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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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’

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NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

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.”

A triumphant return: CSO opens long-awaited 2021 season on Saturday

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Conductor Rossen Milanov directs the Chautauqua Symhony Orchestra July 2, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

NICHOLE JIANG – STAFF WRITER

With a grand sweep of the baton, music director and conductor of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Rossen Milanov will launch the CSO’s 2021 season at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 10 in the Amphitheater. With COVID-19 regulations constantly changing, planning and putting together this season proved to be a huge challenge. However, they were able to overcome these obstacles to create a season that includes various performances to look forward to. 

“Maestro Milanov has crafted a season for our unique situation this summer,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts. “While a distanced orchestra requires a smaller orchestra on stage, we worked to ‘biggie size’ our ideas and repertoire, if not the number of instruments on stage. We have taken this opportunity to feature what is most special about the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra: the musicians themselves.” 

This first performance of the season is special not only because the CSO hasn’t been able to perform together on stage for almost two years, but because the program includes a blend of both contemporary and classical pieces. 

“This year features a lot of works for smaller orchestras,” Milanov said. “We decided to focus on the people in the orchestra. We are such a close-knit family of musicians. Some of them have been a part of this orchestra for dozens of years. This first performance on Saturday will be very emotional for all of us, because we will be performing together again. This music on the program is both celebratory and multicultural, in the face of the piece by Gabriela Frank, and also optimistic and triumphant through the music of Beethoven.”

Saturday’s performance will kick off with the traditional performance of the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by R. Strauss’ “Fanfare for the Vienna Philharmonic,” Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Elegía Andina” and will finish with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60. 

“ ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is something that unites us no matter where we come from,” Milanov said. “It also gives us this moment of solemnity. Everyone gets to participate and sing. We love it because it suddenly makes us feel as if we are one in the hall and there’s no barrier between the stage and the audience.”

There will be no soloists for this first concert. However, Strauss’ piece showcases the talents of the brass section. 

“We sort of planned the season to feature different groups of the orchestra. The opening piece features the brass and we are actually going to do it side by side with the brass members from the Music School Festival Orchestra. You will see both students form the festival orchestra with professionals performing,” Milanov said. 

The next piece, “Elegía Andina,” showcases what it means for the composer to be from several ethnic backgrounds, and Frank honors her blending of cultures in this piece. 

This first performance on Saturday will be very emotional for all of us, because we will be performing together again.”

Rossen Milanov
Music Director and Conductor, 
Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

“I’m very excited because a very big focus of this season is going to be showcasing music by diverse composers,” Milanov said. “We have six of them being featured in this course of five weeks.”

The CSO is closing the evening’s performance with Beethoven. Last summer would have been the celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. 

“He remains one of the greatest composers,” Milanov said. “We couldn’t celebrate him last year, so I felt we had to play a Beethoven symphony on opening night in admiration for what he has done for music.”

Concertmaster Vahn Armstrong said the Beethoven is a favorite of his. 

“They’re all great, but No. 4 is my favorite,” he said. “This one isn’t played quite as much as the other ones. So it’s a treat to come back to it, and it’s Beethoven in good high humor.”

When planning a season, Milanov thinks of it as creating a nice dinner meal for his audience.

“Everytime I think of a concert I want to make sure the flavors are complemented,” he said. “There’s always something that people have never tried, there’s always a discovery. I want this to be presented at a very high technical level and to give people as much pleasure as a good meal with friends would give.”

One of these new discoveries included in this season is Joshua Stafford, who holds the inaugural Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist.

“It’s one of the most remarkable examples of outdoor organs in the United States,” Milanov said. “We thought it would be very important to feature the organ that seems to always survive.”

July 31 will be the first time Stafford is officially featured as a soloist with the CSO.

“I’m most excited to hear the concert with Rossen conducting and Joshua Stafford playing an organ concerto,” said Steven Slaff, managing director of performing and visual arts. 

Slaff is also looking forward to hearing the CSO perform Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony,” calling the July 31 event a “really exciting and special concert.” 

Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz will also lead the CSO in coming weeks for live performances of Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beauty and the Beast,” an Opera Pops concert as well as this season’s closing performance with Capathia Jenkins. 

“There’s nothing like Christmas in July here in Chautauqua,” Chafetz said. “I’m so thrilled to be back with a live audience. I had no idea how much the audience plays a role in the excitement and how much the audience influences the performance. The players feel the exuberance from the crowd.”

Both the staff and the musicians themselves are elated to be back to a sense of normalcy that is performing live music again in the Amp. 

“We perform live. It’s hard to transform yourself into a TV station and try to broadcast all the necessary qualities and depth,” Milanov said. “I’m happy that we’re in Chautauqua. That’s where we belong. I hope we will not have to stop again.”

ChamberFest Cleveland, cellist Sterling Elliott to play Amphitheater

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NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER

Sterling Elliott was born into music. While he was in the womb, his mother had a cello waiting for him. She wanted to have a quartet, so his two older siblings held a violin by the time they were 3, and she decided that Elliott, the youngest, would have the cello.

But Elliott didn’t want to play the cello. He wanted to play the violin like his siblings. Within a week of picking the violin, Elliott managed to accidentally break the neck off of the instrument. So he reconsidered the cello.

“What initially got me going was what my mom told me, that cellos made more money,” Elliott said. “So that really got little me rolling with it.” 

From there, his passion and career sprouted. At 7, Elliott became the first-place Junior Division winner of the Peninsula Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition and has since soloed with the New York Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra and many others. 

Now, a little over a month after his 22nd birthday and graduating from The Juilliard School, Elliott has been named a “Rising Star” of ChamberFest Cleveland, a classical music festival that for three weeks every summer brings world-class chamber music to Cleveland. 

