Depth & color: Chautauqua premiere on tap tonight

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Music director candidate Christof Perick leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in its performance Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater.

When a group of musical benefactors approached violist Paul Neubauer about having a piece commissioned for him to play, he couldn’t say yes fast enough.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Neubauer will perform the Chautauqua premiere of renowned American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the direction of guest conductor Christof Perick.

The concerto was jointly commissioned by Chautauqua Institution, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild-Pine Cove, California.

Neubauer performed the world premiere of the piece in St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this year and is excited to show Chautauquans the modern score.

“It’s a haunting, dramatic piece that you’ll be thinking about long after its conclusion,” he said. “The depth and color of Aaron’s style really comes out in the music, and the writing for myself and the orchestra is stunning all around.”

In a video on the Chautauqua website, Kernis said his composition “[is] a substantial new work, I think. The fact that [Neubauer] is really one of the world’s great violists really inspires so much. He draws such beautiful colors out of the instruments that I couldn’t help but be thrilled to write this.”

Since the concerto’s debut in St. Paul, both Kernis and Neubauer have made slight tweaks to the arrangement — ones that Neubauer said would be virtually indiscernible to the unfamiliar ear, but are significant and necessary to those who have spent years working on it. 

Though Neubauer was able to make suggestions to Kernis throughout the process, he is quick to assign 99 percent of the credit to Kernis.

“His vision shines through the piece,” Neubauer said. “I got a few ideas in as we met many times before the premiere, but this is truly [Kernis’] work.”

Adding to the intrigue of the new work is the famously quick rehearsal process undertaken by the CSO throughout each season.

With the orchestra members not having performed the concerto before tonight’s concert and Neubauer’s still-evolving process with it, there is a nervous confidence about the musicians going into the performance.

“It sounds like a very scary proposition, but I’m quite confident in the elite skill of the CSO and their ability to work on such a tight schedule,” Neubauer said. “Ask me after the show for a better answer.”

Tonight’s concert also marks the second time Perick will conduct the CSO as he auditions for the music director position with the orchestra.

Along with Kernis’ concerto, Perick will lead the symphony through Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492: Overture, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 67 in C Minor.

Perick is the seventh of eight men invited by the Institution to go through a formal interview process this season.

Israeli-American conductor Daniel Boico will be the final candidate, as he wraps up the 2014 CSO calendar with concerts Saturday and Aug. 19.