If this weekend’s production of Go West! is meant to celebrate the challenging triumphs and devastating struggles that make up the story of the American West, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra members are the oxen pulling the covered wagons on their journey.
Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conductor Timothy Muffitt is in charge of the musical proceedings at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater — his second year at the helm after overseeing last season’s inter-arts collaboration of The Romeo & Juliet Project.
“Go West! plays to what the CSO musicians are great at,” he said. “They are quick studies, flexible in their playing, while still doing so at an extremely high level.”
Having worked with the students of the MSFO for the past five weeks, Muffitt sees his role in Go West! as something of a guest-conducting role.
He said he doesn’t change his approach to the music or musicians when making the transition to the CSO, but there are a couple differences.
“I’ve conducted the CSO before, and I know many of the players very well,” he said. “I feel a strong connection to the the group. I have a great respect and admiration of what they do not only in this show but within the Chautauqua season.”
The nature of Go West!, like The Romeo & Juliet Project, requires the CSO to adjust to what Muffitt calls a “unique genre of concert production.” A lot of the shifting involves playing music that the musicians are familiar with, but in ways they haven’t previously taken on.
For example, there are sections of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World,” Op. 95, B. 178, popularly known as the “New World Symphony,” that underscore spoken text portions of the show.
As a result, portions of the music will be played at softer volume levels and intensities than the original score calls for.
The shuffling makes up what Muffitt calls a “logical juxtaposition.” CSO veteran Jason Weintraub said it comes with the territory when performing an undertaking such as Go West!
“It’s standard differentiation for when we collaborate with theater performances, ballet, opera, all of them,” he said. “It’s an integral part of the show and we’re certainly up for it.”
CSO musicians have been practicing their parts for Go West! for a number of weeks, but Wednesday was the first time any of them had gone through an official rehearsal process with the other arts programs involved in the show.
They are used to quick turnarounds with music when it comes to their symphony performances; two rehearsals before a concert is considered a luxury.
Muffitt is confident that everything will come together tonight and produce a show worthy of the Chautauqua stage.
“In many ways, this is truly a uniquely Chautauquan event,” he said. “The integrating different art forms is perfect for a place such as this.”