At 8:15 p.m. Tuesday June 29 in the Amphitheater, Elliott and ChamberFest Cleveland will perform a lively set incorporating Schubert, Dvořák, Brahms and the Beatles.

Music has the power to give people faith and hope. It can cheer people up and completely change their mood.”

Sterling Elliott, Cellist, ChamberFest Cleveland

Elliott can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction to their performance. He said the pieces will be an eclectic mix and that the performers will be “making grooves and making vibes.”

“It’s magic,” Elliott said. “They’re some of the funnest pieces I’ve ever played. We’re having a blast. We can’t stop laughing over playing these pieces. And I just can’t wait to see how that translates across the stage.” 

Playing with new people is something Elliott enjoys immensely.

“I guess feeding off of their amazing energy and personality with who they are specifically, but also in musicianship, as well, is really just about something I could do all day,” Elliott said.

He has always loved playing music with friends and grew up playing alongside his family. Elliott said that despite her aspirations for a family quartet, his mother never intended for her children to be professional musicians. She was introduced to music in middle school, and it became an escape for her. His mother wanted Elliott and her other children to enjoy music as much as she did.

Now, Elliott listens to a lot of rap and rhythm and blues. One of his favorite artists is Foreign Exchange, a hip-hop duo that performs everything from rap to slow acoustics. 

“I was playing a playlist for someone,” Elliott said, “and an hour later, he was like, ‘This is all one person?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ ”

As Elliott recently posted on Instagram, “Music has the power to give people faith and hope. It can cheer people up and completely change their mood.”

Yet, music is often taken for granted. Elliott said that for him, music is as essential as breathing or eating.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to just be when we’re turning on a song like on an iPhone,” Elliott said. “It can just be if we’re just sitting on a beach, listening to waves, sitting in the park or any atmospheric noise.”

CSO to hit the virtual stage with rebroadcast of Gavrylyuk’s Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto performance

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The Chautauqua Symhony Orchestra, led by Conductor Rossen Milanov, delivers a strong performance accompanied by famed pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk on Tuesday night, July 2, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/DAILY STAFF FILE PHOTO

Sometimes, cyberspace just doesn’t cut it. 

In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Rossen Milanov has found himself teetering between the loss of what he knows and the possibilities of what he doesn’t. But he’s pushing forward anyway, as the internet may be the closest thing he has to bringing his beloved symphony orchestra back where it belongs: “The hands of those who need the music the most.” 

Milanov, conductor and music director of the CSO, is keeping the sounds of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra alive through his “Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Rebroadcasts” series on select Thursday evenings throughout the remainder of the season. 

When the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees unanimously decided to suspend any in-person programs on the grounds on May 1, Milanov said he was “instantly determined” to find a place for the orchestra in the virtual programming. After searching through video archives, Milanov settled on five concerts from the 2019 season.  

Although the content of the selections will be familiar to returning Chautauquans, Milanov said some aspects of the rebroadcasts will appear to be “brand new.”

We always like to bring that kind of access to the artistic platforms,” he said. “I think it’s very important to not only share our artistic ideas with an audience, but to also make sure we have a moment of reflection in which we hear how it was received from the other side of the stage. It’s not a one-way street.”

“I think what is so special about these videos is they will allow people to experience what they can’t from the audience, whether those are close-ups of the musicians’ facial expressions or how I communicate with them,” he said. “It’s bringing us closer.”

The series begins with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Alexander Gavrylyuk at 8:15 p.m. EDT Thursday, July 16, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Subsequent performances include: “Wagner and Rachmaninoff” on July 30, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in collaboration with the Music School Festival Orchestra on Aug. 13, and Strauss’s “Don Quixote” on Aug. 27. One additional rebroadcast has yet to be confirmed. 

Some rebroadcasts will also include live conversations with featured musicians, Milanov said.

“We always like to bring that kind of access to the artistic platforms,” he said. “I think it’s very important to not only share our artistic ideas with an audience, but to also make sure we have a moment of reflection in which we hear how it was received from the other side of the stage. It’s not a one-way street.”

Gavrylyuk’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was originally performed on July 2, 2019, opening night for the CSO. Gavrylyuk, Chautauqua Institution’s Heintzelman Family Artistic Adviser for the School of Music Piano Program, said after returning to the Institution for 14 consecutive years, he couldn’t “imagine a summer without Chautauqua.”

“Chautauqua, for me, is very near and dear to my heart,” Gavrylyuk said. “It’s been a personal journey that has reflected my own personal philosophy with art and music in its open-mindedness and acceptance of differences. If there is a good way to continue that journey, whatever the circumstances, it would be a privilege to take part.”  

Rachmaninoff wrote his opening piano concerto — the first of four — when he was just 19 years old. The concerto was his first serious attempt at composition as a student and, according to Gavrylyuk, the first he “deemed worthy of release.” Gavrylyuk said it is the perfect performance to start the series with because it’s a “message of a new beginning.”

“It’s a piece with a youthful and optimistic energy,” he said. “It’s very appropriate for the time we are in now because even though it’s a challenging year, it’s also the beginning of a new chapter, just as it was for Rachmaninoff when he finished it. I think it’s just the right piece to lift our spirits.”

Ultimately, Milanov said he is grateful for the newfound “exposure and longevity” past CSO performances will have on the digital platform.

“I feel good about the fact that someone who may have never been to Chautauqua before can now be exposed to this kind of programming and can, hopefully, feel the depth and closeness to the music returning Chautauquans felt seeing it live,” Milanov said. “For the first time, these performances have the chance to live past the moment they are played.”

