Evening Entertainment

Hope & rebirth: CSO to premeire Pollock piece, present Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’



The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of Music Director and Conductor Rossen Milanov Sunday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Darkness has been a prominent theme in everyone’s lives this past year and a half. Chautauquans can now experience both darkness and hope through music at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 in the Amphitheater with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. 

The opening piece for the concert, under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov, is both special and personal as it is the Chautauqua premiere of composer-in-residence: Frances Pollock’s piece “God is Dead, Schoenberg is Dead, but Love will come.” Pollock portrays a strong message of staying hopeful during times of darkness and taking a stand against nihilism through this piece. 

“I wrote this piece this past year when everything was really scary, especially in the field of the performing arts,” Pollock said. “There was a lot of uncertainty, because our field didn’t pivot. … There was a lot of nihilism that was going on, which was that this is never going to get better or things can’t improve, and this was my protest against that. I didn’t want people to just throw in the towel and give up.”

The piece also represents hope for Pollock after personal losses during this time — two people she was close with died by suicide.

“I  just felt that we were all in a dark place,” Pollock said. “(I’m) trying to say we need to push through this, and we need to look to tomorrow.”

The piece itself is short but includes technically challenging aspects and a haunting melody.

Illustration by Olivia Dutkewych / DESIGN EDITOR

“There’s a series of notes that don’t particularly lie underneath your fingers, so you have to keep moving your fingers back and forth, and it goes kind of fast and repeats quite a few times. For the audience, it’ll be just kind of an eerie and weird effect,” said Vahn Armstrong, concertmaster. “It’s also indicated to play it with the bow very close to the bridge, so there’s a glassy and a little bit scratchy sound. 

“It’s not quite a normal violin sound, and it’s going across the strings rapidly, so it’s kind of creepy.”

The audience may even recognize some melodies throughout the piece, as it samples some familiar tunes. 

“The hymn itself samples two big musical references in there, and they’ll be very obvious. I don’t want to give the second one away, but the first one is a French hymn called ‘Noël Nouvelet,’ ” Pollock said. “It has a winter application and a spring application, so I was thinking about starting in this very tumultuous stormy winter, and then moving toward spring.”

Pollock said she hopes the audience can recognize the hope within the piece that love will come again

“It’s my protest against nihilism,” Pollock said. “It’s me saying we cannot throw in the towel; we all have to work towards making the world better.”

The concert will continue with Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504, “Prague” and Stravinsky’s 1919 suite arrangement of The Firebird. 

Premiering in Prague in 1787, this three-movement piece takes the audience on a journey through Mozart’s appreciation for the country as well as his growing strength in technique and symphonic writing. The piece begins with a slow introduction that gives way to the main melodies. The piece then continues with a second movement that is more typical of Mozart’s other symphonies, then ends with a fast and lively third movement.

“They loved him in Prague. So he wrote the symphony — and it’s full of good stuff. I kind of think of him as pulling out all the stops during the whole thing. I just love the symphony,” Armstrong said. “Mozart, in general, is just wonderful, so I’m looking forward to playing that.”

This symphony is also unique in the sense that it heavily features the wind instruments in a way that wasn’t typical of compositions during Mozart’s time. 

“It has a very mysterious and mystical quality about it, and it’s actually my favorite Mozart symphony,” said Owen Lee, bassist. “But the writing for the bassoon is just extraordinary. You don’t hear many composers writing such exposed and beautiful parts for the bassoon, and he uses that instrument incredibly well.”

The concert ends on a grand orchestral piece: the 1919 suite from Stravinsky’s Firebird that goes back to the themes of hope and strength. One of Stravinsky’s most famous compositions, this piece tells an incredible story of heroism. Stravinsky used the Russian folk tale of the firebird for inspiration. The tale tells the story of Prince Ivan who defeats Kastchei with the help of a firebird. Prince Ivan had spared the bird’s life while hunting in the forest, and in return, the firebird gifted the prince with one of her enchanted feathers. Prince Ivan uses the feather for help as Kastchei’s creatures chase after him. The magic from the feather makes the evil creatures fall into a deep slumber. Prince Ivan then frees the 13 princesses under Kastchei’s spell.

“The violin section, we’re kind of the CGI Special Effects section,” Armstrong said. “We are adding wackiness for the most part, and every now and then we have this luscious, gorgeous romantic sound. We do a lot of ‘jete.’ You’re supposed to throw the bow at the string and let it bounce. We’re putting in a bunch of kinds of special effects. It’s an incredibly powerful piece, and I suppose one could draw obvious hopeful parallels between the firebird rising from the ashes and life from the pandemic ashes. We’re rooting for this firebird.”

Stravinsky highlights winds and brass in this piece, with a bassoon solo in the firebird’s lullaby as well as a lyrical clarinet part in the princesses’ dance. The piece then ends on a horn solo that gives way to the theme of the firebird with chromatic chords that conclude this magical piece. 

“It’s a great piece of music and a great piece of art that transcends time. He was a genius. This covers qualities of the savage beast that he can portray to the delicate beautiful dancing bird, and he just had a way of capturing all of that,” said Dan Spitzer, clarinetist. “It’s exciting and fresh to play that, and it’s really fun.”

Beyond the notes: With special guest Allison Russell, Margo Price brings multi-genre sound to Amp stage




It’s a week of returns at Chautauqua — two singer-songwriters who made their Amphitheater debuts with Our Native Daughters in 2019 are back on the grounds, and following Amythyst Kiah’s performance Monday, it’s Allison Russell’s turn to venture back to the stage, this time as a special guest of Margo Price.

It’s a full-circle moment for Deborah Sunya Moore, whose Facebook memories this week surprised her with a photo of Our Native Daughters — who performed two years ago to the day Monday — “a quartet of power women who came as an ensemble committed to shining a light on the African-American women’s stories of struggle and hope.”

“That concert sang of resilience, and now both Amythyst and Allison are back with new solo albums that burst of both musical excellence and social activism,” said Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts. “In a week on empathy, it seems right to have women that have come to grips with struggles and shared them with the world, while all along making music that resonates beyond the singular notes played.”

Russell and Price perform at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4 in the Amp, both fresh from stints at the Newport Folk Festival in late July. 

Russell is a Nashville-based, Montreal-born Scottish-Grenadian-Canadian writer, musician, composer and producer. She is a founding member of three acclaimed groups — Our Native Daughters, Birds of Chicago and Po’ Girl. 

