Guest Critic: CSO Performs Tender Franz Schubert, Stirring Johannes Brahms

  • Conductor Rossen Milanov leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the performance of "A Saturday Evening of Symphonies" in the Amp Saturday, June 29, 2019. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Review By Johanna Keller:

A pair of beloved Romantic symphonic masterworks — by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms — were performed back-to-back without intermission to close out the first week of Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s 90th season. The news of the night was that about half the concerts this year will be intermission-free, due to popular demand from the audience, a change announced by Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, in her opening remarks from the stage.

On a more serious note, Moore also paid tribute to Peter Haas, principal bass player of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, who performed with the CSO for 24 years and passed away last autumn after a year-long battle with cancer. It was a profound loss for the close-knit community of Chautauqua, and in an interview after the performance, Haas was fondly remembered by bass player Kaitlyn Kamminga, who called him “a consummate professional and great colleague.”

The evening’s performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, dubbed the “Unfinished,” was appropriately dedicated to Haas’ memory.

So, it was in this somber mood that Music Director Rossen Milanov took the stage and stood for a long moment before conducting a singularly poignant interpretation of the two movements that Schubert wrote in 1822.

In the Allegro moderato opening, Milanov kept his gestures small, maintaining a restrained dynamic throughout. He pushed the lyricism of phrasing, demanding sweeping arcs of sound, so that the cellos and violins seemed to sing, while the sforzandi provided a muted punctuation. One of the most shattering moments in this work comes when Schubert abruptly halts the gorgeous second theme, follows it with a full measure rest and then brings in an unrelated chord, in C minor. The crispness of the CSO’s playing made this interruption freshly shocking. In the Andante con moto, each of Schubert’s unusual transitions and daring key changes — often a kind of pivot on a solo instrument — seemed transparent, even fragile. The pizzicati (plucked passages) in the low strings were on tiptoe.

I have heard the “Unfinished” played countless times with dozens of approaches — it can sound muscular, bouncy, tragic, dramatic, stately, yearning. But I have never heard it sound so tender. Such a subtle approach requires the kind of musical imagination that Milanov possesses, as well as a true fusion and trust between conductor and players that has obviously developed during his five years on the CSO podium.

Conductor Rossen Milanov leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the performance of “A Saturday Evening of Symphonies” in the Amp Saturday, June 29, 2019. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The mystery of why Schubert never completed his Eighth Symphony has been the subject of much scholarly debate, and the consensus seems to be that after writing his first six symphonies that hewed to fairly conventional classical structures, Schubert suffered a kind of artistic crisis — and it certainly couldn’t have helped that he also contracted syphilis. It is theorized that he was blocked by comparing himself to Beethoven, then a towering musical figure at the height of his renown. Schubert had sketched out a Seventh Symphony and then set to work on the eighth, composing two movements and leaving a third movement in an incomplete sketch.

By the time of his death in 1828, at the age of 31, Schubert left dozens of projects incomplete or abandoned, yet he was among the most prolific of major composers. He had written more than 600 songs, nine or 10 symphonies (or sketches, depending on how you count them), 15 string quartets, two piano trios, two quintets, 21 piano sonatas, 10 operas and other incidental music for the stage, seven full masses and a whole lot more. The two completed movements of the “Unfinished” symphony show Schubert experimenting with bizarre key modulations and harmonies, in a direction Beethoven never pursued. We are left to wonder how much more Schubert would have written, and how his music would have evolved, had he not died so young.

By contrast, after a short pause (not an intermission), Milanov hopped onto the podium and dove headlong into Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 by Brahms. Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere, called this robust 1883 piece “Brahms’s Eroica,” referring to the nickname for Beethoven’s “heroic” Third Symphony. Both works open with a spirited Allegro con brio, and Milanov flung out his arms and stirred the orchestra into a full-out rendition that had the strings swirling while the brass and woodwind sections interwove those Brahmsian motives.

A particularly telling moment occurred in the third movement, Poco allegretto. The cellos introduce this throbbing minor key theme that is then handed around the orchestra and repeated again and again. This is a movement that can unfortunately become lugubrious and sentimental. But Milanov took it at a brisk pace and pushed the articulation in a fascinating way. Usually the two phrases of the main theme are played (bear with me here) Dah-dee-Daaaaah, Dah-dee-Dah. But Milanov demanded a legato that crescendoed into the second phrase with an extra surge at the top, so that it turned into Dah-dee-daaahHH-DAH-dee-dah. The difference in phrasing may seem minor, but it is just such a detail as this that turns a good performance into a great one, and demonstrates Milanov’s intelligence and refined taste.

Conductor Rossen Milanov, leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the performance of “A Saturday Evening of Symphonies” in the Amp Saturday, June 29, 2019. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Composers have often gotten their jollies by incorporating cryptograms — sequences of notes whose letters spell out words or names. Most notably, Bach spelled out his name (in German music, B-flat was named B and B-natural was H), and Robert Schumann inserted a form of his name into his music as well. Brahms had a friend and collaborator, Joseph Joachim, whose musical motto was “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely). A lifelong bachelor, Brahms converted Joachim’s motto into his own theme on F-A-F, to signify “Frei aber froh (Free but happy), and sprinkled it throughout the symphony.

Alas, it must be said that three times during the evening, dogs being walked by their clearly unmusical owners, added unwelcome interruptions, and always at the quietest and most sublime moments; why can’t Chautauqua institute a dog-free No Barking Zone on orchestra nights?

Speaking of acoustical matters, while I usually prefer to sit two-thirds of the way back to enjoy the surprisingly well-blended sound in the Amphitheater, I took this opportunity to take a seat in the choral section behind and above the orchestra, an experiment I recommend to any serious listener. Of course, the sound there is dry, like being in a recording studio, so that you hear the sections of the orchestra separately, including sonic details like the slight rasp of the bows. You also miss the visceral blare of the brass section (they are sitting 15 feet below with their bell ends pointed away from you). On the other hand, you get to closely observe the interactions of the players and see the conductor from the perspective of the orchestra members; it is revelatory to watch Milanov use his gaze and facial expressions to elicit the sound he wants from his players.

Finally, it should be noted that a new element has been added to the orchestral season — program books. Handsomely edited, the 51-page booklet contains repertoire, guest artist bios and David Levy’s fine musicological notes for the opening few weeks of the season. Best of all is the list of orchestra members with a photo of each and a note about their other institutional affiliations. Highlighting each musician is a great idea that all orchestras should adopt. It’s just another reminder of the atmosphere of Chautauqua, where each individual voice contributes to the whole.

Johanna Keller received the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for her essays on music in The New York Times. She writes for Opera and The Hopkins Review and teaches journalism at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.

Guest Critic: CSO Season Opener Delivers ‘Unforgettable Performance’

  • 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
Review by Johanna Keller:

The 90th season of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra opened with heavenly performances of three works that, in various ways, revolved around the theme of Hell.

Conductor Rossen Milanov, beginning his fifth season as music director, chose Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Op. 32, as his challenging opener, which immediately plunges the listener into darkness and the swirling, stormy sufferings of the underworld. Programming it as an opener was a bold move, since the slashing strings and eddying woodwinds allow no time for orchestra players to warm up — welcome to Hades.

Doomed lovers abound in literature and myth: think of Orpheus and Eurydice, Tristan and Iseult, Romeo and Juliet. Once just as well-known, the story of Francesca’s illicit love affair with her brother-in-law Paolo inspired numerous operas, including one by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The tale comes from Dante Alighieri’s epic “The Divine Comedy,” and there are no more beloved passages than those of the fifth canto of The Inferno, when the author Dante reaches the second ring of Hell. There, raging winds eternally buffet those who committed the sin of lust. In the midst of this storm, Francesca tenderly recounts how she and Paolo fell in love. Rendered in Dante’s delicately rhymed three-line stanzas (terza rima), Francesca’s story so moves Dante that when she finishes speaking, he writes that he faints from emotion.

Tchaikovsky’s 1876 fantasy on the Francesca theme alternates lyrical moments (props to the soaring phrasing by Chautauqua’s principal clarinetist Eli Eban) with thunderous tutti passages that depict the netherworld’s storms as well as the storms of sexual passion. Milanov drew on his enormous range of communicative gestures to pull out of the orchestra sweeping, singing phrases that built to a final climactic accelerando, and was answered by cheers from the audience. It was an auspicious beginning.

In the world of classical music, one of the most bizarre characters has to be violinist and composer, Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840), who played so brilliantly, he was rumored to have sold his soul to Satan. Paganini’s abilities on the violin — he also played the viola and guitar — were the stuff of legend, and he invented new ways of playing the instrument in his 24 Caprices that bedevil violinists to the present day. A tall, spectrally thin man, Paganini brought some audience members to shrieks with the physicality of his performances — think of Mick Jagger crossed with a young Elvis. In recent years, much has been written about the theory — which was referenced by Chautauqua’s resident musicologist David Levy in his excellent pre-concert lecture in the Hall of Christ — that Paganini had Marfan syndrome, and was double-jointed, accounting perhaps for some of his unusual dexterity.

Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk took the stage for the fiendish, knuckle-breaking challenge of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 43. Like Paganini, Rachmaninoff was a virtuoso performer, one of the great pianists of his century, so the keyboard technical challenges are abundant.

Gavrylyuk, who also serves as the Heintzelman Family Artistic Advisor and artist-in-residence for the Chautauqua School of Music Piano Program, delivered an electrifying interpretation with propulsive energy, cascades of notes transformed into sheer veils and gigantic Rachmaninoff chords that demand not only power but astute voicing. Better known outside of the United States, Gavrylyuk is on track for a stellar international career. Milanov kept the orchestra with him every step of the way, with plaintive solo violin work by acting concertmaster Vahn Armstrong.

Theme and variations are playful forms that show off the inventiveness of the composer. Early on, Rachmaninoff gives us a wink with hints of the Dies Irae — the often-quoted Gregorian chant that summons up images of death — to allude to Paganini’s demonic reputation.

Most famously in this work, at the apogee comes a most exquisite tune (I hear it in my mind’s ear as I write these words), a tune you would recognize. Tchaikovsky invented it, or discovered it, when he inverted Paganini’s theme and recognized it as a stunner. He treats it with a full-out sobbing rendition in the orchestra and then lets the piano caress it alone, just once, before the next variation begins. A lesser composer than Tchaikovsky would have brought the hit tune back at the end, but instead, it gains all the more poignancy for its brief but spectacular, singular appearance. Milanov drove his orchestra through the final variations that pound out the Dies Irae to the shattering conclusion, with the tiny tail of a piano flourish at the very end that always brings a laugh from the audience. Wit indeed. The loudest cheering of the night came for Gavrylyuk, a favorite at Chautauqua.

At intermission, some of the audience filtered away, unfortunately missing one of the rare opportunities to hear Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony from 1939. On the surface, this extremely unusual work has nothing whatsoever to do with Hell. There are no infernos, no hellish storms, no Dies Irae, and no souls sold to the devil — or are there?

Throughout his early life, Shostakovich (1906-1975) suffered from the vicissitudes of the dictator Stalin, living in an atmosphere of terror that most of us (I hope) have never experienced and can scarcely imagine. Unfortunately for Russian artists, Stalin took a great interest in them and their work. A word misspoken or misunderstood, a work of art deemed “too formal” or “not socialist realism,” could land one on the wrong side of history — or in the gulag. Or shot. The midnight knock at the door: Such things happened under Stalin, when it is estimated that more than a million Russians died in the gulags over 20 years; others died uncounted.

In 1934, Shostakovich had written an opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, that got him denounced by the Communist Party after an anonymous article appeared, perhaps written by Stalin himself. Shostakovich managed to redeem himself by composing, as his Fifth Symphony, a triumphant celebration of Soviet might. For his next symphony, he announced he would use poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s paean, “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,” and would convey “spring, joy, youth.” On the surface, this plan sounded like a surefire way to further ingratiate himself to Stalin. But when it comes to Shostakovich — his music or his life story — the surface is always a betrayal.

Mayakovsky had been one of the most famous poets in Russia and tapped the young Shostakovich years before to provide some stage music. But the poet had his own political problems. He was a futurist: Stalin disapproved. The poet died by suicide in 1930, and afterward, and still to this day, there are arguments that it was actually an assassination.

So, for whatever reason, the symphony Shostakovich wrote was not as announced. There is no Mayakovsky poem, no chorus. Instead, it begins with a Largo that takes up more than half the work. Somber and based on minor third and diminished seventh motifs, its thickly orchestrated passages give way to moments when one instrument — piccolo, flute or English horn — are virtually isolated. It is impossible to hear this effect without thinking of the way Stalinist terror could isolate and silence individual voices. The composer finishes with two shorter movements: an Allegro and then a Presto that, for all their energy and verve, are underpinned with the bitter irony that mark this great composer’s work. There are various kinds of hell — and perhaps this symphony describes one of them.

Milanov and the orchestra members turned in an unforgettable performance — the strings bearing down on the lacerating passages, outstanding solo turns from the woodwinds and brass and percussion providing what sometimes sounded like an alarm. Milanov whipped up a galloping finale that propelled the audience to its feet and, after a sustained ovation, out into the safe and peaceful darkness of the charming streets of Chautauqua.

Johanna Keller received the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for her essays on music in The New York Times. She writes for Opera and The Hopkins Review and teaches journalism at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.

Pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk to Open Orchestra’s 90th Anniversary Season


The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s 90th season opens tonight with a highly anticipated performance featuring one of Chautauqua Institution’s favorite musicians: internationally renowned pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight, June 27 in the Amphitheater, the CSO will accompany Gavrylyuk in a performance from Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43. The concert will also feature Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, op. 32 and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 45.

For CSO Music Director and Principal Conductor Rossen Milanov, this concert marks the beginning of a landmark anniversary season.

“We have been planning the season for almost two years now,” Milanov said. “We were looking for something that would not only mark the importance of the anniversary, but also showcase the incredible diversity of approach that we have to the repertoire, the excellence of the orchestra, our connection to the audiences in Chautauqua and the importance of live music in the Chautauqua mix.”

Milanov is entering his fifth year as CSO conductor. He said that the CSO draws together the Institution’s unique performances by performing solo, with guests and with the Institution’s dance and opera companies.

“The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra is that connective tissue that pulls everything together,” Milanov said.

This season will show the importance of both the anniversary and the orchestra itself, according to Milanov.

“This is going to be a season like no other in recent years,” Milanov said. “We’re happy to mark this occasion and happy that the Chautauqua audience can hear the best of the repertoire, whether it’s traditional or contemporary.”

Milanov said that Gavrylyuk, a renowned musician and a local favorite, was the perfect choice for the CSO’s 90th opening concert. Gavrylyuk is the Institution’s Heintzelman Family Artistic Adviser for the School of Music Piano Program.

“I cannot possibly imagine a summer without Alexander being present both as a soloist of the orchestra and as a teacher with the piano department,” Milanov said. “He has a huge following; people love him, people love the freshness that he brings to everything that he touches.”

Gavrylyuk and Milanov performed Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini together at a set of concerts in Spain earlier this month. When the original guest for tonight’s concert, pianist Daniil Trifonov, was unable to attend, the Rachmaninoff piece was the natural choice.

Gavrylyuk said the piece is famously complex.

“(Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) is one of the most famous works for orchestra, and probably the most advanced compositions by Rachmaninoff for piano and orchestra,” Gavrylyuk said. “It’s a piece which has many variations, and each variation is like a miniature picture. … Every variation has a small message, like a small theatrical play or a small painting.”

Gavrylyuk said the piece’s variations make it challenging but rewarding for musicians and listeners alike.

“It’s quite difficult, this piece,” Gavrylyuk said. “It’s one of the most difficult works, but it is equally rewarding.”

Tonight’s concert will also open the CSO’s Russian Festival, which will feature two other performances of Russian compositions: “Sleeping Beauty” with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Saturday, July 13, and “Prokofiev & Rachmaninoff” on Thursday, Aug. 1

Flamenco Company of Columbus, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra deliver ‘colorful, evocative, technically adept’ season finale

  • Griset Damas Roche and Flamenco Company of Columbus perform "Tientos-Tangos Flamencos" on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018 in the Amphitheater. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Among themes for orchestra programs, few are more common than Spain. The evening of Spanish music.

Give the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra extra credit, then, for breathing new life into the concept. On its season finale Tuesday night at the Amphitheater, the CSO and Music Director Rossen Milanov rewrote the Spanish playbook, augmenting their own sparkling performances with the work of a legitimate flamenco dance troupe.

What a treat it was. Flamenco alone is compelling enough, but witnessing it in combination with live orchestra was an experience this listener won’t soon forget.

Not that the Flamenco Company of Columbus or dancer Griset Damas-Roche couldn’t have held their own. On the contrary, the troupe, which included a vocalist, guitarist and percussionist, easily could have headlined the evening. No offense to Milanov or the CSO.

On the company’s first appearance Tuesday, performing what was listed as “Tientos-Tangos Flamencos,” the four guest artists held the nearly-full house in the palms of their hands. For every varied, passionate phrase supplied by the musicians, Damas-Roche delivered an exact, ferocious replica with her heels or toes, tapping or stomping on a piece of special dance flooring.

The precision of it was remarkable. No matter how rapidly or slowly the guitarist strummed or the drummer pounded, the team remained in perfect alignment, collaboratively raising the pulses of every person under the roof.

Damas-Roche did the same thing two more times at evening’s end. In separate dances with fan and castanets, the dancer fleshed out her artistic personality and steered the CSO even clearer of any Spanish routine.