Creating new traditions: Annual July 4 performance moves online with ‘relevant,’ healing program

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Mike Day waves his American flag to classic American tunes played by the Chautauqua Community Band during the 26th Annual Independence Day Concert on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Stuart Chafetz has had a lot on his mind. 

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Chafetz, DeSare and Jenkins

With the Fourth of July being commemorated during a global pandemic, an economic depression and a national reckoning of historic and persisting racism, Chafetz faced a daunting question: How do you celebrate a nation in turmoil?

“You make it relevant — nothing less,” Chafetz said.

Chautauqua’s reinvented Independence Day Celebration will take place at 5 p.m. EDT Saturday, July 4, on CHQ Assembly’s Video Platform. It features Chafetz, principal pops conductor for the Columbus and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestras, as well as returning soloist Capathia Jenkins and newcomer Tony DeSare, a jazz singer, pianist and songwriter. 

The evening’s setlist includes patriotic classics, such as the CSO’s socially distanced rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

“We are going to end the program with that one because I think it will be nice for our audience to get to see some familiar faces on a day they look forward to so much,” Chafetz said. 

The program also includes a brand new addition, “CSO Forever.” The piece is a march Chafetz had arranged by Sam Shoup, while Chafetz shifted his focus to writing the lyrics with his wife, Ann Krinitsky, who is the music director of the Marin Symphony Youth Orchestra. Shoup is an arranger for the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, as well as the New York Pops Orchestra, Houston Symphony and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. 

DeSare will be singing the “Chautauqua-centric” piece, Chafetz said. As someone who hasn’t missed a summer at Chautauqua since 1996, Chafetz said creating the march brought him “joy that filled the absence.” 

“I am proud to say this is the first time I have been credited as a lyricist,” Chafetz said. “The goal is that it becomes a new tradition, just like popping the bags during the ‘1812 Overture.’ Everyone knows Chautauqua audiences are the best at singing and participating. I hope this brings them the joy it brought me.”

As a tribute to the state of New York, DeSare said he will sing Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” 

“Stuart, Capathia and I are all from New York,” DeSare said. “It has been hard to see all the state has gone through since it was hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, a state all three of us love so much. We wanted to honor its strength, as I am sure those in Chautauqua want to as well.”

In addition, he will sing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind.” 

“We wanted to provide variety, and I definitely think that’s what the audience is getting,” he said. 

For Jenkins, a Black musician and actor, this Independence Day celebration presented an opportunity she said she’s been “longing for.” Since the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest on March 25, Jenkins said she has been “fighting to get back into the light,” something she only knows how to do through song.

“There is a moment in the (recorded performance) where I just talk about how, with all of the civil unrest, I have been personally managing — managing a deep sadness, a frustration, an anger, a rage,” Jenkins said. “There have been days where I have just cried all day over the killing of unarmed Black people. My heart is just wrenched in a way I didn’t even know was possible.”

As a “healing balm” for “our souls and our spirits,” Jenkins said she will sing “Amazing Grace” and “What a Wonderful World.”

“Even with the unrest I just mentioned, I am deeply hopeful,” Jenkins said. “I am hopeful for our future. I am hopeful for our nation. As hard as it may be and as many scars as we may have, every time I have been able to stand with an orchestra for the Fourth of July, I am reminded that we live in a beautiful country. There is so much more ahead of us than what we have left behind us. I believe that. I believe that to survive. That belief is worth celebrating.” 

Chafetz said Jenkins’ contribution to both the performance is “valuable beyond what words allow.” 

“What she has to say regarding the moment in history we are in is extremely relevant and this summer, that is what this celebration needed to be — relevant to our country, relevant to our time,” he said. “I feel so fortunate to still be able to communicate that, the love of music and the love of the CSO, however brief it may be.”

Guest Critic: In Rossen Milanov’s Final Concert of Season, CSO and Michelle Johnson Give Strauss Works ‘Life in Death’

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Review by Anthony Bannon:

The footing is difficult; the way to death is not easy, or clear. Art in its first, unique moments is difficult — as if finding one’s way into a new night.

A small end-of-season and under-threat-of-rain audience heard Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra first-class music filling the empty seats and the humid air of the Amphitheater’s huge space and beyond. 

The concert awakened dogs.

Soprano Michelle Johnson suggested, when she last performed here, that the CSO interpret Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” among the most extraordinary in the repertory of concert music, in good measure because of what it asks of the fragile relationship between orchestra and soloist, each to their roles, each in ensemble, each truly caring for the art of the other. It was a masterful, unforgettable experience.

Yes, it was, as billed, “Sensational Strauss,” though the two works at play summoned cerebral ideas of the first and the last: The beginnings of ideas and their last breath. The composer’s “Four Last Songs” were indeed Strauss’ last compositions, with lyrics for three by the poet with whom he shared so much of life’s direction, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962). The fourth song is by the deep Romantic Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857), who spares no fine words within his “At Sunset”: 

“The great peace here is wide and still / and rich with glowing sunsets: / If this is death, having had our fill / of getting lost, we find beauty — No regrets.”

This review is not about the waltz king from Vienna.

The German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) sought profound guides to aid his passage, sought poets, wise men, even a prophet. Zoroaster, the Persian thinker from 1500 to 1000 B.C.E., was a selected prophet, discovered in the novel of a fellow traveler, Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philosopher whose recognition of the complexity, the contradictions and the shifting understandings in life had great influence. The two men — Strauss and Nietzsche — realized Zoroaster’s call for a self-aware search for truth, not rule-bound, but free.

