Symphony embarks on a second season under many batons


The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs last season in the Amphitheater. Daily file photo

Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, June 30, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will begin its 84th season under the Amphitheater roof. For the second season in a row, the CSO will not be under the familiar baton of a music director.

The orchestra instead will welcome 17 guest conductors to the Amp, along with 15 guest soloists. The conductors, several of whom will be new to Chautauqua, will conduct classics from Beethoven to Wagner, with a sprinkling of pops, opera selections and several contemporary works.

“There is no official search going on at the moment,” said Marty Merkley, Chautauqua vice president and director of programming. “We are just looking at a lot of conductors, and enjoying having a great variety of conductors here.”

During the interim, a small group of CSO members has worked in tandem with Merkley to select performance repertoire and to sift through an enormous list of recommended guest conductors. The team includes concertmaster Brian Reagin; Marian Tanau, assistant personnel manager; and Jason Weintraub, personnel and business manager.

“Every conductor who comes here is auditioning for us, and we’re auditioning for them,” said Weintraub, also the English horn player for the CSO. “And if we happen to find a match, we’ll be happy.”

Weintraub said there is no set deadline for selecting a music director.

“Every conductor’s different,” Merkley said. “You don’t know until the downbeat of the first rehearsal what this person’s going to be like, and you may not know until the end of the concert how this person is.”

The transitional period is demanding for the CSO. It requires that every member maintain a high-level of playing throughout the season for every conductor. Merkley said without a music director, it becomes the musician’s personal and the orchestra’s group responsibility to pursue and hold a certain level of musical excellence.

Weintraub said he admits it could take a while until the orchestra is comfortable making a long-term commitment to a music director. The director must be somebody who understands what Chautauqua is about and will want to make a commitment to the Institution, he said.

“Audiences seem to be happy with a number of different conductors just as they are happy with different lecturers,” Weintraub said. “They wouldn’t want the same lecturer every day.”

Meanwhile, Chautauquans have a star-studded list of conductors and soloists to look forward to this season. Merkley expressed his intention of keeping a mix of younger up-and-comers and more established conductors.

Sarah Ioannides will be conducting bandoneón guest soloist Jorge “Coco” Trivisonno July 24 as he performs two pieces by Astor Piazzola, among others.

Planning a season is partly, as Merkley describes, one man sitting down and putting the pieces together to make a picture. It is also about collaboration.

After inviting conductor Michael Stern to join the CSO for two concerts July 17 and 19, Merkley asked Stern for a recommendation for a cellist. The first name on Stern’s list was cellist Amit Peled, who played at Chautauqua in 2006.

Stern will conduct a new piece by composer Stephen Hartke, Muse of Missouri, which has only been played once before by the Kansas City Symphony, for which Stern is the music director and lead conductor.

The CSO will later present the first live performance of Michael Colina’s Baba Yaga: Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra on Aug. 18. Colina also composed a piece for the New Arts Trio in 2008 for the celebration of their 30th season in Chautauqua.

Alexander Gavrylyuk, a Chautauqua favorite who has soloed with the CSO for the past seven years, will return to play Rachmaninoff’s first and second piano concertos July 26 and 28.

In 2005, Gavrylyuk won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Masters Competition. There has only been one first-prize winner since, Daniil Trifonov, who will follow in Gavrylyuk’s footsteps when he performs in the Amphitheater Aug. 21.

Describing Trifonov, Merkley said: “He’s 20 years old, he’s young and he’s pretty darn hot as a pianist. It’s pretty exciting.”

A number of other recent winners of major international competitions are finding their way to Chautauqua this season. Violinist Clara-Jumi Kang won the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 2010 and will perform Korngold’s Violin Concerto, Op. 35 in D Major July 5.

July 12, pianist Alexander Schimpf, winner of the Cleveland Piano Competition in 2011, will join the CSO in a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19 in B-flat Major.

The symphony is returning to Mahler with a performance of his Symphony No. 1 in D Major (Titan) Aug. Chautauqua vice president and director of programming. 2, conducted by Andrew Litton. Shostakovich will also make an appearance at the symphony’s Aug. 18 program with his Symphony No. 5, Op. 47 in D Minor in a live radio broadcast directed by Ira Levin.

Brahms’ “Ein Deutsches Requiem” — also not played by the CSO in some time — will be treated to a revival in the Amp July 21 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, along with guest soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme and guest baritone Tyler Duncan.

Renowned pianist Peter Serkin will be coming to Chautauqua for the first time with conductor Roberto Minczuk to open the season Saturday, June 30. The CSO will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, and Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture.”

“Chautauqua is the first continuing education place there is,” Weintraub said. “‘Academic Festival Overture’ and Brahms, and then a Beethoven symphony — you just can’t do any better than that.”