Valdés, Subramaniam return to Chautauqua to join CSO tonight

Roxana Pop | Daily file photo
Guest conductor Maximiano Valdés leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 8, 2013.

It’s not often a concert features two veteran musicians where one has been performing longer than the other has been alive.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, music director candidate Maximiano Valdés will be leading the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for a program highlighting an alumna of the Institution: soprano Leela Subramaniam.

Subramaniam, 25, honed her vocal skills during the summers of 2010 to 2013 under the direction of Voice Program Chair Marlena Malas. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and recently earned her master’s at the Manhattan School of Music.

“It’s all very exciting being here,” she said. “I’m in the hotel instead of the dorms, and I’m singing with the CSO. It’s definitely fair to call this whole experience full-circle.”

When she first arrived at the Institution, Subramaniam by her own admission “had no idea what she was doing” when it came to the complex intricacies of vocal performance.

Her raw talent was unmistakable though, and she had an excellent connection to the Voice Program through UCLA professor and Chautauqua faculty member Michael Dean.

Dean urged Subramaniam to send an audition packet to Malas, and she received admission despite being unable to make her case in person.

Now the recipient of two degrees and artist at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Gerdine, she’s back to where she learned how to sing.

“[The Chautauqua experience] is very life-changing,” Subramaniam said. “You see your growth every day and every year.”

Where Subramaniam brings her youthful exuberance and the endless potential of a blossoming career, Valdés provides the well-traveled ear of a veteran conductor.

Currently in his sixth year as music director and principal conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony, Valdés held the same position with Buffalo Philharmonic from 1989 to 1998.

He was a guest conductor of the CSO last season on Aug. 8, 2013, for a concert featuring CSO flutist Richard Sherman.

“I used to go quite often to Chautauqua when I was in Buffalo,” Valdés said. “It has an extremely solid musical atmosphere due to everything produced during the summer. The musicianship is well known and well respected.”

Tonight is the first of two concerts to be led by Valdés, with the second set on Thursday. Valdés is the sixth of eight candidates auditioning for the music director  opening with the CSO.

For tonight, Valdés set out to design a performance that emphasizes the “common origins” of music while highlighting the exotic flavors he knows so well.

The concert will open with “La Vida Breve: Interlude and Dance” by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla before transitioning into Subramaniam’s fronting of “Beyond the Silence of Sorrow” by Roberto Sierra of Puerto Rico.

Valdés considers Sierra to be “the most well known and admired Puerto Rican composer today.”

The performance will then come to a close with Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, Op. 90 in F Major, which is often the go-to Brahms for many symphonies, according to Valdés.

It’s a wide range of compositions, one that accurately captures the expanse of Valdés’ career, but the variety isn’t necessarily a key element of his audition process.

“My responsibility is to bring life to the music and to make it possible for the audience to connect with it,” he said. “Whatever else comes of it, it’s in God’s hands now.”