Historian, author McBride to share Second Great Awakening’s role in shaping American identity crisis


Discussing the intersection of religion and politics is hardly a lighthearted conversation, historian Spencer McBride admits. But analyzing this connection is vital to understanding American identity.

At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4 in the Hall of Philosophy, McBride will confront this topic head-on in his lecture “Religious Awakenings and America’s National Identity Crisis” as part of Week Two’s interfaith theme, “Religion and American Identity.”

“People want very clear answers, they want the role of religion in America’s past to be very neat and clean and to sit in a box,” McBride said. “The reality is that it was just as complicated back then as it is now. It’s really enlightening in some ways just because it shows that this has been a messy, contentious issue from our country’s beginning.”

McBride, a documentary editor at The Joseph Smith Papers, believes America’s “identity crisis” is a constant within the culture that cannot be understood without considering the role of religion. During his lecture, he will take Chautauquans through the sweeping history of the Second Great Awakening, a revival that led to a rapid rise in religious participation by Americans.

“I’m going to show how these religious awakenings affected the American identity. … I’m going to show that sometimes we think of religion in a very general sense,” he said. “We think of religion’s role in America’s national identity in today’s terms of the secular versus the religious. But even within American religious communities, there’s different approaches.”

As a historian specializing in the American Revolution and the early American republic, McBride attests to religion’s prominent role in shaping the country’s identity. Religious beliefs, he said, have often vindicated social change.

“These religious revivals really drummed up a lot of support for the abolition of slavery. … Yet there’s people using the same Bible, the same religious views to argue that slavery is justified and approved by God,” he said. “So when I talk about a national identity crisis, it’s in a sense that there’s never been a steam-rolled, uncontested national identity. It’s always evolving, it’s always up for debate.”

Amid studying 19th-century movements like the Second Great Awakening and the abolition of slavery, McBride has experienced his own “awakening” as his research has uncovered patterns of religion colliding with politics.

“The first two decades in the 2000s have been very divided, polarized times in our political culture,” he said. “You hear religion invoked again and again by politicians on either side of the aisle, … and people debated the proper role of religion and religious leaders then just as they do now.”

On his very first visit to Chautauqua, the historian and author of Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America,” said he is enthused about sharing his research with the community.

“I’ve known about Chautauqua for a long time, but it’s great to be a part of it,” he said.

A Marvelous Montage : Cirque Montage to showcase amazing feats on Amp stage


With practice, almost anyone can learn how to juggle a ball or two.

Few, however, can do so with their mouth.

Chautauquans can see this act and more in Cirque Montage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3, in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

The show’s artistic director, Michael Manzanet, said he named the show Cirque Montage to highlight its variety.

Acts include everything from aerialists and contortionists to musicians and hoop artists.

Over 30 performers from all over the world make up the troupe. While the acts are marvelous and many, Manzanet said he designed Cirque Montage to feel intimate.

“Each character is an act, and each act is a character. By the time the show is over, everyone is recognized and appreciated.”

– Michael Manzanet, Artistic Director and Founder, Cirque Montage

At the center of the story is Raven, a girl with hidden talents that Manzanet said will be revealed at the end of the show. She is joined by the ringleader, who needs the audience’s help to create a movie that would make Charlie Chaplin proud.

“What he’s looking for are participants to make into stars,” Manzanet said.

It’s no coincidence that the show’s name resembles Cirque du Soleil. Manzanet was an original cast member Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere in Las Vegas, which is how he first connected with many of Cirque Montage’s performers.

After five years swinging on the trapeze, Manzanet developed Libra, a duo hand-balancing act that won a top honor at the 2000 Daidogei World Cup Festival in Shizuoka, Japan.

Looking for a change of pace, Manzanet founded WonderWorld Entertainment in 2000. Other Cirque du Soleil veterans joined him to put together a new show, as did Martin St. Pierre, the man who composed the music for Mystere and Quidam.

In 2008, Cirque Montage premiered at a small theater in Los Angeles. In her review for the Los Angeles Times, F. Kathleen Foley said the performers’ talents were “strictly heavyweight” and that the characters were “so up close and personal that their winning personalities come to the fore.”

After a successful weekend run, Cirque Montage hit the road to dazzle new audiences. Manzanet said that because Cirque Montage requires only a theater and not an arena, it has been able to reach smaller cities that cannot usually host a circus production.

The show has now traveled across the United States and to several cities abroad, such as Hong Kong and Dubai, at one point performing 10 shows within two weeks.

“With time and reputation, we kept getting more challenges,” Manzanet said.

Although Cirque Montage is now a decade old, Manzanet said it continues to add new acts to its lineup while keeping its jugglers dexterous and its contortionists flexible.

“The majority of the cast has been together for 10 years,” he said. “That’s what keeps the show strong.”

‘New Yorker’ staffer Cobb to examine intersection of race, social justice

William Jelani Cobb on Feb. 13, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Chautauqua is set to engage in a healthy dialogue surrounding race and culture.

Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at The New Yorker covering race, police and injustice in America, will speak at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, July 3 in the Amphitheater as part of Week Two’s theme “American Identity.”

Cobb, a Queens, New York, native, has earned accolades like the Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism and a 2017 Walter Bernstein Award from the Writers Guild of America East. He is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and former director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut.

He is the author of books such as The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress; To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic; and The Devil and Dave Chappelle and Other Essays. His work has previously appeared in publications like Essence, The Progressive and The New Republic.

Matt Ewalt, Chautauqua Institution’s chief of staff, said the Institution needed a voice like Cobb’s as part of this week’s lecture series that focuses on the intersection of social justice and identity at a time when “few things are more critical to the national conversation than race.”

“When we decided on a week for ‘American Identity,’ knowing identity has been the core of our national dialogue throughout our history, but particularly the past couple of years with deeper polarization of the American citizenry in how we define ourselves as Americans, we knew there were a few voices and thought leaders that had to be part of this dialogue,” Ewalt said. “Jelani Cobb is one of the country’s leading thought leaders, particularly on issues of race, culture and identity in the United States.”

Ewalt said Cobb is aware of Chautauqua’s platform because of its prominence in American history and its educated and well-read audience, and believes Cobb wants to engage this larger community in themes around American identity he wrestles with in his work.

“He’s eager to contribute to a dialogue on these issues of American identity, knowing we’d be looking at them through a lot of viewpoints,” Ewalt said. “I think there are many in Chautauqua who are New Yorker readers and familiar with Cobb’s work and respect his thought leadership and incredible gifts as a writer, regardless of one’s policies.”

