CSO, under Milanov’s baton, returns for sweeping start to ‘22


After a year of virtual-only performances in 2020, and a shorter schedule with smaller groups of musicians in 2021, summer 2022 represents a full return to the Chautauqua Institution’s largest stage for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra — and it all begins tonight.

Under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov, now in his eighth season at the helm of the orchestra, the CSO will kick off their summer at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, with a program that is both timely and sweeping but, most of all, joyful.

“This celebratory opening of the CSO is particularly joyful as we return to a full season of soloists and repertoire selected to inspire, comfort, engage, introduce, challenge and most importantly — to gather us together to listen and enjoy in a shared space,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief programming officer. 

The evening, and the CSO’s 2022 season, opens with the National Anthem, composed by John Stafford Smith and arranged by Walter Damrosch. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” penned first in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, was officially made the anthem in 1931; but it was President Woodrow Wilson’s U.S. Bureau of Education that tasked a small group of musicians, Damrosch among them, to agree upon a standardized version and official designation. Even earlier, it was one of Key’s relatives who realized the cadence of the poet’s stanzas fit the melody of an already-popular tune from the late 1700s: Smith’s “The Anacreontic Song.”

The composition the CSO will play tonight draws on all of these sources. Immediately following the playing of the National Anthem, those sources feed into yet another, with composer Jessie Montgomery’s 2014 work “Banner,” which is a tribute to both “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the Black National Anthem: “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson. The two songs share the same phrase structure, Montgomery has noted.

It’s a program coupling Milanov is eager for Chautauqua to experience.

“I’m so much looking forward to the drumroll of the National Anthem,” Milanov said, and then noted the shift the program represents. “Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Banner’ reimagines ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ by infusing it with multi-cultural elements that pretty much mirror the rich tapestry of cultures in present-day America.”

Montgomery is an acclaimed composer and violinist, whose honors include the ASCAP Foundation Leonard Bernstein Award and the Sphinx Organization’s Medal of Excellence. 

Long affiliated with frequent Chautauqua program collaborator, The Sphinx Organization, Montgomery served as composer-in-residence for the organization’s touring ensemble, the Sphinx Virtuosi. 

In 2009, she was commissioned by the Providence String Quartet and Community MusicWorks to write “Anthem,” to mark the 200th anniversary of Key’s poem, and as a tribute to President Barack Obama’s election. That work is among numerous other commissions, and Montgomery told Cincinnati Public Radio — following the 2022 Cincinnati May Festival, where another piece, “I Have Something to Say,” was performed — that her booked schedule “represents an overall interest and investment in American music, and what young American composers have to offer.”

Following “Banner,” the CSO’s evening concludes with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, which Milanov called a “defiant” work that is “patriotic and triumphant.”

“It’s a fitting opening, displaying the power, virtuosity, and emotional depth of our orchestra,” he said.

In a later addition to the evening’s program, the CSO will perform Edward Elgar’s Nimrod Variation, in honor of several CSO musicians who have passed in the last year, including percussionist Ron Barnett, who was with the CSO for 56 years; Fred Boyd, tuba player of 35 years; clarinetist Ray Schroeder, whose tenure was 44 years; Marie Shmorhun, cellist for 49 years; and Chaim Zemach, cellist of 44 years. 

Milanov said the CSO can’t wait to share a full schedule of “meaningful musical experiences” with Chautauqua this summer. 

As it prepares to open its summer season, Moore had one wish for both the orchestra, and Chautauqua.

“May this opening night,” she said, “begin a season of orchestral music that makes our lives more complete and more beautiful.”

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest critic: CSO Diversity Fellows, wind section deliver ‘chamber music of the highest order’



Above left, 2021 Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Diversity Fellows open the show by performing Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum” Tuesday in the Amphitheater. Above right, Music Director Rossen Milanov conducts the winds section of the CSO during Mozart’s Wind Serenade in C minor Tuesday in the Amp. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

​​By no definition does the Amphitheater qualify as a chamber. Indeed, it’s the opposite of small.

Tuesday night, however, thanks to a few talented members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the grand old gathering place served quite admirably as a venue for chamber music.

Not just any chamber music, either. Chamber music of the highest order. No matter that the Amp has no walls and a soaring roof. Playing works by Mozart, Strauss and Jessie Montgomery, the artists convinced a crowd they were the king’s band and the Amp was an intimate drawing room at the royal palace.

For a listener accustomed to hearing the full CSO, the evening amounted to a real treat. The orchestra is unquestionably an impressive force, but here was a chance to hear just the woodwinds and horns in their individual and collective glory.

They did not disappoint. Mozart and Strauss present no small challenges, but the CSO players hurdled them all with remarkable grace and sophistication. Music Director Rossen Milanov played a vital role, but in the moment, the conductor all but disappeared into readings that were organic and profoundly collaborative.

Mozart’s Wind Serenade K. 388 was a model of classical virtue. The CSO nonet struck and maintained a perfect blend and balance, and the playing was never anything less than pristinely articulate.

But this wasn’t some dry technical display. This was an insightful, expressive and often refreshingly playful reading, the sort of genuinely animated performance Mozart or any composer of the era would have loved.