In Ruperto Chapi’s Overture to La Revoltosa, Damas-Roche treated the brilliant red fan in her hand as much more than an accessory. She didn’t just snap it open and shut, in traditional flamenco fashion. She waved, embraced and paraded it, as if it were a human partner. The effect was mesmerizing.

But the showstopper, literally and figuratively, was Las Bodas de Luis Alonso, by Geronimo Gimenez. There, Damas-Roche revealed herself to be a castanet virtuoso as well as a star dancer.

Milanov may have been the conductor, but it was Damas-Roche who was in charge, belting out incredible licks with her hands in time with the orchestra, even as she kept up twirling and stomping.  Never has the label “triple threat” applied so well.

The other half of the evening belonged to the orchestra, and the orchestra owned it. Milanov and the CSO may have been playing familiar scores, but their performances were such that the music sounded anything but tired or threadbare.

Chabrier’s España got the night off to a sparkling start. Thanks especially to vivid contributions from the orchestra’s brass and percussion sections, the brief rhapsody was impossible to resist.

Ditto the two suites from de Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat.” In that case, though, it was harder to credit any one individual. The entire ensemble proved as colorful, evocative and technically adept as could be. What’s more, Milanov led with passion and a palpable understanding of the many dance forms involved. The crowd was right to clap in the middle.

No Spanish evening is complete without Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, and the CSO’s season finale was complete in every respect. Acting concertmaster Vahn Armstrong gave a dynamic performance of the work’s chief solo part, and his peers in the woodwind, brass and harp sections added character to an alert, well-paced reading already full of life and animation.

Had the evening ended there, listeners could have gone home happy. At that point, though, the CSO still had more to offer, in the form of Damas-Roche with her fan and castanets. After that, all went home ecstatic.

Zachary Lewis is the classical music and dance critic of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.

Flamenco Company of Columbus to join Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for season finale


The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra has been on tour through Southern Europe this August, from the impressionist salons in Paris to the Galician countryside to the opera houses in Italy. Tonight, its musical travels come to an end with the sounds of Spain.

At 8:15 p.m. Tues., Aug. 21, in the Amphitheater, Rossen Milanov and the CSO will give this year’s final concert, featuring an all-Spanish program. Flamenco dancer Griset Damas-Roche and the Flamenco Company of Columbus will also perform, both with the CSO and on their own.

Flamenco dance, according to Damas-Roche, has its roots in Spain’s long, multicultural history, drawing on the country’s Arab invasion, discrimination against gypsies and influence from India. Damas-Roche came to flamenco in her native Cuba, where she was trained by Spanish teachers.

Damas-Roche will join the orchestra for two selections of zarzuela, La Revoltosa (The Troublemaker) and Las Bodas De Luis Alonso (The Wedding of Luis Alonso). Zarzuela is a form of Spanish drama similar to Viennese operettas or American musical theater, Milanov said.

Flamenco dance can have many facets — for example, in one of the zarzuelas, Damas-Roche will perform with castanets, and in another she will be using her abanico, or hand fan. These additions make preparation a long and arduous process, according to Damas-Roche.

“For La Revoltosa, I isolated myself in my studio, changed my summer routine and listened to it hundreds of times before creating the choreography because I wanted to do it with my abanico,” she said. “I also wanted to pay homage to one of my teachers, who was one of the great choreographers of zarzuela in Cuba and who died a few months ago.”

Damas-Roche will also perform a selection with her dance company, which will involve a guitar player, a vocalist and a percussionist. The first section of the piece will be a form of flamenco known as cante jondo, or “deep song.”

Cante jondo, Damas-Roche said, is the most serious of the flamenco genres, and has its origins in “pain, deep sentiments, darkness and the intensity of the human being, and the hardness of life.” The second part of her choreography will retain the deep sense of emotion, but will be more festive.

The orchestra will also be performing Emmanuel Chabrier’s España, Manuel de Falla’s “The Three Cornered Hat” Suites No. 1 and No. 2 and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, op. 34.

España and Capriccio Espagnol are two of the most often performed works of Spanish music, despite the fact that their composers were not Spanish (Chabrier was French; Rimsky-Korsakov was Russian). According to Milanov, that’s somewhat of a trend — people often joke that the best Spanish music was written by foreigners.

The ballet “The Three Cornered Hat,” however, was written by a Spaniard. De Falla received his education in France, though, and used the musical language of the great impressionists like Debussy and Ravel to capture the culture of his native Spain.

The ballet was premiered by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the legendary ballet company responsible for premiering famous early-20th century works like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe.” It was a landmark moment for Spanish music and culture, according to Milanov.

“(‘The Three Cornered Hat’ is) one of the most famous scores of Spanish music, and when it was presented in Paris, it was a sensation,” Milanov said. “It was not danced with the accustomed classical style of ballet, but with Spanish folk dance instead and a lot of pantomime. You can only imagine how that looked with the original sets by Pablo Picasso on stage. So it’s very innovative because it takes Spanish tradition and includes it as part of European cultural history and presents it in a light which is pretty authentic.”

Staff writer Lexie Erdos contributed to this report.

World-renowned classical guitarist Sharon Isbin to join Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra


More than 30 years ago, guitarist Sharon Isbin and composer John Corigliano found themselves in the same line at the post office. Isbin asked if Corigliano would write a guitar concerto for her, and Corigliano said no — the in-demand composer was too busy at the time.

But Isbin persisted. She checked back with Corigliano every year for eight years, and eventually, Corigliano agreed to write her concerto.

Sharon Isbin

In 1993, Isbin finally premiered Corigliano’s “Troubadours (Variations for Guitar and Orchestra).” Their collaboration would reach many ears. Just two years after the premiere, astronaut Chris Hadfield brought Isbin’s recording of the piece to space, where he presented it to Russian cosmonauts.

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater, Isbin will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and Rossen Milanov for a performance of Corigliano’s “Troubadours,” and the orchestra will perform Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to William Tell and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, op. 90, “Italian.”

According to Isbin, Corigliano finally capitulated to her request because Isbin suggested the theme of the troubadours, lyric poets of the Middle Ages. That idea, she said, came to her in a dream after Corigliano’s publisher suggested she come to Corigliano with a “historical and dramatic” theme for the proposed concerto.

The troubadours existed in Southern France and surrounding areas from the late 11th century to the late 13th century, and are credited with major advances in European poetry. Their poems were often set as songs, with some 300 troubadour melodies surviving into the modern era.

Corigliano selected a melody from trobairitz (female troubadour) Comtessa de Dia to form the basis for the concerto’s main theme. The comtessa was a fitting pick for a concerto written for Isbin — just as it was unusual for women to be troubadours in the Middle Ages, it was unusual for women to play the classical guitar when Isbin was beginning her career.

“In the past, the role models have been men,” Isbin said. “It takes time to really create the vision for younger people to know that they can follow their passion and their heart even if it’s an instrument or profession not commonly associated with their gender.”

Isbin has certainly done that — she’s won two Grammy Awards (the only female classical guitarist to ever do so), performed around the world as a soloist both in recitals and in front of orchestras, and she founded the guitar program at The Juilliard School in New York.

Isbin has also been a major force in bringing the guitar into the contemporary concert hall. She’s had 10 guitar concertos written for her by some of the most well-known contemporary composers, from Christopher Rouse to Joseph Schwantner and Corigliano.

“Like most artists, I think there’s something to be said for being part of our time, especially when there are some amazing composers like John Corigliano,” Isbin said. “He’s one of the true greats. Fortuitously, meeting him was almost like fate, and while it did take some effort and arm twisting to bring him to an instrument that he wasn’t familiar with, he grew to love it.”

CSO, Charlotte Ballet’s performance honors Mark Diamond’s 30 years with Chautauqua


Written by Lexie Erdos

Charlotte Ballet will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra to showcase a mix of neoclassical choreography and classical music at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, July 5 in the Amphitheater. Choreographers Mark Diamond and Sasha Janes created en pointe dance pieces to complement and energize the classical scores of Scherzo by Beethoven and The Four Seasons by Vivaldi.

The choice to select well- known classical pieces to be performed by the orchestra (the program also includes Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo in forma di Sonatina) was made by the curators of the performance, including Charlotte Ballet’s Artistic Director Hope Muir. The pieces have the advantage of being both popular with audiences and familiar to the musicians.

“The dancers will only have the opportunity to rehearse with the orchestra once before the performance, so it is really important to ensure that the music is already part of their repertoire,” Muir said.

By choosing pieces that are known both by the orchestra and the dancers, the curators hope to deliver a performance with the polish of a well-rehearsed piece.

Additionally, because the two scores were originally not written as a dance collaboration, the choreographers and dancers are given the liberty of being able to create the routines from scratch, with no pre-conceived expectations of what should be performed or included in the dances.

“We like to curate pieces that allow the dancers to have the freedom to express themselves creatively, which these pieces do,” Muir said.