Cobb stressed the importance of continuing the dialogue about racial injustice and not getting comfortable with the current social climate in his 2015 article “Murders in Charleston.” The article focuses on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and Cobb wrote that “the daisy chain of racial outrages that have been a constant feature of American life since Trayvon Martin’s death, three years ago, are not a copycat phenomenon soon to fade from our attention.”

He stated a similar discourse in his 2014 piece “The Anger in Ferguson” about the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old, unarmed African-American, in Ferguson, Missouri, and how common racial profiling is in the United States.

“Yet what happened on Staten Island and in Dearborn Heights, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Sanford have culminated, again, in the specific timbre of familial grief, a familiar strain of outrage, and an accompanying body of commentary straining to find a novel angle to the recurring tragedy,” Cobb wrote. “The conventions are so familiar that … the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown began circulating on Twitter, with thousands of tweets pointing to the ways in which incidents such as these play out.”

Ewalt has no doubt Cobb will bring this kind of honest reckoning and wrestling to Chautauqua.

“He’s prepared to have a difficult conversation about race with a predominately white audience, but that dialogue has to happen,” Ewalt said. “I hope, totally recognizing there’s a range of political viewpoints represented in that audience, that we can engage and challenge one another, but in doing so, believe the conversation matters.”

Woodard to address struggle in striking balance between individual, communities


Since declaring independence, America has prided itself on being the “land of the free.” After a fight for liberty, the Founding Fathers had clear intentions to establish a democratic nation of diverse people, far removed from British control.

This freedom, however, has borne its own set of challenges.

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3 in the Hall of Philosophy, award-winning author and journalist Colin Woodard will address the struggle of defining freedom in modern America during his lecture “American Character: The Struggle between Individual Liberty and the Common Good and the Survival of the Republic.” Woodard’s lecture, moderated by Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, marks his first visit to the Institution.

“Are we building a free community or are we trying to maximize individual freedom?” Woodard said. “The raucous nature of many of our conflicts and our internal crises boil down to the clash of those two things.”

Woodard’s lecture will draw from his most recent book, American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, a 2017 Chautauqua Prize finalist and winner of the 2017 Maine Literary Award for nonfiction. In his book, Woodard defines American freedom as a regional struggle. Given the distinct cultural, social and religious differences that exist within one nation, the attempt to define freedom is often overshadowed by disagreement.

“Where’s the equilibrium point for our particular federation, given our different regional cultures, and how could you build a super majority that would have enough public support through various regions that could carry it forward?” Woodard said. “We’ve done that for decades in the past, precisely because regional coalitions were formed that gave you a super majority. It’s the fact that in recent decades, we haven’t had that.”

In order to reach the “equilibrium point,” Woodard said liberal democracy needs to be redefined and expanded. In a country that once described itself as a melting pot, a two-party system is a feeble attempt at inclusiveness.

“How can you have the Christian right and Ayn Rand libertarians in the same party? Philosophically speaking, they don’t share a lot of fundamental things in common,” he said. “Both parties are coalitions of things that don’t really go together. Realizing that and understanding the actual spectrum of options is a clarifying thing.”

But before citizens can begin rethinking the bipartisan system, Woodard believes the nation’s lens needs refocused. Currently, political conversation is dominated by a desire for power and control.

“American conversation has circled around freedom and a competition with how you secure that,” he said. “The conversation in the past year and a half has been about fear and resentment, which I think everyone should find worrying.”

As an international correspondent in the 1990s, Woodard brings years of reporting, research and reflection to Chautauqua. While working as a journalist in eastern Europe, he covered the aftermath of the Cold War and the region’s struggle to rebuild after the fall of communism.

These experiences, he said, have been used to inform his research on American democracy.

“How do you build a liberal democracy and then how do you sustain one has become one of the things I’ve dealt with throughout my career,” he said. “The past informs the present and only by understanding where we come from can we understand where we’re at.”

Using visuals in the Hall of Philosophy is uncommon; however, visuals are important to Woodard’s lecture.

“We are going to initiate a grand experiment by asking attendees to bring their smart devices with them to the lecture,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno.

An Orchestral Journey – MSFO to make 2018 debut with first Amp concert of season

  • Concertmaster Anna Berntson from Music School Festival Orchestra performs the solo for "Symphonic Dances, Dance No.1: Hoe Down", composed by Bruce Stark on Monday, July 3, 2017 in the Amphitheater. PAULA OSPINA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Musicians, Anna Berntson said, are always learning how to relate to people and how to communicate with them.

“And in this case, you are learning how to do it within the confines of a weeklong schedule to prepare for a concert,” said Berntson, concertmaster for the opening Music School Festival Orchestra performance of the season at 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 2 in the Amphitheater.

It’s a constant project, Berntson said, but “one you can definitely invest in at Chautauqua.”

Tonight, the MSFO will perform works by Joseph Haydn, Maurice Ravel and Paul Hindemith. Timothy Muffitt, MSFO music director, said he selects the repertoire with the intention of helping the students grow. Giving a concert performance is how the MSFO communicates to its audience in the Amphitheater, but the process of putting the first concert together is how MSFO members learn to relate to one another as collaborators in an ensemble.

Muffit said the first MSFO concert of every season has a Classical-era work because the “transparency and buoyancy” let the orchestra learn how to work together, even MSFO members who are meeting for the first time.

Tonight’s classical selection is Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 “London.”

“Aside from just being great music, it’s really extraordinary music for getting an orchestra to work together … and develop quickly as an ensemble, rather than a group of individuals,” Muffitt said.

On the other hand, Berntson said, the transparency of the piece means any mistake is going to be immediately apparent to the audience.

“Whereas with a larger symphony, stuff can get very into the texture, and it’s easier to hide, so it really forces the orchestra right away to be focused and aware,” Berntson said. “I think the biggest thing is that it teaches us to listen to each other from Week One, and try and understand everybody is playing that way.”

While the Haydn piece is helpful in teaching students about teamwork, “La Valse” by Ravel, and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber allow MSFO members to stand out with solos.

“There are some works in the repertoire that maybe some parts of orchestra play more of a subordinate role,” Muffitt said. “But in these two pieces, everyone is in the spotlight of one point or another. So, because our MSFO players come here to have a significant involvement, I want to make sure that the first program represented that.”

The Ravel and Hindemith selections are special to Berntson for another reason as well: Both are pieces of ballet music.

“I was a ballet dancer growing up, until I was 17. That was my other career option, so I really enjoy putting it together (as the concertmaster),” said Berntson.

Ian Egeberg, oboist from DePaul University in Chicago, said there is a comradery among the MSFO in “La Valse.”

“In the Ravel, that’s a lot of section playing, like all the winds together. And there is a lot of duets between the principal flute and the principal oboe,” he said. “Some stuff in the Ravel is like full-section playing, which is always kind of fun. You have a lot of people playing the same part.”

