience doesn’t understand “the language of the samba, or the language of Portuguese,” Assad said, the way the two make music means “the essence, the love and commitment we have to this art form, definitely comes across.”

Though both Assad and her father currently live in the same Chicago neighborhood, the pandemic kept them apart for months, until a Christmas 2020 celebration together. Reuniting was joyous, Assad said, and she hopes to bring some of that joy to the Amp tonight.

“This is the wonderful thing, this human connection, that we get to be able to do again,” she said. “Now that we can get on stage and resume what we were doing before, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Captivating chamber: Manhattan Chamber Players to perform intimate set in Amphitheater as 2021 season draws to a close



Manhattan Chamber Players

As the 2021 season winds down, there’s still a chance to enjoy classical music as the Manhattan Chamber Players perform at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24 in the Amphitheater. 

The chamber music performance will not only allow Chautauquans to enjoy classical music one more time this summer, but it will also share the talents of each individual musician in a more intimate setting.

The group was founded in 2015 by violist Luke Fleming. Fleming had been playing in a string quartet for six years, and found himself wanting an opportunity to branch out in chamber music and play with people that had a similar musical background as he did. From this came the creation of the Manhattan Chamber Players, a group of musicians who were able to come together and explore a vast chamber music repertoire.

Members of the Manhattan Chamber Players also come from successful careers as either soloists or members of other professional performing groups. There are also two composers who write music for the group. Each musician shares the common goal of coming together to create music and perform chamber music. 

The group has traveled to numerous places around the world to share the experience of chamber music. They perform their own series of chamber concerts in New York City but have also performed in New Orleans, Utah, and numerous music festivals and chamber music series. 

Each performance that the group puts on is unique and electric in its own way. This is due to the flexibility of their programming, with repertoire being performed from strings to winds and piano. 

Aside from performing around the world, the group also co-presents the Crescent City Chamber Music Festival, an outreach and mission-based event, each year in October. The festival was founded by Fleming, as well, with the goal of bringing chamber music to New Orleans. Since its founding in 2016, the festival has presented more than 20 free concerts in local venues, nursing homes, schools and homeless shelters. 

The Manhattan Chamber Players are also dedicated to educating young people about the importance and joys of playing an instrument — whether as a career or simply a hobby. The group showcases this by performing in local schools and after-school programs. 

Tonight’s program includes Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, Op. 9, No. 1 and Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45.

The Beethoven piece is a part of three four-movement string trios that he once considered his best compositions. These works were the stepping stones to Beethoven’s string quartets that would later become the leading genre in chamber music. 

Tonight’s trio in G Major is considered the most vigorous of the three. The high-energy piece starts off with a slow introduction that gives way to advanced harmonies, dazzling melodies and changing tones and moods with an unexpected D Minor key. The rich piece then ends on a fast-paced Presto movement.

The Fauré piece is a traditional piano quartet with inclusion of piano, violin, viola and cello. This four-movement piece begins with a unison string melody that is followed by the piano introducing the theme. 

The last movement that ends both the piece, and tonight’s concert, will leave a lasting impression with its passionate and intense string melody and piano triplets.

Sphinx Artists, with mission grounded in representation, bring chamber music to Amp



Sphinx Artists

Creating music and opportunity through the arts is the heart of what the Sphinx Organization strives for. This organization aims to address the underrepresentation of people of color in the classical music world by supporting  diversity from music education,  to the artists onstage and the works being performed. The organization includes several different performing programs, including the Sphinx Virtuosi, a professional chamber orchestra of 18 Black and Latinx musicians. Several members of the Sphinx Virtuous, known as the Sphinx Artists, will perform at 8:15 p.m. Aug. 19 in the Amphitheater. 

Founded in 1997, the Detroit-based organization has helped transform countless lives through the arts. The name itself comes from the mythical Sphinx that represents power and wisdom. These characteristics reflect not just the members of the organization, but the music and art that is being created. 

“One of the amazing things I’ve been able to do is both teach students of color, and also perform. One of my favorites is the Carnegie Hall gala every year,” said Jannina Barefield Norpoth, a violinist of Sphinx Artists. “Sphinx has always made an incredible effort to do a lot of engagement, and get a lot of students from different schools to come. These kids show up at Carnegie Hall, and most of them have never been here before, and then when this orchestra of all Black and Latinx string players walk out on stage, you would think it was like a rock star walking into an arena.”

The organization also offers music education as a way to open new doors and opportunities. 

“Many of these students, they’re the only person of color at their school in their program, and they go through this affirmation of identity because they question themselves, like, ‘Do I belong here, and do I belong in this situation?’ ” Norpoth said. “Many of them have actually experienced discrimination from their teachers or their classmates, and so coming into this program, they get this sense of affirmation, and then they get the sense of belonging, and they have this confidence that they then are able to bring back to their communities.”

The world of classical music tends to lack diversity and representation of people of color, and the Sphinx Organization hopes to change that. 

“The organization’s mission is to promote diversity in classical music. And that’s changing who’s on the stage, that’s helping prepare people for jobs, that’s changing people’s perception of musicians of color, and it’s also sharing music by composers of color that people might not have heard before — works that haven’t made their place in the repertoire, perhaps, the way they ought to have,” Norpoth said. 

These aspects are what make tonight’s performance so dynamic, as the community gets to experience newer pieces that usually don’t get the chance to be heard.  

