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Remembering Leonard Bernstein and other musical pleasures

Exploring the wealth of Regional summer concert venues

Sasha Cooke is the soloist in Ravel’s SHEHERAZADE in a concert with conductor Rossen Milanov and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra (CSO) on August 2

CSO and Cooke images courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution; Fry Street Quartet by Andrew Mcallister


As we luxuriate in the pleasures of high summer while awaiting the fall concert season, it’s time to visit Chautauqua for its wide breadth of musical offerings. This year’s centenary tribute to Leonard Bernstein includes a production of his operetta Candide at Norton Hall on July 27 and 30. Originally a Broadway musical that opened in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, Candide is based on the 1759 satirical novel by Voltaire and is now presented in two acts with a libretto primarily written by American poet Richard Wilbur. Bernstein, who was born on August 25, 1918, and died at seventy-two in 1990, was a virtuoso pianist, composer, conductor, author, teacher, and arguably the most remarkable American musician of his age.


On August 7, the Chautauqua Opera Company presents As One, an opera by Laura Kaminsky, with Hannah, the transgender protagonist, played by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf. The opera is scored for the two soloists and a string quartet, in this performance the Fry Street Quartet, now in residence at Chautauqua. With a libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, As One premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014.


the Fry Street Quartet


Sasha Cooke is also the soloist in Ravel’s Sheherazade in a concert with conductor Rossen Milanov and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra (CSO) on August 2. Composed by Ravel in 1903, the music was inspired by three poems from a volume of symbolist poetry written by Tristan Klingsor, the Wagnerian nom de plume of a Frenchman, Arthur Justin Leon Leclere, who shared Ravel’s fascination with Arabian Nights. The all-French program also features works by Georges Bizet and Claude Debussy.


In the spirit of the ancient trade route whose name it bears, the Silkroad Ensemble comprises musical traditions and artists from many Eastern and Western countries in a dynamic ensemble of conventional and unusual musical instruments. The group is featured August 6 through 10 as Chautauqua explores the week’s theme of “The Arts and Global Understanding.” Silkroad hosts master classes and concerts beginning with two performances on Monday and another on Wednesday. On Thursday, Spanish pianist and Silkroad member Christina Pato is the featured soloist with the CSO in the US premiere of a concerto for Galician bagpipes by Octavio Vazquez. Silkroad’s founder and director Yo-Yo Ma performs with the ensemble at the Amphitheater on Friday at 8:15 p.m.


A violin made in Cremona, Italy, in 1681 and the artists who played it in five countries through four centuries is the theme of Francois Girard’s film The Red Violin. In its final concert of the season on August 16, the CSO features violinist Joshua Bell in a live performance of John Corigliano’s film score for a screening of The Red Violin in the Amphitheater at 8:15 p.m. The following Saturday, August 18, a chamber concert of original music, narration, and art at Lenna Hall relates the story of the black soldiers who, in order to gain their freedom from slavery, fought with the British in the Corps of Colonial Marines in the War of 1812. Entitled River of Freedom, the production recounts the British deliverance of both freedom and land in the south of Trinidad to the black soldiers. In addition to the wind, string, and other percussion instruments, the chamber ensemble features the tenor steel pan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.


Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra


A glimmer of the season at Glimmerglass

For more music a little farther afield this month, consider an overnight, a weekend, or longer at the Glimmerglass Festival on the shores of Otsego Lake just north of Cooperstown. Four major musical stage productions headline this summer’s festival including Bernstein’s forever hip and urgent West Side Story featuring the original choreography of Jerome Robbins. The opera Silent Night premiered in 2011 and recounts the poignant story of the spontaneous Christmas truce between enemy combatants on Christmas during World War I.  Leos Janacek’s Czech language opera The Cunning Little Vixen is presented in a new English translation in its Glimmerglass premier this season while Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is sung in Italian with a projected English text. All four productions run through the fourth week of August.


In 1988, the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program (YAP) was inaugurated to provide a working educational environment for young opera singers, musical theater performers, accompanists, and stage directors. The young artists attend classes, receive musical coaching, participate in master classes with established artists, and perform in productions throughout the summer season. During this apprenticeship, members receive professional compensation, food, lodging, and transportation. Two events in August feature members of the Young Artists Program performing the music of Leonard Bernstein: the maestro’s one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti, wherein a young American couple discover the limits of happiness in the suburban 1950s; and a talk on August 4 by Jamie Bernstein about the life and legacy of her father. In addition to YAP, the Festival also offers summer internships in production and administration in which interns work directly with leading professionals from national operas and theater companies and receive a meal allowance and free housing.


Symphony concerts, chamber music, and ballet at Saratoga

For intrepid travelers who wish to explore yet another summer music festival, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center a couple of hours drive northeast of Glimmerglass offers an impressive schedule of ballet, opera, orchestral and chamber music, drama, jazz, and pop from May through September. In August, the Philadelphia Orchestra is in residence under the baton of its music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin and guest conductors. The orchestra’s association with the Saratoga season began with the festival’s inaugural summer in 1966 when the Philadelphia Orchestra performed Beethoven’s The Consecration of the House under its legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy. On August 2, the orchestra performs Symphonic Shakespeare, Mozart & Mahler on August 8, and then All Bernstein: Celebrating 100 Years on August 10.


The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presents six concerts at Saratoga’s Spa Little Theatre this month with music by a pantheon of composers including Beethoven, Shostakovich, Haydn, Schubert, Dvorak, Mozart, Villa-Lobos, Schumann, Debussy, and Brahms. The concerts feature a rotating roster of musicians performing programs with titles like Summer Warmth, An Afternoon in Vienna, and An Evening in Prague. The New York City Ballet is also in residence at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center each year. This summer’s performances conclude with a Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein Centennial gala on July 21.  Situated in a natural, park-like setting, the Center comprises four venues including a large amphitheater, the Little Theatre, the Gazebo Stage, and the Jazz Bar.       


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