Boundless musical expression

CSO Saturday performance features guest conductor Schulze, pianist Gavrylyuk, Mozart bookended by Russians



Conducting has always been Elizabeth Schulze’s destiny.

She comes from a family of classical musicians. When she was very young, her mother gave her The Modern Conductor, a book on conducting by Elizabeth Green. She graduated Interlochen Arts Academy with honors and studied under conductor Thor Johnson, with whom she would chat during lunch about score analysis.

On Saturday night, Schulze brings her calling to Chautauqua, guest conducting the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater. The program will feature Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36; Mozart’s Symphony No. 38, K. 504 in D
Major, “Prague”; and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 30 in
D Minor.

It was in college, studying philosophy at Bryn Mawr, that Schulze caught her big break.

She was the concertmaster for the school’s orchestra when she discovered Erik Satie’s “Socrate.” She wanted the orchestra to play the symphonic drama because it appealed to her philosophical sensibilities. She loved that the Platonic dialogues were set to music.

There was only one problem: The orchestra’s conductor, Tamara Brooks, didn’t want to do the piece. So she told Schulze, “OK, put on your own show.”

“So I got my friends together and put a show on,” Schulze said. “After that, my teacher realized that I had a talent for this. So she took me on as a student based on that performance.”

Schulze is now the artistic director and conductor of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, music director and conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and the principal guest conductor of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. The New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra have all performed under her baton.

Chautauqua favorite Alexander Gavrylyuk, fresh off his piano recital Wednesday night, will join the orchestra to perform the Rachmaninoff concerto.

Last year in the Amphitheater, Gavrylyuk presented Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Nos. 1 and 2, but he admitted that No. 3 is the most challenging. He said it “almost exceeds the boundary of musical expression.”

The concerto was written in Russia but premiered in the United States in New York City in 1909, performed by Rachmaninoff himself. Gavrylyuk said that Rachmaninoff and his music have always been close to his heart. For Gavrylyuk, the concerto represents a message from Rachmaninoff to the U.S.

“It paints a very powerful and very well-rounded picture of Rachmaninoff’s inner world, his relation to the culture that he loved so much back in Russia,” Gavrylyuk said.

Reflecting on her place and the place of other women in the classical music world today, Schulze said that even “blazingly talented people” can easily become discouraged. Finding balance in one’s life as a music director with year-round responsiblities and a desire to start a family is  troublesome. Schulze did not marry or have children because it would have meant too much time taken away from her blossoming career.

Orchestras, she said, are facing similar challenges finding a balance between traditional and modern roles.

“The orchestra itself is a nearly 300-year-old institution,” Schulze said. “I think the orchestra as we know it will look quite different. It’s already starting to change.”

She pointed out that 20 years ago, the idea of multimedia and collaboration with other art forms was foreign to orchestras. Now, mixed media concerts are normal. Modern composition, too, is turning back to entertaining, engaging and compelling the audience.

Schulze is excited about these changes. She said that audiences seem more comfortable and more interested in classical music. She also urged that as orchestras continue to reach out to their audiences, they not lose sight of their history.

“We must maintain a high level,” she said. “We must maintain integrity. We have a proud tradition.”