Premier premiere: In final performance of 2013 Season, CSO to debut Colina’s ‘Three Dances’ with Laredo, Robinson

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs on July 30 in the Amphitheater.

Most of the time, conductor Jaime Laredo lets cellist Sharon Robinson decide how the music she plays will sound.

“I better, or else I get it,” Laredo said with a laugh.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Robinson will play cello in the world premiere of Michael Colina’s “Three Dances for Cello and Orchestra,” accompanied by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, playing for the final time in 2013. Laredo and Robinson are both CSO guest artists.

Laredo will also lead the CSO through two other works: Gioacchino Rossini’s overture from L’italiana in Algeri and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A-minor, nicknamed the “Scottish symphony.”

Laredo and Robinson are married. They’re also classical musicians who work well together.

“Certainly the [most influential] teacher I’ve had in my whole life is Jaime,” Robinson said. “No doubt about that. I’ve learned more from him since [he first conducted me in] 1974 than all my other cello teachers and chamber music partners put together.”

Robinson compared their partnership to “putting on a glove that fits really nicely.” She appreciates that he listens to her artistic vision, and in turn, she listens to the advice he gives on musical interpretation, bowing and expression.

Conducting isn’t Laredo’s only job. He’s also a first-rate performer in his own right, playing violin and viola. He said being a performer makes all the difference when he conducts.

“I feel like the minute I get up there, [the musicians] respect me because they know that I’m one of them,” Laredo said. “I know what they’re doing, I know what they’re feeling, I know what they’re going through, because I do it myself.”

The couple makes sure to work independently on separate musical projects, as it’s healthy to have space, Laredo said.

They also have an unspoken rule: Do things together that don’t involve music.

“Once the rehearsal is over and we put down our instruments, we’re happy to have a beautiful dinner together and try new wine,” Robinson said. “We swim, we kayak, we garden together. I’m an organic gardener; he’s my organic weeder.”

Laredo and Robinson worked on Colina’s cello concerto from their home in Vermont. Colina sent them a piano reduction of the score, which allowed them to practice the piece before tonight’s performance.

In preparing for the concerto, Robinson has enjoyed collaborating directly with Colina and being able to ask him questions about the notes on the page and the stories behind his melodies.

“You always have a lot of questions that you want to ask Brahms or Beethoven,” Robinson said, “but here I get to ask Michael Colina, ‘What did you want here? Did you really mean this dot to be different from that dash?’ ”

Colina said that everything he composes must come from love.

Colina is a visually oriented composer, so he drew inspiration for the cello concerto from images and memories of his past. The second movement, titled “It’s Snowing in Cuba,” is an exploration of a slow, sensuous Cuban habanera theme. The movement was inspired by Colina’s last trip to Cuba.

“To go back and see [Cuba] exactly as I had left it in 1958,” Colina said, “to see my family in utter abject poverty — all of these things … they hurt.”

The concerto’s first movement tackles a raga theme from the Hindustani tradition while still keeping an element of Colina’s compositional voice. The third movement will feel familiar to some Chautauquans: The orchestral part is the same as the second movement from “Baba Yaga: Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra,” another one of Colina’s concertos which violinist Anastasia Khitruk premiered at the Institution last summer with the CSO.

Colina said the cello version of the movement feels familiar but not identical to the violin version, because the instruments and the soloists are different. This time around, with a powerful and aggressive player like Robinson on cello, the solo passages will sound more piercing and strident.

“It’s like you put a new costume on a different actress to play the same part,” Colina said.

Robinson and Laredo are both excited to present the concerto tonight. Laredo said he’s come to love the piece, even if he hasn’t truly heard it yet. He said the rhythms make him want to get up and dance.

“I cannot imagine that the audience isn’t going to really love it,” Laredo said.