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A performance that really pops

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Seen here in 2009, Stuart Chafetz will lead the CSO in a Fourth of July celebration at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amp. Daily file photo.

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Stuart Chafetz

Get your paper bags ready and watch for the cue — tonight is your chance to perform with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as one of 5,000 cannons in the “1812 Overture.” The Independence Day pops concert takes place at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

The fun doesn’t stop when the bags are popped. Stuart Chafetz, guest conductor and CSO principal timpanist, promises a program full of music the whole family will enjoy. From patriotic tunes and festive symphonic pieces to music from the stage and screen, tonight’s concert will be a mix of new music and Chautauquan traditions.

This is Chafetz’s ninth year conducting the CSO’s Independence Day concert. He said he can think of no better place to be during the July 4 holiday.

“The family can come out and have a good time and celebrate our independence in a way that pulls out all of the stops,” he said.

Chafetz said he wants to create a relaxed, loose atmosphere, which helps both the audience and the musicians have fun at the concert. Interaction is not always welcome at classical music performances, but the pops concert gives people the opportunity to enjoy themselves in a spontaneous way.

“I like to have the audience feel comfortable that they can sing along, they can dance, they can do whatever they need to do to enjoy themselves and celebrate this Independence Day,” Chafetz said.

The concert opens with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by the Festive Overture, Op. 96 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Though not specifically an American piece, Chafetz said the overture is a “barn burner” for the orchestra and builds the evening’s excitement.

After the overture, the CSO will perform John Philip Sousa’s “Invincible Eagle March,” which is new to Chafetz’s Independence Day program at Chautauqua. Then, the orchestra will perform selections from “The Music Man,” concluding with “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

“I always like to do an old-school, Broadway medley where the audience can sing along,” Chafetz said.

For muggles young and old, the CSO presents its first performance of “Harry’s Wondrous World” by John Williams. Chafetz chose the piece to commemorate the final installment in the “Harry Potter” movie series, which opens July 15.

“It’s also a tribute to the army of readers ‘Harry Potter’ has established during its wonderful run of movies and books,” Chafetz said.

Also new this season is “The Great American TV Westerns,” the first piece Chafetz has ever commissioned. The six-song medley was arranged by Larry Moore, who will be attending tonight’s performance.

Chafetz said he hopes the piece will inspire nostalgia for audience members of all ages, from those who remember the original TV series to those who’ve seen them on TV Land.

The patriotic portion of the evening starts with “Liberty for All,” a piece for orchestra and narrator by James A. Beckel Jr. Chafetz chose Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley to narrate the piece.

“Mr. Chautauqua,” as Chafetz dubbed him, will read quotes from the Declaration of Independence and excerpts of speeches by the Founding Fathers.

The “Armed Forces on Parade,” arranged by Robert Lowden, salutes each branch of the U.S. armed forces with their official songs and hymns.

This year, Chafetz announced “a special twist” to the tribute but issued no further comment.

CSO’s pops concert closes with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Op. 49. The audience will pop more than 15,000 paper bags in lieu of cannon fire. In the semi-enclosed space of the Amp, the rustling of bags sounds like rain and the bursts are deafening, on par with real gunpowder, Chafetz said.

When the cannons settle, the CSO will perform an encore of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” before audiences shuffle off to Chautauqua Lake to view the fireworks displays.

Chafetz said he loves to see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they hear music that brings back good memories.

“I’m just so anxious to share it with everybody,” he said. “I’m really excited about this particular summer.”

Chafetz has been in the CSO as principal timpanist since 1997. He has been a guest conductor for several ensembles around the country and is currently the resident conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

“I start out with two sticks as a timpanist, and I end up with one stick as a conductor,” he said.

Chafetz said that when he guest-conducts with other orchestras, they return to their families and he returns to his hotel room. Conducting the CSO is like returning to his family, Chafetz said.

“It’s just a great experience to play with them but also have the opportunity to conduct them because they’re so responsive, they’re wonderful and I’m one of them; I’m part of the family,” he said. “For me, when I conduct them, I feel like I’m truly at home.”


Further reading:

  1. Chafetz bio 
  2. Liberty for All

A night of reunion

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Daily file photo.