Janes, the choreographer of “Four Seasons,” is also particularly interested in providing comfortability and flexibility to his dancers.

“The piece was originally made for the company three years ago for a different group of dancers,” said Janes, who is also associate artistic director of Charlotte Ballet and Chautauqua School of Dance’s director of contemporary studies. “As some dancers leave and we bring other ones on, we have made adjustments to the piece to make sure that each dancer is comfortable with the movements required of them.”

The excitement of the performance does not end with the live music, the freedom it offers the dancers, or the neoclassical take on classical scores, however. Additionally, “Scherzo” choreographer and associate artistic director Diamond is celebrating his 30th year at Chautauqua Dance. This performance is an opportunity for him to showcase how his work has changed throughout his tenure.

“This season being Mark Diamond’s 30th year with the company, I felt compelled to give him a platform to celebrate his accomplishments, which ‘Scherzo’ does beautifully,” Muir said, “Mark’s piece acts as a perfect celebration of his work.”

According to both Muir and Janes, Diamond’s piece reflects his accomplishments, growth and his funny, eccentric personality.

“Mark’s piece does have a quirky element to it,” Muir said. “He has such a wide breadth of work and many facets to his personality, which I think is reflected in the piece.”

Janes agreed.

“It’s always been great working with (Diamond).He has such an interesting perspective on what he wants to say through his movement quality,” said Janes, who has worked with Diamond since 2001.

Muir said the CSO’s involvement in tonight’s performance will be an exciting experience on both sides of the stage.

“Any opportunity to dance with live music is something I really treasure and certainly wanted to make happen during our stay at Chautauqua,” Muir said. “And of course, any chance to perform for the Chautauqua audience is always such a pleasure.”

Chautauqua Dance Circle will host a pre-performance lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 5 in the Hall of Philosophy with Janes and Diamond.

Anniversary in the Amp

Doreen Rao leads the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in a concert featuring the works of Bach and Bernstein at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. Submitted photo.

Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus opens 75th season in concert with CSO

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Doreen Rao

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus will celebrate its 75th anniversary with Chautauqua in its season-opening-concert featuring Bach’s “Magnificat” and Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS.” Doreen Rao will conduct the chorus and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

“Chautauqua is an exquisite intersection between the arts and spirituality,” she said. “It just exudes the kind of an enlightened energy that makes listening to and making beautiful music immediately understood in so many different ways.”

Though Rao and the chorus have visited Chautauqua every year since she became the chorus’ music director in 2008, this is Rao’s first time conducting the CSO.

“There is a vibrancy in the orchestra that I think comes from reuniting every year as a community of musicians,” Rao said. “That combination of orchestra and chorus is, to me, the most exciting place to be. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Tonight’s concert opens with Benjamin Britten’s “Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury,” a work for three trumpets. Rao said she hopes to have the musicians play in different areas of the Amp for the fanfare.

“My goal with this piece is to help the listeners be surrounded by the three trumpets that define the music of Bach’s ‘Magnificat,’” she said. “At the same time, the music of Britten, in a spatial sense, provides the listener an opportunity to prepare themselves to receive the music of the evening.”

Once the invitation to listen is delivered, the concert continues with the air from Bach’s Orchestral Suite in D Major, BW 1068, which will help to create the stillness of a listening space, Rao said.

“This is created by the lyricism and the melodic beauty of that movement,” she said. “It prepares us, then, for the complex counterpoint that we will hear in the ‘Magnificat.’”

Bach composed “Magnificat” after his appointment to the St. Thomas School in Leipzig, Germany. “Magnificat” was originally intended to be a Christmas piece, but Bach revised it so it could be performed throughout the year.

Rao said the piece is full of wonderful, virtuosic counterpoint and rhythmic dance forms. Its florid musical ideas are exchanged between the orchestra and chorus in a concerto-like format. The piece is challenging for vocalists, because Bach wrote the vocal parts instrumentally.

The choral movements are interspersed with arias, duets and a trio. Soloists for this evening’s performance of “Magnificat” include soprano I Leah Schneider, soprano II Tony Arnold, mezzo-soprano Natalia Kojanova, tenor Jeffrey Thompson and bass Brian T. Zunner.

Thompson is a guest soloist with the chorus and will perform the tenor aria “Deposuit potentes” and alto-tenor duet “Et misericordia.” He has performed with the chorus before and said it is a mature-sounding choir that interprets nuances wonderfully and blends beautifully. He described “Magnificat” as “Bach at his best.”

“It’s harmonically and rhythmically perfect,” he said. “The marriage of that music and the text is perfect and uplifting. It flows just beautifully.”

He will perform “Et misericordia” with Kojanova, who said she enjoys the duet for its sad, melodramatic qualities.

“When you’re happy, it’s generally just one feeling,” she said. “When you’re sad, you can be sad in so many different ways.”

Following “Magnificat,” Rao will lead the orchestra and chorus in Bernstein’s “MASS,” which she edited to shorten the piece and to make it more feasible for school, church and community choruses to perform.

Rao said “MASS” and “Magnificat” complement textually and contrast stylistically.

“Bernstein is saying much the same thing as Bach through his great faith, but uses a 20th-century language, representing American diversity in song styles and a broad sweep of compositional elements,” Rao said.

“MASS” premiered in 1971 during a tumultuous period in American history. Rao said these conflicts are juxtaposed with Bernstein’s personal struggles with his faith and reflected within the text of a Catholic mass.

“He used (the mass) as a unification device to explore the tremendous conflicts of doubt and faith that were occurring at that period of American history and continue, in many ways, to define the problems that we face today,” she said.

“MASS” includes an important role for tenor and guest soloist Joseph Mikolaj, who acts as celebrant throughout the piece. Mikolaj was raised Catholic, which he said helps him have a deeper insight for the role. He enjoys the musical style of “MASS,” which he said has roots in classical music as well as popular music.

“It carries an energy that it borrows from the pop music, but it also carries a weight that, I think, creates something quite brilliant,” he said.
Mikolaj said he’s never heard anything quite like “MASS.”

“I’d like for an audience member to sit down and try to find one thing to hold onto, one thing to take from the piece, because it’s so powerful and can be so moving,” he said. “Be ready. Be forewarned.”

Schneider performs the soprano part in “MASS,” in addition to her aria, duet and trio in “Magnificat.” She said the soprano in “MASS” performs without paying attention to the chorus, creating chaos.

“The soprano represents all that is secular,” she said. “She’s not exactly a character as much as she is representing a feeling.”

Schneider, a soloist and music educator, joined the chorus in 2006 and has enjoyed both performing in the chorus and learning new teaching methods from Rao’s example.

“(Rao is) such a vibrant conductor with lots of energy,” Schneider said. “She really knows exactly how to produce results from singers in the most effective way.”

Kojanova first started singing as a soloist with large ensembles when she joined the chorus three years ago. She said it is incredible to work with the chorus and with Rao.

“She brings so much — everybody says so,” Kojanova said. “Even in concerts, the music changes every time, growing better and better.”

In addition to her work with the chorus, Rao is an associate professor of conducting at the University of Toronto. She is also the founding artistic director of the CME Institute for Choral Teacher Education.

In the near future, Rao looks forward to a new focus in her career, with conducting in the forefront and a continued dedication to music education.

“My career is the bridge between performance and education,” she said. “That is where I live. That is what I love.”

“The Personal and Political in Bernstein’s MASS
Scott Slocum Interviews Doreen Rao

At the heart of MASS was Leonard Bernstein’s passion for peace.  Intended to be ecumenical in both a musical and religious sense, Bernstein used the Latin text of the Catholic Mass as the basis for this monumental and original work.  The mass form unifies the edgy and appealing popular song forms that question the values of faith contrasted with the expressive concert melodies that symbolically reference faith beyond doubt.  The musical tensions created by this mixture of diverse song styles mirrors the tensions of an American period of political unrest.  Bernstein’s prayers for peace and quest for renewed faith heard in his lyrical melodies and probing rhythms in MASS reflect a time in history, not unlike the world today.  Doreen Rao’s concert adaptation, taken from the original full-scale theatre production, celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s life-long dedication to the music education of young people and his passion for peace. 

Conductor Doreen Rao, Music Director and Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus will conduct her newly edited concert edition of Bernstein’s MASS at the Chautauqua Institution Saturday, July 23.   The concert edition was carefully adapted for the benefit of community, school and church choirs to enjoy the study and performance of this great 20th century classic from the lengthy full-scale theatre production for singers, players and dancers.

Interviewer Scott Slocum is a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.  Scott is a therapeutic masseuse and dancer who sings bass.  The following interview is extracted from a recent discussion between Scott and Doreen Rao in Doreen’s Buffalo home.

SS– I understand that Bernstein MASS was written as a dedication to John F. Kennedy after his death.  I thought it was ironic that President Nixon did not attend the 1971 Bernstein Mass opening of the J. F. Kennedy Center out of a suspected conspiracy that Bernstein was going to try to embarrass the United States Government.  I’m also impressed that Bernstein took the traditional Mass form and developed it in a uniquely contemporary manner.

