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Chautauqua World Premiere

Composer Michael Colina

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will conclude its 85th season in the historic 1893 Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater on Tuesday August 20 at 8:15pm with a concert featuring the world premiere of American composer Michael Colina’s Three Dances for Cello and Orchestra, featuring soloist Sharon Robinson, the cellist for whom the work was especially composed. Also on the program are Rossini’s effervescent overture to his opera The Italian Girl in Algiers and Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony.

Michael Colina may not be very familiar yet to classical music audiences, but he is well known in the world of popular music, particularly in the field of contemporary jazz, where he has won three Grammy awards. He has worked as a jazz musician, engineer, producer, and composer with such major artists as James Taylor, David Sanborn, George Benson, Michael Brecker, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Bob James, and Herbie Hancock.

Born in 1948, the son of a Cuban-American pharmacist and a former Miss North Carolina, Colina, an excellent pianist, received a degree in music theory and composition from the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. After more study in Italy, he moved to Manhattan in 1970 and started writing ballet scores and music for off-Broadway musicals, as well as commercial radio and television jingles. His work as a studio musician led to a friendship with the saxophonist David Sanborn and he got his first big break producing two best-selling, Grammy-winning albums with Sanborn. Colina went on to a very successful career in the jazz, pop, and folk world, but 10 years ago he made a decision to return to where he had started, and to concentrate on composing classical works.

Colina’s latest CD, Three Cabinets of Wonder, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and released in 2011, garnered rave reviews from the major classical music magazines, including the BBC Magazine, Gramophone, Classic Guitar Review, and Fanfare, whose critic uncharacteristically enthused, “The CD will in every parameter under consideration, receive an unqualified rave from me. I was, in fact, left emotionally overwhelmed.” One of Colina’s works on the disc, Goyescana, a concerto for guitar and orchestra, is given a performance by Buffalo-based guitarist Michael Andriaccio that is described as “definitive.”

In his new work, Three Dances for Cello and Orchestra, Colina transforms the dance rhythms and forms of different countries, displaying his talent for inhabiting the musical language of diverse cultures. “Ultimately,” says the composer, “I want to connect with people, to give them even for a moment, a little solace, a glimpse of something beautiful and a sense of peace.”

“Ragas to Riches,” the first movement, explores the world of Indian ragas, beginning on a peaceful, solemn theme but ending with a wild and explosive climax. “My goal was to use classical Indian music to create a convincing work that uses a different solo instrument, fits a classic European orchestra and appeals to Western musical ears,” Colina says.

The middle movement, “It’s Snowing in Cuba.” is based on the rhythms of the popular 19th-century Cuban contradanza known as the habanera. The paradoxical title conveys Colina’s mixed emotions concerning his father’s homeland. “I see my childhood paradise frozen and paralyzed in the seemingly unending grip of political narrow-mindedness, vengeance, and pain,” he says. “The cello’s piercing, foreboding voice is given the task of singing to us of this sadness and beauty.”

“Slavic Sisters,” the last movement, is a re-working of a portion of Colina’s Baba Yaga, a Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra, a work violinist Anatasia Khirtruk premiered last summer at Chautauqua. “I originally began writing Baba Yaga as a cello concerto in 2005-2006,” Colina says. “Along the way to completion, in a grand composing tradition, I used this music to complete a violin work. Now listeners can hear the piece as originally intended, for cello. The cello has a distinctive voice from the violin and having them each play the same music is very tricky and very revealing.”

Jamie Laredo, the husband of solo cellist Sharon Robinson, will conduct. Buffalo classical music lovers know the Bolivian-born Laredo best as a virtuoso violinist, who most recently performed in the area in 2006 with the legendary pianist Leon Fleisher in a concert of the complete Brahms sonatas for violin and piano, on the late, much lamented Ramsi P. Tick concert series.

Known for her chamber music performances, cellist Sharon Robinson co-founded the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio 35 years ago and she has collaborated with Rudolf Serkin and Alexander Schneider at the Malboro Music Festival. Robinson also has a strong commitment to contemporary music, having worked closely with many of today’s leading composers, including Ned Rorem, Leon Kirchner, Arvo Pärt, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Joan Tower, Richard Danielpour, and André Previn.

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