“This program that we’re playing, it’s a really fun and exciting program. The first work is actually by a Sphinx alumni. It’s a really beautiful piece, and we open the program with that,” Norpoth said. “We’re also playing Coleridge Taylor Perkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 1, which is a really great piece. He was very well versed in both jazz and classical, and his music is really bluesy and beautiful. It’s very classical and reminiscent of Bach and the way he uses fugues, but also infuses all these jazz and blues harmonies into the piece.”

The program also spotlights the cellist Tommy Mesa, who will perform a solo piece, “Seven,” by composer Andrea Casarrubios. 

“She’s such a talented composer and it’s a super gorgeous piece. It’s my favorite part of the program,” Norpoth said. 

The program will also include traditional classical repertoire that the audience will be able to recognize. These include Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and the final movement of Dvořák’s American String Quartet.

Featuring newer works on tonight’s program is a way to showcase a broader repertoire, and spotlight the talents of composers and musicians that aren’t represented equally onstage. 

“I love Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, but there’s just so much repertoire that makes up classical music,” Norpoth said. “There are … so many incredible artists who are writing music right now for classical musicians. That is exciting, and there’s so many women composers and composers of color. Because of the nature of classical music and existing for so many hundreds of years, and going through time periods, it would be very difficult to be a woman in classical music and to be a Black person in classical music,” she said. 

“In spite of that, there’s a lot of music that actually exists, and it either just didn’t become popular because people didn’t take it seriously, or they didn’t publish it — but it’s findable and really worth looking for and performing.”

Musicians from the Sphinx Organization have performed for Chautauqua in the past. However, tonight’s performance is the first time for this group of musicians, and they’re excited to share their message through music with the community, using the more intimate setting of a chamber ensemble. 

“I play in the chamber ensemble all the time. It’s what I love to do because it’s like the classical version of a rock band. It’s a small ensemble but you also get your solo moments, and you get this more intimate experience of playing music with just a few people,” Norpoth said. “It’s kind of like being surrounded by friends and also playing music, so for me, it’s really the best.”

Impossible is possible: Black Violin to return to Chautauqua with high-energy fusion of hip-hop, classical music



Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, known as Black Violin, perform June 27, 2018, in the Amphitheater. RILEY ROBINSON/DAILY FILE PHOTO

When you think of a violin or viola, the melodies of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart most likely come to mind. This is not the case for American hip-hop duo, Black Violin, who combine classical and hip-hop music together to create a musical experience like no other. The duo returns to Chautauqua to once again captivate the audience with a high-energy performance at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 in the Amphitheater. 

Childhood friends Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, formed Black Violin to create music in a way that had never been done before. Their original vision was to become musical producers, but that changed into performing and creating music themselves. 

“We wanted to incorporate classical music in a way that no one’s ever done, and that was the motivation,” said Baptiste, Black Violin’s violist. “We were just doing things that were normal to us, but people really liked the idea of hip-hop and classical fusion. We started performing with local artists and started noticing people were very intrigued by (our music), and then we started focusing on us as artists.”

Since then, the duo has performed with Alicia Keys for the Billboard Awards, opened for the Wu-Tang Clan and composed the music for the Fox series “Pitch.” They have also performed with other notable artists such as Alessia Cara, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne.

Baptiste began his musical journey at a summer program, where he originally wanted to learn how to play saxophone. However, it was as if Baptiste was destined to play the viola instead. 

“The story is that I wanted to play the sax. I went up to the band teacher at a summer program to sign up, and the string teacher was in the same room. They both looked at each other and they said let’s play golf, whoever wins this golf game gets this kid in their class. So the band teacher obviously lost, and I got put into the string class,” Baptiste said. “I fell in love with it, and have been playing for 27 years now.”

The duo has much respect for the traditional classical repertoire, but the fusion of classical and hip-hop is what feels most natural to them. 

“I have no objections to playing classical. Back in those days, early 2000s, when classical music was kind of pretty much gone and had almost no existence in South Florida … as a classical musician, it just wasn’t there, and, so we would play hip-hop on the violin in clubs and play little gigs here and there,” Baptiste said. “It just kind of grew into what it is now. Playing classical music has always had this almost elite level … and being in that environment, as a Black dude, it’s not always the safe thing. It’s almost a defense mechanism to just do what you want to do, play what you want to play, and that’s hip-hop. Hip-hop is defiant, and that’s the road that we took.”

Beside the addition of hip-hop to classical instruments that sets Black Violin apart, there are various other aspects that make this group special. 

“I think what sets us apart is our intentionality. We’re very intentional about how we present ourselves and how our music is projected,” Baptiste said. “We don’t compromise when it comes to us and our integrity and what we represent. It’s a movement. It’s bigger than us, so we make sure that we are in line with who we are, and then everything else follows.”

The name Black Violin itself also holds a special meaning to the duo. 

“Kevin, when he first started college, his viola professor, Chauncey Patterson, gave him a tape. It was an album called Black Violin by a guy named Stuff Smith, and (when we were) coming up with a name, he said that name, and I was like, that’s it,” Baptiste said. “The album’s called Black Violin, and it changed our perspective in terms of what the violin is capable of and also what a Black dude is capable of. And it just made sense to continue that legacy.”

Through music, the duo has been able to break barriers and pave the way for the future of classical music. However, they also have their own message that they want to send each time they step on a stage. 

“Our message is the typical cliches you hear: Never judge a book by its cover, and you can do anything you want. All those things we think about with classical and hip-hop music, and the idea of those two things coming together to make sense, is impossible — and we made it possible,” Baptiste said. “I think our mission is, no matter who you are or where you’re from, you’re capable of great things. You see us, two big Black guys playing this instrument, and we’re breaking stereotypes one stage at a time.”

