Variations, on theme: CSO to meditate on boyhood in Roumain premiere

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it might take a symphony to raise a boy.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will premiere Daniel Bernard Roumain’s “Meditations on Raising Boys” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Music Director Rossen Milanov said this program was specifically crafted with the week’s theme — “Boys Will Be Boys, Then Men” — in mind. Audience members are invited to explore the conversations started in the morning lectures through music.

“It’s one of the concerts I’m really excited about just because of the juxtapositions — the yin, the yang, the feminine, the masculine,” Milanov said.

Milanov will open the performance with Copland’s iconic “Fanfare for the Common Man,” although he consciously balanced the work with Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.” The evening will conclude with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” a symphonic poem depicting portions of The Arabian Nights, to counter the Roumain premiere.

“ ‘Scheherazade’ is perhaps one of the most important and memorable pieces devoted to a feminine hero,” Milanov said.

But, in line with the week’s theme, boys remain the centerpiece of the performance. Roumain said the inspiration for his piece arose out of conversations about problems facing America. Those conversations ultimately led to the distinct issues surrounding young men.

“Specifically, it’s looking at what I feel is a crisis among young boys in this country — not children,” Roumain said. “If you look at wherever you are right now in terms of violent acts, atrocities across cultural lines, religious lines, there’s an unfortunate pervasive quality amongst young men.”

Roumain said the work exists as a balance between a vocal and symphonic work. Drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Philip Glass to Kendrick Lamar, “Meditations on Raising Boys” features the composer as solo violinist. Librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph will also perform spoken word in conjunction with an all-male chorus of 10 men and 10 boys. Each voice juggles leading and supporting roles, underscoring the others when not at the forefront.

Himself a father, Roumain said he composed some of the work with his 6-year-old son in the room. While the piece is directed to everyone, it’s also a message to his son, he said.

“I wanted to create something almost as a guide — something that, in a few years, I hope he’ll be able to listen to and listen to and read and get a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Tonight also marks one of the first times Roumain will hear the work performed live. Nothing compares with playing with a symphony, he said.

“[Composers] have wonderful synthesizers and computer programs, but there is something majestic about 50, 60, 70 people doing one thing together,” Roumain said.

As for how the audience will react to what these people create, Roumain said his guess is as good as anyone’s.

“No one ever really knows,” he said. “It’s hope, it’s a wish, it’s an invitation. You’ve created something, you’re inviting people in to hear it for the first time or to participate even in the conversation, but no one ever really knows.”