A wild ride: MSFO journeys to hell and back in a final performance full of extremes

Greg Funka | Staff Photographer
The Music School Festival Orchestra, seen here playing its first Amphitheater concert of 2013 under the baton of music director Timothy Muffitt, closes the season at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini opens with the ringing of a gong, transporting the listener into the second circle of hell, where Francesca da Rimini and her lover, Paolo Malatesta, are swirling around in a violent storm as punishment for their adulterous deeds.

Francesca’s husband — who is also Paolo’s brother — has killed the pair after discovering them together in his bed.

From the fiery pits of hell to the wildness of Romanian folk tunes, Chautauquans attending the season’s last Music School Festival Orchestra performance at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater are in for a night of extremes.

Vlad Vizireanu, 2013 David Effron Conducting Fellow, will take the stage with the MSFO for the last time to conduct Tchaikovsky’s symphony.

The first and third sections of the symphony represent Francesca and Paolo’s suffering in hell. The middle section depicts the lovers’ relationship before their end.

“It’s the kind of piece that really allows you to go to extremes in terms of your expression,” Vizireanu said. “You can’t be in the second circle of hell and be just kind of, ‘la-di-do, la-di-da.’ You’ve really got to let it all out and to do just that.”

Vizireanu said his challenge in conducting this piece will be just that: expressing the emotions needed to convey the scenes of hell.

“There is a level of acting that goes into it, because of course you can’t call on your own life experiences and say, ‘Yeah, gee, last time I was in hell …,’ ” He said. “But it’s like anything else; you have to call on what parts of your life are closest to that type of emotion and experience that as you conduct.”

In another set of extremes, Timothy Muffitt, MSFO music director, will open the orchestra’s performance with Georges Enescu’s Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 11 in A major, and he will close the orchestra’s season with Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14.

Berlioz’s work represents music from the early Romantic era, during which composers began creating music on a deep, personal level.

“It’s just incredible where Berlioz took the world of music in such a short time, and the extremes of every kind, the size of the orchestra, the wildness of the music,” Muffitt said. “It’s truly one of the great works of musical modernism.”

Five movements follow the life of a tormented artist and his beloved, who is represented by a melody that weaves in and out of the symphony.

Muffitt explained that one of the characteristics that classifies a work as Romantic is intensity of expression. Each of the works in tonight’s repertoire exemplify this idea.

While Enesco’s work exhibits the nationalism that was popular in the Romantic period, Berlioz was innovative for his time, as he looked beyond what was done in Beethoven’s compositions and asked what music could become.

“Berlioz, in his work, explores the macabre, explores dreams, fantasies,” Muffitt said. “Here’s a composer who just has imagined a whole new set of possibilities of what music can be, how music can express, what music can express.”

Both onstage and off, Vizireanu said he has been impressed with this year’s MSFO and has enjoyed getting to know the musicians in the past seven weeks.

“I rehearse them every day, but I also eat lunch with them every day, I go have a drink at the end of the day sometimes, we go to restaurants all the time, we take walks,” Vizireanu said. “I’ve just got to say that on and off the podium, they’re an incredible bunch of people.”

Muffitt echoed Vizireanu’s sentiments. He spoke of the orchestra’s abilities and how the musicians were able to easily pick up what he would teach them during rehearsals.

“This is an extraordinary group of musicians,” Muffitt said. “They came to Chautauqua as a group of extraordinary musicians, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them this summer. I’ll miss them terribly.”