DR– Bernstein’s music flew in the face of the political climate of the time.  He was considered a subversive by J. Edgar Hoover, and MASS was considered by some critics as a total travesty — a vulgar mélange of ideas.   By others, MASS was considered Bernstein’s greatest composition.  These were not easy times.  Has anything changed?

By using liturgical form alongside American popular song, Bernstein achieved a ‘crossover’ composition that philosophically speaking, united the Church and the people.  He used a liturgical ‘mass form’ to portray faith and hope alongside doubt and despair through the juxtaposition of concert and popular musics.

SS– A garden image comes to mind — the idea of one who knew very intimately how

“life” worked and could bring it forth and cultivate it through the use of sacred tradition set forth in a modern language with modern images – the cultivation of a ‘new’ tradition.  What a wonderful experiment.

DR– It was a glorious experiment.  Perhaps an experiment for all time.  I think Bernstein set the tone for what could be understood as an essentially American musical experience.  By developing an interdependent relationship between the sacred and secular; the concert stage and popular music; celebration and lamentation; faith and doubt, Bernstein was able to portray the relationship between musical styles within the context of a unified work made whole through the mass form.

SS- The thing that really impresses me about that imagery, and the way that you’re putting it, is that contrasting and diversified ideas reflect one another — one face reflects the other somehow — that’s a new and tasty idea, for me.

DR-  Formal religious practice and the liturgical framework for religious faith can provide comfort and assurance.  I think that what Bernstein suggests in MASS is that religion should not be separated from the daily experiences of life.  In MASS Bernstein brings street life to the Church and Church life to the street; the music symbolizes the tensions between doubt and faith.

SS- I think it’s very beautiful if you don’t have to go to church to find church – in this way, you’re always at home.

DR– When I think of the tensions often felt between the experiences of faith and doubt, I remember the ancient Irish saying: “the whole world is sacred.” I think we go to church to be in church, but Bernstein’s music suggests that we can also be ‘in church’ at home, and we can be ‘in church’ in music, and we can be ‘in church’ in a loving relationship.  This I believe is the partial essence of Bernstein’s message.

SS– That’s wonderful. It would seem that because Bernstein showed the “sacred in the secular,” and the “secular in the sacred,” he did a service to both.  MASS ennobled popular music and brought social relevance to the ancient mass form.  How enriching.

DR– In MASS, Bernstein uses a liturgical form to organize popular song forms. And while he borrowed a fair amount of material from his previous theatre works (including West Side Story and the Skin of Our Teeth) the Catholic Mass sung in Latin unifies Bernstein’s effort to portray his own struggles with sustaining faith in God during troubled times in a uniquely original work.  It’s important to remember that the use of these compositional devices like borrowing old material is not unique to Bernstein specifically or to twentieth century composers generally.  J. S. Bach was doing this long ago.  As a devout German Lutheran living in eighteenth century Leipzig, Bach often borrowed material from his previous compositions (cantatas, motets for example) and often used secular melodies (medieval street songs) as the basis of chorale harmonizations and choral counterpoint. As in Bernstein’s MASS, Bach transformed secular melodic fragments (songs) and previously composed materials into works like Magnificat and Mass in B Minor.

So the idea of the ‘secular in the sacred’ can be found throughout music history. Bernstein brought it to America in a form that we consider very “20th century,” but that particular distinction goes way back in music history. This can be found most brilliantly, I think, in the music of J.S. Bach.

SS– That’s wonderful. It’s exciting to know that what’s impressive about Bernstein has been going on at least as far back as Bach.

DR– The thing is, Bach composed in a compositional language unique to German Lutheranism during Bach’s lifetime.  Bernstein used the compositional language of 20th century American song.   While the way Bernstein composed MASS was new in many respects, philosophically speaking, the practices of stylistic variation and borrowing previously composed themes is not new.

SS– That’s a good point.

DR– If I may cautiously approach a comparison of Bernstein with Bach.  We know that Bach’s music is an absolute manifestation of his faith.  His biblical scholarship and unquestioning religious faith are deeply embodied in his compositions.  There is not a note Bach wrote that was not a symbol of his faith.   I think in some ways, the same may be true of Bernstein.  Bernstein felt very much that the African-American traditions — the Negro spiritual and gospel singing for example, were the spiritual essence of American music.  MASS was for Bernstein, a manifestation of his own religious struggles. Every note of this work is deeply rooted in Bernstein’s commitment to diversity and peace making.  As Bach’s cantatas and passions were a celebration of Christian faith, I see  MASS as a celebration of Bernstein’s faith in American diversity as unity.

SS– Tell me about your experience of adapting and editing the Bernstein MASS into a shortened concert version.

DR – I undertook this project a number of years ago in anticipation of Leonard Bernstein’s 90th birthday.   This newly adapted and edited version of Mass seeks to honor the composer’s life-long commitment to music education and bring what Bernstein biographer Humphrey Burton called “Bernstein’s most original work” to school, community and church choirs unable to produce the original full-scale theatre production.  I worked diligently to assure that the work’s liturgical form and dramatic intent were carefully preserved.  Every note of this edition is pure Bernstein.

I have always been a great lover of the work of Leonard Bernstein — certainly his compositions and his conducting, but most importantly, his teaching.  Bernstein was the quintessential American music educator, not only as a teacher to generations of young people, but through his compositions themselves.  His music is a way of investigating the world around us. His music broadens our understanding of the Torah, the Bible and also points to the ethical and moral dilemmas of cultural confusion and societal conflicts today.  It is an investigation of life from historical, sociological, anthropological and purely musical perspectives.

The choices that Bernstein made musically in his theater work, symphonies, and in MASS teach us about life in a new voice.  While the music is often very beautiful in and of itself, his works are not just about music for it’s own sake.  Every note of Bernstein is in some way provocative and challenging.  It evokes intellectual curiosity, emotional response and seems to serve as a form of social inquiry.

I’m drawn to Bernstein’s music because it teaches me not only about music, but also about life itself.  Bernstein was not afraid to examine doubt.  He grappled compositionally with the conflicts that people have always stayed away from.  Bernstein’s music allows us to sit still with conflict and examine our faith in relationship to the suffering and doubt that surrounds us. I have always been drawn to the process of examining, investigating, questioning, not because there is one answer, but because I think as human beings we need to be comfortable with the notion that there may not be an answer to every question.  We need to view doubt without fear.

Bernstein’s music explores all this from a broad, existential perspective.  This comes across in all his music. His melodic material, based as it is on what we would call “popular tunes,” is a perfect example of how gloriously beautiful simple melody can be, in both a harmonically tonal and atonal context.  In other words, turning a melody around on its head and doing something really ‘strange’ with it, then stating it again in the original form demonstrates a kind of non-duality.  Bernstein twists his ideas; he turns them around and examines them from a multiplicity of compositional and social perspectives. Bach did the same thing.  I like that.

SS– Me too. Me too.

No power? No problem.



Guest violinist Joan Kwuon performs the Prokofiev G minor Violin Concerto with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

John Chacona | Guest Reviewer

Weird night last night.

I should have known that something was amiss at Chautauqua when I found a parking space at the bottom of the lot close to the exit. Paradoxically, the failure of a transformer earlier in the day and the resultant loss of electrical power increased the noise level on the grounds as gasoline-powered generators chugged away.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra chugged away, too, in a truncated concert in a semi-darkened Amphitheater last night, but the lack of power wasn’t a consequence of the transformer as much as it was of the heat.

Musicians are mortal like the rest of us, and nobody likes to work outside when temperatures are in the mid-90s. Moreover, in hot weather, instruments are hard to keep in tune. Humidity is an enemy, too. So the climatic deck was stacked against the CSO yesterday.

After President Tom Becker made an announcement about the power outage (in a polo shirt and shorts!), Marty Merkley told the slightly thin crowd (many had left to seek food as well as air conditioning) that the program would be shortened so that symphony patrons might find their way home before dark.

The initial movement of the Prokofiev G minor Violin Concerto and the first three movements of the Dvořák Symphony No. 8 were sacrificed, a decision that was both vexatious and merciful.

Under the circumstances, it seems unfair to offer a review in the normal sense of the term. Does a restaurant critic judge a restaurant solely on the amuse bouche and the dessert?

So I’ll report on what I heard, namely that the CSO players, under conductor Christopher Seaman’s direction, delivered a tidy and sonorous account of the “Meistersinger” overture, with the strings sounding surprisingly rich and well-tuned.

The Prokofiev began with the slow movement, and though it’s not unusual to play individual movements of works in certain settings, starting a work in the middle is rather like reading a book beginning with chapter four. One can get a sense of the author’s style, but not the message. I think the orchestra was a little unnerved, too, as some of the ensemble work was a bit tentative.

