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In evening including Mozart, Kaza to solo with CSO on Schickele’s ‘Pentangle’

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Peter Schickele is many things — a bassoonist, radio personality and a prolific composer of more than 100 works for everyone and everything, from classical music to television shows. But many likely know him by a different moniker: P.D.Q. Bach, and for his comedic compositions that range from satirical to charming, folksy to zany. 

Roger Kaza, principal horn for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, has been a fan of Schickele’s work “forever,” and has even worked with the composer — who he described as a “soft spoken but hilarious guy” — once during a performance in St. Louis, where Kaza also serves as principal horn of the St. Louis Symphony. Now, the horn player joins his colleagues in the CSO as a soloist on Schickele’s “Pentangle: Five Songs for Horn and Orchestra” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. 

Under the baton of Music Director Rossen Milanov, the CSO’s concert is titled “Wit and Genius” — and with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, serving as the back half of the evening, it might be tempting to argue that Schickele is the “wit” and Mozart the “genius,” but Kaza was quick to point out Schickele’s prowess.

“Schickele comes from a time when there was such widespread musical literacy, that when you talked about (the composer’s) ‘Iphigenia in Brooklyn,’ or ‘The Abduction of Figaro’, everyone would get the joke,” Kaza said (alas, despite fervent research, this writer still doesn’t get the joke). “It was a rarified, sophisticated humor, but incredibly funny to music lovers. He has very thorough composing chops. He could have gone ‘serious’ but that wasn’t his calling.”  

Schickele used “pentangle” to refer to a group of five songs, Kaza said — the piece has five moments — but also as a reference to the 1960s folk rock group of the same name.

“The work indeed has sections that rock and jam, and the final song is reminiscent of an English ballad that a folk rock group might sing,” he said.

In the third movement, Kaza must play multiphonic chords on his horn — a tradition that goes way back.

“The German composer Carl Maria von Weber wrote them into his horn concertino; they are definitely challenging to pull off,” he said. “Another thing (Schickele) requires, in the last of the five songs, is that the performer actually sing the song. OK — I’m not a trained singer, but everyone can sing, right?”

Typically performed with a healthy dose of ham, “Pentangle” is a concerto for orchestra and horn, and while Kaza said Chautauquans can certainly expect some fun, not everything Schickele composes is “one constant joke.”

“‘Pentangle’ has contemplative moments, exuberant moments, wistful moments, but no tragedy or pathos. It’s music that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Kaza said. 

In comparison, pathos and poignancy abound in the Mozart, making the evening balanced in a way audiences may find restorative.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kaza said, “and I think it’s just what Chautauqua needs about now.”

 

Pops conductor Chafetz, with Jenkins, Williams, to pay tribute to iconic Aretha in special Jamestown show, 1st-time off-grounds CSO concert in 91-year history

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The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will bring its unmistakable sound and artistry to downtown Jamestown’s Reg Lenna Center for the Arts with a performance featuring the music of Aretha Franklin. 

The concert is at 8 p.m. tonight at the Reg Lenna Center for The Arts in nearby Jamestown, New York, and titled “Aretha: A Tribute.” Under the baton of the CSO’s Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz, the evening features all-star singer and Broadway favorite Capathia Jenkins, who first performed at Chautauqua in 2018, along with Darryl Williams. The program includes iconic hits such as “Respect,” “Think,” “A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Amazing Grace,” and many more.

Best known for her work on Broadway, Jenkins has appeared in such shows like Caroline, or Change, Newsies, and Martin Short’s Fame Becomes Me. Williams has toured extensively in the Broadway hit Smokey Joe’s Cafe with the legendary Gladys Knight, and has performed in the Off-Broadway shows Mama I Want to Sing and Big Mama Stringbean: the life of Ethel Waters

This performance represents a first-time undertaking for the 91-year-old symphony, the resident orchestra of Chautauqua Institution. It follows the Institution’s vision to expand its impact in the region and beyond by taking Chautauqua’s celebrated mission and programs beyond the grounds of the Institution.

Admission to this performance is not included in the Traditional Gate Pass; tickets can be purchased through the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts box office at 716-484-7070 or in person at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts Box Office at 116 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, up until the time of the show.

In addition to support from The Chautauqua/Jamestown Fund for Education, Religion and the Performing Arts, this concert is made possible by the Fund for Downtown Programming awarded through the Jamestown Local Development Corporation and made possible by the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

 Editor’s note: This event did not take place as scheduled, as many Institution events were canceled following an incident in the Amphitheater on Friday, August 12.