That dynamic means that even though 12 people are playing at once, “you want to make it sound like one blended, giant instrument,” Egeberg said.

Muffitt said Chautauquans “will hear a great variety of music” at tonight’s concert.

“They are going to hear a group of extraordinary young musicians that will be the next leaders in their fields,” he said. “It’s a really wonderful opportunity.”

Tonight’s MSFO concert is just the first paving stone the students will place during their nine-week orchestral journey this summer.

And the MSFO members’ time here at Chautauqua is not just about orchestra, Muffitt said.

“One of the great things about Chautauqua as a chapter in their musical training is that they are working in very close proximity not only with other instrumentalists, but with singers, and with dancers, and with actors, and painters and sculptors,” he said. “So they have an opportunity to see other young artists who are really great in their crafts, how they approach the day-to-day challenges of being an artist. I feel like that’s a very positive aspect of our program, and unique aspect of our program.”

Caragol to open Week 2 with look at portraiture as framework for identity


For Taína Caragol, portraits are skylights to history.

“I love portraiture because of the window it provides into humanity,”Caragol said. “It is an art form that fosters connection, and it is striking when that connection can bridge different time periods, cultures or economic circumstances.”

Caragol, curator of painting and sculpture and Latino art and history at the National Portrait Gallery, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 2 in the Amphitheater.

She will kickstart the morning lectures during Week Two, “American Identity,” by discussing American history and selfhood from the perspective of the National Portrait Gallery, which is located in the nation’s capital.

Matt Ewalt, chief of staff at Chautauqua Institution and responsible for the lecture platform, said the topic of American identity is at the heart of the country’s dialogue, both on a national and community level. He said Caragol’s perspective from the museum will give Chautauquans a framework for considering how identity has shaped the “American story we tell the world.”

“For the millions of visitors to this national institution, from international tourists to local school children, whose faces are telling the American story? And whose faces are missing?” Ewalt said. “(Caragol’s) work as curator at the National Portrait Gallery is confronting that very issue, addressing in particular the contributions of Latinos to American history.”

As a curator, Caragol researches and organizes exhibits, frequently uncovering new portraits for the museum’s acquisition. She is also charged with caring for the pieces in the museum’s collections.

As a specialist in U.S. Latino and Latin-American art, she gears many of her exhibits and acquisitions toward representing the historic contributions of Latinos to the country and its art landscape.

“Museums are the repository of our collective memory, achievements and aspirations. History museums function, in a way, as a mirror through which we can look back at ourselves.”

-Taína Caragol, Curator, Painting, sculpture, Latino art and history, National Portrait Gallery

Caragol said sometimes viewers recognize themselves in this reflection, and other times they do not.

“But most often we come out with a better understanding of the grander arc of history, its turning points and the moments that have fostered the greater good, or disjunction and strife,” she said. “That, in turn, can illuminate our understanding of the present and provide clues for action.”

Caragol pointed to a video she curated, “Home” by Vincent Valdez, as a piece that stands out in her mind. Valdez was one of six artists in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition, “The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now,” that explored artistic responses to American warfare since 2001.

Caragol said “Home” was a work Valdez made as a process of mourning his friend, 2nd Lt. John R. Holt, who took his own life after returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This video was a powerful portrait that honored his friend and his decision to serve,” Caragol said. “Valdez’s grief of losing a friend was expressed through the visuals of their common working-class neighborhood, but also through the soundtrack of The Pogues’ anti-war song, ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.’ ”

“Home” depicted the southside of San Antonio, Texas, the place of origin in Valdez and Holt’s friendship. With images of a taco joint, flamenco school and carnicería (meat market), “Home” served as a personal farewell to a friend and an homage to the Tejano and Latino experience, Caragol said; even with these expressions of intimacy and culture, “Home” was “profoundly universal.”

“Anyone, regardless of their background, could watch it and feel the pride and pain it conveyed,” she said. “It became a sight of pilgrimage in the show. People kept coming over and over to watch it.”

As an art form, portraiture focuses on individuals. Caragol said it therefore provides a window to the characters, motivations and lives of the very people who shape history.

“I would like for people to carry away the fact that just as history is not static or one-sided, identity is fluid,” Caragol said. “The National Portrait Gallery strives to present American history in all its complexity, and to convey American identity as something evolving and enriched by the many cultures that coexist in this country. Art can help us understand history, our common values and how, as a country, our ideas and attitudes continue to evolve.”

With CTC’s ‘An Octoroon,’ director Sardelli confronts racism head-on


In rehearsals for An Octoroon, members of Chautauqua Theater Company talked about race. A lot.

Realizing that this conversation isn’t an easy one, director Giovanna Sardelli encouraged the actors to speak freely, calling each other out on transgressions in order to learn from one another and improve the way they talk about race.

“Of course, we were going to open up wounds. Out of necessity, it must be painful because  America is failing at this conversation. Why should we think that we would succeed with any elegance in two weeks?”

-Giovanna Sardelli, Director, An Octoroon

Although rehearsals are over, Sardelli said the conversation is not. An Octoroon opens this weekend with performances at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 30 and 2:15 and 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 1 in Bratton Theater.

An Octoroon is not Sardelli’s first directorial foray into racial issues. Her directing credits include the world premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s The North Pool with TheatreWorks and Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, for which the NAACP nominated Sardelli for best director.

Sardelli said An Octoroon differs from her previous work because the confrontation with racism is more blatant.

“To be honest, one of the reasons that I agreed to do this play is because it scared me in all the best ways,” Sardelli said. “But it excited me because the conversation is so rich and so alive and non-negotiably honest, which is frightening when you look at something that we have tried to dress up, skirt around and deny.”

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ script both employs and deconstructs racist caricatures, such as the obedient servant, “mammy” and alcoholic Native American. Sardelli took time to discuss with the cast why characters in An Octoroon might adopt traits from these tropes in order to survive, as well as whether the characters were given an actual choice in that decision.

“I would say that Branden is tired of PC dancing around issues, and he just wanted to dump it in your lap and say ‘Let’s look at it’ in an artfully challenging, provocative way, … which is why this play required more attention and care in the entry to it,” Sardelli said.

Years ago, Sardelli received “the gift of whoopsie” from a friend as a way to breach the uncomfortable.

“I didn’t know how to disengage from a conversation that was racist.” Sardelli said. “I found myself being too confrontational or paralyzed because it’s difficult, especially if it’s somebody you love.”

Sardelli gave whoopsie a try. Whenever she heard something that crossed the line, whether intentionally or by accident, she used the word to raise a ag and discuss what happened.