A history of ideas cites Zoroastrianism as among the prototypical philosophies. One finds it in the Greeks, where an actively examined life is engaged by thought, word and deed as keys to an often contrary search for truth. This much also was central for such as Voltaire, William Butler Yeats and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Strauss had been moved by one of Nietzsche’s novels, written between 1883 and 1885. And Strauss responded by using the same title for his influential work, fully entitled “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Tone Poem (Freely After Fredrich Nietzsche) for Large Orchestra, in 1896. It holds a good bit of complex wisdom but does not presume to illustrate the philosopher’s poetic voice. Strauss had plenty within his own voice. Sometimes too much.

Strauss had entered the stride of his creative life. He had heard Johannes Brahms and was moved by the emotional depth of a powerful romanticism. He abided by the work of Richard Wagner, particularly in its interpretive referencing to nature. Aware of the dissolution of his time, Strauss responded in voice with Hesse and Nietzsche, expecting the hero, an Overlord, to overcome uncertainty.

For “Zarathustra,” Strauss created huge entrance, the sunrise theme that now is iconic. It has become a sign of a transformative higher power, that dawning moment memorialized in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as well as in its conclusion, when “Star-Child” was born. 

The Massey Memorial Organ, a symphonic instrument within the Amphitheater, holds more than 5,600 pipes. Its estimable presence, a resonant voice that is felt as much as heard, created a base to venture toward such a heroic understanding.

The performance was Saturday evening, in the last hour of Sabbath. The orchestra performed with ringing clarity, crisp enunciation from the crucial trumpet call that is so well-known, and a knockout summation. 

Plucked strings harshly, and a call of crows from beyond the Amphitheater, the audience freshened for the following ascendant grace, a passage called “The Great Longing,” proclaiming the good, as well as anticipating a countering discord. Such is the repeated challenge for the 33-minute-long tone poem. Heard with focus upon Strauss’ era, uncertain about its direction — with its new technology and its industry yet finding balance — “Zarathustra” asserts a will to persevere and struggle, manifest in the warrior spirit of a leader Nietzsche named “Overman.”

And outside the Amp, the sounds of a flight of geese. A great longing in the strings, and the yap of a small dog.

The orchestra’s work is to order the jagged narrative of the work. A sample of eight topics shows “The Great Longing,” followed by “Joys and Passions,” whereupon “The Song of the Grave” giving way to thoughts “Of Science and Learning.” Then at the last, “The Dance Song” and “Song of the Night Wanderer.” A swirling complexity of learning, shrill, painful experience, a repose, the sounds of birds and a darkness of doubt. An awful lot is managed, and under the baton of CSO Conductor and Music Director Rossen Milanov, a standup, learned performance.

“Zarathustra” requires both elation and pain. Music has its right to require a world from its listeners, including promise of confusion and quiet; chaos with calm. Solutions may be hidden, riddles especially about sequence and development. And the puzzle may be repeated another way. At least opened, the poem then comes to an end. Extraordinary.

Michelle Johnson, the returning soprano, had opened the evening with death’s development. Strauss was notoriously opportunistic and loathsome. But his selection of Hesse’s poems “Spring” and “September” point toward a finally tranquil understanding of time’s passage. From “Spring”:

“I feel the healing touch / Of softer days, warm and tender/ My limbs tremble — happily, too much — / As I stand inside your splendor.”

And from “September”:

“With a final glance at the roses – / too weak to care, it longs for peace – / then, with darkness wherever it gazes, / summer slips into sleep.”

Then, in “When I Go to Sleep”:

“Now that day has exhausted me / I give myself over, a tired child …”

The majesty of the CSO with Ms. Johnson cites the miracle of spring with the miracle of the soprano’s voice. It finds openings to emerge from the orchestra, to counterpoint an instrument or to play as one with a section. The listener finds her within the violins, within the woodwinds, and then rise above and locate a beat or a breath as a time to emerge, and the orchestra swells.

Nietzsche spoke of his understanding of Zarathustra’s teaching as if it was “All,” or it was “Nothing.”

An orchestra, a team, is all, with each its recognized part. Or it is nothing. With the CSO’s fine work, this death cannot be proud, for there remains life, surely a life of art, within it. Ms. Johnson’s voice never forces its play, it sounds through its appearance a moment with all of its possibilities, always in company with the orchestra, never without. 

Ms. Johnson stood center stage with head slightly lifted, slowly regarding the curve of the space. She came to her part, entered, and gave it presence until completed, just 24 minutes.

There is an aesthetic to duration. Few, artists included, know how it works. But these songs were perfect. How much time is necessary to suggest there is life in death? The artists and their director had the answer.

Dr. Anthony Bannon received his undergraduate degree from St. Bonaventure University, and his advanced degrees in media studies and cultural studies from the English Department at the University at Buffalo. He is director emeritus at George Eastman Museum and the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. His new book, Portraits: William Coupon, features collected photographs from the artist’s long career with TIME magazine, and thereafter with tribal and countercultures around the world. It will launch at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 in the Burchfield-Penney.

Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and CSO to Explore ‘Asphalt Jungle’ of New York City

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Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform “I’ve Got Rhythm” at 8:15 P.M. on Thursday, August 25, 2016, in the Amphitheater. The band played to a packed house. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

Just 300 miles from Chautauqua, New York City is growing and changing. Tonight, two orchestras will bring the city to the Amphitheater.

In its last concert of the year, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will be joined by jazz composer Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru to perform “The Jungle” — an intense, wary exploration of New York City, at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Amp.

“The Jungle” premiered in late 2016 with the New York Philharmonic, and has since seen only a handful of performances. Tonight, the piece will be performed in full for the first time in 2019.

Marsalis is a New Orleans-born composer and conductor. He is the winner of nine Grammy awards, and is the only musician in history to receive both jazz and classical Grammy Awards in the same year — which he accomplished twice.

For Marsalis, New York City is a place like no other — a huge, shifting, high-pressure city.

