In New York State: Culture's Front Porch

Tall and blond, he looks like a beach boy in his cutoffs and tennis shirt. He is Peter de Vries, 25, with two years toward a doctorate in violin performance at the University of Indiana, and just now the first violinist of the Chautauqua Festival Orchestra. He says something, laughing, to Evan Wilson, 20, the principal violist, and then puts his violin under his chin,and plays an A. A's of various textures rise up from the instruments played by his colleagues, and De Vries sits down.

Conductor Nathan Gottschalk, 66, stands up. He is a...