This year saw her nominated for Americana Emerging Act of the Year by Americana Music Association, and the release of her solo debut album, Outside Child, which lays bare a reckoning with her upbringing, including sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.

In a story about Outside Child for The New York Times, Jon Pareles described Russell’s completion of her solo debut as both cathartic and jubilant.

“One of the things that I think we don’t talk about as survivors is the extreme joy that comes when you are over on the other side,” Russell told Pareles. “Part of putting this record out is just wanting to show that there’s a road map. You are not defined by your scars. You are not defined by what you’ve lost. You are not defined by what someone did to you. Yes, that’s a part of the story. That’s a part of who you become. But it doesn’t define you.”

Moore said that Price “comes with her own stories of working to scrape by in order to pay rent and heat the house. She’s a storyteller and an advocate, and she embraces country music not simply for what it is, but for what she is making it.”


Long considered one of East Nashville’s best kept secrets, Price earned international acclaim with the 2016 release of her first solo album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, which debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. Her third solo album, That’s How Rumors Get Started, was released last summer — she didn’t perform a single song from it live until May 28, 2021. Lockdown was like “the rug’s been pulled out from under me,” Price told Julia Carmel for “The Pandemic Work Diary of Margo Price” in The New York Times. She had taken time off work after having a baby, and was ready to get back on the road. She instead spent the pandemic working on a memoir and recording two albums.

“I’m a disciple of all things that are close to the ground — roots music, folk, blues, soul,” Price told Carmel. “I want to have enough genres that people can’t exactly put their finger on one thing.”

Earlier this summer, Price released the EP Live from the Other Side, which includes a new version of “Hey Child” (from That’s How Rumors Get Started) and a cover of the Beatles’ “Help” — which was in turn inspired by Tina Turner’s cover of the same song. Price dedicated the EP to Turner.

“Her strength, talent and truth have inspired me endlessly and I loved performing her interpretation of ‘Help’ by The Beatles,” Price wrote in a release accompanying the EP. “I believe in the power to manifest your own destiny, and I offer Tina’s Buddhist mantra to anyone who may need it: ‘Namu Myoho Renge Kyo’ means ‘I honor the Universal Mystical Law of Cause and Effect.’ Take it with you wherever you go and hope to see you down the highway.”

Guest critic: Replete with drama, Apollo’s Fire takes audience on ‘vivid, almost visceral’ Baroque journey



Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, performs for Chautauqua Tuesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Emotions ran uncommonly high Tuesday night at the Amphitheater. With and through Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland-based baroque orchestra, a sizable crowd sincerely felt in music the joy, agony and sheer beauty of romance.

“Love in Venice,” as the program was called, escorted listeners on a vivid, almost visceral trip to 17th- and 18th-century Italy, where cultures collided, music flourished and the likes of Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Strozzi were household names, at least among the well-heeled.

Apollo’s Fire doesn’t just play, you see. It inhabits the music. In the hands of this award-winning chamber orchestra, and especially in “Love in Venice,” scores become veritable pieces of theater, animated scenes replete with drama impossible to absorb passively. When these players utter their creative tagline, “Passion. Period,” they mean it.

The quick but densely packed evening was divided into three sections, each depicting one stage of a relationship. “Party at the Palazzo” imagined a meeting and the festive bloom of love; “Love is Difficult” depicted a more mature, complex phase; and “Summer Madness” conjured a rough conclusion in storms and arguments.

By the end, the house was on its feet, clamoring for more, and founding artistic director Jeannette Sorrell was wandering about the stage, delightedly tapping a tambourine instead of her harpsichord in time with the Turkish folk song the players offered by way of an encore.

The lion’s share of the evening was devoted, as well it should have been, to Vivaldi. Apollo’s Fire, back at Chautauqua for a third visit, made a bold entrance with his feisty “Ciaccona” (“Chaconne”) and went out stomping with “La Folia,” a dance that rose from quiet elegance to a frenzied peak, the Baroque equivalent of a rave, with violinist Emi Tanabe brilliantly leading an explosive charge.

In between came a turbulent account of “Summer” from “The Four Seasons,” with its evocations of cloudbursts and dynamic solo role handled with verve by violinist Susanna Perry Gilmore. The same artist also distinguished herself alongside rotating concertmaster Olivier Brault in Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor for Two Violins. Together, the two were wonders of expression, and the support they received from Sorrell and the orchestra was as intimate and seamless as could be. (Happily, a distant, repeating siren was no match for either of them, or Apollo’s Fire.)

Monteverdi was the other giant on the program, and through him emerged another star. Twice, soprano Erica Schuller bewitched the Amphitheater with his music, conjuring with dulcet tone and poignant, shapely phrasing the onset of spring (“Zefiro Torna”) and pure regret (“Alas, I Tumble Down”). In a similar vein, and no easier on hearts, was Schuller’s performance of “What Can You Do?,” an aria by the great Barbara Strozzi.

The Amphitheater sees all kinds of music. Every night, practically, it’s something different. But Apollo’s Fire, as a whole new batch of Chautauquans now know, is something else entirely. Even within the realm of classical and period music, it stands apart. Not until Apollo’s Fire returns is this stage likely to host anything quite like “Love in Venice” again.

Zachary Lewis is a freelance journalist in Cleveland. He is the former classical music and dance critic of The Plain Dealer.

Serving it neat: Chautauqua favorite Straight No Chaser returns for first live show since 2019



This performance has no backing band — just vocals straight, no chaser.

Straight No Chaser is a professional a cappella group that was founded in 1996 at Indiana University. This is the group’s fifth time performing at Chautauqua Institution, having previously taken the Amphitheater stage in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016.

Group member Tyler Trepp, who joined the professional group in August 2009 after being a member of the collegiate SNC, said that “it’s been a long time” since the group last performed. 

During quarantine, SNC streamed two live performances while also working on recording their new album Social Christmasing. Their performance at 8:15 p.m. Friday, July 30 in the Amp will be their first live performance in over a year, and kicks off “The Open Bar Tour.”  

According to Trepp, the group is excited to finally be back in front of a live audience and back together after working remotely for so long. They added a new member, Jasper Smith, shortly before the pandemic hit after another singer, Dave Roberts, stepped back from the spotlight into an exclusively managerial role in order to spend more time with his family. Smith, like Trepp, was in the collegiate SNC before joining the professional group. This will be his first live performance. 

“It’s going to be fun; we’re all looking forward to this first show,” Trepp said. 