Their mission goes beyond the stage. The duo also has the Black Violin Foundation, helping young students reach their own goals. 

“The foundation is kind of an extension of what we already do. It focuses on equity, inclusion and helping kids, Black and brown, that don’t necessarily have the access to these instruments,” Baptiste said. “We focus on helping them and providing them with an instrument and the means to go to music camps and lessons.” 

The foundation puts an emphasis on providing equal opportunity and provides scholarships each year. 

“That is really just extending our Black Violin motto a bit more, and just making sure we help those kids that have the drive who may not necessarily have the access,” Baptiste said.  “We had that. We had our teachers that just really saw something in us, and this helped us get to that next level, whether it’s helping us get a train ticket to a music camp or an instrument. We had those things so we want to be able to provide that for the kids.”

Tonight’s performance is a “high-energy and fun show for everyone,” Baptiste said. The duo will perform most of their original albums from Stereotype to Take the Stairs, with a few covers, as well. 

“We’re looking forward to it, and just looking forward to being on stage,” Baptiste said. “This is our fifth show on this tour, and this is our first tour in 17 months, so we’re just looking forward to being onstage and connecting with people.”

The world of the future: Season’s final Chautauqua School of Dance Student Gala to showcase talent from across nation



Lindy Mesmer and Noah Martzall perform “Excerpts from Raymonda Variations,” choreographed by George Balanchine, during the Chautauqua School of Dance’s first Student Gala last Monday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The Chautauqua School of Dance is set to present the final Student Gala of the season at 8:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16 in the Amphitheater. The evening will once again work to highlight a mixed repertoire of premiere and established works, spotlighting the talents of the Chautauqua Apprentice Dancers.

The School of Dance continues to promote the tradition of quality and excellence at the School of Dance. Under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, the school emphasizes a particular focus on encouraging and preparing the next generation of dance stars for success.

Patricia McBride, director of ballet studies and master teacher, staged excerpts of Raymonda Variations for the gala, featuring music by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov. The piece calls attention to a series of wondrous solos, a pas de deux and an opening and closing ensemble.

Raymonda Variations was originally choreographed by New York City Ballet Artistic Director George Balanchine. McBride recognizes Balanchine as one of the initial pioneers of avant-garde ballet and one of the greatest choreographers of the 21st century, launching ballet into the world of the future.

“I love to stage Balanchine’s work, he holds such a special place in my heart,” McBride said. “Staging his work and passing it on to these beautiful students from all over America has been one of the best things in my life, still perfecting his steps from over 60 years ago.”

Balanchine premiered the ballet in 1961, incorporating the movement of the entire body, using solos to highlight the classical technique of his dancers.

“The students worked as one throughout this very difficult work, spotlighting Balanchine’s famous musicality,” McBride said. “Casting was decided in three days, with just a week and a half for students to learn it.”

Throughout the evening, the gala will showcase three ballets including A Fraction of Abstraction, choreographed by Sasha Janes, director of contemporary studies. 

A Fraction of Abstraction features music by John Adams and Jóhann Jóhannsson, assimilating elements of both classical and modern dance to create a piece with a more contemporary feel. This will be Janes’ second time debuting the piece in the U.S., bringing Chautauquans a first hand opportunity to experience the work.

Additionally, the event will spotlight two differentiating ballets When We Gathered Beneath the Big Sky and Sideralis.

Award-winning choreographer Joseph Jefferies choreographed When We Gathered Beneath the Big Sky, with Mark Godden choreographing Sideralis in exploration of “sidereal time,” the time measured relative to the stars, featuring music recomposed by Max Richter. 

McBride expressed her respect and appreciation for the dance students ahead of the gala.

“The dancers this year are truly amazing; I have such an admiration for the students as they are always giving 100% every rehearsal,” McBride said. “They are so talented and wonderful, with their commitment, patience, strong work ethic, passion, beauty and just everything that they bring here to Chautauqua.”

An American celebration: Honoring Fitzgerald, American songbook, CSO closes season with Jenkins, Chafetz



Capathia Jenkins performs her show “From Brooklyn to Broadway” on July 30, 2018, in the Amphitheater. Jenkins returns for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the 2021 season at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amp. RILEY ROBINSON/DAILY FILE PHOTO

“The Great American Songbook,” consisting of songs that transcend time, was the foundation of jazz music from the 1920s and 1930s. Saturday’s performance is not only a celebration of music and musical legends, but it marks the end of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 season. In a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song” and iconic American music, the CSO, led by Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, will be joined by Capathia Jenkins at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. 

Jenkins, a Brooklyn-born actress and singer, has performed all over the world with orchestras such as Hong Kong Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra. She has also been featured in several Broadway roles including Medda in Newsies and Harriet Jackson in The Civil War. Jenkins proves she can do it all as she can also be heard on film soundtracks like “Nine,” “Chicago” and “Legally Blonde 2.” 

Jenkins has performed at Chautauqua twice in the past, and she enjoys coming back each and every time. 

“The very first time I was up in Chautauqua, I was so blown away by it. It just feels like a place that’s sort of back in time. It really felt like this nostalgic and really happy place,” Jenkins said. “I think that this sets it apart from other places in the country. And then particularly to perform here, I think that the Amphitheater is so beautiful.” 

“It’s such a lovely venue, and then the audience is just so appreciative, warm and kind. So for me, it’s like standing onstage and just having a big ol’ warm hug.”

Jenkins is also excited to be back performing live with the CSO and Chafetz. 

“Stuart’s one of my favorite people in the world,” Jenkins said. “He’s one of my favorite conductors and it’s just an honor to share the stage with (the CSO).”

