Brown Bag features multicultural musicians



At 12:15 p.m. today in Smith Wilkes Hall, the Chautauqua Symphony Partners will host their third “Meet the Musicians” Brown Bag lecture of the season.

As the title suggests, musical subject matter will be plentiful, thanks to Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra violinists Ming Gao and Olga Kaler.

Along with their Chautauquan duties, Kaler serves as a professor at DePaul University and Gao as the associate concertmaster of the Naples Philharmonic in Southwest Florida.

However, Gao’s Chinese heritage, along with Kaler’s Russian background, figure to be topics of interest as well, as both began their careers in their homelands before moving to the United States as young adults.

In fact, neither of the two know what to expect when they take to the podium today. Longtime Symphony Partner Lenelle Morse will serve as a moderator, the duo will play short snippets of music and that’s the extent of the script.

“I don’t really have a plan at all,” Gao said. “Seeing as I’m not just lecturing to a room by myself, it could be anything from my background, growing up in China’s education system, my music career … whatever the question, I’ll answer it.”



Gao did not begin his musical education until the age of 14. His career path has taken him through positions in Germany, Ohio, Pennsylvania and various locations around his native China.

With this afternoon being his first experience at a “Meet the Musicians” lecture, he might just be as curious about the audience as they will be of him.

“It will be interesting to see what sorts of things they like and what they want to know,” Gao said. “Maybe they’ll want [Kaler] and me to touch on the musical dichotomies between China and Russia. I only hope I can be an open and reasonable resource for everyone.”

Kaler also expects a wide range of questions from an audience, and hopes to ignite in a dialogue deeper than simple questions and answers.

Along with her job in academia, she is a member of the World Orchestra for Peace and the Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra in Chicago.

She will be joined onstage by her teenage son, Daniel — a talented cellist in his own right.

With the help of his additional perspective, Kaler believes the audience will be able to truly appreciate the journey she’s endured to achieve a successful life in the United States.

“When I emigrated as a 22-year-old, I basically had to start over,” she said. “You’re nobody in this country until you prove otherwise; you have to earn respect as an immigrant. I definitely feel like I’ve made it to the top percent of success — I’m exactly where I wanted and dreamed I would be.”