Sardelli passed the gift along to the cast. CTC conservatory actor Keshav Moodliar said that if anyone felt something needed to be addressed, he or she could say “whoopsie” in rehearsal and have that conversation.

“Every time there’s something even remotely whoopsie-esque, we’re going to sit down and talk about it because (Sardelli) wants to have us always move forward,” Moodliar said.

The reason whoopsie works is because it is non-confrontational, yet “does not let you off the hook,” Sardelli said. “It simply points out that something must be addressed.”

With just a word, anyone could pause rehearsal to talk about how they felt about a certain scene or off- the-cuff comment. Given the play’s critical focus on race in America, Sardelli said whoopsie was used often and helped the group process the challenging subject matter in An Octoroon.

CTC conservatory actor Hannah Rose Caton plays the titular octoroon — a mixed- race person who is one- eighth black — and said she appreciated the care Sardelli took to create a safe space in the rehearsal room.

“(Sardelli) has just been so amazing with creating through dialogue, … and just checking in with us as the play goes on because it can deal with some subjects that some people hide from,” Caton said. Whenever a new element was added to rehearsal, be that makeup or a prop, the cast and crew took time to debrief.

“We really took a conscious approach to how we would address these issues,” Sardelli said.

Sardelli said she was also intimidated by CTC’s truncated two-week rehearsal window, which felt “a little like being shot out of a cannon.”

However, she said she agreed to the task due to her confidence in CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba, a former classmate of Sardelli’s at New York University.

“When you are a guest artist, you are charged with two tasks,” Sardelli said. “One is doing a professional show and the other is also being a role model and a leader and a teacher to those students in the conservatory. That’s a tall order when you have a limited amount of time, but it’s wonderful to be in the pot together.”

Larry Powell, left, as George, and Keshav Moodliar, as Pete. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

While a majority of the cast is made up of CTC conservatory actors, Sardelli recruited Nija Okoro, Larry Powell and Brett Rickaby, three of her favorite actors, to join the project as both performers and mentors.

“I keep a list of actors who I think are fantastic on all levels, and so when the opportunity came to hire for this, I jumped on it,” Sardelli said.

Sardelli previously worked with Powell on a production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, a play that depicts Martin Luther King Jr. on the night before his assassination. Like Borba, Rickaby was a classmate at NYU, while Sardelli said she met Okoro at a party and instantly fell in love with her energy.

Sardelli said the rehearsal process benefited from having a talented cast that was diverse in skin color and national origin.

“That’s a fascinating perspective to have people of color come to our country and suddenly become black in America. It’s a very specific journey for some of our actors,” she said. “To hear our relationship to race given back to us from that perspective was eye-opening.”

Sardelli said she hopes Chautauquans who see An Octoroon will walk away better equipped to discuss race in America. She said she wants audience members to educate themselves and others with grace, which is why she shared whoopsie with the cast and crew.

“We needed to have forgiveness. Luckily, when you’re working on a play, everyone has already agreed to step into the room and tell the story,” Sardelli said. “I wish we could give a gift to everyone trying to engage in this conversation.”

‘Live fully, love wastefully’: Spong delivers final lecture

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Introducing John Shelby Spong the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson was able to publicly thank the man he said “are the shoulders on which (Robinson) stands.”

Robinson, who is the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop in Christendom, attributes the opportunity he had to serve as a leader in the church to Spong, who he said supported LGBT rights before it was popular.

“It is because of that early work that he did and all of the work that built on it that lets me wear a purple shirt today,” said Robinson, who currently serves as Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and senior pastor. “There is no one who has been braver and ready to take whatever came his way for saving the truth.”

At 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 28, in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong, retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, discussed Matthew, his mantra and his legacy during his last lecture of the week and his career, titled “Universalism: The Future of Christianity and Why I Remain a Christian,” for Week One’s interfaith theme, “Producing a Living Faith Today?”

“Today’s the day,” Spong said. “The final address of this week, the final address in Chautauqua, the final address of my life. It has been a wonderful trip, and I am sad it is coming to an end.”

But before he talked too much about the end, he went back to the Jewish roots of Matthew’s Gospel.

According to Spong, when Matthew said to “go and make disciples of all nations,” he placed words in the mouth of the risen Jesus.

“Matthew was sounding the call to a universal humanity,” Spong said. “It meant to go beyond the boundaries of your religion, to go beyond your security system, to go beyond your fears. It meant go beyond the boundaries that you directed in your biologically driven search for survival.”

Matthew was not alone in his understanding of Jesus’ message. When the Gospel of Luke was being written, the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples of Jesus and all the world. The author made sure that it was understood as a universal happening, Spong said.

Then there was Paul. Paul tried to explain to the Galatians what it meant to “put on Christ” in the verse that reads, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Spong said this means human division must disappear.

“Christ must be served in every person,” he said. “There is no longer Jew nor Greek. There is no longer male nor female. That is what Jesus meant and that’s what the original Christ experience was, before we became Scripture defenders, and before the creeds became the essence of our faith.”

While Paul left off there, Spong believes there is a lot more to modernizing Christianity than erasing those dividing lines.

“When charting a new reformation, we must engage in a task of getting even deeper into the vision of universalism,” he said. “It has not only to do with erasing human divisions, but about revitalizing our most cherished beliefs.”

For the reformation to work, Spong said creeds can no longer be used to bring Christians together.

“The Christianity of the future cannot live inside the doctrines of the past,” Spong said. “Doctrines are never a description or definition of our God experience. My experience is my ability to perceive God, but the nature of God is beyond my ability to describe.”

The same thing is true of Christianity’s fundamental doctrine, known as “the Incarnation.”

“That doctrine makes Jesus not unlike the comic strip character Clark Kent who turned out to be Superman in the skies,” he said. “We must move beyond the now irrelevant dualistic patterns and discover the holy at the heart of the human. Incarnation will never give us that.”

With the need for constant evolution in mind, Spong created his personal mantra.

“My mantra is intended only to be my statement at this time, of where I am today (and) the place of which I have arrived on what might be the last days of my journey,” he said. “I want to say something positively, something about the conclusion that I presently hold and bear witness to why I continue to be a member of this community.”

He began by admitting he still has no way of knowing “who” or “what” God is.

“No one can do that,” Spong said. “Why don’t we understand that? That is not within the capacity of the human mind to embrace the nature of God.”

Next, was his belief that God is a source of life.

“As far as we know, a creature who can: define life, contemplates its beginning, anticipates its termination and raise the question of its meaning, is a rare thing,” he said. “So if God is a source of life, then the only way I can appropriately worship God is by living fully.”

God is also a source of love, Spong said.