The excitement runs both ways — the CSO can’t wait to create music with Jenkins again. 

“I’ve been waiting for Capathia Jenkins to come back since she was here a few years ago. She just tore the roof off of the place. She impressed every one of us,” said Beth Robinson, harpist. “She’s a phenomenal musician, and playing with Stu is also such a high for us because he’s at the top of his game with pops concerts. To have this concert end this season is very exciting for us.”

Saturday’s concert will be memorable, Chafetz said, not just because of the music being performed but because of the ability Jenkins has to make a lasting impression on whatever stage she sets foot on. 

“I’m actually the most excited about this concert because she’s just so good at this. She’s good at everything, but this in particular, it’s right in her wheelhouse,” Chafetz said. “She’s also a beautiful person inside and out. She can sing. She can blow the roof off the place because she’s just a powerhouse, and that’s the cool thing that she just brings everybody in with her abilities. She’s that kind of a performer, and she sings with so much passion, emotion and musicality and quite frankly, I get chills whenever I work with her, because she’s so gifted. And we just have a really wonderful connection.”

The CSO performing live with Jenkins is a perfect merging of talent where each side elevates the other in a way that will captivate the audience. 

“A lot of my career was on Broadway, so that’s a different feeling when you have an orchestra that’s typically in the pit. But the thing about a symphony is that you’re on stage with them, and it’s typically 60, 70, 80 pieces,” Jenkins said. “And at the heart of who I am is this little Black girl from Brooklyn, New York, and so I get on stage and I’m standing there, in my pretty dress, and this orchestra begins my intro, and it’s just like, oh my god, I get to do this. It really is exciting and thrilling and it’s like nothing else. The live orchestra is just wonderful and glorious.”

The performance will begin with “The Star Spangled Banner” and will then jump right into familiar tunes from composers like George Gershwin that make up The Great American Songbook, as well as songs honoring jazz and Ella Fitzgerald. 

“I always look forward to playing Gershwin’s music. Some of his songs and melodies are so beautifully written,” said Lars Kirvan, cellist. “He’s a jazzy composer, but he was also very melodic in his writing, with very catchy tunes that people can easily relate to and sing along to. It’s familiar, just as Beethoven is to the classical repertoire.”


Iconic songs on the program include “Goody Goody,” “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and “Strike Up The Band.”

“I personally love ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.’ That is absolutely the most gorgeous thing that I have conducted with Capathia,” Chafetz said. “I love it all, but that one in particular is extremely beautiful, slow and sensuous. It’s pure velvet.”

Jenkins is also looking forward to not just performing these legendary songs and honoring Fitzgerald, but putting pieces of herself in as well. 

“It’s about Ella, but it’s also about The Great American Songbook. They don’t write songs like this anymore, and when you get a person like Ella Fitzgerald singing that music, she would sing the ink off the page, as I like to say. Then she would take it and make it her own so she made a little flourish, or she might scat a little bit,” Jenkins said. “Often people say to me, ‘Oh, are you trying to imitate her?’ and that is certainly not what I’m trying to do — but I think we are kindred spirits. I do have a pure joy for this music.”

Jenkins has always looked up to this music and the musicians of this time and can’t wait to bring the audience back to this era of jazz and catchy tunes. 

“You hear this music, and people in the audience are thrust back to this time when they were younger, or when they used to go out dancing. So, it really is this magical time capsule — and it’s the reason why these songs have stood the test of time,” Jenkins said. “Some of the arrangements that we will do are original Ella Fitzgerald arrangements, so it’s really an honor and a pleasure. I have such a reverence for Ella and for The Great American Songbook. Jazz music and this whole era means the world to me. I get to stand on their shoulders, and it’s really amazing.”

Saturday’s music has a special meaning for Chautauqua, as well. 

“Gershwin composed his piano concerto in F in one of those practice shacks. So there’s that connection with Gershwin (and) Chautauqua,” Chafetz said. “ The American Songbook as we know it is from that time where a melody was everything. It represented music in a very pure way. There were no synthesizers, there were no sound effects, everything that was made came from an instrument, and that’s a huge thing for me. I think that we’re going back to our roots and going back to the great American song, and the joy that Capathia brings to it is infectious.”

The orchestra will be joined by a guest pianist and saxophones, completing the whole experience and transforming the Amp into a jazz club. 

“We’re going to have a whole rhythm section with piano, bass, guitar and drums, so we’re going to be swinging,” Chafetz said. “It’s going to add a completely different color to the ensemble, and really get that color that all these arrangements were so famous for.”

Robinson said there will be a recognizable tune on the program for everyone. 

“The music is familiar and people are going to be tapping their toes. If everyone isn’t dancing out of the Amp at the end, then we’ve not done something right,” Robinson said. “I just think this is going to be one of the most memorable concerts of the season.”

The concert is bittersweet for the CSO, as it is their last of the condensed season. 

“It’s sentimental when this orchestra gets together, and when we leave, because we’re like a family,” Robinson said. “It’s like saying goodbye to relatives. But we never really say goodbye; we say, ‘See you next year.’ It’s the end in a way, but it’s also exciting because it’s going to be a great concert.”

Chafetz said the CSO is both grateful and proud for what they accomplished in a season full of obstacles. 

“I feel thrilled as really my first official season as principal pops conductor here. I felt like we’ve had some pretty amazing performances with two incredible films, and some beautiful opera,” Chaftez said. “To end with this it feels like a true triumph for us, especially after what we’ve been through, and the symphony in general having the opportunity with Rossen (Milanov) to make such beautiful music, with all that’s been going on in the world. It certainly gives us hope for the future. This was a really amazing season, and I feel so happy to have been a part of it.”