One has to think Strauss, too, would have been pleased. The account of his Suite Op. 4 offered by 13 members of the CSO Tuesday was right on the Straussian money, a performance that boasted all of what distinguished the Mozart along with even richer textures, dramatic pacing and bolder virtuosity.

Above left, 2021 Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Diversity Fellows open the show by performing Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum” Tuesday in the Amphitheater. Above right, Music Director Rossen Milanov conducts the winds section of the CSO during Mozart’s Wind Serenade in C minor Tuesday in the Amp. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Time and again, the artists under Milanov proved their Strauss bona fides. The fugal finale was a marvel of clarity and insight, but across the work, the group’s pacing was flexible, its dramatic sense keen. In its playing was real warmth and marvelous color, and while every member had flattering moments in the sun, the horns in particular came off in especially regal, golden light.

That would have been enough to send listeners home happy. The late addition of Montgomery’s “Strum,” however, made the program only slightly longer but significantly more rewarding.

Woodwinds, of course, can’t strum. No, this was a piece for strings, specifically the CSO’s 2021 Diversity Fellows: violinists Yan Izquierdo and Scott Jackson; violist Edna Pierce, cellist Maximiliano Oppeltz; and bassist Amy Nickler.

In this short but highly effective single movement clearly penned by a string player, the five artists took turns offering crisp pizzicato support while the others passed around bustling, folk-style melodies. Out of a few simple ideas, they made a lively, joyous occasion.

The performance was outstanding, the last measure or two a dapper retort, but the true star of this particular show was the composer. Montgomery is already quite accomplished, but if there’s any justice in the musical world, she’s still going places far beyond Chautauqua and the Amphitheater.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With CSO, Chautauqua Opera closes out season with annual Opera & Pops concert



At top, from left, Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artists Chasiti Lashay, Kelly Guerra, Yazid Gray, Micheal Colman and Jared V. Esguerra perform at the Opera Sing In on June 24 in the Performance Pavilion on Pratt. Above, Pricipal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra during the Opera Pops concert Aug. 3, 2019, in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER & DAVE MUNCH / DAILY FILE PHOTO

After a week of traditions celebrating 147 years of Chautauqua, it’s now time to celebrate the Chautauqua Opera Company in its final performance of the season. The 2021 Young Artists will be the stars of the show alongside the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Chautauqua’s Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz for Opera & Pops at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7 in the Amphitheater. 

This year’s performance is unique — the program features both traditional opera pieces and contemporary pop works from musical theater. 

“This time we’re featuring some arias from Puccini, some Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Mozart — which is unusual, because there used to be an opera highlights concert, which would feature just traditional opera, and then they would do an Opera Pops concert later on in the summer,” Chafetz said. “This year, with the situation, we’re kind of combining the two and seeing how that format works.”

The concert’s title, “We are different, we are one,” is taken from the duet between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia in Scalia/Ginsburg, the star show of Chautauqua’s Opera’s program this summer. Carol Rausch, the music administrator and choral master for Chautauqua Opera, always tries to match the concert’s theme with the theme of the week’s programming.

“Whether it’s challenging or not, I really love … chiming in with the larger picture of what’s going on at the Institution so that the Opera Company is part of it,” Rausch said.

Saturday’s performance is an opportunity not just for the community to experience the talent of Chautauqua Opera, but for the Young Artists participating to open new doors.

“I’m always blown away by the talent and by the team over at the (Jane A. Gross) Opera Center, because they’re magnificent and really wonderful collaborators,” Chafetz said. “It’s always tons of fun, and I really enjoy it because very often, I will hear someone from the program and actually use them for some of my own programs around the country.”

The chance for the Young Artists to perform with the CSO is something that doesn’t come around often. 

“I’ve had a lot of singers that I work with in the pop world that say it’s so amazing to have that sound of the full orchestra, rather than just piano accompaniment or just several people in the pit,” Chafetz said. “And honestly, the opera program is sensational. Everybody over there is so talented. I mean they all have a skill set that they bring to the table. There’s a great spirit over there, so it’s really cool to bring it all together with the symphonic, pop and opera sounds.”

Michael Colman, one of the Young Artists in Chautauqua Opera, is ecstatic to be performing in front of a live orchestra in the Amp.

“When you get to sing on stage with a full orchestra, there is not another feeling like that,” Colman said. “Especially in the Amphitheater, where you’re just standing in front of hundreds of people performing. If you love opera, you’ll be happy. If you love musical theater, you’ll be happy. It’s going to be great.”

Courtesy of Diction Coach Allison Voth, there will be supertitles for all foreign language selections on the program. 

Rausch believes that in a time as polarizing as the one that Chautauqua finds itself in, this Opera & Pops concert will be the perfect way to connect Chautauquans.

“Music soothes the savage beast,” Rausch said. “There is a power in music, I think, to communicate in a way that no other art form can. I think it can draw people together. People (may) have warring ideologies, but might have the (same) piece of music that they love.”

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.”

Guest critic: With Stafford at Massey, CSO delivers ‘illuminating’ evening of Guilmant, Dvořák



Under the baton of music director Rossen Milanov, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist Joshua Stafford team up for a performance Saturday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Patrons of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra got their money’s worth Saturday night in the Amphitheater. Between two large works for full orchestra on the program, they heard almost every regular member of the ensemble, and then some.