According to Trepp, the group is happy to have their first live performance of 2021 happen at Chautauqua because they always have an “awesome time” and that the crowds are “always great.” Trepp said that personally, he is feeling a combination of emotions and he doesn’t know what he is going to feel after they perform their first song and have a live reaction from an audience. He said it’s definitely going to be different from the “cardboard cutouts” he had at home. 

As for their performance, the group has selected a variety of songs from their repertoire. They are including some of their older songs that Chautauquans may be familiar with from previous shows, as well as some songs that they are debuting on the tour. 

“(There’s a) little something in there for everybody, whether you’re 8 years old or 80 years old,” Trepp said. 

Trepp’s favorite song that to sing from their repertoire, ironically, is called “On the Road Again,” which has been mashed up with the Zac Brown Band song “I Play the Road.” He likes the way that the song is arranged, but also deeply relates to the song’s subject matter. 

“The words are pretty pretty powerful when you sit down and think about it, especially now when we’ve been off the road,” Trepp said. “It hits a little bit harder. Its a song that I always liked before, but now it holds a special place in my heart.”

Grammy-nominated stand-up comedian Bill Engvall to perform tonight




After the tumultuous year of 2020, it is important to get a dose of the best medicine that humankind has created: laughter. 

Continuing with the Week Five’s theme of “The Authentic Comedic Voice: A Week in Partnership with the National Comedy Center,” Bill Engvall will be performing a set at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 29, in the Amphitheater. 

Engvall is a Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum recording artist and one of the top comedians in the country. 

His first album, Here’s Your Sign, is certified platinum and held the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Comedy Chart for 15 weeks straight. His second album, Dorkfish, also debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Comedy Chart, as did his subsequent comedy albums.

Engvall is looking forward to performing for crowds after not being able to during lockdown.

“I just think that people are just so happy to be back out,” Engvall said. “What I’ve discovered during COVID-19 is that human beings are not good to be confined; we have to be out and around. We have to have that social interaction. So as far as comedy goes, I think (everyone is) just very happy to be out, and they just want to laugh. They’re not looking for you to change the world.”

Engvall believes that the true authentic comedic voices are the ones that are grounded in reality and the everyday person.

“Some of the best comedic voices are true to themselves,” Engvall said. “When people see me onstage, that’s the same person they’re going to see in the coffee shop or the mall. When you look in the history of comedy, the real ones like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, they spoke from a point of reality.”

He avoids hot-button issues and political topics, especially after the year that the country has gone through.

“People’s nerves are still raw,” Engvall said. “I think they’re going to be raw for a long time. At least from my perspective, the audience just wants to know that you’re like them. I always say you don’t have to be the funniest guy ever. I just know that because I do a clean act, I’m relatable to them.”

Engvall still loves the classic comics like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and George Carlin; but he has respect for new ones like Kevin Hart.

“I really have respect for younger guys because, I gotta tell you something, if I had to start over today, I don’t know that I’d make it,” Engvall said.

He sees himself retiring eventually, as he has achieved every milestone that he foresaw for himself (besides jokingly contemplating the possibility of Bill Engvall: On Ice).

“The beauty of what I’ve enjoyed in my career is: I honestly have achieved every goal I ever set in front of me, and I don’t know what’s left,” Engvall said. “I’m in a really great position right now where I can sit back and wait and see. The other thing is: I don’t plan on doing this for the rest of my life. I worked really hard. I don’t know that retirement from the road is not that far off, not because I don’t like it, but just because I want to. I don’t want to work myself to death, and I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor.” 

For Chautauquans who like to sit out on their porches, Engvall says, his show fits right in the same vein.

“Come on out, sit back and relax,” he said. “My show is like we’re sitting around your living room, and I’m the funny guy doing the talking.”

Drama & precision: Grammy Award-winning Apollo’s Fire orchestra to take Amp stage with expressive Baroque performance



Apollo’s Fire

Apollo’s Fire, The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, will be bringing Baroque back to Chautauqua at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 27 in the Amphitheater.

Tonight’s performance, titled “Apollo’s Fire: Love in Venice,” will include works such as “Summer Concerto” and “La Folia (Madness)” by Antonio Vivaldi, “Che si può fare” by Barbara Strozzi, and works from Claudio Monteverdi.

Baroque was a style of music and other arts from the early 1600s to the 1740s, with popularity spanning into the 1800s in the Iberian Peninsula. 

“What we do is bring Baroque music to life in the way it was fresh and new when it was composed,” said Apollo’s Fire founder and musical director Jeannette Sorrell. “A lot of that is about moving the emotional moods of the listeners. That’s kind of what we’re obsessed with in Apollo’s Fire. That’s what we will be trying to do.”

Sorrell said people might expect a more academic performance, but Apollo’s Fire intends to bring the opposite of that.

“The way Baroque music was performed and meant to be performed in the 17th and 18th centuries was a lot about being expressive and emotional with music,” she said. “That priority got lost in the 20th century, and people lost sight on how to play Baroque music.” 

Part of Apollo’s Fire mission, she said, is learning and performing Baroque music the way it was meant to be played.

“We’re kind of like detectives — unearthing the way music was meant to be played originally and trying to bring it to life for people,” Sorrell said.

Apollo’s Fire has played around the world, including several European and United States tours. The ensemble has performed on the BBC multiple times, and it has played for sold-out crowds in Wigmore Hall, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Carnegie Hall.

In 2019, Apollo’s Fire won a Grammy in the “Classical Vocal Solo” category for its Songs of Orpheus album.

Still, the group is looking forward to playing in Chautauqua’s Amphitheater.

“Playing in an amp is always extra fun because the experience of fresh air, and being closer to nature just adds an extra element of joy and brings people together as a community,” she said. “We love that.”

Apollo’s Fire is a particularly special ensemble, Sorrell said, because each musician in the group is handpicked.

“We’re all very much on the same page about wanting to play with emotional expression and drama, and bringing that sense of emotional commitment to the music in a way that really translates for an audience,” she said.

In other orchestras, Sorrell said it’s possible to have musicians from different backgrounds and experiences that clash with one another. Apollo’s Fire musicians, instead, are picked so there is minimal clashing. 

“We can achieve a really high level of precision because we all have the same approach to the music,” she said. 

Sorrell loves the ambiance at Chautauqua and is excited to return.

“Chautauqua has such a great atmosphere,” she said. “We always love to be a part of it.”