Gotta have faith: Harry Connick continues ‘Time to Play’ tour with stop at Chautauqua’s Amp




During lockdown in 2020, many people took the time to take up new hobbies or return to old ones. In the end, everyone just had themselves and the objects in their home to keep busy. 

Grammy and Emmy Award-winning singer and multi-instrumentalist Harry Connick Jr. was on tour in March 2020 when, like the rest of the world, he was sent home.

“As the weeks and months passed, I started writing some music to describe my feelings,” Connick said in an interview with Guideposts. “I was alone at my house in my recording studio, just surrounded by a bunch of instruments, and I just played them one by one. Over the next six or seven months, I had enough material for an album.”

His new album Alone With My Faith came out in March of this year and was entirely arranged, played and sung by him. The album acted as a journal and an outlet to Connick during the throes of the pandemic as he dealt with loss himself.

“For me, (this pandemic) really reinforced the importance of family and faith,” Connick told Guideposts. “We really didn’t know what was gonna happen. I personally had a rough time, because I lost a bunch of people in my life that were close to me, family members and friends. Most of them died as a result of complications from COVID, and when you’re not really able to have closure in a circumstance like that, you can’t really go to a funeral or mourn or grieve in a normal sort of fashion, it really kind of becomes burdensome.”

Connick kicked off his “Time to Play!” tour last week in Indianapolis at the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park, and continues it at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13 in Chautauqua’s Amphitheater. 

He is making stops at outdoor venues across the country with his seven-piece band to showcase his New Orleans influences featuring music from his vast musical catalog spanning a remarkable multi-decade career.

Although there are Christian songs on this album, Connick told CBN News that he wanted to make an album that deals with any phase of having faith.

“I wouldn’t call this the gospel album I had thought about making, only because it’s not a collection of spirituals that everybody knows. It’s got some original songs,” Connick said. “Quite honestly, some of the songs deal with struggling with faith as much as having faith, so when I was home, I found myself counting on my faith, or questioning my faith, or whatever it was, and I said, ‘I’m going to write about it.’ The album that I thought was going to be a gospel album years down the road turned out to be this album.”

Connick seeks to connect everyone in the belief that things will get better, because they have to.

“In every level of faith, whether you’re feeling doubtful about it or whether you’re super powerfully strong about it,” he said, “I think it gives us some words in our contemporary world, because this is a shared experience, so these songs are written for what we’re all going through together.”

Power in music: CSO to take stage with Simon’s ‘Elegy,’ ‘Carmen’ Suite, for Milanov’s last concert of season



The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of music director and conductor Rossen Milanov last Thursday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

As the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra takes the stage for one of their last concerts of the season and the last concert under the baton of conductor Rossen Milanov, the audience will get to experience a program that will leave a lasting impact at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12 in the Amphitheater. 

Composer Carlos Simon said he was driven to write his piece, “An Elegy: A Cry From the Grave,” by the feelings of hatred, discrimination and racism in today’s society. Opening up tonight’s concert, this piece “speaks to current events and events that need to be spoken about, acknowledged and recognized,” said concertmaster Vahn Armstrong. 

Music has always been a part of Simon’s life, and at a young age he realized the ability that music had to not only express emotions, but to connect people.

“I started writing music in my father’s church. I started playing the organ, and I would just improvise while my dad was preaching at services,” Simon said. “I just really saw the power of music, and how it connected people, and how it tapped into emotions in the church and congregation. I wanted to take that a little further and write music of my own, and write for the orchestra. It’s been a lifelong journey just to understand the orchestra and how to write for it, because it’s a very complex organism.”

Simon was named one of the 2021 recipients for the Sphinx Medal of Excellence. 

“I wrote the piece in 2014, and this was around the same time that it just seems like so many Black men and Black women were being murdered by police,” Simon said. “I remember vividly seeing the protests, and when the verdict came down, particularly Freddie Gray, then Trayvon Martin, I had so many mixed feelings, and I didn’t know what to do. … I was angry, frustrated and even confused, and so I went to music. This was the only thing that I knew would give me some sense of an outlet and release. That’s how I wrote the piece in 2014, and then here we are in 2021, and the same things are happening. And it really saddens my heart to see these things happen, but it’s why music is there — to have these conversations.”

The title itself represents the lives that were taken too early as a result of hate.

“These were young men and young women who had their whole lives ahead of them. And so I just imagined them crying; I was crying,” Simon said. “I imagined crying from the grave and  having so much life to live. … Racism and white supremacy and these elements are very much embedded in our culture and our society, and lives are lost because of it.”

Simon wrote the piece not only for victims of racism, but for himself as well. He is heartened by the discussions that the music has sparked.

“The very fact that people are talking about these issues and wanting to make change in the policing systems, it means a great deal,” Simon said. “The issues are still present, but there’s some progress happening, and I think one takeaway that I’d like listeners to engage in is to listen to the piece, but also think about the impact, and how we can change our society. That’s the whole point of why I write music. I want to see a better place. I want to leave this place better than I found it.”

The musicians of the CSO are looking forward to performing Simon’s composition in the Amp.

“It’s beautifully written, and it’s very tonal and melodic,” said violinist Ming Gao. “This piece is for the people that were wrongfully murdered, and as a human and as a musician myself, I can feel the expression and emotion. It has such great depth, and you can immediately sense the pain and emotion.” 