Was violinist Joan Kwuon’s small tone a function of the heat, the change in program or was it anomalous? It’s impossible to know, but my heart went out to her in what had to be a thankless assignment, and certainly not the one for which she prepared. The closing pages of the brilliant finale arrived with more relief than triumph.

It was a pity that the Dvořák G major Symphony had to take the hit, because this is supremely outdoor music, and summer music, too. Full of juicy Bohemian folk melodies and the composer’s amiability of utterance, it would have been nice to hear all of it.

Conductor Seaman gave the downbeat before both his feet hit the podium surface, and it was off to the races. The finale was played very fast, with principal flutist Richard Sherman puffing hard to keep up. Not that it didn’t work — sort of. Standing alone, the movement was an undiscovered Slavonic Dance, an encore piece to the half-hour or so concert that preceded it. Like I said, it was a strange night.

By the time you read this — not by candlelight, as Becker warned of the tragic potential of candles and open windows — power should have been restored, but the heat is a more intractable problem than is electricity, and the CSO has a hugely ambitious program on Saturday, with two sets of soloists and a chorus. It may be the highlight of the season. Let’s hope that it may be heard under ideal conditions.

John Chacona is a freelance writer for the Erie Times-News.

That mesmerizing moment

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Guest conductor Christopher Seaman leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in its Tuesday night performance in the Amphitheater. Photo by Greg Funka.

Violinist Kwuon, guest conductor Seaman join CSO for a concert of Wagner, Prokofiev and Dvořák

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Joan Kwuon
Joan Kwuon

Violinist Joan Kwuon loves the thrill of performing for a live audience and having an active dialogue with an orchestra.

“It never gets old,” she said. “That moment, being surrounded by the sound from the orchestra and contributing the solo line is really quite mesmerizing.”

Kwuon will join guest conductor Christopher Seaman and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater for a concert featuring works by Richard Wagner, Sergei Prokofiev and Antonín Dvořák.

Kwuon made her CSO debut in 2009 with the Jean Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, in a performance guest reviewer Anthony Bannon said “(found) tempest inside tenderness.”

She originally was scheduled to perform the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63, in 2008, but was unable to appear due to a family emergency. Tonight’s concert features the same concerto, chosen simply because it was a good fit for the musicians and the program, Kwuon said.

She said she enjoys the concerto for its wide range of harmonies and textures.

“The concerto has a lot of flavor,” Kwuon said. “(Prokofiev) is very generous with expression.”

The first movement begins with the solo violin, which sets the mood. Kwuon described the movement as light, reflective and a bit sad. The second movement becomes arching, lyrical and romantic, with fireworks and long, spun phrases above the orchestra’s part. The concerto concludes with a vibrant dance featuring castanets, conjuring images of Spain, where the concerto premiered.

Seaman described Prokofiev as a composer with a very strong personal flavor.

“Prokofiev has this marvelous mixture of elegance, charm and an incredibly dry wit,” he said. “By adding Prokofiev in the middle of the Wagner and the Dvořák, we’ve stirred a little bit of a different spice into the mix, which gives us a very good balance as a program.”

The concert opens with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The piece is among Wagner’s most popular overtures and preludes. It features marvelous melodies and a big finish, Seaman said.

“It’s a wonderful starter,” Seaman said. “The opera has a huge amount of humanity, which comes out in the prelude.”

Tonight’s program concludes with Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, which Seaman described as a masterpiece. Dvořák had an inexhaustible supply of melodies, as evidenced by the six themes in the first movement — most symphonies feature only two.

“It’s an absolute delight to play — sunshine from beginning to end, with a couple of clouds passing in the second movement,” he said.

After Chautauqua, Seaman will guest conduct in the first of two Australian tours this year. He recently recorded Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “London Symphony” and “Serenade to Music” with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, where he just concluded his 13-year tenure as music director.

Kwuon recently had her South American debut in Caracas with the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra. She will appear at the Great Mountains Music Festival in South Korea later this summer and in chamber music concerts at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she is the artistic director of the violin conservatory’s preparatory division. Kwuon also is recording Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas No. 9, Op. 47, and No. 10, Op. 96.

Classical Folk: Seaman to lead CSO through variety of cultural styles, atmospheres

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Christopher Seaman

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Christopher Seaman was music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for 13 years but has never been to Chautauqua — until tonight.

Seaman will conduct the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

“I know that (Chautauquans) are a wonderfully appreciative audience, a cultured audience and an audience with a lot of musical background,” he said. “I’m delighted to visit. I do think that it’s going to be marvelous.”

Seaman just concluded his tenure as the RPO’s longest-serving music director and was honored with the lifetime title of Conductor Laureate. More than 40 of his fans will ride a bus from Rochester to Chautauqua to see their favorite conductor.

Tonight’s program was devised to contain a variety of different styles and atmospheres, Seaman said.

The concert opens with Hector Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture.” Seaman said he has an affinity for the piece because Berlioz was a redhead, and so is he.

“He always did the unexpected,” Seaman said. “He broke all the rules, and yet, was incredibly, musically effective. He had a wonderful sense of drama and color.”

That rebellious originality, as Seaman dubbed it, comes through in the first few seconds of the piece, which starts out as a wild carnival and stops abruptly. With a few trills in the wind section, the piece continues with a solo for the English horn.

Following Berlioz’s overture is another piece by a French composer, Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane, Op. 50. Seaman described Fauré as a man with true grit — a military hero who sparked the resignations of several professors when he was appointed as director of the Paris Conservatoire.

A pavane is an ancient dance, typically composed in memoriam. Fauré’s “Pavane” was written with parts for a chorus, too, but is seldom performed with one, because of its “stupid” lyrics, Seaman said.

“Fauré was obviously sending it up, but like a lot of great composers, what actually comes out exceeded his intentions,” he said. “What we actually have is not just a little send-up, a little parody, a little bit of satire, but the most beautiful, simple, touching dance in 4-time, in the style of a pavane.”

After the pavane, the CSO will perform “The Moldau” by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. The piece is part of six symphonic poems titled “My Fatherland” and is named for a river in the Czech Republic.

“The Moldau” traces the career of the river, beginning as a small stream and broadening as it goes through different scenes, including a village wedding and a moonlit landscape, and past the ghosts of an ancient army.

The piece builds as the river goes through Prague, where Seaman conducts regularly.

“When I am in Prague, I always go over the Charles Bridge and look at the river,” he said. “The melody of the piece comes into my mind, and I get a big lump in my throat.”

Once the river runs its course, the program continues with British composer Edward Elgar’s “Chanson de matin,” or “Morning Song,” which Seaman called a “delicious little piece,” full of genuine, if dated, sentiment that gives it a nostalgic air. Elgar is famous for his large, important works, but his smaller salon pieces are charming, Seaman said.

The song is followed by another British composition, “Fantasia on Greensleeves” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The piece is based on the well-known tune “Green-sleeves,” which is sometimes rumored as being written by King Henry VIII, but because of its modal scale, its origin is probably a folk song, Seaman said.

He said the piece is beautifully set, simple and touching.

Tonight’s program concludes with the “Firebird” suite by Igor Stravinsky. Seaman called the suite a brilliant orchestral showpiece. The suite is part of Stravinsky’s larger ballet of the same name and is based on a classic Russian tale of good and evil.

Though Stravinsky’s music was experimental, he never stopped sounding Russian, Seaman said, because of his link with traditional Russian folk songs and the modes and rhythms they use.

“Firebird” is popular because of its fantastic colors and great story, Seaman said, but it’s also very organic in the way its sections are linked together and is filled with intellectual unity.

“It hits to the brain as well as the heart,” Seaman said.

The British-born conductor reflected on his career in the United States, where he has held positions as music director of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in Naples, Fla., and conductor-in-residence of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in addition to his long tenure at the RPO.

“America has been very good to me, and I really am very grateful,” he said. “And it’s still being very good to me, I might add!”

In addition to his regular appearances as guest conductor at orchestras around the world, Seaman also is working on a book about conducting.

“The book is for people who go to concerts, do not have college training and would love to know more about what a conductor does,” he said.

Seaman will conduct with the CSO again on Thursday with guest violinist Joan Kwuon.

Opera, with an American flavor



Chautauqua Opera Young Artists and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra collaborate in a previous season. Daily file photo.

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer


The works of John Adams, Leonard Bernstein, Jonathan Dove, Benjamin Britten and Lee Hoiby, among many others, will be featured in the Opera Highlights concert, held at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

The performance will feature eight Apprentice Artists from the opera company’s Young Artists program and members of the CSO, under the baton of Steven Osgood.

The theme of the performance is opera of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Osgood is familiar with opera music of this stripe. He has conducted many modern works, like those of Hoiby, John Corigliano and Philip Glass with renowned companies like the New York City Opera, The Juilliard Opera and the Dutch Opera, to name but a few.