“If God is a source of love, then the only way I can worship God is by loving, loving wastefully,” he said. “I mean the kind of love that never stops to calculate, never stops to wonder whether the object of its love is worthy to its recipient. It is love that loves not because it has been earned. That’s where I think God is made visible.”

After love, he shared his beliefs about experiencing God.

“If God is the ground of being, then the only way I can worship God is by having the courage to be all that I can be,” Spong said. “The more deeply I can be all that I can be, the more I can make God visible.”

However, there was one last thing he wanted to add.

Although he has been a Christian his entire life, he does not believe it makes him superior to anyone. It is simply a fact of his upbringing, along with a personal desire to continue being a disciple of Jesus.

In the way Jesus, whether being praised with flattery or diminished by the threat of death, remained unchanged, Spong was moved to affirm his faith. In the way that God brought “oneness out of diversity, wholeness out of brokenness and eternity out of time,” Spong realized the version of faith he wanted to spread.

Spong said the only way his mission can be successful is if his mantra is carried out without any set of boundaries.

“Even in the widest variety of our humanity, in our deepest set of beliefs, there is no outcast in this community,” he said. “There can be no one regarded as unclean, no prejudice allowed to operate inside this vision of Christianity.”

Since then, he has answered the call to try to transform the world so that every person living in it will have a better opportunity to “live fully, love wastefully and be all each of them was created to be.”

Now, that job belongs to everyone in the Christian faith who wishes to carry out his vision to fruition.

And to that, Spong said, “Good luck.”

American Legion Band of the Tonawandas to deliver fresh, diverse Amp performance


American Legion Band of the Tonawandas’ rich history is coming back to Chautauqua Institution.

The group will perform 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 1 in the Amphitheater.

Formed in 1929 by World War I veterans and American Legion members, American Legion Band of Tonawandas is a 90-member concert band based in Tonawanda, New York. The band is a diverse group of Western New Yorkers, with occupations ranging from education to engineering; the group is dominated by music professionals and educators.

The American Legion Band of the Tonawandas plays during their concert Sunday, July 31, 2016, in the Amphitheater. Photo by: Mike Clark

“It’s a very high-quality music organization,” said David Abrahamian, president and business manager.

Members range from high school students to musicians in their 70s. Abrahamian joined the band in 1969.

The group is volunteer- based and audition only.

“It’s a lot of work to keep a community group like this performing at such a high level because the musicians are all volunteers and placement in the group is by audition process, so it’s not just anybody can come in play,” Abrahamian said.

The band rehearses yearround with up to 30 annual performances, performing between 60 and 70 pieces each year.

“(American Legion Band of the Tonawandas) plays a wide variety of music such as marches, showtimes, classics, overtures, jazz pieces, vocal features, instrumental features, so it’s program music for just about anybody,” Abrahamian said.

The group is no stranger to the Amp stage. They last performed at the Institution in 2016.

“Chautauqua is a very prestigious performance venue,” Abrahamian said. “It has an audience that appreciates quality performances and the facility can accept a large group like ours and really provides a superior listening experience. The group members really feel proud to be invited to Chautauqua — it’s truly a highlight of the group’s performance season.”

Despite the group’s recent appearance on the grounds, the audience can expect some new material.

“The pieces are all new. Every concert is all new pieces, so it’s not like people are going to come and hear the same thing over again,” Abrahamian said. “The Chautauqua program is considered a very special program to the group, and hopefully we put together a program that everyone is truly going to enjoy.”

This season, the band will be performing during Week Two, themed “American Identity.”

Abrahamian said the group will play a number of pieces by American composers, including George Gershwin, Richard Rogers and John Williams, as well as themes from “Star Wars.”

“We are also performing a brand new piece called ‘Voices of America’, and it’s a vocal feature,” he said. “I think that would play into the theme.”

The history of the group also plays into “American Identity,” according to Abrahamian, because of its roots in the military and diverse backgrounds.

Feedback, concerns, questions to fuel strategic planning process, Hill shares in porch discussion


President Michael E. Hill led the first Chautauqua Institution Leadership Porch Discussion Wednesday at the Hultquist Center, where he offered an opportunity for Chautauquans to voice questions, concerns and general feedback for the first of many times this season. In his talk on “Strategic Planning Process & Opportunities for Engagement,” Hill provided a comprehensive Q-and-A forum that is a key component of the new planning strategy.

Feedback offered by residents and visitors at the Wednesday meeting will be added to the questions and concerns gathered thus far from gatherings hosted by members of the board of trustees in intellectual hubs around the country such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, North Carolina and Florida, as well as information gathered by the Institution’s online survey and portal Hill said this gathering of information, both from within the gates of the Institution and without, is the first step in determining the rest of the strategic plan, which will conclude at the sesquicentennial in 2024.

“If just a few of us sit in the Colonade and write up a strategic plan, it will fail,” Hill said. “Your participation is a key aspect of our decision- making.”

In addition to the Wednesday meetings, Hill, Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Chairman James Pardo and Laura Currie, chair of the Strategic Planning Working Group, will host feedback sessions at 3:30 p.m. every Thursday in the Hall of Christ, where members of the community will be encouraged to voice concerns as well as answer questions about their experiences at and visions of Chautauqua.

The recently embarked upon strategic plan includes a campus master plan, involves a golf course master plan and a waterfront management plan; a security assessment and plan; a diversity and inclusion plan; a strategic financial plan; and positioning research.

On Wednesday, Hill jockeyed questions ranging from comprehensive ticket pricing to potential housing development across NY 394, to expanding the speakers and conversations within the Institution politically. Additionally, Hill spoke about his hope to eventually expand the length of the season in order to increase revenue needed to develop and increase the amount of jobs offered in Chautauqua County.

“If Chautauqua changed from a three-month season to a six-month season, it could potentially cut poverty in the county by 40 percent,” he said. “We have $1 billion in assets, over 750 acres that lay fallow for a quarter of the fiscal year, and we are looking to change that.”

Hill said that he would love to see an expanded season that would allow for extended workforce development, particularly in the area of food service, instead of having to retrain employees every year and then have many of them leave to return to college before the end of the season, which can cause staffing shortages.

One of the most important pieces of the strategic plan is gathering ideas on how to expand the name of Chautauqua.

“A lot of people say that once we get people here, they get hooked. But it’s the getting them here that is the problem,” Hill said.

He hopes to expand the knowledge of Chautauqua across the nation through a few different avenues: speakers providing original lectures that will draw national media coverage, selling recordings of interfaith lectures to places of worship looking to become more inclusive, and constantly creating forums in which current, controversial issues can be discussed.

Through the conversations and feedback gathered during the strategic planning, Hill hopes to lift Chautauqua to the national stage by continuing to challenge status quo thinking and promote discourse surrounding differences.

