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

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.”