In evening of ‘Passion and Struggle,’ Alexander Gavrylyuk to join CSO for Prokofiev concerto

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One of the most important composers to Alexander Gavrylyuk — a composer he grew up listening to, in fact — is Sergei Prokofiev.

“Since he was born in Ukraine, same as myself, there was always this special link,” said Gavrylyuk, a Ukrainian-born Australian pianist. “My father’s side of the family comes from the very region (Prokofiev) was born in. Prokofiev’s music, I find, is always very theatrical, very charismatic, very satirical.”

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 7, in the Amphitheater, Gavrylyuk will perform Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Flat’s major, op. 10, alongside the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Rossen Milanov. Following Prokofiev, the CSO takes on Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8. Together, the evening’s performance is titled “Passion and Struggle.” 

“(The Prokofiev concerto) is a work that he composed when he was only 20 years old, and he performed it at the graduation for his conservatory in St. Petersburg,” Gavrylyuk said. “What’s interesting about Prokofiev is that he was actually born where some of the fiercest fighting is happening right now, in the Donbas area.”

For Gavrylyuk, the concerto is an optimistic work, one with plenty of musical jokes peppered throughout the piece that he said he’s excited for Chautauquans to experience.

“There’s a lot of humor in this piece,” he said. “But there are also quite a few daring musical ideas that Prokofiev purposefully included in defiance of the conservatory’s teachers. It’s a daring work that was very successful, in fact.”

As a performer, Gavrylyuk said one of his most important goals is to find the artistic truth behind a given piece of music.

“By learning about the background and history for a composition like this, I can more easily achieve that goal,” he said. “And by trying to get inside Prokofiev’s mind and inside his emotional world, and by imagining the reasons and inspirations that he had at the time, I can more accurately play his music.”

Performing with the CSO, Gavrylyuk said, is “a gratifying experience,” in part because of how in tune the two musical entities are.

“We’ve only had one rehearsal, but because we’ve performed together so many times, we really know each other’s way of playing,” he said. “It’s a really organic kind of process every time we play together. It’s a wonderful orchestra with a truly positive psychology and approach to rehearsing. They share the Chautauquan mindset: a nice, really inspiring energy that occurs on stage, that you can feel.”

Gavrylyuk said that even though he performs constantly with many different orchestras, playing with the CSO is “very personal.”

“I’m so excited to share this music with everyone,” he said.

Under Timothy Muffitt’s baton, MSFO opens season

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After a summer of virtual courses through CHQ Assembly in 2020, and a shorter season with a smaller orchestra due to COVID-19 protocols last summer, at long last the Music School Festival Orchestra is back to its full form, and set to have their opening performance at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 5, in the Amphitheater under the baton of Maestro Timothy Muffitt.

Following a week of rehearsals, “the orchestra is showing remarkable promise,” said Muffitt, MSFO artistic director, and he anticipates that tonight’s performance won’t just be a “spectacular program, but a great start to an exciting season.”

Opening night is also a long-awaited opportunity for repertoire that’s been planned since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The evening opens with Zhou Tian’s “Gift,” and then segues into Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2, “a pre-pandemic holdover,” Muffitt said, with pianist Chengcheng Yao, who is an alum of the School of Music, and the winner of the 2019 Sigma Alpha Iota Piano Competition.

But looming large among the planned pre-pandemic repertoire is the closing number: Saint-Saën’s Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, op. 78 — known simply as the “Organ Symphony.”

“In 2020, we intended to play it in memory of Chautauqua’s long-time and beloved organist Jared Jacobsen, whom we lost in 2019,” Muffitt said. “We are staying with that plan, and dedicated the performance to Jared’s memory.”

At the Massey Memorial Organ, with the full backing of the MSFO, will be Josh Stafford, director of sacred music and the first-ever holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organ, named so in honor of his mentor. 

“It’s always a thrill to play the Massey alongside an orchestra,” Stafford said. “An instrument known well for its ability to lead hymn singing, accompany choirs and play solo repertoire, it is equally well suited to functioning as a concert hall organ with orchestra.”

For the organ’s part, the Saint-Saëns piece is best known for one particular chord, Stafford said — “a glorious C Major chord on full organ that comes seemingly out of nowhere. … But for me, the best moments are the softer ones, when the Massey has the chance to accompany and blend with the various colors of the orchestra.”