Balancing beauty: Chautauqua School of Dance alumni, with guest artists, return to Amp for annual All-Star Ballet Gala



Chautauqua School of Dance alumni Isabella LaFreniere and Preston Chamblee, both currently with the New York City Ballet, rehearse for their Sunday performance in the Alumni All-Star Ballet Gala Friday in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

The Chautauqua School of Dance will host the annual Alumni All-Star Ballet Gala in celebration of the phenomenal talent displayed, year after year, nurtured from school to stage. Curated by Sasha Janes, Artistic Advisor for Chautauqua Dance, the festivities will commence at  8:15 p.m. Sunday July 24 in the Amphitheater.

 Hailing from Perth, Australia, curator Janes received his formal dance training from the Australian Ballet School, leading him to dance professionally with the prestigious Australian Ballet, West Australian Ballet, Charlotte Ballet and Hong Kong Ballet.

Since then, he has choreographed numerous ballets for the Charlotte Ballet, including Carmen, Dangerous Liaisons, Wuthering Heights and Rhapsodic Dances.

“I look for the things that are really going to showcase dancers in a great way, things that are exciting and pleasing to the audience,” Janes said. “It’s a kind of balancing act, balancing historical significance and beauty.”

Janes choreographed the piece titled “Shelter” pas de deux by composer Ólafur Arnalds for this performance. Alumna Isabelle LaFreniere and guest artist Preston Chamblee are featured dancers in this piece, pairing along to a song filled with soaring strings and luminous pianos.

“Isabelle LaFreniere will be performing in ‘Black Swan’ as well as ‘Shelter’ — which are two very differing works,” Janes said. “ ‘Black Swan’ is a piece Isabelle always wanted to do, which is the point of this performance, putting together a show that gives artists an opportunity to grow.”

The all-star event collectively spotlights eight accomplished dancers, performing eight pieces that highlight a sensational mixed repertoire for an evening filled with contemporary and classical dance.

The 2021 Alumni All-Star Ballet gala features dancers Angelica Generosa, Pacific Northwest Ballet (2008, 2009, 2010); Anna Gerberich, Joffrey Ballet (2004); Isabella LaFreniere, New York City Ballet (2006, 2012); Brooklyn Mack, English National Ballet (2001); Dylan Wald, Pacific Northwest Ballet; Edson Barbosa, Joffrey Ballet; Preston Chamblee, New York City Ballet; and SeHyun Jin, New Jersey Ballet.

The pieces being presented at the gala include “Le Corsaire” cave pas de deux, “Black Swan” pas de deux, “Bells” pas de deux, “Stars and Stripes” pas de deux, “Shelter” pas de deux, “Moody Rhapsody,” “Dances at a Gathering” pas de deux, ending the evening with “Le Corsaire” pas de deux. 

“ ‘Le Corsaire’ is one of Brooklyn Mack’s famous roles,” Janes said. “He has a reputation of just being a phenomenal virtuoso dancer, so I make sure to always find a piece that shows off his technical ability and power — It is something I always look for, he is a real showstopper.”

“Moody Rhapsody,” composed by Astor Piazzolla, features the choreography of Edson Barbosa.

Rio de Janeiro-based Barbosa has served as company artist with the premier Joffrey Ballet since 2014. He is one of many powerhouse talents representing a national company set to perform at the Sunday night special performance.

He will be partnering with Anna Gerberich for his choreographed piece, fellow company artist at the Joffrey Ballet since 2015. Gerberich is a Dillsburg native, performing in two of the pieces being featured at the Gala. 

Additionally, the Chautauqua Dance Circle will host a preview of the show, with Janes as a guest, at 7 p.m. Sunday in Smith Wilkes Hall, to discuss the current — and future — generation of all stars.

“We really hope to showcase the true talent that has come through the School of Dance over the course of the years,” Janes said. “To see dancers return, redoing roles they have performed in the past, it all comes full circle.”

A grand finalé: MSFO, Voice Program conclude season with timeless ‘Marriage of Figaro’



Timothy Muffitt conducts the Music School Festival Orchestra during the Student Opera’s production of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

After a few short, busy weeks of rehearsals, recitals and performances, Music School Festival Orchestra and Voice Program students joined forces for one final show: a collaborative production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, performed Monday in the Amphitheater.

The opera, which traditionally spans four hours, was shortened to 90 minutes with narrative sequences marking jumps in the story — but the Voice Program opted to keep in as many large ensembles, trios and duets as possible, giving as many students as possible their chance in the Amp’s spotlights.  

  • From left, Evan Lazdowski as Figaro, Seonho Yu as Count Almaviva, and Lydia Graham as the Countess during the Student Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Amanda Batista as the Countess during the Student Opera's performance of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Lucy Evans, as Cherubino, and Nicoletta Berry, as Susannah performs Marriage of Figaro in the opera student's final performance at Chautauqua Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Seonho You, as Count Almaviva, Nicoletta Berry, as Susannah, and Adam Catangui, as Don Basilio perform during the Student Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Maria Consamus, as Cherubino, during the Student Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Bass-baritone, Evan Lazdowski performs the role of Figaro during the Student Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro at Chautauqua Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Carlos Arcos, as Antonio, performs during the Student Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Timothy Muffitt conducts the Music School Festival Orchestra during the Student Opera's production of Marriage of Figaro Monday July 19, 2021 in the Amphitheater KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Verdict is in: Opera’s ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’ continues run with bipartisan message



From left, Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artists Michael Colman and Kelly Guerra, and Guest Artist Chauncey Packer, rehearse for Chautauqua Opera’s production of Scalia/Ginsburg on July 7 in the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In today’s politics, bipartisanship is hard to come by. That is why the friendship between Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a source of fascination among modern historians.

Ginsburg was progressive in her rulings, believing that the Constitution could evolve over time. Scalia was a conservative originalist who was known for offering dissenting opinions on most of the cases presented to the court.

Scalia and Ginsburg have been a source for librettists as well. Chautauqua Opera Company’s production of Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang, continues its run at 4 p.m. Friday, July 23 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. 

Emily Jarrell Urbanek, the keyboardist accompanying the show and a coach for Chautauqua Opera, previously conducted it for Opera Carolina in Charlotte, so she has experience with what the score entails.

“I think when you study a score to conduct it, you think in a bigger picture kind of way,” Urbanek said. “It helped me in terms of transitions. There are a lot of sort of quick transitions that are a little complicated sometimes with a piece, and I was prepared for that, because I had thought about it before.”

The reduced orchestration of the show is similar to when she conducted it with Opera Carolina.

“I was also prepared for the fact that the keyboard parts in the orchestra covers a lot of different instruments, like sometimes harp, harpsichord, piano, organ, that kind of thing,” Urbanek said. “I knew to expect that, so that was helpful. But if you know what something’s supposed to sound like, and you can’t play it the way you would like to play it yet, it gets frustrating when you’re practicing it.”