Happily, everything was worth hearing. Indeed, with music director Rossen Milanov on the podium, and a stellar guest soloist, both the program and the performances were illuminating, and the evening proved distinctly, even uncommonly satisfying.

Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony No. 9 is a welcome presence under any circumstance and certainly was so Saturday. But the main attraction on this occasion was the Organ Symphony No. 2 by Alexandre Guilmant, a French composer and organist active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Unlike comparable works by his more famous peers and predecessors, Guilmant’s symphony from 1911 utilizes the organ less as a soloist than as an integral member of a large orchestra. The instrument features prominently, to be sure, but also plays supporting and textural roles.

Milanov was the artist in charge, but the star of this half was organist Joshua Stafford. Seated stage left at the Massey Memorial Organ console, he delivered an assured, colorful performance that was poetic and stirring in equal measure.

The score, to be fair, isn’t a work of staggering genius. It does, however, have much to recommend it, including numerous and brilliant passages of counterpoint, and Stafford and the CSO made the most of every opportunity.

The opening movement, in their hands, was bold and sumptuous, an entrance to remember. The second and fourth, by contrast, saw Stafford in a more reflective, lyrical light, playing alone or corresponding intimately with various woodwinds in fine form.

Stafford joins the CSO for a performance of Alexandre Guilmant’s Organ Symphony No. 2 on Saturday in the Amp. The evening’s program also included Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony No. 9. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Still, the highlight, for this listener, was the finale, marked “Intermede et allegro con brio.” A spicy, fast-paced showpiece for orchestra and organ alike, it was the symphonic equivalent of the thrilling church postlude one simply can’t walk out on.

Staggering genius, of course, is everywhere present in Dvořák’s “New World.” A marvel of musical construction and cultural appropriation, it ranks among the greatest works of its kind in existence.

The performance Saturday, like the Guilmant symphony, had much to recommend it. The third movement may have been too consistently slow for the music’s varied character, but the rest of the account by Milanov and the CSO was Dvořák of the most thoughtful, potent sort.

Time and again, Milanov resisted flashy tempos, opting instead for substance. The result, largely, was a considered, spacious reading that packed enormous drama but also allowed orchestra and listeners alike to savor every harmony and phrase.

This paid enormous dividends, not only in the famous slow movement, but also in the first and last movements. Here, refreshingly, there was ample time to relish the gleam of the strings, the pristine articulation of the woodwinds, and the consonant vigor of the brass, all the way through the last measure.

And oh, what a slow movement. Voicing one of the most beloved melodies in all of classical music, the CSO’s Anna Mattix on English horn was a model of resonant, expressive playing, and the support she received from Milanov and the CSO was as tender and radiant as can be. Talk about the price of admission. This alone was worth it.

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

CSO to perform special Sunday concert with Montgomery’s ‘Strum,’ beloved Beethoven



Rossen Milanov conducts as the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs with the Music School Festival Orchestra July 15 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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

“I know a lot of orchestras have been playing Montgomery for the last few years, but I personally haven’t played it,” said Liana Kirvan, CSO violinist. “My husband’s a cellist and just performed the ‘Strum’ piece in a string quartet, and I got to hear it. I’m really looking forward to playing it. It’s got classical elements, modern elements, awesome rhythm and amazing melodies. It’s something I think the audience will really enjoy.”

Being able to feature Montgomery on Sunday’s program is special, Kirvan said, as female composers are at times overlooked. 

“I’m very glad that more women composers are being performed,” Kirvan said. “(They) are not as often played, and I think that this should and will be changed in the near future with composers like Montgomery,” Kirvan said. “The work we’re hearing from women composers is fantastic. It’s a great thing that we’re featuring a modern female composer next to a Beethoven symphony.”

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

“At one time, all the pieces we play were new,” Lieberman said. “Every piece that we came across was new at one point, and this happens to be a very nice piece.”

Beethoven’s First Symphony is part of the more classical repertoire that the audience is already familiar with. Many of the musicians have performed this particular symphony many times in the past. However, each performance, with a different conductor and a different setting, makes each time unique in its own way.

“It’s always a new thing to play a Beethoven symphony with a different conductor, because it’s all about their interpretation and their way of making us play a melody that we may have played a thousand times,” Kirvan said. “When you see somebody that has great knowledge about the composer’s life and they transfer how they want to the musician to play it, I feel like I’m playing a Beethoven symphony for the first time every time I play it. The Symphony No. 1 itself is also just a masterpiece.”

The four-movement symphony showcases Beethoven’s early musical experimentation, as well as the influences of Haydn and Mozart. It is a departure from traditional symphonic style, especially in the third movement. There’s also a heavy emphasis on the wind section.

“Beethoven was a key figure in bringing music into the Romantic era, mostly because he was not afraid to break the ‘rules.’ The standard symphony always established the key at the beginning,” Lieberman said. “This symphony is in the key of C, and it’s only in the 13th measure that this is established. It’s a very dramatic departure.”

This symphony allowed Beethoven to introduce himself and his work in a bold manner that left an everlasting impact. It’s been performed countless times all over the world, and the musicians discover something new with the piece each time.

