CSO celebrates America, with some help from ‘Africa’

Chautauquans will hear the drums of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra echoing at 8 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater as CSO principal timpanist Stuart Chafetz leads the the first of two symphony pops concerts.

Along with timeless music by George Gershwin and George M. Cohan, patrons of tonight’s concert will be treated to worldwide favorites, which include songs by the Beatles and ’80s rock group Toto.

It’s a mix of music that’s meant to be enjoyed and celebrated, Chafetz said.

“This is a chance to see another side of the CSO,” he said. “It’s something that we all look forward to doing because the audience enjoys it, and it’s so nice to see entire families coming to a concert and enjoying it.”

Though the patriotic performance is put on every year with Chafetz as guest conductor, the majority of the program changes from season to season.

Multiple pieces, including Toto’s two hit songs, “Africa” and “Rosanna,” are scores that Chafetz had written specifically for this concert.

This year’s event will also include an added flair of pomp and nostalgia as world-renowned entertainers Kirby and Beverly Ward will be featured during the second half of the program.

A headlining duo for the better part of three decades, the Wards met while performing in a production of The Sound of Music in San Diego. Kirby Ward and Chafetz have worked together on past shows, but never the three of them together. Ward said that Chafetz first raised the idea of performing at Chautauqua while the two of them were doing a show last year in Las Vegas. 

“We just hit it off so well,” Ward said. “This is a singing and a dancing concert. It requires a certain flair with the orchestra, and Stuart is just really great at knowing where these songs lie for dancing.”

Both Kirby and Beverly Ward said they’ve been looking forward to their Chautauqua debut, as it’s a chance to perform the sentimental favorites of the “greatest generation,” from a tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to their closing rendition of Gershwin’s “ ’S Wonderful.”

“They will love this,” Beverly Ward said. “It’s a lot of music from their youth; songs from their sweet spot. It’s absolutely spectacular choreography.”

Lest people think of just showing up for the second half of the show, Chafetz is adamant that the Armed Forces salute that occurs each year near the beginning of the show is worth attending on its own.

As he prompts the gathered masses to honor each of the branches of the United States Armed Forces, the process holds a personal significance as well as a professional one. 

“My dad recently passed away, and the one thing my dad really looked forward to was standing up when I said ‘Army,’ ” Chafetz said. “I would see him up in the choir loft and be so proud. I get a little teary eyed every time we do that because I think of him.”

Chafetz also made note that tonight’s concert is the second and final opportunity for concert-goers to donate non-perishable food items in coordination with the League of American Orchestras and the Chautauqua Symphony Partners. Collection sites will be set up at each entrance to the Amp.