By Rossen Milanov, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Jay Lesengeris
Much has been said about plans to replace the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater. Missing from the debate, we think, have been the voices of the artistic community.
The Amp is our home. The Amp is legendary because of the artists’ work, the issues forums and the religious ceremonies held there – and the unforgettable experiences of audience members.
That is why we stand together in supporting the renewal of the Amp the board is considering.
The current Amphitheater, unfortunately, cannot adequately handle the creative, immersive and inter-arts work that is happening right now at Chautauqua.
Preservation of the arts must be more than lip service. It involves difficult steps like the renewal of the Amp, which we believe will achieve important goals.
Adding the orchestra pit in the renewal plan is essential. During inter-arts performances, musicians block those seated on the Amp floor from seeing the stage.
A pit will achieve the correct balance between voice and instruments. Not having an orchestra pit limits the kinds of performances we can stage. It can be difficult and limiting to find voices big enough to sing over an orchestra on the Amp floor.
The lighting that can be used for performances is limited because of the current Amp structure.
Sight lines in general must be improved. Peering around one of 16 reinforced columns is not the best way to engage with the power of Beethoven.
We also have helped aging loved ones struggle down unsafe ramps to find a seat. We must make the Amp safe and accessible.
Dancers must warm up on a porch because we do not have the necessary, modern space backstage. Our musicians cannot play properly while sitting on the uneven, slanted bowl floor.
There also are storage and mold issues in the current Amp. We store about $750,000 worth of music in the Amp. Climate-controlled storage space is needed.
Our stage is not accessible to speakers and performers with physical disabilities.
Preserving the arts means respecting our artists and providing a facility that works. The institution has taken pains to preserve the wonderful acoustics and the look of today’s Amp in the renewal plan. We know that leaders listened to us and to so many Chautauquans and made changes.
We need to look at the Amp as a place where wonderful things can happen in the 21st century that are not restricted by what was common in the 19th century.
For us, and for our audiences, a new Amp would be wonderful change.
Rossen Milanov is music director of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux is artistic director of Chautauqua Dance. Jay Lesengeris is outgoing artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company.