“You can imagine any kind of play performed by different actors giving the same speech or monologue,” said Amanda Gates, first violinist. “The dialogue is the same, but what they bring to it is different. The inflection is slightly different, so as a listener, you’ll be able to hear a different take on what Beethoven had to say as a performer. With a different conductor, we get to hear a different interpretation. One of the best aspects of being an orchestral musician is revisiting these great works, which are just like the great novels of literature, but finding something new every time.”

Sunday’s concert is an opportunity for everyone to hear a more contemporary piece juxtaposed with a classical masterpiece. 

“I think it’s very important that we reach the community and that we give concerts earlier in the day,” said Vahn Armstrong, violinist. “Not everyone is able to come to an 8:15 p.m. concert because it’s pretty late, so I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for those people to bring their families and be able to see us.”

Organist Joshua Stafford to perform as soloist in Guilmant Symphony No. 2 for Saturday’s CSO



Joshua Stafford, the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, makes his official debut with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Installed in 1907, Chautauqua’s Massey Memorial Organ has stood at the heart of the community for over a century now. This weekend, it will be the star of the show as director of sacred music Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, officially performs with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the first time at 8:15 pm. Saturday in the Amphitheater. 

The organ itself is such an integral part of the community, and its rich sounds have the ability to fill the Amp like no other instrument. However, Saturday’s sounds will be an entirely different experience as Stafford performs Felix-Alexandre Guilmant’s Symphony No. 2, Op. 91 as a soloist with the CSO. The CSO will also perform Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, “From the New World.”

“Most of (the organ’s) original pipework is intact, despite having been rebuilt three times. What’s special about it is there’s a variety of color, especially in the foundation tones that you don’t hear in many American organs,” Stafford said. “Especially with the orchestra, it’s going to be particularly beautiful in the way it’s able to move in and out of the orchestral sound; … it’s all the color that this organ has to offer, and also the way that a 1907 instrument is able to fill a building like this is really incredible.”

The Massey, alongside the orchestra, will offer a rich sound that will travel effortlessly throughout the entire Amp. 

“Blending an organ with an orchestra is actually really nice, because it’s an instrument that stands up really well on its own, to the full strength of an orchestra,” said Karl Pedersen, violist. “I think everybody’s really excited to get it up and cranking and see what it’s really capable of.”

Stafford is excited for this opportunity to showcase his talents alongside the CSO on such a historic and significant instrument.

“As an organist, we are so often just soloists. We’re doing our own thing,” Stafford said. “I love orchestral music, but so rarely get to participate in it, so it’s nice to be part of the group for once. I think the Massey Organ, to a lot of people, is really a central part of Chautauqua. The Amphitheater is the heart of Chautauqua, and the Massey is the center of the Amphitheater. So, even if people don’t hear the organ every day, they see the Massey every day, and it’s such an important part of Chautauqua life.”

Saturday’s collaboration is also the beginning of a musical future for Stafford and the CSO.

“Josh is in his official first year as an organist in Chautauqua, and because he has such a prominent role in the religious component of the Institution, I thought it would be very important for us to also include him in our CSO concert as a soloist,” said Rossen Milanov, music director and conductor. “It’s the first time that I will be collaborating with Josh, so I’m looking forward to getting to know him better musically and establishing that musical connection.”

The performance also holds personal sentiment for both Milanov and Stafford. 

“I’ve personally worked extensively with organ soloists and organ music throughout my career, including several CDs that I’ve released with the Wanamaker Organ of Philadelphia, which is the biggest instrument in the world,” Milanov said. “So I know a lot of the repertoire, and I always enjoy collaborating with organ players, so there’s a personal note.”

Stafford himself has always admired this aspect of Milanov’s musical career. 

“I’m especially looking forward to working with Rossen,” Stafford said. “Some of my organ friends I know say he’s one of the best conductors for organists. Rossen actually conducted what I think was my favorite concert I ever went to in my life, which was at Macy’s in Philadelphia. It just blew me away.”

Stafford and the CSO will open Saturday’s performance with Guilmant’s Organ Symphony No. 2. This piece was originally written as an organ sonata that Guilmant later rearranged for both organ and orchestra. This piece is the perfect blending of the organ with the orchestra as the two sounds weave in and out of each other. 

“I think one of the best moments is the first organ entrance of the piece,” Stafford said. “You’ll feel it more than you’ll hear it, which I think is going to be really great. It goes from that sort of quiet rumble, and then it builds and builds and gradually you’ll hear the organ start to fill out through the orchestra, occasionally overtake it, and then it’s that play back and forth, that’s really fun. Then there are also some really beautiful, quiet moments of organ solo, where you can hear the great colors of the Massey.”

This specific piece pairs the sounds of the organ with the orchestra, while simultaneously allowing it to become the center of attention at times.

“There are extensive parts for the organ, but there is also a very important part for the orchestra. And so it’s an interesting kind of a distribution of what the organ does,” Milanov said. “In some movements, the organ takes the biggest weight musically and in some of the other movements it’s exclusively just the orchestra. There are a lot of possibilities that present themselves in the hands of a good composer to see exactly what kind of collaboration could exist between the organ and orchestra. And in this case, there will be so many different solutions that I think would be very interesting for the audience to even try to distinguish sometimes when the orchestra’s playing and when the organ is.”

