New and colorful works

CHAUTAUQUA – Programmers of classical music are wise to combine familiar, beloved works which are the heart and soul of our culture, with new and innovative creations which keep the art form alive and speak differently to audiences.

On Tuesday, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform a world premiere of a new and colorful work by American composer Michael Colina. “Three Dances for Cello and Orchestra” will be a featured part of the program in the Amphitheater at 8:15 p.m., on that evening. Conducting the orchestra will be world famous violinist and violist, Jaime Laredo, who has been expanding more and more, in recent years, into conducting, as well. Cello soloist will be Laredo’s very well-known wife, Sharon Robinson – the two represent the last two letters in the name of the KLR Trio, which performs chamber music in the great concert halls of the world, along with pianist Joseph Kalichstein.

Composer Colina will be present, on that evening, to hear an orchestra turn the sounds which have lived only in his head, into reality, for the first time. We have spoken, recently, with both Colina and Ms. Robinson, and this week, we’d like to share with you what they’ve told us about the experience to come.


Michael Colina is a second-generation Cuban-American, who was born in North Carolina, but spent much of his youth traveling back and forth between the American South and his ancestral home in Cuba. The result has been music which incorporates influences which include rhythm and blues, Latin dance, American jazz and Santeria ceremonial music.

Critics have described his music as “emotionally overwhelming, wildly imaginative, evocative and wonderful.” In his promotional materials, he describes himself as “a half-cultured poet/musician and half-redneck hick.”

He majored in composition at the North Carolina School of Arts, with a minor in percussion. That was where he first met Sharon Robinson, who graduated from the school two years after he did. The two performed together in their student days, and have remained in loose contact, ever since. “Sometimes when I write a piece of music, I hear a particular artist’s performance style in it. I’ve written several works for Sharon, including the ‘Three Dances,’ which she’ll be performing at Chautauqua,” he said.

Readers may remember that last year, we did an interview with Colina, when he presented another world premiere with the CSO. Titled “Baba Yaga,” the work for violin and orchestra was evocative of a figure out of the folklore of Eastern Europe, with whom mothers would threaten naughty children that if they didn’t behave, Baba Yaga would get them. That work has recently been released on compact disc, and has been selling successfully.

Early in his career, Colina focused on jazz. He composed music for television, films, theater, dance and live performances by jazz organizations. He received four Grammy nominations and won three of them for his jazz work.

In 2006, he decided to shift his focus to classical music, albeit with jazz and Latin influences, and that is where he has devoted most of his creations in the years since. He told an interviewer from the New York Times that his classical works have “Freed my own voice.”

“Part of ‘Three Dances’ should sound familiar to Chautauqua audiences,” he said by telephone from Florida, where he was working in what he described as “Screaming heat.” “The third movement of this work, which is called ‘Slavic Sisters,’ is the same as one movement from last year’s ‘Baba Yaga,’ except that it was played on violin and this will be performed on the cello.”

“About six years back, I was working on a concerto for cello, when I got a commission for a concerto for violin. I guess you could say I stole it from myself. The other two movements of ‘Three Dances’ are brand new – hot off the presses,” he continued.

“The first movement is called ‘Ragas to Riches,’ and it is based on Indian ragas. Of course, ragas are devoted to the Hindu deity Shiva, the goddess of destruction, and this piece is much lighter, although it uses styles and characteristics from the ragas. It and the ‘Slavic Sisters’ movements are light-hearted bookends, around what I consider the heart and soul of the piece. The middle movement is called ‘It’s Snowing in Cuba,’ and it’s in the style of a Habanera. It took a lot out of me to write it. When people visit Cuba today, things on the surface often seem joyous and happy, but that is nothing but a tribute to the pride and resourcefulness of the Cuban people. The last time I visited my relatives there, they were saving up to buy ‘luxuries’ like soap and cooking oil.

“My relatives live in a house which they have owned since the 1950s, but the government confiscated it, years ago, and now they’re struggling to pay rent on their own house,” he added. “Cuba is frozen in time, frozen by poverty and lack of opportunity, yet there is so much life and passion there, under that layer of frost. The image formed in my mind of snow and ice in a place which is very hot and energetic, and I’ve tried to capture that in my composition.”

“I ran into Sharon Robinson, about 10 years back, and we made a promise that we would make music together. She and her many talents as an artist have been in my thoughts ever since then, and it has turned into ‘Three Dances.’ As I grow older, I find it matters very much to me to make my music with people with whom I have a history,” he said.

Colina reports that he can only spend three or four days at Chautauqua, in the summer of 2013, although he has been coming to our area, off and on, for many years. “In 2004, I was first invited to come there by Rebecca Penneys, who was the chairman of the piano faculty at that time. I had written a piece for the New Arts Trio, which she had created. I fell in love with the idea of Chautauqua. It’s a unique social and artistic experience, and coming there is a beautiful experience in so many ways and I haven’t been back every year, but many times,” he said.

On Tuesday evening, you can hear the composer’s mix of a raga, a Habanera, and a slavic dance, in Chautauqua’s Amphitheater, and you can go to the porch on the building’s rear and share your views with the composer, when it’s over.