“We want to both delight and infuriate every person here,” Hill said. “That is one of my chief concerns.”

Chart-topping a capella group ‘Voctave’ to fill amphitheater with Broadway and Disney Hits


All it took was a YouTube video for Voctave to become the a capella group heard around the world. Voctave is an 11-member group known for its harmonious adaptations of Disney and Broadway hits. Voctave has performed with Grammy, Dove and American Music award recipients, rank multiple times in the top 25 on Billboard Magazine’s charts and have toured worldwide. Chautauqua is the group’s most recent pinpoint on the map, where it will perform at 8:15 p.m. Friday, June 29, in the Amphitheater.

Jamey Ray is the founder of Voctave, but he also sings and arranges each piece. He created the group in 2015 when he selected singers from Voices of Liberty, an a cappella group that performs in Disney’s Epcot, to sing through his first arrangement. As Ray gained more experience, the pieces improved and so did the group’s ratings. Ultimately, it was a recording of Voctave’s “Disney Love” medley with Pentatonix singer Kirstin Maldonado that sent the group to the top of the charts.

“We put that video out, it went viral and from that point on, it just kind exploded each time we posted. These performances have become more and more popular on social media, and that is how Voctave turned into what it is today.”

-Jamey Ray, Founder, Voctave 

With that Disney medley, Voctave not only found its spark, but its niche. Between Facebook and YouTube, the Disney-themed performances have accumulated over 100 million views.

“We have people with infants who write us to tell how much even they love our music, but then we also have people in their teens, 20-somethings and up from there who love it, too,” Ray said. “Everyone at every age loves Disney. It is not like that when we do musical theater; that scope is a lot narrower.”

Ray found a balance between Broadway and Disney in Voctave’s 2017 album On the Corner of Broadway and Main Street. The group will perform select songs from that album Friday, June 29 as well as three patriotic pieces that they have never performed live: “The Star Spangled Banner,” a tribute to the armed forces and Donny Osmond’s “Last Full Measure of Devotion.”

Not only is this the first time those pieces will be performed live, it is also the first day the group will sing them together. Due to the schedules and responsibilities of each individual singer, Voctave is unable to hold any rehearsals separate from run-throughs before gigs and recording sessions. Although this is occasionally frustrating for Ray, he said it makes each gathering a cherishable experience.

“I always leave feeling so lucky that not only is everyone in the group crazy talented, but I love being around them, too.”

– Jamey Ray, Founder, Voctave 

“They are also some of the funniest people I think I have ever met, so with all of them in the same room, my face ends up hurting by the end of the day,” Ray said.

In addition to providing comic relief, Ray said the group’s talent and dedication to music inspires the sound behind every note.

“I was a fan of all of their voices before this group existed — and I grew up actually watching a couple of them sing — so getting to work with them is kind of like if someone were to say ‘pick your dream cast of people,’ but then I actually got to do it,” Ray said. “I write the black dots, but they bring this all to life.”

Page to stage: Michael Kahn to lead panel with playwrights Kate Hamill and Lucas Hnath


For playwright Lucas Hnath, a theater is not just a house of entertainment. He sees opportunity in a room full of strangers watching other strangers on stage, an opportunity for debate.

Compared with film, Hnath said theater has a greater tolerance for characters to talk uninterrupted for stretches of time, which “creates a responsibility for plays to show long arguments and have that extended train of thought.”

The 2016 Obie Award winner will join Kate Hamill, the Wall Street Journal’s 2017 “Playwright of the Year,” in a panel led by Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn for the 10:45 a.m. lecture Friday, June 29, in the Amphitheater, culminating a weeklong discussion of “The Life of the Written Word.”

Today’s lecture is a homecoming for Kahn, who will return to Chautauqua for the first time in 14  years. Kahn founded in 1983 what was then known as The Theater School for acting students at Chautauqua. Two years later, Kahn directed The Glass Menagerie for the newly renamed Chautauqua Conservatory Theater Company.

Kahn said he is excited to see how the grounds have changed and to speak with Hnath and Hamill, two of theater’s rising stars.

“Their styles are different, but something they share is in many different ways serious moral questions that are at the heart of what they write. They are trying to investigate and uncover issues that are really relevant.”

Michael Kahn, Artistic Director, Shakespeare Theatre Company 

Hnath said he sees the stage as a public forum, which is one of the reasons his plays often involve hot-button topics.

The Christians critiques megachurches and organized religion, while Hillary and Clinton comments on the compromises politicians have to make on the campaign trail. Red Speedo deals with doping in professional sports, highlighting an obsession with competition.

In 2017, Hnath made his Broadway debut with A Doll’s House, Part 2, which was nominated for eight Tony awards, including Best Play. It continues the story of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic, seeing Nora return to her family years later as a feminist novelist seeking divorce. This August, the play will see its Australian premiere.

Hamill said she conveys her arguments through the familiar guise of literary classics. Her stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was nominated for the Drama League Award and won the 2016 Off-Broadway Alliance Award.

When adapting for the stage,Hamill said she views her writing as a brand new play that tells a story through a modern feminist lens.

“I do not like a copy-and-paste collaboration,” Hamill said.

Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice imagined the Bennet sisters’ pursuit of love as a game of basketball. She has also adapted Vanity Fair and is currently working on Little Women, The Scarlet Letter and The Odyssey.

Although Hamill is not the first to write these works for the stage, she said previous adaptations have relegated women to supporting roles even when they are the focus of the story.

“Men have had a millennium-long head start on owning the classics,” Hamill said. “I really want to reclaim those narratives for everyone, for all genders.”

As a director, Kahn said he loves working with living playwrights, but never desired to become one himself.

In 2013, the Tony-nominated director of Show Boat was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. During his tenure at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Kahn introduced plays like Don Carlos and Strange Interlude to the American theater repertoire. He plans to retire in 2019.

When it comes to writing characters, Hnath said he tries to imbue them with different ideologies, allowing them to clash on stage via dialogue.

Hnath said he takes inspiration from the way legal briefs structure and stack their arguments. He also encourages actors to not overblow their delivery, allowing the argument to shine through for the audience to judge.

“I want the sound of the thinking to be louder than the sound of the performing,” Hnath said.

Hamill said she sees a dearth in three-dimensional roles for women that go beyond a wife, girlfriend or prostitute. As both a playwright and actress, Hamill often plays the powerful women she writes to fill this void. In her latest project, Mansfield Park, Hamill plays the devious Mary Crawford.

“Quite often when I’m writing a play, I write with certain actors’ voices in mind, whether or not they ultimately get those roles,” Hamill said. “Mine just happens to be one of those voices.”

Hamill and Hnath both said theater differs from other genres of writing because the energy of an audience directly impacts the argumentation.

