Tonight, an orchestra is born


Timothy Muffitt, seen here in 2010, will lead the Music School Festival Orchestra in its first performance of 2011 at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amp. Daily file photo.

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

An orchestra has many musicians, but it breathes as a unit. For some symphony orchestras, it may take years to foster the kind of bond necessary to produce top quality music, but students in the Music School Festival Orchestra have only seven weeks.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight, the MSFO will perform its first of five concerts in the Amphitheater. Led by music director and conductor Timothy Muffitt, the concert will feature four works that would appear at home on any professional symphony’s program. However, there will be something that sets the MSFO apart.

“There’s still an air of discovery that is part of the energy of this group,” Muffitt said.

Any Chautauquan able to attend all five of the MSFO’s concerts will witness an extraordinary journey — the growth of an orchestra. As students play together, they learn to read each other and predict each other’s music making. Each concert will be a milestone of progress as the group forms a greater bond.

“All of us are in there with ears wide open and eyes wide open and trying to connect as musicians,” Muffitt said. “Chautauqua is an extraordinary laboratory for making music.”

This MSFO season, the orchestra will collaborate with the Voice Program and the Chautauqua Festival Dancers. During the second concert on July 11, the MSFO will welcome the 2011 David Effron Conducting Fellow, Sarah Kidd.

Playing in all these different contexts, Muffitt said, allows the MSFO musicians to partake in concert experiences they may not have tried on their own. The variation of musical styles will keep students on their toes but also maintain that sense of energy and excitement.

The brass section, in particular, will be out of its comfort zone tonight during a contemporary piece called “Blue Cathedral” by Jennifer Higdon, Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer. The piece is scored so that these musicians will have to put down their trombones in order to play the glass harmonica.

Each brass player is given a crystal glass filled to different levels with water. The musicians lick their fingers and trace a circle around the rim of the glass to produce the right pitch.

“I’ve only done that in restaurants with my family,” trombonist Leland Evans said.

One of the glasses even broke during a rehearsal.

“It was interesting,” said tuba player Charlie Mann. “It takes lots of patience to learn how to spin your finger around the glass just right.”

Today’s concert features four works that span from classical to contemporary. The first is Felix Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, Op. 26, more commonly known as “Fingal’s Cave.” The work was the product of an inspiring visit the composer made to Scotland in the 1830s, the same visit that inspired his “Scottish Symphony.”

The next piece on the program is one of Joseph Haydn’s 12 London Symphonies, the “Military” Symphony. Showcasing boisterous trumpet fanfares in the second movement, the symphony was thought to evoke the imagery of war, earning it the “Military” nickname.

After “Blue Cathedral,” the final piece on the program is Debussy’s beloved “La Mer,” ending a challenging but eclectic premier concert of the MSFO.