The concert will then end with a performance of Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite” for strings and percussion, a ballet arrangement of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen

Considered by many as one of the greatest operas, Carmen is set in Southern Spain and tells the story of a soldier, Don José, who falls in love with the titular Carmen. The pair run away, but just two months later, Carmen grows tired of the young soldier and turns her attention to a bullfighter named Escamillo. In a fit of jealousy and rage, Don José ends up stabbing Carmen. She dies in the arms of Escamillo. 

“People know the story, and you can imagine exactly what’s happening with the music,” Gao said.

Many of the musicians have played the original score of Carmen, if not Shchedrin’s suite.

“It’s very likely that we played Carmen in the youth orchestra,” Armstrong said. “It’s what you do, and so there are these licks that we’ve really been playing all our lives. … In this arrangement, they just get kicked up a notch or two, and just upping the ante on all of these tunes, so I am really looking forward to it.” 

This arrangement is not only unique because of its merging of Shchedrin’s style with the classic Bizet opera, but because of the pairing of the string section and spotlight on percussion. 

“I’m very excited to get to play this one,” said percussionist Pedro Fernandez. “I’ve known about this for many, many years, and it just hasn’t come up in the places where I have worked before. This one is very percussion heavy, and has all the main things of the opera Carmen. It’s very difficult, it’s very involved and requires a lot of individual practice.”

The instrumentation includes a huge variety of percussion instruments that result in textures, colors and sounds that the audience has never heard before. Fernandez himself is playing several different instruments, including the marimba, cymbals, tambourine, vibraphone and wood blocks.

“They’re not the sounds that you associate with a standard symphony orchestra, so it’s very exciting. A lot of Russian composers write excellently for the percussion section, so I’m not surprised that this arrangement is also spectacular in that way,” Fernandez said. 

This piece is fitting for the CSO’s last week on the Amp stage. Looking back on this condensed season, the musicians are happy to have had the opportunity to perform onstage together again. 

“I think we had a wonderful series of concerts this summer,” Armstrong said. “My colleagues and the Chautauqua Symphony remain an inspiration. They’re tremendous musicians from all around the world.”

‘One big, human family:’ Marsalis, big brass to bring sounds of New Orleans, Philadelphia to Amp



Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass

Rodney Marsalis knew he was serious about the trumpet at 11 years old. And he already knew it would take some serious practice.

Marsalis grew up in New Orleans, surrounded by a musical family — his cousin, Wynton Marsalis, is also a trumpeter and a Chautauqua favorite — and learned early how important music-making was to him. 

“It was around that time — 11 years old — that I went and heard Wynton at a recital, playing ‘Carnival of Venice,’ ” Marsalis said. “I had never heard the trumpet played like that. I wanted to do that.”

And he did. With the blessing of his mother and of Ellis Marsalis, Rodney’s uncle and the jazz pianist-patriarch of the family, he began lessons with Wynton, before his older cousin set out to attend the Juilliard School. 

“My mom was used to going to (Ellis) for wisdom,” Marsalis said. “I remember him saying to me and my mom that if I was serious (about the trumpet), I needed to practice five hours a day.” 

Marsalis and his brass ensemble, the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass, will perform at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11 in the Amphitheater.

Marsalis made his solo debut with the New Orleans Symphony at 15. He later attended Curtis Institute of Music and reached national attention at 19, performing as a soloist alongside the Boston Pops Orchestra. Since then, he has played with symphony orchestras worldwide, including the San Diego Symphony, the Tenerife Symphony, L’Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

After a fellowship at the renowned Tanglewood Music Center, he was given the Seiji Ozawa Award for Outstanding Musicianship.

Marsalis has given master classes at the Juilliard School, North Carolina School for the Arts, the National Trumpet Competition and the International Trumpet Guild Conference. He has taught at the Eastern Music Festival and Interlochen Music Academy. 

Marsalis counts himself lucky in his teachers and role models. 

“I was so fortunate,” he said, “because they told me what I needed to do. People showed me. I just locked myself in the practice room in college.”

After a stint with the San Diego Symphony, Marsalis called up his uncle, Ellis, again. 

“He said, ‘Form a group. Share what you do with a wider range of people,’ ” Marsalis said.

Ellis Marsalis, a staple of the New Orleans jazz scene since the 1940s, died in April of last year from COVID-19 complications. 

“He was the smartest, wisest man I’ve ever known,” said Marsalis. “We lost so much — but he gave so much.”

The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass is now acclaimed nationwide, having performed with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Canadian Brass. During the pandemic, however, their appearances stopped.

“Everyone suddenly had a lot of practice time,” Marsalis said. “I had a lot of time to work on things I didn’t know how to do, too — I had to change my own faucet.”

Marsalis also put together a virtual seminar for trumpet students and was able to facilitate master classes from trumpet players he’d never expected.

“People who would have been much too busy were available,” he said. “We had my cousin Wynton, Alison Balsom, principals of major symphonies — they were all available to teach classes.”

Years ago, playing with a band in the streets of the French Quarter, Marsalis learned to appreciate the closeness of the audience.

“You felt much more connected to the audience,” he said. “Sometimes, they’d even lean over your shoulder.” 

He also appreciated the ease of collaboration between street musicians, and the surprising connections they made. 

“We’d be on this corner,” he said, “and we’d go back and forth all day with another band. We’d play a set, I’d signal them, they’d play a set. Their young trombone player ended up being Trombone Shorty.” 

Trombone Shorty will perform at Chautauqua on Saturday, Aug. 21, alongside The Roots. And when Marsalis looked at the Chautauqua program, he got another surprise: Harry Connick Jr., who will perform at 8 p.m. Friday in the Amp ­— two days after Marsalis. 