“There’s something about doing it live in a room that is particularly effective,” Hnath said. “You sort of feel like you have a jury watching and you hear the audience react and be pulled with the argument.”

‘An Octoroon’ opens with critical look at America’s race relations


Theatergoers looking for a comfortable evening of entertainment will find no such thing this week in Bratton Theater. The puffy clouds of cotton that hang above the set for An Octoroon evoke an idyllic Southern sky, but director Giovanna Sardelli hopes the stage-business below will show Chautauqua that the way America addresses race relations was and is far from perfect.

The first production of Chautauqua Theater Company’s 2018 season, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon opens this weekend at 8 p.m. Friday, June 29, in Bratton Theater and runs through July 8. The play balances comedy with Brechtian discomfort and is not recommended for children due to strong language and content.

Sardelli said she appreciates that An Octoroon directly addresses a racist past and present in the United States that is often willfully ignored, but does so in a way that pokes fun of the country’s failures.

“The master craftsman that (the playwright) is says ‘Let’s also laugh at it. Let’s acknowledge where the conversation has moved forward and let’s acknowledge where it has not,’ ” Sardelli said.

The octoroon in question is the beautiful Zoe, played by Hannah Rose Caton. Born to an enslaved woman of color and a white plantation owner, Zoe’s mixed-race status causes her to be rejected by both white and black society, despite being raised as a lady by her loving father.

“She is pulled from every direction and I think she comes to a realization just how unhappy she’s been,” Caton said.

Zoe finds herself in jeopardy when her father dies and the plantation is put up for auction. Because she is one-eighth black, she is therefore subject to be sold with the estate alongside several slaves.

The plot and dialogue of Jacobs-Jenkins’ play is heavily based on Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama, The Octoroon, which was in turn based on Thomas Mayne’s 1856 novel, The Quadroon. The Octoroon had a long and successful run at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City in spite of its controversial, “anti-slavery” views.

An Octoroon also proved critically popular, winning an Obie Award in 2014 for Best New American Play. In his review for The New York Times, Ben Brantley said An Octoroon “may turn out to be this decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.”

Although considered progressive for its time, Boucicault’s original play traffics dangerous caricatures that haunt people of color to this day. One way Jacobs-Jenkins’ draws attention to the absurdity of these tropes is through An Octoroon’s ironic use of whiteface, blackface and redface.

When deciding what shows to include in the 2018 CTC season, Artistic Director Andrew Borba said he chose An Octoroon specifically to line up with the theme of Chautauqua’s second week: “American Identity.” Borba said the play does not attempt to end racism, but instead ruminates on why and how it persists.

“I think that if we are all willing to embrace the many difficulties surrounding race in America today and our history of difficulties with race in America, we know that there is not a single pat answer,” Borba said. “This play, theatrical, thematically and imaginatively, not only investigates, but explodes those questions and I believe it’s a masterpiece.”

Borba said the play’s complexity may encourage some audience members to return to Bratton for a second viewing.

“One won’t walk away with a complete understanding, but I think the same is true of a Beethoven symphony,” he said. “You can listen to something and appreciate it from the first listen and then hear it again and understand it at a slightly deeper level.”

There will be a talkback following every performance to allow audience members to ask questions and process what they see on stage.

Guest actor Larry Powell plays BJJ, a character modeled after An Octoroon’s playwright, who dons white makeup to play George and M’Closky, the two white men vying to be Zoe’s husband and master, respectively.

Powell was in the audience for one of the play’s first workshops and said he is friends with many members of the original cast. As a fellow playwright, Powell said he admires Jacobs-Jenkins’ refusal to give up on the project, stepping into the roles himself after the original director and two white actors quit. A version of this story is retold in An Octoroon’s prologue.

“I feel like I’m sharing with this community a piece of a very, very wise and vibrant, smart, passionate community in America, which is the black arts community,” Powell said.

CTC conservatory actor Keshav Moodliar also plays multiple roles in An Octoroon and said the play’s dissection of racial intolerance is not limited to slavery. In the play’s third act, a mother begs on the auction block not to be separated from her children. Moodliar said that scene reminds him of the current immigration controversy.

“It is impossible for you to see that and not think about and see all the images you see in the media with these kids,” Moodliar said in reference to the detainment camps on the U.S.-Mexican border. “I was just watching a boy who was brought back with his mother after months and, yeah, it certainly ties in today more than ever.”

Sardelli said that the relevancy of An Octoroon, while unfortunate, comes with an opportunity for audiences to practice empathy.

“We have a wonderful opportunity in our country right now to talk about how we treat somebody we deem to be different than ourselves… we can actually have the conversation we’ve needed to have and commence some tremendous healing,” Sardelli said. “I want everyone to walk out inspired to participate in that conversation and with better tools.”

Classical BOOM – Black Violin brings message of inclusivity to Amp with genre-bending performance


In the summer of 1994, near Fort Lauderdale, two middle school music teachers were playing golf. Wilner “Wil B” Baptiste, a rising seventh-grader at the time, had no idea that the direction of his musical career would be decided by the outcome of the round.

The winner, a strings teacher, would have Baptiste as a student in his two-week summer program, where Baptiste would learn how to play his first notes on viola. Fourteen years later, Baptiste is now one half of Black Violin, the violin and viola duo known for its blend of hip-hop and classical sensibilities.

Baptiste will join the duo’s other half, Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester, at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, June 26, in the Amphitheater as part of Black Violin’s Classical Boom Tour.

Only a few years after that 1994 summer program, Baptiste and Sylvester would meet at the performing arts high school they both attended. After going to separate colleges on full-ride music scholarships, the duo secured the Showtime at the Apollo 2005 Legend title, which helped boost Black Violin’s career to its current height.

The group’s name comes from a 1965 album by legendary jazz violinist Stuff Smith. Smith’s playing was a revelation for Black Violin, and it had a major impact on the group’s sound.

“It was really cool to just kind of hear (Smith) approach a stringed instrument in that way, just relentless, just aggressive. I had never heard someone play like that,” Sylvester said. “So it was very inspiring and it just made us really take our music to the next level and think even further about what was possible.”

Black Violin has toured all over the world and collaborated with major artists like Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Tom Petty and Aerosmith. As the two continue to spread their unique sound, they’re also trying to spread a message of inclusivity centered around music.

“White, black, purple, don’t matter. Young, old, don’t matter, they’re having a good time,” Baptiste said. “And a lot of times, people that are (at our concerts) wouldn’t necessarily be in the same room together.”

That message is personal for Baptiste, who hasn’t found the mainstream classical music world to be very inclusive.