I think it’s clever. I love the audience’s reaction to it. … I feel like in this day and time, that’s a really important message, to be able to agree to disagree and to talk about things respectfully to each other.”

Emily Jarrell Urbanek
Chautauqua Opera Company

The music also shows the differing temperaments of both Scalia and Ginsburg.

“Certainly Scalia’s aria is a very heartfelt aria,” Urbanek said. “It shows him really as a human being. … Both of Ruth’s arias are very cleverly written when she comes onto the scene, and even though she was physically a very tiny woman, her presence takes the stage.”

Urbanek believes there is something in Scalia/Ginsburg for fans of both history and opera.

“I think it’s clever,” Urbanek said. “I love the audience’s reaction to it, especially if they have knowledge of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia and their personal relationship. I also think that it has a greater overall message that we can all live together and be civil, even if we disagree. I feel like in this day and time, that’s a really important message, to be able to agree to disagree and to talk about things respectfully to each other.”

Michael Baumgarten, lighting and video designer, was not phased by the Pavilion’s difficulties as an outdoor venue.

“The challenge is to make it bright enough and occasionally make a statement with what the lighting is trying to do. If the sun is brighter than it was the other day, it’s going to make the lighting look different,” Baumgarten said.

B.G. Fitzgerald, the costume designer, was able to use some of the costumes from previous productions of the show, including Ginsburg’s iconic jade earrings and pearl collar. When seeing the show, he enjoyed it so much that he laughed out loud.

“There are so many funny laughs in it,” Fitzgerald said. “I get all the musical laughs that Derrick (Wang) put in. In fact, I actually laughed out so loud that the setting and lighting designer had to shush me because it was so much fun.”

12 voices, one dynamic performance: Grammy Award-winning Chanticleer brings a cappella excellence to Amp




Described as “America’s A Cappella Pride and Joy,” Chanticleer is set to take the Amphitheater stage at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 21. The Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble is renowned for their harmonious blend of 12 distinct male voices, from countertenor to bass, over their 22-year history. 

In its mission statement, Chanticleer emphasizes a goal to present choral music at the highest level of excellence, and to encourage worldwide appreciation for the art of ensemble singing through live performances, education, recording and the creation of new choral work.

Chanticleer has taken home multiple Grammy Awards over the course of the years, including the award for Best Small Ensemble Performance. The ensemble has also been the recipient of the prestigious Musical America Ensemble of the Year award. Whether performing renaissance, jazz or gospel, “the world’s reigning male chorus” has enjoyed continuous success since 1978. 

Tim Keeler, Chanticleer’s sixth music director, assumed the post in August 2020. Before taking on the new role, he performed with Chanticleer as a countertenor throughout the 2017-2018 season. Keeler is also the fourth of six music directors to have been a member of the ensemble before their appointment.

Keeler is an avid proponent of new and challenging repertoire, and audience members can look forward to an exciting and dynamic performance. 

“We tried to craft a program that captures some of what everyone has been feeling over this past year and a half — it’s been kind of like a dream state. The world is sort of waking back up and coming back to life,” Keeler said. “The program we are presenting is called ‘Awaken,’ featuring a new commission by Ayanna Woods that really encapsulates what we are trying to evoke through our performance.”

The 12 singers currently performing in the full-time male classical vocal ensemble are Andy Berry (bass), Zachary Burgess (bass-baritone), Brian Hinman (tenor), Matthew Knickman (baritone), Matthew Mazzola (tenor), Cortez Mitchell (countertenor), Kory Reid (countertenor), Alan Reinhardt (countertenor), Logan Shields (countertenor), Andrew Van Allsburg (tenor) and Adam Ward (countertenor), with Gerrod Pagenkopf (countertenor) acting as assistant music director in the program. 

“The most thrilling part of our return to performing live is, of course, having a live audience,” Keeler said. “Even though you can go to a recording studio and sing your heart out, the ability to actually get on stage is a totally different experience, kind of like a train — by the time the performance is over, you really feel like, ‘Wow, what a ride.’ ”

Choral music is so compelling. It acts as a universal language, so the hope is that the audience can leave the performance feeling hopeful or excited about the future, but also having learned from the past.”

Tim Keeler,
Music director,

San Francisco-based Keeler said the inspiration and artistic vision behind the touring program, curated specifically for Chanticleer, is a message that can resonate with everyone. 

“Choral music is so compelling. It acts as a universal language, so the hope is that the audience can leave the performance feeling hopeful or excited about the future, but also having learned from the past,” Keeler said. “We have learned so much about ourselves, our country, and the world over this last year, and I hope we can grow from that without returning to how the world was before.”

Chanticleer works diligently to spread that message through award-winning education programs. According to its website, Chanticleer’s education programs “engage over 5,000 young people each year, featuring master classes, workshops, after-school programs for high school and college students, in-school clinics, and much more.” These programs are offered to people of all ages, including college-age students, adults and children, allowing people from all walks of life to become familiar with the beauty, joy and discipline of choral music. 

Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts, said she was excited about Chanticleer’s performance at Chautauqua.

“They are the most preeminent men’s ensemble in the country,” Moore said. “I hope people can enter the performance with excitement and willingness to learn, and I hope they can leave feeling inspired and joyful.”

Wondrous winds: CSO to shine special spotlight on wind section for evening of Serenades in Amp



Music Director Rossen Milanov conducts the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the CSO’s opening night of the season on July 10 in the Amphitheater. The CSO’s wind section performs, under Milanov’s baton, at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Amp. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The past year and a half has brought countless obstacles to overcome, yet from this time of uncertainty also came opportunity. Due to COVID-19 regulations on spacing, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra has decided to do something different this season, allowing them to spotlight individual sections. There will be separate concerts for the wind and string sections, and the wind section will perform a special “Wind Serenades” concert at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Amphitheater. 

“To have separate string and wind concerts is very unusual for a big symphony,” said Eli Eban, clarinetist. “And so that’s an opportunity that arose out of this situation, which is to play smaller works that are almost symphonic but not quite that scope of scoring. We’re playing great pieces that deserve to be heard.”

Tonight’s concert is a great opportunity to hear the immense talent of the CSO winds in a more intimate setting than usual.  

“You’re giving the audience an ensemble experience that’s somewhat unique. But it’s full-on with a full sound,” said Roger Kaza, horn player. “Instead of having the mix of the strings and the wind tambours you have just one or the other, and it’s an opportunity to explore some unusual repertoire. … That’s the silver lining of all this COVID stuff.”