“Harry and I were roommates at summer camp,” he said. “The only time I ever sang on stage was with Harry.”

Now, Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass has performed all over the world, but they still “try to bring the “New Orleans feel to our music,” Marsalis said. 

“New Orleans is a huge mix of cultures. … Growing up there, I never saw that as strange,” he said. “That’s what’s underneath it all: We’re all one big human family. Music can make these connections.”

He hopes that Chautauquans will feel a little healed listening to the Philadelphia Big Brass.

“The world’s been through a lot,” he said. “We are glad to bring a little happiness to people after all we’ve been through.”

A balance of textures: CSO winds take center stage again tonight in Amp



The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of music director and conductor Rossen Milanov Thursday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Even though the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra faced a shortened season and a smaller orchestra, from these challenges came opportunity — and tonight’s performance is a prime example. The wind section will take center stage at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10 in the Amphitheater. 

“It’s a very untypical season if you get two concerts for winds only and strings only,” said Eli Eban, clarinetist. “We’re overjoyed to be playing and that the concerts are going well. Although the breakdown in smaller ensembles which we normally don’t get to do is sort of a silver lining, because we play works that probably wouldn’t get to be featured.”

Due to a last-minute program change, there will be a small feature of strings in tonight’s performance.

The program will begin with the addition of Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum” for strings. The piece was originally scheduled to be performed on July 30. However, the postponed performance opened up the opportunity for the Chautauqua Diversity Fellows to perform the piece at tonight’s concert. 

Though this is the first time Montgomery’s work will be performed at Chautauqua; her compositions have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Montgomery is the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Musicianship Award, and the New York Philharmonic selected Montgomery as one of the composers for their Project 19.

Being able to feature Montgomery in tonight’s program is special, as female composers are at times overlooked, said Liana Kirvan, violinist.

“I’m very glad that more women composers are being performed,” Kirvan said. “(They) are not as often played, and I think that this should and will be changed in the near future with composers like Montgomery. The work we’re hearing from women composers is fantastic.”

“Strum” is filled with different rhythms and melodies that seem to take on a life of their own. The piece features a pizzicato element that adds extra texture and serves as the underlying rhythm throughout.

The program will continue as planned after the performance of “Strum,” with Mozart’s Wind Serenade in C Minor, K. 388 (384a) and Richard Strauss’ Suite in B-flat Major, Op. 4. 

The Serenade in C Minor lets the audience experience a different side of Mozart, with its minor key and dark tones. 

“Mozart usually writes in major keys with a few notable exceptions,” said Sean Gordon, bassoonist. “This C Minor key is very stormy and tumultuous, and so it’s a unique piece in that respect. It starts off really strongly with a big bold C Minor arpeggio. As far as Mozart goes, it’s a very dark piece, but at the same time it’s still got the playful characteristics of Mozart.”

The four-movement piece features clarinets, oboe, bassoon and horns with a special bassoon feature in the last movement. 

“The last movement, which is really tricky, is a theme and variations,” Gordon said. “And toward the end, it has a really virtuosic 16th note with that rapid pace where bassoons will be playing. In this piece, there’s so much going on … for every instrument, and for the bassoon, than you’d typically hear in a full orchestra concert.”

The addition of the horns with the woodwind section adds a different texture and color that the audience normally wouldn’t get to experience in a full orchestral performance. 

“The horn can kind of chameleon between the brass section in the woodwind section because it’s got that more mellow sound, and it really blends well and adds a lot of warmth into the woodwind sound that might be hard to get otherwise,” Gordon said. “The horns replacing the flutes in this performance gives it a little bit more balance between the uppers and lowers.”

The four-movement Strauss Suite in B Minor successfully features solos yet also blends the instruments together for a Romantic and expressive piece. 

“It’s very contrapuntal, and it shows a lot of early Strauss and what’s to come,” Gordon said. “We’ll start with motives that will penetrate through the piece, and you’ll hear similar rhythms from one movement to another with similar note patterns and pitch patterns. And sometimes we’ll do them upside down, sometimes we’ll do them backwards. You might consciously notice that you’re basically listening to these microcosmic little things over and over again, and it’s really very characteristic of Strauss and what his later works will become.”

Following a dramatic first movement, the second movement, “Romanze,” features a clarinet solo. When it comes to the CSO, Music Director and Conductor Rossen Milanov allows the musicians their own freedom of artistic expression on stage. 

“So in this case, the clarinet starts off with the suggestion of a phrase and the other instruments pick it up, so it’s like a dialogue,” Eban said. “We have Maestro Milanov, and he trusts his players to move with a certain amount of freedom. With a moment like this, I will be allowed to shape things the way I want. It’s a Romantic piece, early Strauss, and bittersweet in some ways — so that’s the approach I’ll try to take with sound and with phrasing.”

The musicians tonight are excited to have this opportunity to be on stage in an intimate setting performing pieces that they normally wouldn’t perform on the Amp stage. 

“Each person has a more prominent role,” Gordon said. “I definitely feel like I’m creating a much bigger contribution to the whole ensemble, and any time that I have to play, I can be heard. Working more closely with my wind-playing colleagues to really explore those textures, I learn more about how to play with the section. We build more and more instincts for each other’s playing and we start to gravitate more toward each other artistically. And so these concerts, I think, really help us to create an even more captivating sound.”