“New York City is the most fluid, pressure-packed and cosmopolitan metropolis the modern world has ever seen,” Marsalis wrote in his notes for the original program.

The city of almost 9 million is a hub for culture, trade and information of all sorts. Marsalis wrote that its social connections pass along ideas at lightning speed.

“The dense mosaic of all kinds of people everywhere doing all kinds of things encourages you to ‘stay in your lane,’ but the speed, freedom and intensity of our relationships to each other — and to the city itself — forces us onto a collective superhighway unlike any other in our country,” Marsalis wrote.

And any superhighway can be dangerous. Marsalis wrote that “The Jungle” is darker than some of his previous compositions, drawing from inequality and violence in the city — ills that could stunt an evolving society.

“It considers the possibility that we may not be up to overcoming the challenges of social and racial inequality, tribal prejudices, and endemic corruption,” Marsalis wrote. “We may choose to perish in a survival-of-the-fittest, asphalt-jungle-style battle for what is perceived as increasingly scarce resources, instead of coming together to create unlimited assets and to enjoy the cultural ascendancy that our form of democracy makes conceivable.”

“The Jungle” is Marsalis’ fourth symphony. Like some of his previous compositions, it features what he describes as “blues-tinged melodies,” “jazz and fiddle improvisations” and a variety of different musical styles and forms.

Like Marsalis’ metropolitan muse, “The Jungle” is a mosaic of different characteristics: various styles of blues and swing fused with the classical symphony. For New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini, Marsalis managed to “for the most part (find) the sweet spot.”

“The vernacular elements sounded freshest when Mr. Marsalis folded them into passages of symphonic mass, with thick, pungent chords and boldly fractured phrases,” Tommasini wrote. “Reflective passages full of poignant melodic turns and blues-tinged, plushly orchestrated harmonies alternate with vibrantly jazzy, fidgety episodes.”

Măcelaru will return to Chautauqua to conduct “The Jungle.” He said the piece is exciting on multiple levels, from its technical elements to emotional sound.

“In (‘The Jungle’), I find a world of contributing voices that together form a unique tapestry of sounds, emotions, feelings,” Măcelaru said. “I am looking forward to immersing myself again in this vast world of musical gestures that span centuries of musical forms, from fugues to shuffles, and passacaglia lines to the blues. It is truly a remarkable work of art, not just in its technical aspect, but also on a deep emotional level, a spiritual journey of sorts.”

Măcelaru is the music director and conductor of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. For him, contemporary compositions like “The Jungle” are built from the same timeless motivations as their classical counterparts.

“I conduct Marsalis for the same reason I conduct Alban Berg and Beethoven: I am interested in their narrative,” Măcelaru said. “Music is simply the language we use to communicate these deep, unique emotions, which cannot be expressed in words. To limit ourselves in experiencing every voice is to deny our most basic human desire — connecting with each other.”

Marsalis is the music director and conductor of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Chris Crenshaw, a trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, says performances of “The Jungle” change with every orchestra.

“We’ve performed it with other orchestras around the world, and it’s different every time,” Crenshaw said. “Every orchestra we’ve performed it with has their own approach — their own take. We’re looking forward to performing it with (the CSO) and hearing their interpretation, and for them to hear our interpretation.”

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to Play One-of-a-Kind Chamber Recital in Lenna

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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has been making music for almost 30 years — and this year, they have a unique new program for Chautauqua.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will begin its weeklong Chautauqua residency with a performance at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. This is the final performance of the season-long Chamber Music Guest Artist Series, featuring nine concerts for a small audience.

Chris Crenshaw, a Juilliard-educated trombonist, joined the famous jazz orchestra in 2006. For him, Jazz at Lincoln Center  Orchestra’s sound is built on a long series of individual voices.

“It’s a continuum of all the big names that have come up through the eras of jazz, especially the Duke Ellington Orchestra,” Crenshaw said. “Jazz at Lincoln Center has its own voice. We’re built on the musicianship of playing together and wanting to achieve the same goal, and to put on a good show.”

This is the orchestra’s second residency at the Institution. Like in 2016, the orchestra’s chamber music performance is a unique program developed especially for Chautauqua. It features jazz tunes from the 1920s and ’30s and swing music, including George and Ira Gershwin’s influential “I Got Rhythm” and Louis Armstrong’s “Savoyagers’ Stomp.”

Crenshaw serves as music director for today’s performance and selected the 10-song program to fit the performance at Lenna Hall. He said he looks forward to performing “Robbin’s Nest,” a slower, almost ballad-style jazz piece by Charles Thompson.

“It’s one of those pieces that kind of has everything,” Crenshaw said. “It’s sophisticated, and it has a bit of the blues as well.”

For Crenshaw, “Robbins’ Nest” is appealing for its complex style and emotional range.

“It’s one of our slower numbers, and it’s mostly a soft piece with a few exclamation points, if you will,” Crenshaw said. “There’s a lot of counterpoint in it as well; a lot of moving points going on at the same time. Overall, it’s one of those pieces that just makes you feel good. There’s a lot of everything in it, in terms of emotional quality.”

Crenshaw first became involved with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra when Wynton Marsalis saw him perform as a student.

“One thing led to another, … and it was perfect timing; everything came together,” Crenshaw said.

Marsalis, a New Orleans-born trumpeter and composer, title. While Marsalis will not be performing in today’s chamber concert, he has written extensively on the purpose of jazz performances. To him, jazz is an exercise in unity.

“Jazz shows us how to find a groove with other people, how to hold on to it, and how to develop it,” Marsalis wrote in his book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life.

