A test of passion

Timothy Muffitt, music director and Sarah Kidd, David Effron Conducting Fellow will lead the Music School Festival Orchestra in its final performance of the 2011 Season at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

MSFO completes grueling season with triumphant performance tonight

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

Maestro Timothy Muffitt raised his baton like a doctor about to administer a shot.

“This is probably going to go faster than you’ll want it to,” he warned.

The students in the Music School Festival Orchestra leaned forward in anticipation, their eyes fixed to the tip of the baton. Muffitt wrenched his arms above his head, and the MSFO plunged into the second movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.

The Chautauqua School of Music festival season concludes with the MSFO’s last concert at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

As a reporter, I have watched the MSFO evolve from the first week of the season, gaining insight from both students and faculty on the challenges and triumphs of a summer festival orchestra.

As an audience member, I have felt the wall of sound that can explode from the raw energy of these talented young musicians.

Now, as a cellist for this last MSFO concert of the season, I can truly testify to the power, passion and discovery that drive each one of these instrumentalists.

It is an act of dedication. Every morning, these students are greeted by physical exhaustion, but undeterred, they saddle their instruments on their backs and hike to the nearest practice shack. There are weeks they lose focus, and there are weeks when they begin to question what they know in their soul to be true — that life is better lived with music.

But reassurance doesn’t always have to come from within.

The man I called “Tim” as a reporter, whom I now call “Maestro Muffitt,” never has to order his musicians to perk up; he just inspires them.

The amazing thing about this symphony, he told the MSFO during the second rehearsal of the Shostakovich, is that all the unbridled energy Shostakovich has created in this orchestral universe can be compacted into the voices of two clarinets. It’s like a musical Big Bang Theory, Muffitt said. In that dual melody, the composer harnesses the entire symphony.

Playing with the MSFO, I am reminded that performing a symphony is full of personal and collective revelations. The first rehearsals are rife with victories and frustrations as you work to master your part. As you gain more confidence and trust your finger-memory, your ears open to the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic connections that web across the stage. The orchestra becomes chamber music on a large scale.

And at this point in the season, it is not trombones matching timpani — it’s Leland and Greg matching Mike. It’s not cello dissolving into the timbre of the bassoons — it’s Estelle carefully listening to Taylor and Jayson.

Conducting fellow Sarah Kidd told me that even when she commands the podium, she feels surrounded by friends. She has the technique; she has the knowledge, and she has the discipline — those she got from The Juilliard School, she said. Here in Chautauqua, she gained experience, confidence and a support network of colleagues who allow her to be herself, whether she’s holding the baton or not.

This final concert of the MSFO, this finale of a grueling seven weeks, is not a mere demonstration of talent, for the greatest achievement these students made hardly dealt with notes on a page. This summer was, above all, a test of passion.

The students who are sitting on stage tonight are the musicians that have been convinced by a summer of accomplishments, disappointments, sore muscles and bland dorm food that there is nothing they would rather do than spend their summer vacation playing classical music.