The next generation: Chautauqua School of Dance student gala to feature talents of young Apprentice Dancers



Niamh Perrins and Raphael Swan Schreiber practice a duet for a piece titled “A Fraction of Abstraction” during a rehearsal for the School of Dance Student Gala on Friday in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studios. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Chautauqua School of Dance is set to present the first of two Student Galas at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. The evening will highlight a mixed repertoire of new and established works, featuring the talent of the Chautauqua Apprentice Dancers.

From studio to stage, the School of Dance continues the long-standing tradition of promoting quality and excellence as a top-tier summer training program. Under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, the program remains focused on cultivating the next generation of stars in the world of dance. 

“(Bonnefoux) has brought together an extremely talented group of young dancers, and while some have recently just become professionals, for the most part, these are dancers in training,” said Sasha Janes, director of contemporary studies. “The audience will not be able to tell the difference at the shows; these are really highly trained, exciting dancers, performing in three very different ballets.” 

One of Janes’ choreographed pieces, “A Fraction of Abstraction,” is one of three ballets showcased this evening. 

“It is my first time doing (‘Fraction of Abstraction’) in America,” said Janes, “and I am very excited to revisit the work.”

He wanted to reintroduce the piece here in Chautauqua, working to incorporate elements of both classical and modern dance to create a unique, contemporary piece, featuring music by John Adams and Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The gala will also feature “When We Gathered Beneath the Big Sky” and excerpts from “Raymonda Variations.” 

“When We Gathered Beneath the Big Sky” was choreographed by award-winning choreographer Joseph Jeffries. 

Jeffries has taught master classes and workshops at ballet schools all over the country, creating over 30 works for companies such as Ballet Memphis, Miami City Ballet and Harid Conservatory. Additionally, Jeffries serves as faculty with the Chautauqua School of Dance and the Northeast School of Ballet’s Conservatory Program. 

“Raymonda Variations” was originally created by New York City Ballet co-founder and ballet master, George Balanchine. Featuring music by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, the piece calls attention to a series of awe-inspiring solos, a pas de deux, as well as an opening and closing ensemble. 

This showing of the piece, “Excerpts of Raymonda Variations,” was staged by Patricia McBride, director of ballet studies and master teacher. McBride stages a Balanchine work every summer, as Balanchine created many of his master works especially for her.

Deborah Sunya Moore, Institution senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts, expressed her appreciation and enthusiasm for the School of Dance ahead of the student gala. 

“Our School of Dance is a boutique and specialized program that fosters incredible talent within a supportive community,” Moore said. “Our young dancers are inspired by professionals who are not only at the top of their field, but also alumni (that have) returned to Chautauqua with grace, gratitude, experience and an admirable desire to give back and inspire the next generation of dancers.”

Gary Mullen & The Works to rock Amp with One Night of Queen



Don’t stop them now! Gary Mullen & The Works are on their way to deliver Chautauquans one rocking night of Queen. 

Mullen began his career as Freddie Mercury in 2000, when his wife and mother secretly entered him in the Granada TV show “Stars in Their Eyes.” He won the overall Live Grand Final. In 2002 he formed his band The Works, and created the touring show One Night of Queen. Gary Mullen & The Works will be taking the stage at 8:15 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Amphitheater to perform the British rock band’s top hits.

The Works are made up of Billy Moffat (bass), Jon Halliwell (drums), Malcolm Gentles (keyboards) and David Brockett (guitar). According to their website, Halliwell first began playing with Mullen at the age of 15 when he got his first drum kit for Christmas. Unfortunately, the pair’s first band practice was cut short by law enforcement, who were called due to excessive noise during a spirited rendition of “We Will Rock You.”

According to Mullen — who has been touring One Night of Queen for the past 19 years — what keeps the band going is getting to travel the world and make people happy. To him, this is especially important with everything that has happened in the last 16 months. 

“To play songs that we all rock with, like ‘We Are The Champions,’ and just see a sea of hands (and people) singing along, it’s incredible, and it’s such a buzz,” Mullen said. 

“It’s just nice to do something that makes people happy and that’s why we … constantly push ourselves, trying to make the show better and bigger than it was before.” 

For Mullen, it is important for people to know that The Works try to play their songs with passion as a rock band — that they are not trying to parody Queen. They try to play as if they are Queen, in order to convey to the audience how great a band Queen was.

He said that people frequently ask him what he does on stage. His response always is, “Well, I become the other guy.” To Mullen, this “other guy” is the Superman to his Clark Kent; his showy stage persona who helps him to embody Freddie Mercury’s spirit.

Gary Mullen & The Works

Mullen said that getting ready to go back on tour again involved watching some videos of old Queen performances and remembering how to put on a show. The Works were able to rehearse primarily over Zoom, with a few in-person meetings once restrictions began to lift. According to Mullen, each band member mostly practiced alone in their home, each perfecting their part of the song, before coming together for an intense few days of rehearsal where they fit the pieces together.

This was backwards from how they normally rehearse and prepare for a tour, Mullen said. What really made it feel real was when The Works first stepped back onstage and heard the crowd screaming. Interacting with the crowd is what really makes the performance fun for the band. 

Mullen asks that all Chautauquans come to the show prepared to rock out. He points to the band’s rendition of “Somebody to Love” as an example of how crucial crowd participation is to making it a good evening. 

“There’s only five of us on stage,” Mullen said. “We say to the audience, ‘You can be the choir, you want to sing with me? You guys be the choir,’ and we get the audience to sing the middle part of (‘Somebody to Love’).”

Mullen hopes that people know they are not going to be putting on a “sit down and clap” kind of show. He invites people to dance in the aisles, play air guitar and even headbang.

“We’re giving you something to rock out to, so rock out,” Mullen said. 

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