It’s not the first time this season Stafford has collaborated with students in the MSFO; several members joined him and Nicholas Stigall, this year’s organ scholar, for the first Sunday Service of Worship and Sermon in the Amp. For that morning, they performed Strauss’ Feierlicher Einzug TrV 224 “Solemn Entry.” To share the stage, in any capacity, with the musicians of the MSFO, Stafford said, is “such a joy.”

“Joy” is a recurring theme among School of Music administration, including both Muffitt and Schools of Performing and Visual Arts Manager Sarah Malinoski-Umberger.

“The fact that we have gotten everyone here, and on stage together, is monumental,” Malinoski-Umberger said. “These musicians are incredibly talented, and by far, the most impressive pool of applicants we have ever fielded.”

This is the first time that many of the students have played in a full orchestra since the pandemic began, she said, which meant that the School of Music planning for 2022 was “an ambitious plan that took many, many months, and many amazing people to pull off.”

“Having the full group back allows us to return to our full summer of programming, including two full chamber music sessions, and collaborations with our School of Dance and our Opera Conservatory,” she said. “And getting to introduce them all to Chautauqua on opening night? It’s a joy.”

Stuart Chafetz, Dee Donasco reunite for CSO Independence Day Celebration

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It’s been three years since Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz stood at his stand in front of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for the annual Independence Day Celebration, before a full audience and the sweeping, unfurling of the American flag as the evening’s grand finale.

With a truncated season in 2021, and the talents of the Music School Festival Orchestra and School of Music Voice Program taking the patriotic reins instead, this summer Chafetz is back, with the full contingent of the CSO and soprano Dee Donasco, for this year’s Fourth of July festivities. They take the stage at 8:15 p.m. Monday, July 4, in the Amphitheater.

DONASCO

“I think the most exciting thing is that it’s been three summers to get back to this tradition of just a good time, and fun, and having the whole family be able to enjoy this,” Chafetz said. 

“We’ve been waiting so long to enjoy this wonderful, festive weekend here. There’s not any other place like it. Chautauqua — it’s the greatest.”

The evening is packed with Chautauqua favorites, from Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the “Armed Forces Salute” and “God Bless America,” to the paper-bag-popping bonanza of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” (If that’s not enough of a bonanza, fittingly, the evening also includes David Rose’s theme to the long-running television hit “Bonanza.”)

The rest of the line-up features Jager’s “Esprit de Corps,” Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” march, “Ah! Je Veux Vivre” from Gounod’s opera Romeo et Juliette, and some musical theater favorites: “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man, and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. The theme from “Bewitched” is also on deck, as is beloved American composer John Williams’ “Can You Read My Mind?,” the love theme from “Superman.”

But Chafetz and Donasco have a few tricks up their sleeves for the program, and the audience will just have to wait to hear for themselves.

“They’re meant to be surprises, so we’ll just crank it out and have a party,” Chafetz said.

Donasco is no stranger to Chautauqua, or to performing with Chafetz. In fact, the two were just in Ohio on Saturday for the Columbus Symphony’s Patriotic Pops concert. On Sunday, the duo drove from Columbus, where Chafetz is also principal pops conductor, to Chautauqua. For both of them, it’s a bit of a homecoming.

“The beautiful part of all of this is that we met at Chautauqua in 2012,” Chafetz said. 

Donasco was a Chautauqua Opera Company Apprentice Artist and a featured soloist in the CSO, where Chafetz was timpanist — a percussive presence he held at Chautauqua for 22 years.

“She was singing this beautiful, classical aria, and then later in the summer we did Opera Pops,” Chafetz said. “And I couldn’t believe it was the same person — the ability to come from a legit opera tune, and then a pops performance like nobody’s business? It blew me away.”

In the years since leaving Chautauqua, Donasco has performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, Nashville Opera, North Carolina Symphony and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, including several engagements with Chafetz.

“She’s just terrific, and to be able to have her back where we met — it’s full circle,” he said.

Music is a way to bring everybody together, Chafetz said, especially now that he and the CSO are “back, after all this wild time.”

“I’ve missed Chautauqua in its capacity,” he said. “The July 4 concert is going to be one of those wonderful experiences that we’ve missed, to have together. I’m just so excited to be back.”

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

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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. Thursday, June 30, 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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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.”

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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’

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ZACHARY LEWIS – GUEST CRITIC

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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NICHOLE JIANG & DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITERS

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’

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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ZACHARY LEWIS – GUEST CRITIC 

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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’

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ZACHARY LEWIS – GUEST CRITIC

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.

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