The concert will then close with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, “From the New World.” This piece is incredibly well known — Neil Armstrong even took a recording of the symphony to space for the first moon landing in 1969. Often described as being one of the best known symphonies, this four-movement piece has become a symbol of “American” music.

“One of the advantages that we have this summer is to showcase how many different musical formations Dvořák composed,” Milanov said. “We already heard in this (season) both his wind serenade and his string serenade, and now we are going to do something utilizing the entire symphony orchestra. This symphony is interesting, not only because it’s one of the most popular works in the repertoire, but because it was composed here in the United States. The second movement is pretty much inspired by what would later be considered sort of the first examples of Americana in classical music. I think this work, even though written by a Czech composer, stands very high on the pedestal of symphonic works and is deservingly popular among the audiences.”

Milanov said Saturday’s performance is an opportunity for the community to experience the full sound of the CSO. 

“We will start featuring larger and larger works for the orchestra as we move toward the end of our residency,” he said. “In my opinion, this is very close to what Chautauquans remember from previous seasons.”

Guest critic: With ‘bridge-builder’ Măcelaru, CSO shines light on Dvořák’s ‘Legends’



The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs with guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru Wednesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

At first glance, there might not have seemed anything terribly remarkable about the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s program Wednesday night at the Amphitheater. Just another evening of Beethoven and Dvořák.

But looks, especially glancing ones, can be deceiving. With acclaimed conductor Cristian Măcelaru, music director of the Orchestre National de France, on the podium, the staid slate of two great composers was anything but dull. Indeed, in some ways, it was revelatory.

Perhaps most rewarding were the lines of connection drawn between two titans of classical music. That Beethoven influenced Dvořák is well known. Wednesday, though, proof of that lineage was laid uncommonly plain, in a manner all could hear.

Why Dvořák’s “Legends” aren’t played more often, and in fact received their premieres at Chautauqua Wednesday, is something of a mystery. The seven pieces (the original cycle consists of 10 pieces for piano duo) Măcelaru presented – Nos. 1-5, 8 and 10 – were veritable gems, brief scenes teeming with melody, drama and regal flair. Each one could have been the seed for a symphony or some other, much longer work.

At least they received the treatment they deserve. Măcelaru and the CSO, bound by a clear chemistry, identified the essence of each piece and then set about relaying it with exquisite grace and flexibility. The strings rose brilliantly to every diverse occasion and the horns repeatedly proved a golden, harmonious force.

But the genius of the evening rested in those ties to Beethoven. Throughout the Dvořák, one couldn’t help but hear similarities and even echoes of the older master, as if the one had been somehow on the mind of the other. Even had the program ended there, the link would have been edifying.  

But the program did not end there, of course. As if to balance the equation, Măcelaru also programmed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, a work that for many represents the pinnacle of the canon and unarguably contains some of the composer’s most characteristic pages.

The performance itself was a joy. A vivid but not overbearing presence, Măcelaru coaxed from the CSO a reading that skewed exciting but never veered radical or strayed far from tradition. Here was a conductor who insisted on shapely phrasing, demanded crisp enunciation, and took matters of dynamics seriously.

He may have been guilty, in the fourth movement, of pushing the pace beyond the articulate limit, but everywhere else, his choices struck this listener as not only reasonable but spot-on. The zeal of the orchestra in the first movement was palpable, not to mention infectious, and the account it gave of the famous Allegretto second movement was as propulsive, sleek and profound as any in recent memory, thanks in no small part to the CSO’s stellar winds.

It’s telling that in addition to leading orchestras in Europe, Măcelaru also presides over the Cabrillo Festival, a leading celebration of contemporary music. Not every conductor is comfortable in such different realms. Judging by his performance Wednesday, however, Măcelaru is a musical bridge-builder, and clearly knows how to make any venue and any repertoire feel like home.

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

Award-winning conductor Măcelaru returns for CSO performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony



The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra string section, conducted by Music School Festival Orchestra Music Director Timothy Muffitt, performs last Thursday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, now well into its highly anticipated season, is playing a jam-packed week filled with pieces both new and old. Starting this week off, guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru will lead the CSO at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 in the Amphitheater.

Măcelaru has solidified himself as a well-known and well-respected conductor, and in January 2020, he won his first Grammy Award. Măcelaru has also won several other awards, including the Solti Emerging Conductor Award and the Solti Conducting Award. Before his current position as the chief conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester, Măcelaru conducted all over the world with some of the world’s best orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and National Symphony Orchestra.

“The orchestra enjoys his precision in conducting and his approach to colors and sound,” said Marian Tanau, CSO violinist. “We actually went to the same music school in Romania. He was a terrific violinist first and then became a conductor. His career took off, especially lately when he got appointed in Cologne.”

The CSO musicians are excited to work with Măcelaru.

“The way he conducts, it’s spontaneous. It’s not like it’s preconceived ­— he’s just in the moment, and with whatever’s happening at the time,” said Cynthia Frank, violist.

The program tonight starts off with Dvořák’s Selections from Legends, B. 122, Op. 59. After this piece, there will be a short intermission and the concert will then end on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.

