Swinging into the season: MSFO prepares for first amphitheater performance

The Music School Festival Orchestra students applaud with their feet. It’s a quiet stomping that says, “Good job.” If they do a good job tonight, the audience at their first Amphitheater performance will be a bit louder in their applause — and they’ll use their hands.

Music Director Timothy Muffitt will lead the MSFO’s first Amp performance at 8:15 p.m. tonight. The performance will spotlight previous MSFO student and violinist Alexandra Switala, and the program includes three pieces: Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 “Paris”; Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, featuring Switala; and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 “Organ.”

As of today, the MSFO will have had seven rehearsals, including this afternoon’s dress rehearsal.

For Muffitt, uniting an ensemble in such a short amount of time is something that lends itself to the music.

“Nothing develops an orchestra like the 18th century,” he said. “This orchestra never lets anyone down, so the challenge just becomes further and further refinement.”

Nick Buonanni, a flutist who has returned to Chautauqua for his second season, said the first concert can be challenging.

“Last year, coming in and sitting in this ensemble — it was so exciting but I was also scared because everybody was so good,” Buonanni said.

Buonanni, who will be beginning his doctoral studies at Michigan State in the fall, said there is an adjustment period — it takes time for the students to be able to work well as a single entity.

“The first concert is always amazing, but I feel that as the season goes on, it’s easier for us to make music together,” Buonanni said.

Switala is not the only special guest in tonight’s performance. Organist Jared Jacobsen will also play with the MSFO during the Saint-Saëns piece.

“Symphony No. 3, the ‘Organ’ symphony — we’re using the outdoor organ, and there’s parts where the organ plays alone,” Buonanni said. “It’s an exceptionally challenging piece to play because it looks nothing like it sounds.”

Muffitt said it was an honor to have Jacobsen contribute to their performance, and that the piece was definitely challenging.

“There’s a few shocking moments — it’s just really grand and glorious,” Muffitt said. “Jared is very much a part of the fabric of this Institution.”

While Muffitt said the “foot shuffle” is an orchestral tradition, he also said it was a way for students to congratulate one another and work together.

“It’s a way of showing appreciation, of support,” Muffitt said. “They would have to put their instruments down to applaud — it doesn’t disrupt the flow of rehearsal, but it allows means of expressing appreciation and support. The players are getting to know each other, almost intuitively, and developing musical tendencies to figure out how everyone fits together to deliver the highest caliber of artistic product.”