The triumph of the human spirit

One hundred twenty-nine musicians, including the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and community members, accompany a large Amphitheater audience in a rendition of “America the Beautiful” Tuesday evening. Photo by Megan Tan.

CSO flutist Sherman, guest conductor Falletta and CSO to perform 20th-century works

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer

Falletta

Richard Sherman, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s principal flute, said he’s performed some of his best concertos here.

“These are people that I’ve known, many of them, for as long as I’ve been coming here,” he said. “There’s a comfort factor; there’s a friendship factor; there’s a trust factor that enables me to feel that I know that they’re going to be supportive and they’re going to be right with me.”

Sherman will perform Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Fantasía para un Gentilhombre,” as arranged for flute by James Galway. Guest conductor JoAnn Falletta will lead the orchestra in a program of 20th-century works, including Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 100, at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Sherman

Falletta, who last conducted the CSO in 2008, said there is an amazing chemistry in the orchestra, created by people who come to Chautauqua from all around the country and seem to enjoy every moment playing together.

“For me, that’s great, to have that kind of unique energy of all of these people who only spend these few precious weeks together and really love their colleagues and love playing with them,” she said.

Falletta, who has studied classical guitar from the age of 7, collaborated with Sherman to select tonight’s concerto, which was originally written for guitar. She paired the work with Joaquín Turina’s “Danzas fantásticas” in the first half of the program — both compositions are influenced by the flamenco guitar music of Spanish gypsies, she said.

“Fantasía para un Gentilhombre” was written for virtuoso guitarist Andrés Segovia, who premiered the work in 1958. Falletta said it bridges centuries, borrowing fragments of melodies from Gaspar Sanz, a 17th-century Aragonese composer and guitarist.

Though the guitar concerto has been performed in Chautauqua before, Galway’s flute arrangement is a CSO first. Sherman said that because Chautauqua audiences have heard so much music over the course of their lifetimes, it’s a good opportunity to present something a little different.

“I think they’re pretty open to supporting the home team, and if that means a venture into a work they’ve never heard before … they’re great about it,” he said.

The piece is a first for Sherman as well — he has never performed the work with an orchestra. Sherman said some of Rodrigo’s other concertos offer more pyrotechnic moments for the flute, but the incredibly beautiful melodies of “Fantasía para un Gentilhombre” are right up Sherman’s alley.

“If you think about the intimacy that the guitar would warrant, flute just brings a dimension to it that is different, but I think still works very well,” he said.

To open tonight’s concert, the orchestra will perform Turina’s “Danzas fantásticas,” which the CSO has played only once before, in 1973. Turina is not a well-known composer, but Falletta called him a quintessential Spanish force who wrote orchestral works that were influenced by the landscape, dances and folk music of his country. Turina studied in France, where he absorbed the Impressionistic colors of French composers like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

The “Danzas fantásticas” are based on José Más’ novel La orgía and have names that translate as “Exaltation,” “Fantasy” and “Orgy.” The dances — a jota, a zortziko and a farruca — come from different regions of Spain.

In the second half of tonight’s program, the CSO will perform Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. Prokofiev wrote the piece in one month in 1944, in an era where Josef Stalin forced Soviet composers to write music that glorified war. Prokofiev described his work as a “hymn to free and happy Man,” an act Falletta called inspirational.

“We hear the courage of (Prokofiev) and imagine what he went through, and imagine being an artist and not being able to write what you feel,” she said.

She said this act of defiance is evident in the powerful symphony, which is rich with Prokofiev’s sardonic wit and use of dissonance, with tragic moments depicting suffering. In its final moments, the symphony resolves in a glorious, overwhelming celebration of life, where the human spirit triumphs over all hardships, Falletta said.

“The power of this man’s spirit, with what he was going through, is a beacon of hope for us,” she said. “I think everyone really enjoys playing this piece, because they feel like we understand Prokofiev and we’re making a statement, through his music, about what’s important and about the strength of life itself.”

Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony, will begin her first season as the principal conductor of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Orchestra. She is the first American and the first woman to hold this position with the orchestra.

She also guest conducts internationally: After Chautauqua, she will record with the London Symphony Orchestra and continue on to conduct the Korean Broadcasting System Symphony Orchestra in Seoul, South Korea, and the Beijing Symphony in China.

“When you work with other orchestras, you have to learn about musicians quickly,” Falletta said. “They open up doors to different interpretations, different ways of thinking about it. For me, it’s an incredible experience to be able to learn from them.”

Sherman said he is looking forward to working with Falletta again.

“She has a very strong sense of what she wants,” he said. “I think that has put her in really great stead in her career. I think that she has the courage of her convictions.”

Sherman now is celebrating his 23rd season with the CSO. Though he works primarily as an orchestral musician and believes the best literature for flute is within the orchestra, he also enjoys the artistic freedom and expression afforded to him as a soloist.

“If you want to be a soloist, you have to play in the orchestra first,” he said. “I have great respect for that idiom. I would not be here if I didn’t. But I always have had a heart for recitals and for solo work.”

Sherman also is the chair of winds and percussion at the School of Music. Outside of Chautauqua, he is a professor of flute at the Michigan State University College of Music and the principal flute of the Lansing Symphony Orchestra. He performs as a soloist and recitalist around the country. He described his career as the best of both worlds.

“I never expected to find myself in a place where wearing the different hats, in and of itself, was OK with me,” he said. “I’ve come to be comfortable with that versatility and that diversity in my own career.”

Sherman said he always is happy for the chance to perform as a soloist at Chautauqua.

“I’m very grateful to the Chautauqua Institution for always giving me the opportunity to spread my wings here,” he said.