Rossen Milanov conducts the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Saturday July 10, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Winds performing by themselves is something that may be unusual for the Amp stage, but this concept has been around for hundreds of years. 

“It’s interesting, this tradition of wind music goes way back to the end of the 18th century, where kings and patrons would have a group they called the Harmonie,” Kaza said. “It was literally a small band with two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and two clarinets, and they would play all kinds of tunes from operas. These nobles would use them for entertainment.”

The musicians performing tonight are excited to be performing compositions written for wind instruments. 

“We like it because everyone likes being featured and being given a little bit more of an important role,” Kaza said. “I think Rossen (Milanov, conductor and music director for the CSO) is really doing a great job at featuring different sections of the orchestra, and giving everybody a chance to shine.” 

The program contains two pieces that are both grand masterpieces in the world of winds: Richard Strauss’ Serenade in E-flat Major, Op. 7 and Antonin Dvořák’s Wind Serenade in D Minor, B. 77, Op. 44. 

Growing up with a father who played the horn, Richard Strauss’ life was filled with the sounds of music. At the young age of 17, Strauss composed this piece that builds off of Mendelssohn’s and Mozart’s style while also showcasing Strauss’ own original style. The piece was written for 13 wind instruments and is both melodic and lyrical. The influence of Strauss’ father’s horn playing can be seen throughout the piece.

“This piece has the same kind of lyricism that we hear in a big orchestra, but it has a smaller, warmer kind of a feeling to it,” Eban said. “It still has the majesty of the full wind sonority, but we don’t have to push through a lot of general sound to be heard. We can play lighter, softer and explore the more intimate dynamics.”

Music Director Rossen Milanov conducts the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the CSO’s opening night of the season on July 10 in the Amphitheater. The CSO’s wind section performs, under Milanov’s baton, at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Amp. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

This ability to showcase their talents naturally and intimately gives the wind section a chance to showcase their full sound to audiences. 

“Each instrument has a chance to shine and play along similar lines, unencumbered by a lot of thick orchestrations so we can just sing in a way that feels comfortable,” Eban said. “We don’t have to worry about projection elements.”

The Dvořák piece includes cello, bass and three horns — which is unusual. 

“It’s got a very earthy feeling to it,” Kaza said. “And it’s unusual to write for three horns; we usually are in pairs or in four. In fact there are hardly any works for three horns and he wrote it that way, so he could get triadic harmony. And at the very end of the work, the audience will hear that because the horns kind of go crazy with a big fanfare, which ends the whole piece.”

The inclusion of the cello and bass allows the sound of this piece to be elevated in a unique way. 

“The cello and bass warm up the sound a little bit, and take some of the wind attack edge off of it. But it is really a characteristic Czech bohemian wind sound,” Eban said. 

For Mark Robbins, horn player, this is a staple piece that never fails to amaze with its Czech melodies and beautiful blending of the winds with the one cello and bass. 

“I’ve been playing it on and off for years, most of my life, and it’s really a wonderful piece,” Robbins said. “Dvořák’s music is so expressive, and it’s just beautiful the way he orchestrated for all the different instruments. He’s probably the most famous Czech composer and just one of the really great composers the world has had.”

Kaza wants the audience to sit back and listen to the combinations of tones the wind section will create. 

“(We’re) unlike the string family,” he said. “Wind instruments are very different from a flute from an oboe to a clarinet to a bassoon. The blend is not homogeneous; it’s got a lot of colors in it, so it’s very interesting that way.”

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs Saturday July 10, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Keeping stories alive: Voice Program presents modern portrayal of classic ‘Hansel & Gretel’



Fairy tales are a classic for a reason, but a modern retelling helps keep the stories alive for a new generation. 

The Voice Program’s production of Hansel & Gretel is getting its own spin, courtesy of director John Giampietro. Instead of being trapped in a forest, the titular characters are stuck inside an internet virtual reality game. 

Hansel & Gretel will be performed at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 17 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt.

Sophia Baete, who is portraying the Dew Fairy in the opera, believes it is essential to update the classics to modern times to establish a connection with younger audiences. 

“I think it is incredibly important to open opera up to the natural ebb and flow of modern day society,” Baete said. “This opera has become a true representation of the effects that media and technology have on children today. Personally, it’s been truly fascinating to explore and uncover this modern portrayal of Hansel & Gretel.”

Vocal coach Martin Dubé commended Giampietro for his creative ideas to update operas.

Voice Students Jihyun Choi, as Hansel, and Meredith Wohlgemuth, as Gretel, during a dress rehearsal for Hansel And Gretel on Monday July 12, 2021 in the Performance Pavilion KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“If you always see Carmen or The Marriage of Figaro the same way, why do you want to see it again?” Dubé said. “It’s so interesting to see what the director can get from the same words and how it gets their imagination going. (Giampietro) is unbelievable when he comes up with ideas (that) I didn’t see at all reading the text.”

Updating the opera to reflect the modern day allows for the young artists to pull from their real-life experience for their characters. Meredith Smietana, who is portraying Mutter, is pulling from her experience living in New York City, fueled by fast-paced technology.

“This environment doesn’t always allow for personal connections,” Smietana said. “Whether it’s a subway car full of business people glued to their phones, or a family at a restaurant not engaging in conversation but distracted by their tablets and iPhones. I hope it brings to light how dangerous technology can be for families and how easy it is to lose sight of what is most important.”

Vocal coaches Dubé and Kanae Matsumoto will be playing a four-hand piano duet for the show, meaning they will both be on the same piano playing at the same time. 

Voice program students Meredith Smietana and Junseok Hwang playing mother and father during a dress rehearsal for a production of Hansel and Gretel on Monday July 12, 2021 in the Performance Pavilion KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The two have known each other for over a decade, but two years ago they got the opportunity to play a four-hand piano duet for the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series.  

“It was so easy to play together that we (liken) it (to) M&Ms because like chocolate, it’s sweet and melting (together),” Dubé said. “…We’re lucky to find each other. We’re friends but it could not have been a (better) connection as two pianists. There’s so much listening and so much give and take. Nobody is trying to be on top of each other.”

Usually, Hansel & Gretel is played with a full orchestra. However, due to COVID-19 regulations, that wasn’t possible — so conductor Julius Abrahams found a reduction that called for only a four-hand piano duet.

“The instrumental is very thick, very lush,” Matsumoto said. “If we tried to cover everything, every voice, only with two hands and 10 fingers, it would be (very hard), but we can do it, both of us together.” 