The Selections from Legends is a collection of 10 pieces that Dvořák originally wrote as a piano duet in early 1881 that he later rearranged for the orchestra. The pieces themselves don’t really have a story, but “it seems to be telling some sort of story because it’s so narrative,” said Karen Lord-Powell, CSO violinist. 

The CSO will be performing seven out of the 10 pieces for tonight’s performance. The CSO frequently performs pieces by Dvořák, and the musicians enjoy playing the composer’s melodies. However, tonight will be the first time Legends is played on the Amp stage and the first time being performed overall for many of the musicians. 

“I think I’m excited to play the new piece because it satisfies my curiosity as an artist,” Tanau said. “It also has such a beautiful variety with the typical beautiful tunes of Dvořák.”

The piece itself is also technically challenging for the musicians, given that it was originally written as a piano duet.

“We only have four fingers as string players, so there’s quite a few passages that I had to think hard about for practical fingerings. I realized I needed a fifth finger. But it was really fun, because I love playing more difficult pieces,” said Olga Kaler, first violinist. “I’m sure everyone is thrilled to have a fresh piece by one of our usual favorites. It’s amazing no matter how you look at it.”

The Beethoven symphony itself is a grand piece that is recognized by both non-musicians and musicians alike. Even at its premiere, Beethoven apparently remarked that it was one of his best works. Beethoven composed this piece around 1811 when Napoleon was at war with Russia. This turmoil can be heard throughout this highly emotional piece. 

“The (Seventh) Symphony is just huge,” said concertmaster Vahn Armstrong. “I actually think of (Beethoven) as the first rock ‘n’ roll composer. He’s got all this heavy backbeat and the last movement of the piece is the perfect example of that.”

The piece takes the audience through a sequence of emotions, from hopefulness to sadness.

“Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is one of my favorite pieces. It has this sort of hope in the first movement with then a sadder march in the second. It’s just really beautiful and one of my favorite symphonies in the world,” Tanau said. “The first movement starts with scales that keep going up. When you play it, you feel like you’re walking up to the sky. It’s just an amazing feeling of raising your spirit. The second movement is actually really sad but the last movement is then full of hope and joy again. I think it translates to our story and COVID-19.”

The Seventh Symphony also has a deeper meaning to several members of the CSO themselves. Through this piece, each musician is able to tell their own stories. 

“Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is always everyone’s favorite and it’s going to be spectacular,” Kaler said. “It happened to be the very first Beethoven symphony that I’ve played in my life. At that time I thought I wanted to be a solo artist, but this piece made me want to commit my life to a symphony orchestra. It was like fireworks, being part of something so grand, yet so intimate. It has every sort of emotional state in it. I love all Beethoven symphonies, but combined with my personal history, I’m beyond excited to revisit this.”

For others, this piece is a reminder of those lost. 

“I actually have a little bit of a Chautauqua connection with Beethoven’s Seventh,” Armstrong said. “The second movement is kind of a funeral march, and one of the first times I played that symphony was when I first came to Chautauqua. I remember playing with my stand partner at that time: Gerald Jarvis, who was the concertmaster here when I first came. He was terminally ill and had lung cancer. So whenever I play that piece, I think of Jerry. He was a wonderful colleague.”

The piece includes such high energy in other movements that the musicians can give their all — and have some fun on the stage as well. 

“They all work together but each has a different character,” Lord-Powell said. “The second violins add a lot of texture when we’re filling out lines with a lot of sixteenth notes. I have a lot of fun doing it, because most conductors don’t mind if we play as loud as we can — because these textures are needed.”

Tonight’s performance is “a big concert, because of the conductor and the bigger program with vigorous instrumentation,” Frank said.

“This is the heart of our season,” Lord-Powell said. “This week is at the heart of our repertoire.”

A Tale as Old as Time: CSO to perform Oscar-winning ‘Beauty & the Beast’ score in live-to-film event



Illustration by Olivia Dutkewych/DESIGN EDITOR

It’s a tale as old as time, true as it can be — and its music will fill the Amphitheater this weekend as the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs the Oscar-winning score to the beloved 1991 Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast.” At 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Amp, Chautauquans are invited to be the CSO’s guests as the film plays on the big screen, accompanied by live music.

Saturday’s performance is the last chance this season to experience a live-to-film concert by the CSO, and it’s something that all generations can come together to experience. Classic Disney movies like “Beauty and the Beast” have been around for decades, and now the community gets to experience the film in an entirely new way.

“In terms of the Disney stuff, I think it’s just a lot of fun for people to hear a performance live of something that they’ve heard through their TV set for a long time, and I think that there’s just a little bit of a thrill associated with that,” said Jeffrey Robinson, CSO bassoon player.

Like the showing of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” last Saturday, the musicians face the same challenge of playing a concert alongside a movie. The musicians must keep up with each beat with the use of a clicktrack. 

“This one isn’t one of the most difficult in the movie concert genre,” said Simon Lapointe, second violinist. “It’s a little more relaxed when it comes to technical things, but no matter what, it’s challenging — because it’s performed live (when) it wasn’t originally written to be performed like that.”

Another challenge that the CSO faces Saturday is the fact that the music is already so well known — the film won two Oscars for its score and was nominated for four more — so any potential mistakes will be easily recognizable.