Jazz at Lincoln Center has three key missions: to entertain, to educate and to advocate for the continued growth of the international jazz community. It leads several youth education initiatives, hosts annual gatherings for jazz musicians and produces an annual concert season.

To Crenshaw, the program’s missions are a mark of its longevity and continuity.

“Our mission is to entertain as well as educate and advocate,” Crenshaw said. “We’ve been about those elements for about 30 years. Members come in and out of the orchestra, adding their voices and making each night that we play better.”

Because of the expected demand for this concert, complimentary tickets are required, which are available at the Main Gate Welcome Center Ticket Office, which opens at 7 a.m. today

Guest Critic: Anna Clyne’s ‘DANCE’ ‘Echoes the Rich Understanding of Mahler’

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Review by Anthony Bannon:

Celebrate a wise new music in its second performance, an art that will be an enduring gift from our age, a struggle with opposites. This is the creation of Anna Clyne’s “DANCE” for cello and orchestra, softly at first, in the strings, an invocation of the evening and introduction of the full breath of the cello, a masterpiece expression of a 17th-century instrument and an important artist, Inbal Segev, honored at the Pablo Casals Festival and acclaimed by orchestras and publics internationally. “DANCE” was written for Segev, drawing upon text by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. Performed here as an East Coast premiere, it was co-commissioned by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz, California,  which presented the West Coast premiere two weeks ago.

For the poet, as for composer and her player, dance is central: It is within the broken-open, in the tearing off the bandage, in the middle of a fight, within the blood, and in the perfectly free — thus the five movements of “DANCE.” The art of sound is filled up and broken open; it is at the edge of silence and at the crest of chaos; it is a dirge and an emergence; it lives within the certainty of familiar melodies and within the ambiguity of the present, as if always in formation.

Split wood; I am there. Lift up a rock; you will find me there.” –Gospel of Thomas, the Gnostic Bible.

And the cello had begun like a flute, at its highest sounding, then developing — long and throaty, full-bodied, exquisite, taking its measure with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Thursday evening in the Amphitheater. And then, the dance fills with double stops; it fires, swirls, sings with the past. Is it Handel? A folk song? Stately, is it the Sarabande, itself a dance? 

“DANCE” recognizes through a glimpse of Charles Ives, an American composer of a century ago, the creation of the 20th century with such as Gustav Mahler, whose work was about music and transcendence, not some simile to wind through trees, morning birds or breaks of thunder. Mahler died in 1911. Clyne was born in 1980, and she, too, introduces words in her work and mixes melodies and atmospheres as if mixing media, pushing ideas to their presumed limits and therein creating a new aesthetic — a new way of being in the world.

Clyne is a genius for our time, knowing that when form meets form — music with words or visual art, or dance, or film — life takes hold, uniquely, as it did at first, where sea met shore. Her work is ever new and anticipated.  She is British-born and schooled and now lives in Brooklyn. Herself a cellist, she created “DANCE” for talent her equal.

Soloist Segev held her audience in a profound resonance to experience opposites, melody confronted with turbulence, those moments of the poet, where one feels acutely alive within the sharpness of pain — then surprised by underlying beauty. How apt that Clyne found a way to remember Rumi’s profound dance now, within a world characterized by division, the tension of the full orchestra. The soloist continues, expressing a new form, and giving it away to orchestra, and another and on. These are loops, interlocking like Borromean rings, an ancient sign of strength in unity. Such a victory, this music, a deep horizon. For this time, 23 minutes along, “DANCE” ends, but only after vigorous plucking of strings and bows against wood, harsh and assertive, all hands on deck, swirling and quoting melodies again, quieting within a false ending, a brief climax, and a soft ending after all, a rare understanding, absent the tired trope of a full-tilt climax. From within its surprising and singular frame, “DANCE” acts for its listener as a theory of everything, known and as yet unknown.

There is a sensibility in Clyne’s work that echoes the rich understanding of Mahler, particularly expressed in his Symphony No. 4 in G Major. Completed in 1900, and premiered to an angry audience the year following, Mahler’s Fourth is a forerunner in the 20th century’s declarative break with expectations. Art assumes a fluid shape. The century no longer plays a program of musical imitation of babbling brooks and butterflies gently riding the breeze. Mahler led the way; his work is music itself — music as a reach into the spirit, to those larger notions created by all that nature can give.

To achieve this vision, Mahler worked from past masters, as in the symphony’s Adagio, a vast plane for the strings, well beyond mind’s eye (and ear), as if pure essence. This third movement is among the most memorable adagios, yet under recognized, likely for its exuberant conclusion that breaks the peace. Mahler perceives through his own ear, not the license of a governing academy or school holding the rules. Mahler writes what will become the new rules, rendered, as with Clyne, through their own search.

And both composers use words: Mahler appropriates a series of folk song poems. The poem recognizes both the child’s innocence and the child’s proximity to endgames. Mahler’s fourth and final movement declares in song the doubling nature of humankind. In “The Heavenly Life” the song recognizes the presence of Harrod the Butcher as St. Luke slaughters the ox. The angels lead the lamb to its death.

Still, the food is fine, and the fish come swimming in for their death the day after the fast. Angels bake bread, and “we skip, and we sing.” This is about as good as it gets. Never mind musical babbling brooks, the breeze through the trees, and the joys of morning. Know that the terror of thunder and the fearful chasm of the sublime remain in the underside.

These two works by Clyne and Mahler are tightropes of quick changes, of forces that move mountains, and of calm. CSO Music Director Rossen Milanov carefully, subtly gathered the thin lines of the two compositions and led the orchestra to make sounds grand, gentle and whole: Rare leadership, save for allowing the orchestra to seize and swallow the low register from soprano Rebekah Howell in the concluding fourth movement and its important folk songs. Howell is a Chautauquan, performing here during the past three years with the Chautauqua Opera Company.