Guest conductor Mester, violinist Gomyo open CSO season

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Jorge Mester

When the members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra reunite after their 10-month break, they will also welcome back guest conductor Jorge Mester and violinist Karen Gomyo. The CSO performs with Mester and Gomyo at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

The last time Mester was in Chautauqua, in 1980, it was so hot that he went swimming in the lake past midnight, which was illegal.

“Maybe I’ll get arrested, although I think the statute of limitations will probably protect me if I meet a policeman there,” Mester said.

Mester has been conducting for decades and began studying the art when cellist Gregor Piatigorsky gave him a scholarship to attend the Tanglewood Music Center in Boston. There, he studied with Leonard Bernstein, who encouraged him to continue with his craft. Mester is the music director of the Louisville Orchestra and of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in Naples, Fla.

Karen Gomyo

He’s looking forward to reconnecting with some of his colleagues from Naples and conducting the CSO again, which he remembers as a very rewarding experience.

“It’s amazingly easy because everybody knows the repertoire,” he said. “They’re there because they love the music and they love the summers there.”

Mester will also reunite with Gomyo, who last visited Chautauqua in 2006. Gomyo and Mester last performed together “when she was very tiny,” Mester said.

Gomyo remembers Mester as being extremely kind and open to letting her perform the way she wanted to.

“I remember him always being very inviting and very encouraging,” Gomyo said.

Gomyo got her start in music when she was 5 years old. At age 11, she began studying at The Juilliard School in New York with violin instructor Dorothy DeLay. Gomyo won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions at age 15. She plays the “Ex Foulis” Stradivarius violin, which was bought for her exclusive use by a private sponsor.

The last time she was in Chautauqua, Gomyo was still studying at school. Now, as an adult performer and a highly sought-after professional soloist, Gomyo looks at music in a more intellectual way.

“When I was younger, I used to create stories about the images that the music gave me,” she said. “Now I’ll look at a score, see the structure of it, and I’ll try to unlock the secrets about why certain things are written the way they are. Not to say that I perform according to that, but I think this knowledge does help the emotional relationship that you’re going to have with the music.”

Saturday’s program was created to complement Gomyo’s performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, a piece that Gomyo has been performing since she was 13 years old. She characterized the piece as beautiful and lyrical with a famously fast and difficult last movement.

When Gomyo performed the piece for DeLay, the teacher related the piece to a romance in her youth. Gomyo said she wondered whether Barber wrote the piece with romance in mind, or if it evokes Barber’s travels in Switzerland, where he wrote the concerto.

“As with any piece, the wonderful thing about music is that it is timeless, but as the performer grows up and matures, I think the performer has a different perspective of the same music throughout his or her life,” she said.

To complement the concerto, Mester chose to open the program with Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi’s “Symphonic Minutes.” The CSO has never played this piece before.

“I always like to bring a fresh piece to orchestras wherever I go,” Mester said. “It gives them an extra jolt of energy and vitality.”

The piece is written in five short vignettes, which Mester said were incredibly witty and surprisingly beautiful. He added he fell in love with the piece when he recorded “Ruralia Hungarica,” an all-Dohnányi album, with the West Australia Symphony Orchestra in Perth.

To close this evening’s performance, Mester selected Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which he called a “warhorse.” Mester said the piece is challenging because it’s so well known.

“It’s very easy to lapse into automatic pilot,” Mester said. “The challenge for a performer is how to find what made the first performance of that piece such an amazing experience for the audience.”

After his Chautauqua concert, Mester hopes to find more opportunities to teach conducting.

“It is my way of passing down what my teacher gave me,” he said.

In addition to her busy soloist schedule, Gomyo has recently started performing more chamber music. She is also working on a collaborative project with Pablo Ziegler, a pianist who was in Astor Piazzolla’s quintet. Gomyo and Ziegler created a program in which Ziegler performs arrangements of Piazzolla’s famous tango music and Gomyo performs the Brahms, Bartók and Bach that inspired Piazzolla’s music.

After their performance in Chautauqua, Mester and Gomyo will meet again on Feb. 2, 2012, when Gomyo performs with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra.

CSO’s 83rd season offers expansive variety in repertoire, guests

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The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra opens its 83rd season at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 2, in the Amphitheater with veteran guest conductor Jorge Mester and returning violinist Karen Gomyo. Dailyfile photo.