Cellist Sharon Robinson has ties with Chautauqua which go back even further than Colina’s. Although she was born in Houston, Texas, and her parents both performed with the Houston Symphony, both of them spent their summers as members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Her father, Keith Robinson, was principal bassist and her mother, Dorothe Fowler, was a violinist in both orchestras.

She, her brother and their two sisters have all become professional artists, performing on stringed instruments. Sharon performed as a student with Chautauqua’s Music School Festival Orchestra, and has been a past member of the CSO. Her sister, Erica Robinson, is currently a member of the first violin section, and has been for the past 15 years.

She was attracted to do Tuesday’s performance by her enjoyment of Colina’s style of compositions. “Michael’s work is full of quality structure and intellectual involvement, but it also has real tunes which prove to be catchy, and audience members can leave a concert humming them,” she told us. “In fact, Jaime and I have been humming them all around the house, as we’ve been working on learning ‘Three Dances,”‘ she said.

She also feels that Colina has a rare gift for orchestrating music, both his own, and works written by others. “Michael can take a general theme and place it into the different voices of the orchestra in such a way that it develops wonderful colors. I consider his work worthy of the composer Maurice Ravel, who was known for that same gift,” she said.

Since “Three Dances” has never been played by an orchestra, Robinson has learned her part with the use of a piano reduction which Colina has created for her. “One of the great things about working with Michael is that he is genuinely interested in collaborating with musicians. As Jaime prepares to conduct, he may come up with an idea for a slight change or I may find something not to be working for me, and he is eager to hear this feed-back and can be very flexible. Some composers just demand that their work be done as written, and won’t accept the smallest suggestion from instrumentalists,” she said. “I can’t wait to hear this with the orchestra, and I’m certain the audience will love it, too.”

Sharon Robinson’s biography includes a list of professional recordings which runs three full pages in length. She has performed with virtually all of the major orchestras in the U.S., and throughout Europe and Asia, as well. Her husband of 36 years includes in his professional schedule the artistic directorship of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, a post which he has held since 1999. The couple joined the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music, in the summer of 2012.

The concert at Chautauqua will make a perfect stopover for us, between our home in Vermont and the beginning of classes in Cleveland,” she said. We eagerly look forward to their performance.


Just because the 2013 season is drawing to a close, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many meaningful things to do at Chautauqua. Fall opportunities include these:

Aug. 25-30, people age 55 and older are invited to attend a five-day Encore Chorale Camp. Students are invited to select afternoon classes in voice, movement, or theater. For additional information, phone Encore at 301-261-5747, or email

Aug. 26, Jamestown’s Robert H. Jackson Center will present a full day of Dialogues among representatives of International courts from locations including Rwanda, Cambodia, Lebanon and Sierra Leone, at the Hotel Athenaeum. This year’s topic for the dialogues will be “The Long Hot Summer After the Arab Spring: Accountability and the Rule of Law.” Participation for the public is free, except for meals. For details or to make reservations, phone 800-821-1881.

Sept. 13, the Hotel Athenaeum will offer a Farm-to-Table dinner, featuring a five-course meal made up entirely of foods grown locally, many on the grounds of Chautauqua, itself. For details or reservations, phone 800-821-1881.

Sept. 19-22, the 16th annual Jazz at Chautauqua Festival will bring to the Hotel Athenaeum some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians, to perform and discuss the music of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The public is invited to come for a day, or to stay the weekend. For details, go to their web site at

The Road Scholar Program is an opportunity for the public to learn about and to discuss topics of lasting significance. The topic for Sept. 22-27 will be “Meeting With the Great Minds.” The topic for Oct. 6-11 will be “U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st Century.” For additional information, contact Laurie Paterniti at 357-6262 or email

For nearly 20 years, the New Horizons program has held a band practice at Chautauqua in the fall. People who used to play an instrument and want to pick it back up, or people who have always wanted to play a music instrument, are encouraged to look upon it as “No time like the present.” This year’s program will take place Sept. 21-26. For additional information, go by computer to

The annual Quilting Around Chautauqua event has recently been drawing more than 300 overnight participants and more than 1,000 day visitors. This year’s events will take place Sept. 26-29. To learn more, go to the program’s website at

Clearly, life remains a banquet for those with the willingness to share a feast.


Classes will soon resume at the State University of New York at Fredonia. A preliminary announcement of special events scheduled for the coming season include a concert by Grammy-winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. in Rosch Recital Hall. Sandoval will perform with an orchestra made up of college faculty members and professional musicians from the Western New York Area. The Fredonia Latin Jazz Ensemble, conducted by John Bacon, will also perform.

Also, recently announced, will be a performance on April 4, 2014, by the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Performing with them, on that date will be the Fredonia Guitar Ensemble, directed by James Piorkowski. Tickets are already available for purchase at a price of $30 for the general public, and $12 for students with I.D. Purchase them in person at the Williams Center Box Office, or by phoning 673-3501, or by going to the box office web site at Additional information is available on the web site, or by phoning 673-3686.

Additional announcements of programming from the university will be shared, as they are received.