He said this program, while unmistakably modern, will be enjoyable to a wide audience.

“It is intensely theatrical, it is unabashedly lyrical and it’s a very accessible program for the listeners,” Osgood said.

Tenor Caleb Stokes, one of the artists to perform this evening, agreed.

“I think the music itself is beautiful and people will love it,” Stokes said. “It’s really exciting and really magical.”

Bass William Roberts, another performer, said the selections for the evening were made with this audience in mind.

“The music staff here chose music that is accessible to this audience,” Roberts said. “The whole point of this evening is to show how wonderful modern opera can be.”

The singers said they have appreciated working with Osgood.

“Steven (Osgood) is excellent,” Stokes said. “He really knows this repertoire inside and out, and he knows how to get the best out of us and make the important parts of the music very clear.”

Roberts said an aspect of Osgood’s direction he admires is the respect he has for the singers.

“When we collaborate with Steven, he treats you like a true professional and respects your individual musicianship,” Roberts said.

Osgood was in Chautauqua before. He conducted Tosca here in the 2009 Season. He said Chautauqua’s Young Artists program continues to impress him.

“There are some incredible young singers here,” Osgood said. “I’m really happy to work with them.”

This program features many works by American opera composers. Osgood said American opera has begun to gain the recognition it deserves.

Harth-Bedoya, Gerhardt combine for a crowd-pleasing evening

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Alban Gerhardt performs Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33, under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

John Chacona | Guest Reviewer

The buzz around the young conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya is that he’s in the running to succeed the departed Stefan Sanderling as the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s music director.

On paper, he’s a compelling candidate: young, full of energy and with a growing list of high-profile gigs (a protégé of Esa-Pekka Salonen, he was at Tanglewood last weekend). Harth-Bedoya looks great in a cowboy hat (check out his website), has a million-dollar smile and a crisp podium manner that projects confidence and energy. Like his mentor, he gets an admirably clear, focused sound from the orchestra — a necessity in the French music that made up two-thirds of his concert on Thursday evening, Bastille Day.

Clarity is the prize in the music of Maurice Ravel, perhaps the most French of composers. But it’s only won by not falling headlong into the voluptuousness of his dazzling orchestration. The “Rapsodie Espagnole” further seduces with local color (authentic, too: Ravel’s mother was Basque). It’s easy to overdo this, and one might expect the Peruvian-born Harth-Bedoya to assert his authority in music with a Spanish accent. To his credit, he did not, leading a performance of understatement and orderliness (also authentic; the composer’s father was a Swiss engineer) — perhaps a bit too meticulous, though the closing Feria, marked assez anime, danced.

The Camille Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 is a young man’s piece, written when the composer was a comparative boy of 37 (he would live just short of half a century longer), and in the young German-born New Yorker Alban Gerhardt, it found a persuasive advocate. Gerhardt, who has a wide-eyed and expressive face, played the music with the proper measure of respect and fire, digging into the chewy opening theme with ardor. He could be graceful, too. Gerhardt made the little mock minuet of a slow movement, lovingly shaped by Harth-Bedoya, into a lyric arioso.

And he took some chances, interpolating octaves into one of the flashier moments in the closing Allegro. Why not? The Saint-Saëns is not exactly a monument of probity. Showing off is the point, and Gerhardt managed to do so without sounding vulgar or flippant. He made a strong case for the work and seemed to enjoy himself doing so.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 “Scheherazade” is by now so familiar as to be inconsequential, but listen closer and you hear strange snippets of Russian folk tunes and advanced, sometimes startling, turns of harmony. Stravinsky learned more from Rimsky-Korsakov than he would admit.  Harth-Bedoya’s admirable clarity of orchestral texture brought all of this out. Like Ravel’s “Rapsodie,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s four-movement symphonic suite can seduce with color, but the trick is for the conductor to be an Impressionist, not a Fauvist. This Harth-Bedoya largely did, though even he succumbed to the IMAX sensory density of Rimsky-Korsakov’s climaxes, which made an appropriately grand noise. And in the opening movement, he did something I’ve never heard: make the piece sound almost German. His tightly argued and impressively controlled approach transformed Rimsky-Korsakov into a Slavic Richard Wagner.

Harth-Bedoya’s tempo was quite plastic, and he gave his players wide interpretive latitude in the numerous instrumentals that adorn “Scheherazade’s” glittering, Fabergé-egg surface. This is a good way to win the hearts of your musicians — and perhaps ultimately, a job. The audience seemed to like it, too.

It would be nice for whoever is named the new CSO music director to have section players as distinguished as Emmanuelle Boisvert. For 23 years, Boisvert had been concertmaster with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra before she fled the turmoil there less than two months ago to join the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Her presence at the back of the first violins was as notable an example of luxury casting as the venerable shed ever may have seen.

John Chacona is a freelance writer for the Erie Times-News.

CSO musicians hold open recital

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Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Members and friends of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform at an hour-long, open recital at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.

The third annual recital is sponsored by the Symphony Partners — the CSO’s volunteer and support organization. Donations to the Symphony Partners will support future events, including Meet the CSO, Musicians Brown Bag lunch and post-symphony Meet the Sections events.

“The CSO brings us happiness and the gift of music,” said Judith Claire, president of the Symphony Partners. “The Symphony Partners is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for year after year of music.”

Today’s recital is a unique opportunity to interact with members of the CSO on a more personal level. It also allows more of the CSO’s 74 musicians to feature their talents in solos and small ensembles, said CSO French horn player Mark Robbins.

“I think the Symphony Partners is a very valuable thing — anything that can draw us closer to the audience and the audience closer to us,” he said.

Robbins and fellow CSO French horn player Donna Dolson will perform three horn duets from Mozart’s “Twelve Original Duets,” K. 487. Robbins described the pieces as light and frothy, but said that at the same time, they contain plenty of musical depth.

Robbins and Dolson have performed together for 27 years after joining the CSO in the same year. They consider themselves good friends and have appeared in every CSO open recital together.

“The recitals are wonderful, because we get to know the audience on a more intimate basis,” Dolson said.

Dolson will also be playing with CSO principal tuba player Fred Boyd, performing an unusual tuba and French horn duo by John Stevens, a one-time student of former CSO tuba player Toby Hanks. “Dialogues III for Horn and Tuba,” composed in 1987, features back-and-forth calling between the tuba and French horn, followed by an almost jazzy section, Dolson said.

Some of today’s seven ensembles comprise couples as well as friends. Nancy and Jason Weintraub have been playing together since the two met more than 45 years ago. Nancy is a pianist and a Symphony Partners director-at-large. Jason is the CSO English horn player and business and personnel manager.

“As a duo, we understand each other very well,” Nancy Weintraub said. “We always know what the other is doing.”

They will be performing “Opus in F,” a piece specifically composed for the duo by Turkish composer Naki Ataman. Ataman heard the Weintraub Duo when they were performing on a cruise ship and wrote the piece for them. Nancy Weintraub described the opus as romantic and almost ballad-like in its simplicity. It showcases the beauty of the English horn, she said.

Other couples featured in today’s recital include CSO violinist Karen Lord-Powell and her husband, bassist Brian Powell, performing Reinhold Glière’s Suite for Violin and Double Bass, as transcribed and edited by Frank Proto.

CSO cellist Batia Lieberman and her husband, CSO bassist Bernard Lieberman, are two of four members in today’s string quartet, which also features CSO violinists Lara Sipols and Lenelle Morse. They will play Gioachino Rossini’s Sonata for Strings No. 1 in G. The string quartet formed and performed this piece for Paul Mischakoff’s memorial service earlier this year.

“Paul was a happy and fun guy, so we wanted to play happy, fun music,” Morse said.

She likened the piece to many of Rossini’s overtures, with its buoyancy and upbeat character.

Morse enjoys playing with the quartet because of its laid-back atmosphere and trust, she said.

She has performed with other groups in past CSO open recitals, including last year’s “Walking Girls,” formed by CSO members who also walked together every morning for exercise.

Other ensembles in the recitals have worn costumes, played pop music on cellos or performed hunting calls on French horns, Claire said.

Though the music program at Chautauqua may be similar to music festivals like Aspen and Tanglewood, Chautauqua differs in one important respect, Claire said.

“In all disciplines at Chautauqua, you can have personal interactions,” she said. “All of the members of the CSO are Chautauquans. The community here is unique.”

Members of the Symphony Partners can attend closed CSO events, including the upcoming rehearsal and picnic on Wednesday, July 20. Membership to the Symphony Partners costs $20 for a family or $10 for an individual membership.

Togetherness through music

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Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Harth-Bedoya, Gerhardt share musical friendship with CSO

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer


“The beauty of music is that it brings people together,” guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya said. “You have to become friends to make music together.”

Harth-Bedoya was speaking about his friendship with cellist Alban Gerhardt. The two appear with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Gerhardt and Harth-Bedoya have performed together frequently, from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City to the Bach Festival in Eugene, Ore. The two were at the festival earlier this summer, where their young children met for the first time.

