‘Into the music:’ Milanov, Gavrylyuk to guide audience through Mussorgsky’s famous ‘Pictures’

MATT BURKHARTT File Photo  Chautauqua Institution has implemented a Sustainable Shoreline Action Plan to guide ongoing efforts to maintain and improve its lakefront, much of which is seen here from the air.

Alexander Gavrylyuk receives applause after the first half of his Aug. 13, 2014, performance in the Amphitheater.

The dynamic duo is back: Conductor Rossen Milanov and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk team up for the second time this season to kick off the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s “Into the Music” concert series at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Intended to engage and educate the audience about classical music’s quirks, context and significance, the series commences with an exploration of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

First composed for piano, Maurice Ravel’s later arrangement for orchestra overshadowed the original to become one of the most recognizable symphonic works. Milanov, who is in his first season as music director, said the new series is part of an effort to make CSO concerts an event all Chautauquans can enjoy by helping the audience wrap their heads around the music.

“I think I have been working on quite actively and quite consciously in this current season to sort of democratize the orchestra and the experience and grow the audience,” Milanov said.

The “Into the Music” series may represent the most overt attempt to broaden the symphony’s appeal, and Milanov said he incorporates that thinking into all of his programming.

“I hope the season will have a very linear progression, and the more concerts you hear, the more understanding to what classical music is and how great the orchestra is, and what my approach is going to be in bringing a unique and intense and personal experience to everything that we do,” he said.

If Milanov is Pat Sajak, Gavrylyuk will serve as his Vanna White, demonstrating sections of the original piano score as the conductor discusses the visual artwork that inspired the music and how Mussorgsky attempted to convey those images with sound. While the suite is one of the most recognizable works for orchestra, Milanov recognized that not everyone will have grown up humming its melodies  — and, he said, that’s okay.

“You could know the program in great detail, but on the other hand you could create your own experience,” he said.

After the discussion period, the CSO will take the reins from Gavrylyuk as they perform the Ravel orchestration in its entirety. Across its range of moods and themes, Milanov said he hopes the context he provides for Pictures enhances the experience of hearing great orchestral playing.

“When you sit in a concert hall and, suddenly, a moment of the music brings you to a place that has this depth of resonance, it just shocks you,” he said.

Milanov is not alone in his mission to convert the public to symphony patrons. Gavrylyuk makes a point to give free tickets to anyone he encounters who has never experienced a classical concert. Those he targets are diverse, ranging from taxi drivers to hotel staff and everyone in between. Rather than intimidated, Gavrylyuk said these people universally emerge with an appreciation for what they witnessed.

“They are completely shocked,” he said. “They would have never imagined it would be something like that.”

Once over that initial barrier, Gavrylyuk said people often keep coming back, perhaps because they realize what happens in a concert hall really isn’t that different from what happens in any other popular venue. Lockstep with Milanov, he said experiences such as tonight’s program can help destigmatize a night at the symphony.

“People who have never gone to a classical concert have an idea that it is something that is very boring, Old World — something that is not interesting or requires a lot of concentration,” Gavrylyuk said. “When you go to a concert and you realize that concentration comes naturally because it’s so interesting, then it completely resonates with your own feelings like it does when you go to the theater or watch a good movie. Then people realize what a fantastic experience it can be.”