“It definitely changed a lot for me when I got to Florida State,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of people that looked like me — it was just very different, you know, much more snobby-ish type people. It was just very, very different, so I definitely didn’t see myself playing in an orchestra, you know?”

Baptiste and Sylvester are also using their musical platform to dispel the stereotypes that they defy.

“If you see me walking around on the street, man, you would not assume that I’m a violinist,” Sylvester said. “You’re going to assume whatever you see on TV, and you’re not going to assume that I do what I do, you know what I mean?”

So, Sylvester wants people to come to the show, enjoy the music and have a good time — but he also wants listeners to leave having gained something.

“I want you to just go and leave this show, and whenever you see someone that looks like me, you’re not thinking anything,” he said. “You’re just looking at this person as a human being.”

A Voyage of Life : Pianist Gavrylyuk to explore stages of growth through music


These days, pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk is reading Eastern philosophy, Russian acting methodologies and modern musicological research. The connection, for him, is the search for zen in music, which will serve as the theme during his time at Chautauqua this summer.

“In a very honest, sincere performance, there is no ‘performance’ as such,” he said. “There is simply the connection between the divine world created by the composer and the audience.”

It’s that honesty that Gavrylyuk tries to bring to every concert. In his recital at 8:15 p.m. Monday June 25 in the Amphitheater, he will present a carefully selected, thematic program.

“The idea of the program and the choice of works is about awareness of the beauty of human life in different stages of maturity and the awareness of the danger of war, which has today and in the past destroyed beauty in the worst possible way,” he said.

The program will open with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Italian Concerto, described by Gavrylyuk as “an outburst of joy … a purity that can be associated with the unconditional zen of life and universe.”

In the context of the program, he said, it represents the purity and innocence of new birth.

Gavrylyuk said after new birth comes adolescence and youthful love, represented by Frederic Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major, op. 38. To close the first half, Gavrylyuk will perform Franz Liszt’s Dante Sonata, providing the first taste of darker and more mature themes.

“It’s kind of the Adam’s apple of the program,” he said. “It represents the discovery of the depths of hell, but also the heights of heaven and enlightenment. It’s kind of the center of the program concept, dividing the innocent and the sinful.”

After intermission, Gavrylyuk will perform a series of Rachmaninoff’s famous preludes. For Gavrylyuk, those works are filled with a universal strength and wisdom in the face of strife and despair.

“He’s always looking for resolution — for these joyful, glorious climaxes that kind of defeat the darker side,” he said.

In a perfect world, victory over strife and despair might be the end of the program. But Gavrylyuk has chosen to close the concert with Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7, the second of the composer’s three War Sonatas, all written in World War II under Stalin’s Soviet Union.

“This piece at the end of the program is an example of how all of the above can be brutally destroyed,” he said. “The third (and final) movement is sort of the counter-attack against the aggressors of evil in the most bombastic victory, leaving us with hope not to repeat such horrible mistakes and horrors.”

This recital marks Gavrylyuk’s 13th consecutive summer performing at Chautauqua Institution. When he arrived on the grounds for the first time, 13 summers ago, he was in awe.

“I had never been to a place like that in my life, and I was so impressed by the energy, by the atmosphere, by the concept,” he said. “It was a completely new revelation for me. It was the beginning of a very strong and valuable relationship for me.”

But the pianist didn’t stop to enjoy that atmosphere — he had work to do.

“I came to Chautauqua and I was a little bit nervous because of my program, so I went straight to practice as soon as I arrived,” he said.

That work ethic has paid off for him. Gavrylyuk now enjoys a career as one of the world’s foremost concert pianists, performing recitals and concerti to sold out audiences at classical music’s most prestigious venues.

On that first visit, he was just 22 years old. Now, at 34, he’s a different man in large part, he said, because he’s now the father of two girls.

“When one has children, one stops living for oneself and starts living for more important things,” Gavrylyuk said. “That’s a nice mentality change for a musician because one is able to have a wider horizon of vision in music. It expands how much you can allow the music to give to the audience.”

John Irving and Pamela Paul to open for Week One with conversation on writing process


John Irving is certainly familiar with the written word — but he’s trading the pen for the lectern.

Irving, joined by writer and The New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, will open the 2018 morning lecture series at 10:45 a.m. Monday, June 25, in the Amphitheater with a conversation about “The Life of the Written Word.”

“The conservation will likely be about my process as a writer, both as a novelist and as a screenwriter,” Irving said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Irving’s first work, Setting Free the Bear. Since then, his 14 novels have earned literary — and motion picture — accolades.

His 1978 international best-seller, The World According to Garp, received a National Book Award and became an Academy Award-nominated film featuring the late Robin Williams. Irving’s sixth novel, The Cider House Rules, took to the screen and in 2000 won Irving the Oscar for the Best Adapted Screenplay.

An accomplished author and former correspondent for The Economist, Paul is also keen on the written word and will accompany Paul during today’s lecture.

“The life of the written word is everything,” she said.

Her five books range from investigations into the “baby business” in Parenting, Inc., matrimony in The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, and pornography, to a memoir about her relationship with literature titled My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. The two writers share similar expectations for their conversation.

Paul said she hopes to discuss how Irving’s reading relates to his writing and how his themes have evolved over time.

“It would be interesting to talk about his trajectory and the themes that he’s gone back to and returned to and the ways in which his novels have often changed overtime. I always think it’s interesting to talk to writers who don’t have one, or two, or five books under their belt, but a dozen.”

Pamela Paul, writer and editor, The New York Times Book Review

Although his writing features contemporary motifs — like sexual politics in In One Person and A Widow for One Year, to war in A Prayer for Owen Meany — Irving said he draws inspiration from early 19th-century novels.

“Dickens was the novelist who made me want to be one,” he said. “Melville was the writer who showed me how to end a novel.”

The influence of such writers is rejected in his “ending-driven” novels, Irving said, a point that Paul reiterated.

“Irving is a writer that has a lot of admiration for the great writers of the 19th century,” Paul said. “I think that is something he is conscious of — sort of continuing certain traditions and being a writer that people return to.”

This is Irving’s first visit to Chautauqua Institution, and he hopes the audience is, at the least, entertained by his conversation.

“I don’t want to burden the audience with my expectations,” he said. “I hope they’ll be entertained. Despite the worst-case scenarios, I am a comic novelist.”

Paul is no stranger to the Institution — this is her second time on the Amp stage. In 2016, she joined then-editor-in- chief of The Paris Review Lorin Stein and editor of The Kenyon Review David Lynn in a panel led by author Roger Rosenblatt about technology’s impact on literature. She also hopes the audience finds value from their conversation.

“I want to inform, enlighten and entertain,” Paul said. “If I could do even one of those that would be great; if I could do all three, that’s great, too.”

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