The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the busiest season of the year in my line of work.
The roads are fairly safe to travel, the weather isn't unpleasant, and many people either must have their vacation from work during that period, or choose to do so, and many of us, when freed from the daily grind, think of music, theater and other arts and entertainment. Only the period from Thanksgiving to the second week of December comes close to equaling it.
This year, I wrote 29 items for this newspaper, as well as six for the Chautauqua Daily. For many years, I have tried to look back at the summer, to see if there are elements of summer arts which need encouragement, or others which could be adjusted in a better way. It's always dangerous to do a piece such as this, because one inevitably leaves out a name or an event or some important element, but with a clear recognition that we're far from perfect, let's cover it as well as we can.
The actors of the Chautauqua Theater Company performed a young and energetic production of “Macbeth”' which won praise from many of our readers.
Let's look at our summer writing, starting with events and exhibits outside the walls of Chautauqua Institution, then at Chautauqua pieces, and finally at the five pieces written about events in our good neighbor Canada. I never do one of these ''looks back'' without marveling at how much really fine artistry is available within a reasonable drive of home.
We have written 10 pieces on arts-related events, which took place in our county in June through August.
Interestingly, June was the busiest month for the local scene. There was a column and one review from the programming in the annual Bach & Beyond Festival, which takes place in the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.
The festival usually offers three concerts for the public: one each on Friday and Saturday evenings, and a third on Sunday afternoon. There are additionally a number of performances which take place in restaurants and other public sites, usually by reduced numbers of musicians. The quality of musicianship and musical scholarship are truly impressive. The idea is to perform the music of J.S. Bach, in addition to the music which inspired him, and that which he inspired in later composers. Grant Cooper is artistic director, and the musicians come from all over the world.
It comes in a time period in which I am always frazzled and near the end of my rope, and the healing artistry of the concerts always wars with the frustration that I can't fit more of it into my schedule.
Also in June, we wrote about two single performances in Jamestown. The Erie Renaissance Singers gave a lovely performance at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, in downtown. The ensemble includes a number of Chautauqua County residents among its members.
They are a beautifully balanced and very well-trained ensemble. It was a pleasure to see an audience so deeply involved in a concert, clearly experiencing the structure of the music and the technique of the singers.
The second June concert was at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation, in Jamestown. They have regularly offered performances by young participants in the Quartet Program, which was in its 40th consecutive year of teaching both performance on string instruments, and the skills involved in performing in quartets.
The young musicians in the program are always extremely talented, and they come to the State University at Fredonia each year to flex their artistic muscles and learn beyond their intense studies, all over the nation, and indeed, the world.
The remaining June feature dealt with a new film, which was created by the national cable television network, HBO. Titled ''Nobody Dies in Lily Dale,'' it is an account of activities at the small spiritualist community, located just outside Cassadaga. The film had its world premiere in the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.
There are three pieces from the month of July. One column and one review dealt with the Spoon River Project, which brought the inspired poetry of Edgar Lee Masters to the beautiful hillsides of the Lake View Cemetery.
It has now provided both a delight for local audiences and a stretching experience for local actors and musicians, for two consecutive years. We hope it will continue long into the future. Locally-born actor and director Tom Andolora is the engine behind the performances. The cemetery association and the Fenton History Society sponsor the activities, and Robert John Terreberry serves as producer.
The remaining July coverage concerned a generous effort by city residents whose ancestry is in India. They offered an evening of cooking, dance and culture from their country of origin, both to enlighten our community and to support the financial needs of the WCA Hospital's Capital Campaign.
Thanks to Rama Chalikonda, Uma Vejendla and Renu Gupta and everyone who worked with them for a delightful opportunity.
August brought to Jamestown the national officers of the National Society of Arts and Letters. The inspiration was the chartering of a new chapter of the organization: the Chautauqua Chapter. Spearheaded by Juanita Wallace Jackson, a year-round resident of Chautauqua, the chapter will work to provide scholarships and performance opportunities for young artists in nearly all the different arts, with a different art form supported each year, on a rotating basis.
The organization meets at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. The chapter includes professional arts supporters between Erie, Pa. and Buffalo.
Our most recent piece was a review of the exhibition of visual art at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Painter Charley Harper had a long and successful career as an artist, and the RTPI exhibit focuses on his images of birds, and especially the colorful cardinals.