“The good news is that this particular score was further along into the live-to-film productions,” said Stuart Chafetz, principal pops conductor. “This one was a little later (than ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’). And you could see the improvements of just how it’s done technically. So, for me the information is a little bit more solid. But my goal is to make sure that people forget that the symphony is even playing because it’s so locked in with the movie.”

However, with the score itself a bit more relaxed, Saturday’s experience will not only be fun for the audience but for the musicians as well.

“The whole movie is really wonderful. What makes it especially fun is that it’s very familiar, so when you get to do that familiar moment, it just brings more of the joy of the movie to me,” said Daryl Goldberg, cellist. 

Eva Stern, violist, said live-to-film concerts have a fun, upbeat vibe about them.

“I get the sense from the audience that people are really excited for that kind of an experience, because it’s a bit of a unique experience to be able to see a movie with a live orchestra backing it,” she said. 

The performance also gives the audience a chance to engage and sing along to some of Disney’s most iconic songs. 

“This happens to be a particular favorite of mine. I love this movie and I love the music in it,” said Leslie Linn, trumpeter. “One of my favorite songs is the Gaston song. It’s just funny with him just being stuck on himself, and it pokes fun at him through the singing.”

The performance is also a perfect way for families to have fun and make memories together.

“This is exactly what I feel like my job as principal pops conductor is. It’s all about bringing multiple generations together to enjoy a show together,” Chafetz said. “This is the perfect example of a perfect Saturday night with the family, watching a Disney classic with a live symphony orchestra. I feel so fortunate to be able to be the conduit to be able to present this fantastic film.”

This joint experience is one for the musicians themselves as well, as many of their children grew up with the movie.

“This (film) came later in my life, so I would tie this into my kids,” Linn said. “They’re coming to the movie, and it’s going to be fun playing this for them because they got to watch this as little kids. It’ll be a whole family affair tonight. But I know the movie well enough, and most of us do. Even without seeing the screen, I know what’s happening, so I can invest that in my playing. Just to play the original music in the original context is quite brilliant.”

The experience is also a great way for kids to appreciate the beauty of live music as well. 

“Orchestras are doing a little bit more of this, and I think it’s a great way to introduce kids,” Robinson said. “I think it helps to let them know that going to just hear the orchestra can be fun too. But I think the initial step is, ‘We’re going to go and see this movie we already know we’d like, and here’s some live orchestra music at the same time.’ ”

Serenaded by Strings — Under Muffitt’s baton, CSO string section takes stage



The crowd stands during the National Anthem as Rossen Milanov conducts the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on July 10 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Following a concert that spotlighted the winds of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, it’s now the strings’ time to shine at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 22 in the Amphitheater. The CSO has never done separate concerts for the string and wind sections before, but from COVID-19 regulations came an opportunity to showcase individual sections. And tonight, the CSO string section will be led by music director and conductor of the Music School Festival Orchestra, Timothy Muffitt. 

“It’s kind of exciting because the sound of just strings is unique,” said Erica Robinson, CSO violinist. “I think COVID-19 has brought up the opportunity to look at different ways to present the orchestra.”

Tonight’s performance is an opportunity for the audience to experience everything the string section has to offer in a different way. 

“I think it’s a different sound experience — just hearing the strings and our sound will fill up the Amphitheater. It’ll just be really beautiful with the lush sound of the strings,” said Barbara Berg, CSO violinist. “It’s a different experience than the winds, who are all expert artists and musicians, but it’s a different sound experience.”

Tonight’s program includes pieces that will allow the musicians of the string section to demonstrate their talents in a more intimate setting. The program will begin with George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings,” and will be followed by Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, Op. 4. The performance will close out with one of the masterpieces of the classical music world: Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, B. 52, Op. 22. 

“There is some wonderful repertoire for string orchestra that actually seldom finds its way onto concerts for one reason or another,” Muffitt said. “It presents a great chance for our audience to hear these works live, and I know the players embrace the opportunity to play this music as well. These works represent a nice balance of style, character and content that complement each other.”

Composer Walker accomplished many firsts in his lifetime, some of which included being the first Black graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1945, and the first Black musician to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

Walker composed over 90 pieces, but “Lyric for Strings” is one of his best-known works. Walker composed this piece when he was just 24 years old, having never played a string instrument in his life. However, the music is able to capture everything a string instrument can accomplish. 

“The ‘Lyric for Strings’ has been one of the greatest hits of 2020 and the pandemic. I have seen it on countless digital programs nationwide in the last year and half,” Muffitt said. “It’s wonderful to see its popularity. … It’s a beautiful and deeply touching work.”

The Simple Symphony, Op. 4 is just as the name states. It’s a simple and playful piece that allows the strings to have some fun on stage.

“The Britten is fun. He aptly named it, calling it the Simple Symphony. There’s something very simple about it so it’s really fun to play,” Robinson said. 

Britten began composing music when he was a child. The Simple Symphony actually pulls parts from melodies he wrote when he was just 9 years old. 

“I’ve always had a soft spot for the Britten Simple Symphony,” said Olga Kaler, first violinist. “It’s such a lovely piece.”