Gerhardt’s last performance in Chautauqua was in 2005, when he performed Antonin Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. Gerhardt said he has fond memories of Chautauqua.


“When they asked me again to appear with Miguel Harth-Bedoya, whom I adore very much, I couldn’t say anything but yes,” he said.

He will be performing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33. The piece is given to cello students and is thought of as easy, but is difficult to master, Gerhardt said.

“It’s very short, but in its shortness, there is so much emotion and so many different characters in it that it’s not very easy to bring them all out,” he said. “They are passionate, tender, loving and angry, and they somehow happen all in quick succession. In a very short time, you have to say a lot.”

Gerhardt said it took about 25 concerts until he was happy with his performance of the concerto. He adds octaves in one section, reasoning that Saint-Saëns meant to add them, since the section ends with written octaves. He said this addition makes the concerto much more difficult.

“It’s like a tightrope act — you have to shake a little,” he said. “This is not done on purpose, of course. But whenever I struggled during a performance, people loved it more than when everything went easy.”

Harth-Bedoya said the variety of repertoire Gerhardt can handle is quite impressive.

“The versatility of his playing is amazing,” he said. “Everything he takes on, he’s 200 percent in the work.”

Harth-Bedoya described all of the pieces in tonight’s program as lively, dynamic and far from shy. He likened the program to a meal, in which the cello concerto is a palette-cleanser of abstract music that is served in the middle of two very flavorful courses.

That meal starts with Maurice Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole,” which he described as the spicy appetizer. The piece was influenced by Ravel’s Basque heritage, Harth-Bedoya said.

“(Ravel) is a composer that would hold emotions for a long time and then let them go with great care,” he said.

The program ends with the main course, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, op. 35. Inspired by Middle-Eastern folk takes from One Thousand and One Nights, the piece has an eastern flair. It requires special attention to timing, Harth-Bedoya said.

He said both “Scheherazade” and “Rapsodie Espagnole” are challenging because the pieces are associated with concrete ideas.

“When there are words attached to a piece, then the music is no longer abstract,” he said. “With storytelling, it’s a lot more specific, which makes it harder in one sense because we’ve all read the same book.”

Harth-Bedoya said the conductor’s primary role is to serve the music.

“When you really get to learn about great works of art in composition, you realize what a small part we are in,” he said. “The conductor is just the middle person. It is not about us, and I like that very much, because we are here to serve.”

Harth-Bedoya is visiting Chautauqua as his last engagement of the season, after conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood and before he goes on a summer vacation with his family. He has never been to Chautauqua and said he is looking forward to exploring the grounds and surrounding areas.

Harth-Bedoya is the music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. After his vacation, he will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 12 and 13. He recently completed a recording of “Nazareno,” by Osvaldo Golijov, featuring Katia and Marielle Labèque, to be released this fall.

In addition to his career as an internationally acclaimed soloist, Gerhardt frequently plays outside of the concert hall. He is active in Germany’s Rhapsody in School program and also is considering appearances at supermarkets, train stations and soccer games. He said he’s not doing this to be famous but to bring classical music to new audiences and inspire a new generation of musicians.

“I think it’s important that humans express themselves, artistically and creatively,” he said. “Now we are all kind of being seduced by everything that’s out there to just sit on our couch and not do anything. As an artist, it’s my responsibility to work against that.”

‘July’s Delight’ indeed as NCDT, CSO collaborate elegantly

Photo | Matt Burkhartt


The North Carolina Dance Theatre in Residence performs to the music of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater. Gerberich and Pete Walker perform the pas de deux from “Stars and Stripes.” Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Jane Vranish | Guest Reviewer

It’s always a welcome event to have the North Carolina Dance Theatre and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra collaborate, but the first such program of the season appeared to have a third party involved — the audience.

There was no doubt that these ballets had a built-in audience appeal — dare I say accessible? — with the likes of John Philip Sousa and Johann Strauss. However, the notion of accessible can sometimes mean the kiss of death, implying that a performance was pleasant but lacked a certain substance.

That was not the case here. It was a program designed to play on the considerable personalities of the NCDT dancers, one of the company’s main strengths, and to extend a comfortable familiarity with the music, played with a robust sweep by conductor Grant Cooper and the orchestra.

It worked — the audience was almost immediately hooked and helped to escalate the sense of excitement throughout the evening, much like Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” does so succinctly in itself.

This was obviously one of Mark Diamond’s most popular ballets, judging by the audience’s applause at the Amphitheater Tuesday night. But he used the music, ripe with that iconic repeated rhythm, merely as a jumping-off point. Instead, his “Bolero” seemed to focus on its overall exotic, undulating nature, sometimes with humorous touches, rather than the usual erotic interpretation.

While the bolero is a Spanish dance, there were only a few hints of that in the choreography. It began as if in a sleepy Mexican town, the men lounging about with sombreros on their heads. Anna Gerberich entered to the soft opening strains, clad in a white midriff top and harem skirt, wafting among the men like a hot summer breeze.


The other women joined in, playing with the sombreros, then undulating their torsos occasionally with a Middle Eastern flavor as if to encourage the men to join them. As the music escalated, Diamond inserted more technical elements for the dancers, giving the dance a classical balletic overlay in the various solos and lifts. Although the choreography itself appeared to change emphasis, the dancers’ commitment did not, bolstering the undeniable appeal of this “Bolero.”

Diamond also contributed one of the two opening pas de deux, choosing to rework a duet from “La Fille Mal Gardée,” a production already made famous by Sir Frederick Ashton. It is wickedly difficult to do ballet comedy, but Ashton’s classic does it with style, where one of the highlights is a cleverly brilliant grand pas that incorporates satin ribbons into the choreography. (Imagine a ballerina poised en pointe in attitude, holding the ribbons like a human maypole while the other dancers rotate around her.)

Diamond’s version was cast in the classical idiom, more like the peasant setting of “Coppélia,” although the musical selections and tempi seemed a little lackadaisical even for that. While it was performed with a fresh-faced flair by Sarah Hayes Watson and Daniel Rodriguez, there was straightforward partnering built on the arabesque and, as expected, a series of whipping fouettes for her and clear-cut beats for him.

If the choreography in “La Fille” was direct, George Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes Pas de Deux” was not, showcasing a chain of twizzling off-center balances right out of the starting gate. This virtuoso piece has all the razzle dazzle of a parade condensed into a duet. As such, it needs larger-than-life dancers, which it had in Gerberich and Pete Walker.

They came on with a flourish and never let up. Gerberich (a true “Liberty Belle” here) displayed a razor-sharp passe that seemed to ricochet into place then deliberately unfold into a high extension. In her solo, she balanced while piquantly tilting her head in different directions and later did a blinding series of turns that changed feet and suddenly transformed into fouettes.

Walker emerged as a star in his own right, strutting his stuff in high, floating jumps and dashing off turns with considerable aplomb, the kind that galvanizes an audience.

It remained for artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux to keep the momentum going in his premiere, the aptly titled “July’s Delight,” although Cooper apparently nicknamed his arrangeament “Strautauqua.”

Balanchine delved into some Strauss for his full-length “Vienna Waltzes” in 1977. Although the two works share the music from “Voices of Spring,” Bonnefoux took his ballet in another direction.

“July’s Delight” was a collection of works from “The Waltz King,” ranging from the popular “Radetzky March” and “Blue Danube” to the lesser-known “Eljen a Magyar” and “Jokey Polka.” It contained a slight subtext where Walker gave Gerberich an engagement ring, which she elatedly showed off to her friends while embarking on some celebratory chasing maneuvers. Later in the finale, she appeared in a white gown, perhaps a wedding dress.

While that might be stretching things a bit, the ballet still had an overall youthful exuberance about it, beginning as the dancers precisely marked time in the opening march. Then it moved into a waltz where the lush Melissa Anduiza swirled among a trio of possible suitors.

Although a few details still needed to be worked out — there were some long pauses to accommodate the men’s costume changes — the varying moods kept things interesting, particularly with a lively character dance, something that is rarely inserted into contemporary choreography nowadays, and an almost giddy polka for Hayes Watson, her feet flickering as she bounced between Greg DeArmond and Jordan Leeper.

With all this delicious variety, Bonnefoux still understood the basic nature of each selection — the character steps were spot-on, and the polka selections had a sprightly accent. But it all came down to the basics — a strong connection of the steps to the music, allowing the dance to emanate from the score.

Perhaps that was best seen in “Blue Danube,” a winsome finale where the billowing patterns created the atmosphere of a lovely moonlit night. Bonnefoux was able to fill the stage with his dancers, who fully understood the glide, the weight and the elegance of the waltz.

And when the lights went down, they were still dancing … delightfully.

Jane Vranish is a former dance critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and continues there as a contibuting writer. Her stories can be read on the dance blog “Cross Currents” at

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