Free and rich, lyric, diverse, even contrary, yet always cozy with the supernatural, Mahler’s quest is to discover the supernatural in the face of horrible death. He recognized and embraced discord. The timpani had figured it out. Sound can simply be itself, or it can create melody; it can be left in the air, or it can carry its listener beyond. The rough has exchange with the smooth; the raw may be cooked.

At the last gasp of Mahler Thursday evening, big Chautauqua thunder made contact, and there were torrents and hail.

Anthony Bannon was an arts critic for The Buffalo News. He is director emeritus of the George Eastman Museum and the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. His writing about the arts appears, according to the Online Computer Library Center, in 42 books, held by nearly 2,000 libraries worldwide.

Under Rossen Milanov’s Baton for Last Time This Season, CSO and Michelle Johnson to Perform Complex Strauss Compositions

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Music Director and conductor Rossen Milanov directs the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as they play, “DANCE,” by Anna Clyne alongside cellist Inbal Segev as the first song of the, “Mahler 4,” concert on Thursday, Aug 15, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Johnson

In the penultimate orchestra concert of the season, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform two philosophical pieces.

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, August 17 in the Amphitheater, the CSO and soprano Michelle Johnson will perform German composer Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” a series of pieces that Strauss wrote in the last year of his life. The concert will end with Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), a tone poem based on the novel of the same name by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

“Four Last Songs,” titled and published after Strauss’ death, is made up of “Frühling” (Spring), “September,” “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep) and “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset). Each song uses the text of a different German poem.

This is CSO Conductor and Music Director Rossen Milanov’s last concert of the season — his fifth with the CSO. He said “Four Last Songs” is a unique experience.

“It changes you, when you hear ‘Four Last Songs,’ ” Milanov said. “Particularly the last song, which deals with saying farewell. It asks, ‘How do we wrap up everything that we have? How do we summarize our life? How do we define the important things that we have done?’ ”

Each song features a soaring soprano voice and dense orchestration. Milanov said Johnson, who first performed with the CSO last season, suggested the piece.

“We had a conversation, (and) I asked her, ‘What is your dream to sing?’ ” Milanov said. “And she said, ‘My dream is to perform Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs.’ I said, ‘We’ll do it.’ ”

Milanov, who has worked with Johnson on several other projects, said he is looking forward to this collaborative concert.

“She has an amazing voice, a generous heart and is one of the most amazing singers I’ve worked with,” Milanov said. “I’m so much looking forward to doing this concert.”

Johnson will be performing “Four Last Songs” for the first time in her career. She said she is excited for both the piece and the concert as a whole.

“This is my first time singing these four last songs from Strauss, and for me it’s a bucket list kind of deal — to be able to have such a fantastic orchestra to collaborate with is insane, and I love working with Maestro Milanov,” Johnson said.

To Johnson, “Four Last Songs” takes its source material — poetry about death — to a peaceful place.

“The poetry is about death, but Strauss pictures and paints it in such a beautiful way that it makes you not fear death, but accept it for the beauty of what your life was,” Johnson said. “It makes you accept that all things come to an end.”

Johnson said she appreciates “Four Last Songs” not just for its lyrics, but Strauss’ balancing of voice and orchestra.

“It’s just so gloriously written that the voice just soars through the density of the orchestra,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to sing it. I’m on pins and needles just waiting.”

The concert will end with “Also sprach Zarathustra,” inspired by Nietsche’s book, which explores the concept of eternal recurrence — that the universe repeats itself across time and space and will continue to do so forever.

Strauss’ piece follows the title character, Zarathustra, through selected chapters and plot points. The piece is known for its complexity and was used in the score of the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

To Milanov, the piece is an excellent final note for his fifth season.

“The piece is a sonic celebration of symphonic writing,” Milanov said. “It’s powerful, it’s sublime and it’s very inspiring to listen to. For my last concert (of the season), it was a fitting choice for the orchestra to do something so complex, so important and so impressive.”

CSO, Rebekah Howell and Inbal Segev to Perform New Composition and Explore Heaven

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Conductor Rossen Milanov leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as they play, “The Isle of the Dead, op.29,” composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff as their first piece in their, “Don Quixote,” concert on Thursday, Aug 8, 2019 in the Chautauqua Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Howell

Segev

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s concert this evening will last less than two hours — but it will explore eternity. 

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, August 15 in the Amphitheater, the CSO will perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, an orchestral and vocal exploration of heaven. The concert will also feature London-based composer Anna Clyne’s new concerto for cello and orchestra, “DANCE.”

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 is made up of four movements that follow a child’s death and afterlife. Although the subject matter begins in a dark place, CSO Conductor and Music Director Rossen Milanov said the piece is unforgettable.

“I envy the people who haven’t heard Mahler 4 and can hear it for the first time,” Milanov said. “It’s one of those pieces that you never forget.”

Renaissance-era artists often portrayed death as a skeletal figure playing the violin. Milanov said the CSO will echo this imagery with its instruments.

“In the second movement, the concertmaster will use two violins,” Milanov said, “one normal, and one which is tuned much higher. In many legends, Death itself played a violin — it would take you away, playing the sweet sound of a violin. So in that way, the final resolution of the symphony is already predicted somewhat. Death itself appears, taking the shape of a more awkward and shrill-sounding violin.”

Soprano Rebekah Howell will perform with the CSO in the final movement of the piece, which explores a child’s idea of heaven. Howell said this movement is a sensory, kinetic experience; the lyrics describe plentiful food, dancing saints and angelic music.

“It’s not at all what you would think of heaven, but it’s exactly what someone would think of when describing a simple, uncluttered life,” Howell said. “It makes you reconsider how blessed we are when we have those simple things: food to eat, things to do, fish to catch in the river.”