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will welcome 16 guest conductors and 21 soloists over its 21-concert, eight-week season.

Though many of the guests will be familiar faces to longtime Chautauquans, nearly half of them are new to the CSO.

The CSO always features several guest conductors, but this season’s high number reflects the absence of a music director. Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, stressed that this is not an audition season, but rather a season of transition before the CSO begins its search for a new music director in 2012. Merkley performed many music director duties, in interim, to plan the 2011 Season.

“You’re literally taking hundreds of white pieces of a puzzle, and as you go, you are coloring them in and making a picture,” Merkley said. “At the end, you hope that the picture you make is beautiful and that people enjoy it.”

Merkley and the CSO consider not only the entire season but also look at the CSO’s weekly program because of the growing number of people who visit Chautauqua for only one or two weeks.

Jason Weintraub, personnel and business manager and English horn player for the CSO, said the weekly program offers lighter works on Tuesday nights, masterworks on Thursday nights and usually features collaboration with another performing arts group on Saturday nights.

Weintraub said the key word for this season is variety.

“What we’re trying to do this summer is to just provide a wide variety  not only of conductors but also of repertoire, and I think we’ve succeeded in that,” he said.

To select the guest conductors, orchestra members gave suggestions to Merkley, who then worked to provide a balance of what he called “old guard” conductors and new faces. Many of the selected conductors are young and several are American. Three of the season’s guest conductors are women, which Merkley said was a “real coup” for the CSO.

Merkley provided each guest conductor with pieces from the CSO’s last three years of repertoire and worked with conductors to negotiate programming that would offer a mix of traditional masterworks and favorites interspersed with new and contemporary pieces.

Veteran conductor Jorge Mester and returning violinist Karen Gomyo start the season at 8:15 p.m. July 2 in the Amphitheater. The program opens with “Symphonic Minutes” by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi.

The CSO has never played this piece before, which Weintraub characterized as a “kaleidoscope of color and enchantment.” Gomyo will present a solo performance of American composer Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14. The evening will close with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36.

At 8 p.m. July 4 in the Amphitheater, the CSO will perform its traditional Independence Day celebration, led by guest conductor and CSO timpanist Stuart Chafetz. The program includes music from popular American television and movies, patriotic marches by John Philip Sousa and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” The audience is invited to participate by popping paper bags in time with the cannon blasts in the iconic overture.

Audience favorite Alexander Gavrylyuk returns on July 7 for his sixth straight year performing with the CSO. American conductor Robert Moody, who is new to Chautauqua, will lead the CSO in an evening of Russian music. Dmitri Kabalevsky’s overture to the opera Colas Breugnon opens the program, followed by Gavrylyuk’s performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26. The program closes with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.

Throughout the season, the CSO will collaborate with other performing arts groups to bring dance and opera to the Amphitheater’s stage.

On July 9, the Chautauqua Opera Company will perform Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller under the direction of guest conductor Joseph Colaneri.

On July 12, the North Carolina Dance Theatre in residence will perform Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” under the direction of guest conductor Grant Cooper. The group will return in Week Seven, on Aug. 13, for a performance of symphonic pieces accompanied by dance.

The Chautauqua Opera Young Artists and members of the CSO will perform their Opera Highlights Concert during Week Three on July 16.

The CSO is auditioning four bassists throughout the season for the principal bass position. Andrew Raciti, Daniel Pendley, Brett Shurtliffe and Colin Corner will perform for two weeks each.

Georg Klaas and Amitai Vardi will substitute for the third clarinet and bass clarinet positions this season. The principal French horn position will be shared between horn players for the first few weeks of the season.

The CSO features 74 tenured, unionized members hailing from around the country. They are similar to many metropolitan orchestras but differ in a few important respects.

The orchestra performs as many concerts in an eight-week period as some orchestras perform in nine months. They have only one or two rehearsals before each performance and meet only during the summer season.

“Our audience knows us much better, personally,” Weintraub said.

In addition to Meet the Orchestra events held by the Symphony Partners, orchestra members return every year and are part of the larger Chautauqua community.

“They love this place, and they come back year after year because they love Chautauqua and they love the experience,” Merkley said. “They love the music experience as well as the personal experience, the collaboration with the other members. It is a musical family.”

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