Each movement of the Simple Symphony has a fun name to it: Boisterous Bourrée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande and Frolicsome Finale. This piece, though childlike in many ways, simultaneously shows Britten’s mastery. 

The closing number of this piece is loved and respected by both musicians and non-musicians alike, and the string section performing Serenade For Strings is excited to be playing this masterpiece on the Amp stage. 

“I’m really excited to play the Dvořák — it’s a really beautifully written piece, and it’s an emotional piece,” Robinson said. “It touches my heart, as well, and lets me convey my emotions through the music.” 

Though Dvořák composed various masterful compositions during his time, this piece is arguably one of the most treasured works.

“You just wonder how it’s possible for one person to come up with so much beautiful music. It’s like juggling stars,” Kaler said. 

Dvořák composed the Serenade For Strings in just two weeks, and was able to create something extraordinary. The piece is split into five different movements, each one taking a life of its own. From a second-movement waltz to an upbeat finale, the piece takes the audience on a journey of different emotions. 

This piece is known to be difficult for musicians, but it’s something any musician looks forward to playing. 

“There’s this one passage in the last movement that’s exceptionally difficult, but I love that. It’s well-written and fun to play and you won’t meet one musician that doesn’t like it. Richard Strauss said to Elgar, ‘If you want your music to be played well, give your musicians something to do,’ ” Kaler said. “The more difficult the violin part, the more I love playing it. I’ve always loved very busy pieces with technically difficult violin parts. Dvořák has such a unique language and is so easily recognized. You can hear three notes and know its Dvořák. He has this amazing way of writing music that goes directly to your heart. The way he wrote for the violin is nothing short of extraordinary.”

The CSO typically welcomes Muffitt to conduct at least one performance during the season, and Kaler says the musicians have immense respect for him.

“We have a long history of collaboration with him. I love working with him,” Kaler said. “He doesn’t conduct for the benefit of the audience. Every gesture you see coming from him always has a musical purpose.”

The excitement and respect runs both ways — Muffitt is excited to be working with these musicians, as well. 

“I always look forward to my opportunities to make music with my friends at the CSO,” Muffitt said. “I have been a great fan and admirer for many years now, so it is always a happy time for me to share the stage with them.” 

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

CSO to perform live-to-film concert of Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’



Illustration by Grace Bukowski/DESIGN EDITOR

What’s this? It’s Christmas in July, and what better way to celebrate than with Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”? The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Chautauqua’s Principal Pops Conductor, Stuart Chafetz, will get into the spooky holiday spirit by playing the live soundtrack to this family favorite at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

Seeing this Christmas classic with the CSO playing composer Danny Elfman’s score, Chafetz said, will be like watching the movie for the first time again.

“It’s that much more intense because you’re not watching it on a little screen like your laptop or television ­­— especially coming out of the pandemic where everyone stayed home and watched things on some kind of small device,” Chafetz said. “Being able to hear a live orchestra surrounding you makes a huge difference. The music surrounds you in a way that you don’t get anywhere. It’s really cool.” 

Being surrounded by the sounds of the orchestra will give the community a whole different perspective to this movie. 

“A movie with a good soundtrack completely changes the impact the movie has on the audience,” said Ming Gao, first violinist. “Music creates all the passion and excitement and expresses whatever the words cannot express. The music takes that on.” 

Live soundtrack performances by symphonies are becoming more popular, and for Chafetz, they are invigorating.

“It’s incredible, the energy,” Chafetz said. “This is a really great thing, and the Amphitheater is a beautiful place to put on a movie like this.”

The textures of Elfman’s work are something the musicians are looking forward to exploring as well.

“Danny Elfman was able to produce special colors of sound that amplify people’s feelings while watching what Tim Burton created,” said Marian Tanau, first violinist. “For example, there’s a contrabass clarinet that makes a sound that sounds like it came from a different world. His music is rich, mysterious and dynamic.”

This live to film concert is a bit different and challenging for the CSO in various ways. Chafetz will rely on a little monitor to keep up with counting and staying on beat. The musicians themselves have a click track that allows them to notice details such as tempo changes. This timing is a challenge — the CSO must precisely keep up with the movie as it plays on a big screen above them. 

“With classical concerts you have more freedom to do what you want to do musically. It can be different each night, depending on how things feel,” Chafetz said. “Everyone notices if you’re a measure off with a movie. You have to be totally precise. It takes a lot of work and there’s no flexibility. There’s no way to put your guard down.”

However, the end result is nothing short of spectacular. 

“It’s just so nice when everything lines up,” Chafetz said. “The movie is fantastic and the score is wonderful. It’s one of the hardest movies to conduct. But, it’s fun when it lines up and comes together. It’s just so gratifying.”

The CSO faced restraints when it came to which movies to perform due to COVID-19, like a 90-minute time limit. However, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a choice that families can come together to experience, and Deborah Sunya Moore expects that under the baton of Chafetz, the CSO will put on a show to remember. 

“It’s such a thrill to have Stuart serve as our first-ever principal pops conductor, and starting with a family friendly movie feels like a perfect way to share rich orchestral music in a setting that is fun, full and fabulous,” said Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim); vice president of performing and visual arts. “It was his good idea to have Christmas in July, and this concert will serve as a present to all those that attend.”

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