The symphony’s vocal portion ends with an awestruck description of heavenly music.

“At the very end, there’s a long, beautiful symphonic section that brings back a motif from earlier,” Howell said. “The ending stanza talks about the music in heaven — how there’s nothing else that can compare with it.”

The symphony ends with a quiet orchestral portion, Milanov said.

“The last miracle it describes is this beautiful celestial music in heaven, and that’s how the symphony finishes: this extremely quiet wave of sound that goes into eternity,” Milanov said.

The concert will open with Clyne’s new piece, “DANCE.” The concerto is based on a poem by medieval writer Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, often known as Rumi. The concerto’s five short movements are based on the five lines of Rumi’s poem:

“Dance, when you’re broken open. / Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. / Dance in the middle of the fighting. / Dance in your blood. / Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

Clyne wrote the piece for cellist Inbal Segev, an award-winning alumna of the Yale School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music.

Segev said “DANCE” explores the poem’s emotional qualities through a variety of styles.

“The first movement starts in a very special way; the cello sounds like a violin,” Segev said. “It plays very high and very ethereal, and I’ve never seen that in a concerto before. Then it’s kind of grungy and virtuosic and rougher in the second movement. The third is very spiritual, and the last two are more virtuosic — these beautiful, romantic melodies.”

Segev said new music has an important place in modern orchestra performance.

“(Classical compositions) are beautiful works, and I think we will always love them — as long as there are humans on Earth, we’ll play Bach,” Segev said. “But I think that, to move the world forward, we have to support composers and play new works.”

With Concertmaster Vahn Armstrong and Guest Conductor Timothy Muffitt, CSO to Perform Romantic Pieces from Bruch and Dvořák

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Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra opens the season with conductor Rossen Milanov and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk Thursday, June 27, 2019 in the Amphitheater. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Two of Chautauqua’s own will take a moment to shine tonight as guest conductor and soloist.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra — featuring CSO Associate Concertmaster Vahn Armstrong and Music School Festival Orchestra Conductor Timothy Muffitt — will perform at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, August 13 in the Amphitheater. The program features two Romantic-era pieces: Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26, and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70.

Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 is a central part of the violin’s repertoire. To Muffitt, the piece’s reputation is well-deserved.

“It’s extraordinarily beautiful, not only in the way the violin is used but in the interaction between it and the orchestra,” Muffitt said. “It really makes this stand out as one of the great Romantic-era violin concertos.”

Muffitt, who is also the music director and conductor of both the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and the Lansing Symphony, said Armstrong is well-suited for the concerto’s solo part.

“(Armstrong) is a wonderful violinist, and he has a longstanding relationship with the other players,” Muffitt said. “It’s always exciting to have one of our own out there in the soloist position.”

Armstrong has served as the associate concertmaster of the CSO for 27 seasons. He said the Bruch concerto embodies the violin’s most famous qualities.

“This particular concerto is a favorite for violinists,” Armstrong said. “It’s got a lot of technical aspects that are fun to play, and it celebrates an aspect of the violin — that romantic singing quality. For many of us, that’s why we decided to play the violin in the first place.”

For Armstrong, the concerto is more than just a favorite — it was what pushed him to pursue a musical career.

“Anyone who’s learning to play an instrument goes through a period of time in which they wonder if they want to get really serious about it,” Armstrong said.

During this time, Armstrong attended a concert at Michigan State University. The university hosted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and violinist Pinchas Zukerman to perform Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in what Armstrong described as “essentially an old basketball gym.”

But in this old gym, Armstrong said, he heard Zukerman play and came to a decision.

“I was sold,” Armstrong said. “It was that concert that decided it for me. I said, ‘I really like this violin business; it’s time to get serious about it.’ … Somehow, they managed to put on this concert in a gym that changed my life.”

The experience stuck with him. To this day, he has a unique perspective on unusual venues, Armstrong said.

“Sometimes, as a performing violinist, I play in places that I don’t particularly enjoy,” he said. “But then I remember: Who knows who’s out there in the audience, and what effect this concert might have on them?”

Armstrong performs as a concerto soloist a few times per year. He said the soloist’s role is high-profile and important — and fun.

“Any time you play a concerto, the attention is on you,” Armstrong said. “You need to carry that. But it’s a fun thing to do, taking a moment to shine.”

The concert will also include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. Dvořák, a Czech composer, wrote the piece in 1885, while his country struggled to define itself politically and culturally. After finishing the movement, he wrote to a friend that he hoped the uniquely Czech symphony would create an international stir.

“Now I am occupied with my new symphony (for London), and wherever I go I have nothing else in mind but my work, which must be such again as to make a stir in the world, and God grant that it may!” Dvořák wrote.

Dvořák created a symphony that, according to Muffitt, showed a new emotional range for the composer.

“The Seventh Symphony really stands out in Dvořák’s symphonic repertoire for its expressive scope,” Muffitt said. “It’s at a level of drama and intensity that the other symphonies — though wonderful — don’t go into that realm.”

Muffitt said Dvořák drew influence from many other popular composers of his day, but created unique work.

“We hear him as the composer, as the driving force — it’s not a derivative work; he was just absorbing a lot of what was around him and filtering it through his spirit,” Muffitt said.

To Armstrong, the two Romantic pieces will complement each other in the CSO’s performance.

“I think the orchestra has sounded fantastic this year; they’re playing with a beautiful sound and a beautiful ensemble — but also with a lot of heart and passion,” Armstrong said. “The Bruch violin concerto is the height of Romantic lyricism, and you have to put the Dvořák in the same category — just tuneful, joyous music.”
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