Deeper meanings aside, Dubé hopes the audience leaves appreciating the students’ talent more than anything else.

“There’s so much you can hear through the internet, but feeling the voice right there ringing in front of you, it’s very special,” Dubé said. “I think that’s what people are going to leave with: feeling good about the human voice.” 

For the joy of it: Grammy Award-winner Wynonna Judd returns to perform songs off new ‘Recollections’ EP



Celebrated country music singer Wynonna Judd’s rich and commanding voice has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and toured all over the globe. An Appalachian native, Judd learned to play guitar and harmonize by singing on her back porch in eastern Kentucky. She is returning to the Institution to perform for Chautauquans at 8:15 p.m. Friday, July 16 in the Amphitheater. 

Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts, said that she is “excited for Wynonna to share with us her recollections — figuratively and literally.”

Judd has spent the COVID-19 pandemic quarantining on her farm in Tennessee with her husband, Cactus Moser. With sudden, copious amounts of free time, and being off the road for the first time in years, Judd began to reconnect with her roots by singing for the joy of it, rather than for an audience. 

She found herself singing a series of covers with her husband — including “King Bee,” a blues tune originally popularized by Slim Harpo — that the couple has been performing together for years. 

This song turned into the first single off her new EP, titled Recollections

“My hope is that she will sing about this period we are all coming out of, and remind us that time away from some things can mean times of reflection, growth, creativity and more,” Moore said.

Judd began her career as one half of the successful mother/daughter group The Judds. Now she and her mother, Naomi Judd, are receiving their own star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

According to a 2020 article from The Tennessean, the whole family used to visit the Walk of Fame when money was too tight to go to things like the movies. 

“I was trying to teach (my) girls who these legendary people were,” Naomi Judd told The Tennessean. “It was like going to any other famous landmark in America.”

The Judds had a successful music career together, winning five Grammy Awards. 

Judd said in a press release that Recollections was “a labor of love without the labor.” 

The EP features five covers from Judd and Moser of songs by Fats Domino, John Prine, Nina Simone and the Grateful Dead. 

“As a songwriter, you can get bogged down in your own craft sometimes, but there’s something so liberating about letting go of all that and just inhabiting someone else’s writing,” Judd wrote in a tweet.

While working on Recollections, Judd felt she  learned a lot about her craft. 

“When there’s no touring, no concerts, no band, no lights, no action, all that’s left is you and the song,” Judd wrote in a Facebook post. “All that’s left is your gift.”

Joining Forces: CSO and MSFO come together once more for unique performance



Rossen Milanov, conductor and music director of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, leads the CSO and the Music School Festival Orchestra in a joint concert on July 18, 2019, in the Amphitheater.

Following opening night this past Saturday, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform their second concert at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 15 in the Amphitheater — this time with the Music School Festival Orchestra, a tradition started in recent years.

The opportunity for the students to perform on stage with professionals under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov provides lessons for them as musicians who are on track to be professionals themselves.

“It’s a wonderful experience for our students to work side by side with the CSO professionals, some of whom are their teachers,” said Timothy Muffitt, the MSFO’s music director and conductor. “It gives them an idea of what the professional environment is like, how things flow, the pace of professional rehearsal, and, of course, the artistic outcome. I especially like that they get to work with (Milanov) as well. The whole experience is always inspiring for them.”

The MSFO and CSO will come together for the opening piece of the program: Dimitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Op. 96. The audience will get to fully experience the talents of the brass and percussion sections of both the CSO and the MSFO, and the students are excited to be performing such an incredible piece by this iconic Russian composer.

“He’s a very exciting composer for brass players,” said MSFO trombone player Zongxi Li. “It’s kind of flashy. It’s a really good way to open the program. Another huge benefit for me is that we can sit aside established professional musicians. It’s something really special. Listening to them from the audience is beneficial, but sitting beside them playing with them is an even more unique experience.”

This learning and inspiration isn’t a one-way street.

“It’s always invigorating as a professional to see the enthusiasm, the grit and determination that the younger players have,” said Amanda Gates, CSO violinist. “It increases everyone’s levels. We mutually raise each other’s level. It’s nice to see that fire and that passion.”

The CSO musicians recognize the love that MSFO students have for producing music, and the opportunity a program like this presents. 

“The ability for a student to play with professionals is invaluable,” said Lenelle Morse, CSO violinist. “As far as doing things with MSFO in the past, I’ve really enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm, and it’s something that inspires me.”

For a lot of the students in the MSFO, playing alongside the CSO gives them a glimpse into a potential future for themselves. 

“It’s really important for me to play with people that inspire me,” said Gretchen Bonnema, MSFO horn player. “Hearing someone a lot better than me keeps me going because I can say, ‘That can be me in 20 years.’ They’re all super nice and welcoming. It’s nice to have a real-life example of what I can be right there in front of me. It’s a lot harder but it feels really rewarding, especially with such a receptive audience.”

This experience also allows the students to see how different the rehearsal process is when it comes to the CSO, as the turnaround time is much faster and most of the practicing and preparing must be done on their own. 

“We won’t have very many rehearsals, but that’s more of a standard professional thing. It’s more intense and it’s a lot more work in a short span of time,” said Aaron Dubois, MSFO trumpeter. “Every note we hear is a lesson.”

The excitement doesn’t stop after this opening piece highlighting the brass and percussion sections. The concert will continue with Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ Symphony No. 2 and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 31. According to Milanov, this will be the first time Saint-Georges’ works are to be performed at Chautauqua.

“Chevalier de Saint-Georges is a Mozart and Haydn contemporary, and he was truly a Renaissance figure for his time, being a highly educated violin virtuoso and a prolific composer,” Milanov said. “He was one of the first classical composers (of) African descent and his music is largely underperformed, despite the high quality and stylistic similarities to Mozart. I am very proud that we will be able to bring to life this work for the first time in Chautauqua’s history.”

Continuing with the heavy highlighting of the brass section, the Haydn piece includes dramatic fanfares by the horn section. 

“This season, one of my goals while programming was to choose repertoire that showcases the high level of artistry and musicianship that we have in (the) CSO,” Milanov said. “In this particular program, the symphony by Haydn asks for prominent solos from our concert master, principal cello, bass, flute — and of course, our horn section, whose extended role in this work is the reason why the symphony’s nickname is ‘The Horn Signal.’ ”

This concert represents the first time that CSO and MSFO have played together since 2019, in a summer of music many musicians find to be a relief.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back playing with this orchestra after the tough year and a half that we all had,” said Morse. “I had tears in my eyes at the end of Saturday’s performance — especially with how the audience responded so enthusiastically.” 