It always delights me when readers tell me I have alerted them to something they very much wanted to see, and several have told me they made the trek to Curtis St., to see Harper's artwork, and have been very pleased that they did so.
Considering the relatively small size of our community and the fact that the academic community is usually unpaid in the summer and often out of the area to update and maintain their teaching credentials, it is impressive that we have had such artistic riches.
There are always a few readers who complain that so much focus is placed on the artistic events at Chautauqua, with suggestions that what happens at the Institution ''isn't ours.''
The arts at Chautauqua are professional arts, and just as we might focus more on the Buffalo Bills than on a local football team, we owe the professionals our closest scrutiny. Chautauqua is certainly in our county, and as long as we're happy to accept the millions of dollars they attract to our businesses from outside the county, we certainly owe them our support and our analysis.
Since June, we wrote 14 pieces on arts events at Chautauqua, which doesn't include two pieces about the production at Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Canada, which was directed by Ethan McSweeny, who is co-artistic director of the Chautauqua Theater Company.
On June 19, we did our annual ''critic's picks'' for the upcoming season. In it, we analyzed the announced performances in symphony, opera, ballet, and theater, and gave our advice on what readers might enjoy or not enjoy about the announced performances.
On July 10, we wrote a column about the film ''Body of War,'' which is an examination of our country's invasion of Iraq, focusing on the life of one young soldier, who was paralyzed during that conflict. The film was the work of television personality Phil Donahue, and its showing at the Chautauqua Cinema was co-sponsored by the Robert H. Jackson Center, in Jamestown.
Donahue was present in person to discuss and answer questions about his film, which was shown on July 20. I was delighted by a number of veterans who contacted me to let me know they were impressed by the film and delighted to be informed of it. It is now available for free loan from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, and can be ordered through your local library.
I expressed concern in the June 19 survey, that I have had trouble in the past, making contact with morning lecturers at Chautauqua, who speak about the arts. I was contacted by an Institution official who asked which lecturers I would like to interview. I gave him the name of the one I most wanted to talk with, and never heard from him again.
I understand that I should have hounded him, when he didn't get back to me, but my schedule was full and I would have had to work in the interview to an already busy schedule, so I chose to let it go, but I would have written a large feature on him, if it had been offered to me.
The visual arts at the Institution, which have always been cordial, but rarely suggested coverage, came forward asking to have their new buildings and programs featured, and on Aug. 21, we did that. Lovers of painting, sculpture and other visual arts will find there is much of interest in their new VACI program.
I've frequently mentioned that in recent years, theater gets the most and best coverage of all the art forms at the Institution. This is because they have a very good program, and because it has more performances and events than any of the other arts, but it is also because they do such a good job of helping the press to cover their activities.
Reviews are easy to arrange. Feature articles are much harder. Walking the streets of the Institution and hoping to find something to write about can be a terribly frustrating activity. There was a time when they suggested possible features and interesting approaches to take, but that time is long past, except in the theater department. Vivienne Benesch and Ethan McSweeny are the co-artistic directors of the program, and Robert Chelimski is the general director.
We reviewed their five productions, including what I think of as semi-reviews of the two New Play Workshops, which describe what happens and how, but don't evaluate, because they are still works in progress, and are done with only a few days' rehearsal and with only limited technical support.
We wrote one promotional piece for a performance of ''Macbeth'' geared toward students. Then there was an interview with Michael Stuhlbarg, who played the lead in the company's Amphitheater production of Peter Shaffer's ''Amadeus,'' and a feature column on the young actors' production of ''Macbeth.''
That's a total of eight, from the 14 pieces we wrote about Chautauqua.
In my June 19 overview, I bemoaned the fact that, faced by the financial considerations which the entire world is coping with, Chautauqua had decided to focus its cuts on the opera program. Quite a lot of conversation has been taking place at Chautauqua about the high cost of opera, but we all understand that figures can be reported in a variety of ways, depending on why you're reporting them.
There were two really fine productions at Chautauqua Opera this year. There was a single production of Bellini's opera ''Norma,'' a rarely-performed and very difficult work. It was done in the Amphitheater, which was new and stimulated a lot of attention. Much about the performance was very good, although ''Norma'' is one of those operas which brings people from thousands of miles away, if they are opera buffs, but doesn't always catch the imagination of those who love ''Evita,'' but don't think they like opera.