A performance that really pops


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