Little journeys: Guest violinist adds Chautauqua to wildly diverse list of places played tonight with CSO



Tasmin Little has played violin on every habitable continent. If Antarctica ever becomes habitable, she would certainly consider playing for the penguins.

Audiences in some of the world’s finest concert halls have heard Little play classical violin — and so have audiences in some of the oddest venues.

“I have played on a boat circling an oil rig up in Scotland,” Little said. “It’s gotten weirder than that. I’ve played underneath the tallest chimneys in Europe of a power station. I went in Ireland to a prison where they have a lot of former terrorists and these grown men — who’ve fired bullets and killed people — were in tears because of the classical music.”

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Little will play for Chautauquans alongside the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Josep Caballé Domenech. Little will perform Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

When Britten wrote Violin Concerto No. 1, he lived in Canada as a conscientious objector to World War II. Little said that it is a very emotional piece in which each movement is symbolic of war.

The first movement is the buildup to war, while the second is the battle. Little called it “punchy and crazy,” noting that the climax of the piece is a “frenzied, cataclysmic moment.”

“And then everything dies down,” Little said, “and the last movement is a little bit like a funeral march, with a beautiful conclusion of acceptance and peace at the end.”

The CSO will also perform the Prelude and Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major. Conductor Domenech said that Shostakovich’s symphony is one of his most characteristic pieces.

“Originally, he wrote it to celebrate the Russian victory [over Nazism],” Domenech said. “It’s full of irony. It makes fun of the whole history by setting the power in the wrong places.”

Little makes music accessible for the most unlikely of audiences through her project, The Naked Violin. She started the project because she found that many people believed they weren’t capable of enjoying classical music, and that worried her.

Aside from playing in unusual venues, Little offers free online downloads of her music to reach a greater number of people.

“The thing that I am most happy about is the fact that I genuinely reached a huge global audience,” Little said, “people who wrote and said that they never thought that they would appreciate classical music.”

For Domenech, there is no such thing as a “wrong place” to perform music. He said that he has conducted in some towns where the population seems to be 20 people, but then the evening’s concert is packed.

“Sometimes, the craziest place, you say, ‘Why am I going there?’ ” Domenech said. “Our life is never boring. I’m very happy that I’m making my living on what I love.”

Domenech and Little find an important strategy to surviving the travel demands of the job is to find other passions.

“I like a nice conversation, nice bottle of wine and nice friends,” Domenech said.

Domenech said he loves talking long walks. Since he’s new to the Institution, he plans to take a walk on the grounds and see for himself all the good things he’s heard about Chautauqua.

When Little’s time here is over, she will put her violin away for the rest of the summer and spend some much-needed time at home with her two children.

“I will take a complete break and I love doing that,” Little said. “By the time I’ve had a short break, I’m raring to go all over again.”