Soulful honey: Ranky Tanky to ‘Bring the Funk’ of Gullah culture back to Chautauqua



NPR once described Ranky Tanky’s music as “soulful honey to the ears.” After the release of their sophomore album Good Time, the Grammy Award-winning, Charleston-based ensemble is back to perform at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 14 in the Amphitheater, showcasing the passionate tunes of the Gullah culture.

“Gullah” translates to “a people blessed by God.” The word itself originated from the Creole language of the Gullah people, typically referred to as “Geechee.” This language is based on different varieties of English, as well as the languages of Central and West Africa. The name “Ranky Tanky” also stems from the Gullah language, encouraging fans in attendance to “Get Funky!”

Ranky Tanky’s beginnings in the world of jazz resonate with the word, as their music taste is heavily inspired by the ageless music of the Gullah. For drummer Quentin E. Baxter, bassist Kevin Hamilton and trumpeter Charlton Singleton, it was important to incorporate this inspiration into their music, as the exploration of Gullah music is a cultural tradition in which they have roots. 

With this influence in mind, Ranky Tanky creates music that showcases their own specific sound, while also representing the Gullah culture in a very authentic way. While vocalists Quiana Parler and Clay Ross are not themselves from a Gullah community, they are well-acquainted with the music that inspires the culture. 

The incorporation of this jazz, gospel, funk, country and rhythm & blues within their music is “enough to provoke swinging hips and nodding heads,” according to Paste Magazine

Deborah Sunya Moore, the Institution’s senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts, said she wanted to bring Ranky Tanky back to Chautauqua following their debut Amp performance in 2018. 

“I first heard of Ranky Tanky on ‘Fresh Air’ with Terry Gross, and I thought they had such great music and artistry,” Moore said. “There is a focus (here) on big legends, but also lesser-known emerging artists with a voice and a mission to amplify.” 

Ranky Tanky is widely renowned for precisely what Moore describes, opening up the dialogue for topics, such as social injustice and unrest, using their musical gifts. 

“They use singing as an instrument in which to entertain, but also as a tool to teach and inform listeners about new cultures,” Moore said. “There is definitely an even match of not only excellence, but wisdom as well.”

Ranky Tanky took home a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Album for their 2019 LP Good Time. In their acceptance speech at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, the band used their platform to showcase the deep love and appreciation they hold for the Gullah culture.

“It’s an honor to be here, to stand on the shoulders of our Gullah ancestry and bring this music and message to the world,” Singleton said then. “This (is) just (a) historic moment for the Gullah, being at the Grammy Awards.”

Singleton, trumpeter and founding member of the band, reminisced on Ranky Tanky’s last performance at the Chautauqua Food & Film Festival back in 2018.

“It is an honor for us to play in Chautauqua,” Singleton said. “When I told some of my friends that we were playing there again, their eyebrows rose. They were familiar with all of the history and they just replied, “Wow. That’s pretty awesome.”

Rare and universal: Internationally lauded pianist, Chautauqua favorite Jon Nakamatsu returns for Chopin recital



Jon Nakamatsu, now a guest faculty member at the School of Music, plays Vladimir Horowitz’s personal piano during a special demonstration for students and Chautauquans on July 27, 2018, in Sherwood-Marsh Studios. Nakamatsu will give a solo piano recital at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. BRIAN HAYES/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Jon Nakamatsu was a passionate toy organ player for two years of his life. He spotted a piano at preschool one day when he was 4, and he couldn’t help but ask for one for Christmas that year. 

His parents, not ready to commit to a full size piano, had him settle for a toy organ instead. After two years, they realized how often he played it, so they bought him a real piano and signed him up for piano lessons.

“From that day on, it consumed my life,” Nakamatsu said. 

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, the now-frequent visitor to Chautauqua, will perform “An Evening Piano Recital with Jon Nakamatsu.” He will exclusively perform songs by the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin.

Nakamatsu spent much of his time practicing the piano during his youth, but he lived a bit of a double life, too. His parents told him that he was only allowed to play piano if he did well in school.

“One was a very normal, traditional life in the public schools system, then there was this other life where I had this private world of intense classical music education guided by my teacher, who really stayed my teacher for the next 20 years,” he said.

Everyone finds something slightly different in their hearing. So the same thing that can be melancholic to one can be hopeful or cheerful to another.”

– Jon Nakamatsu,

Still, Nakamastu primarily did school and music. By the time he was 10, he said spent four days a week at lessons, often four to six hours at a time. 

“There wasn’t a normal childhood, and certainly not the normal teenage years,” he said.

“While everyone else was going to do fun stuff, I was practicing and going to competitions. But, that’s the life.”

He often competed at competitions, saying that they could provide the quickest way to a big break in the business. As he got older, though, he realized it didn’t provide enough stability, so he fell back on his schooling. As a German language and studies major, Nakamatsu spent six years teaching high school language classes, performing and competing as much as he could in between. 

In 1997, he got his big break. 

After winning the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, held once every four years and providing significant cash prizes and international shows for the winners, Nakamatsu went back to his childhood dream.

“That basically changed my life overnight,” he said. “I went from the classroom to literally touring the world.” 

Nakamatsu instructs School of Music Piano Program student Elizabeth Yao during a master class on July 25, 2018, in Sherwood-Marsh. HALDAN KIRSCH/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Currently a guest faculty member at the School of Music, Nakamatsu has performed and taught at Chautauqua many times, and said he can’t pick any standout memories, aside from maybe his first visit. 

“The first time I played at the Amp with the orchestra was exciting because it’s liberating to play outside, as someone who never gets to play outside,” he said. 

One aspect that draws him back is the Piano Program, which he said is growing and has become extraordinary. He also said Chautauqua is home to a positive, summery atmosphere, whereas other summer festivals can feel very competitive.

His recital may look somewhat different than in years past. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way some recitals were configured, he said. It will be played in three major parts with no intermission. 

Chopin’s music, Nakamatsu said, is rare in its universal appeal, so he believes anyone will find songs they enjoy. 

“Everyone finds something slightly different in their hearing,” he said. “So the same thing that can be melancholic to one can be hopeful or cheerful to another.”

The program is structured to give plenty of ups and downs, Nakamatsu said.

“It’s exciting. It’s poignant,” he said. “I just think Chopin is a treasure for us pianists. We’re so lucky.”

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