Sound of Charlotte Blog

Meet the Musician: Hollis Ulaky

February 25, 2015

Hollis Ulaky has been principal oboist with the Charlotte Symphony since 1974. Originally from Pittsburgh, she grew up in a musical family. Following her graduation from Carnegie Mellon University, she joined the CSO. She is currently a faculty member of Winthrop University and a Yamaha Performing Artist. In her free time, she enjoys Zumba and Pilates, visiting her children, and playing with her trio, RHODORA, along with CSO colleagues Amy Orsinger Whitehead (flute) and Drucilla DeVan (clarinet).

How were you introduced to classical music?
My family introduced me. Growing up, I was the youngest of six siblings, all of whom played instruments. This led me to believe that everyone played an instrument! Today, five of us are professional musicians, and one of my siblings used to play the flute and piano. My father was also a jazz musician.

Why did you chose the oboe?
It was unusual, and I loved the sound.

If you weren't a professional musician, what would you be?
I might have been a nurse. I'm interested in people and their care.

What music do you listen to when you are not practicing or performing?
Some classical, some jazz

Where can we find you when you're not rehearsing or performing?
I spend lots of time making reeds. It's a necessary part of being an oboist and an important part of my preparation for the orchestra. I also enjoy teaching. Besides my students at Winthrop, I have 10 private students, three of whom are in the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra program.

What's one thing you can't live without?
My family. My husband, Jim, is in the CSO's percussion section. We have two sons together, Joe, 27, who's an architect in Philadelphia, and Mike, 25, who is a Broadcast Engineer for Turtle Entertainment in Los Angeles.

What have your favorite pieces been thus far this season and what are you most looking forward to?
I really enjoyed Beethoven's Symphony No. 3. The slow movement solos suit the mournful sound of the oboe. And, of course, the Brahms German Requiem, since it was my mother's favorite piece. I'm looking forward to Barber's Violin Concerto, which includes another beautiful oboe solo. Barber writes such touching melodies.

Which composer or composition most inspires you?
Bach inspires me the most. His music contains so much emotion and intensity. 

What is your earliest musical memory?
Watching my sister play the flute when I was 2 years old and trying to play the piano with her. 

Strauss vs Strauss

February 4, 2015

In our current season, we are celebrating the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss by performing his works throughout the Classics series. In this weekend's KnightSounds concert, A Waltz to Remember, we fill the program with works from Johann Strauss II, "The Waltz King." Learn more about these composers which shared the same occupation, the same last name, and absolutely no relation!

Full name Johann Strauss II Richard Georg Strauss 
Life 1825-1899 1864 -1949
Nationality  Austrian German
Born Vienna Munich
Father Johann, composer of more than 250 works Franz , principal horn player of the Bavarian Court Opera
Known for  Waltzes Symphonic poems and operas 
Age of first composition 6 6
Famous piece  On the Beautiful Blue Danube Don Quixote
Works in CSO 2014-2015 season Overture to Die Fledermaus, Annen Polka, The Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus, Emperor Waltz, The Audition Song from Die Fledermaus, On the Beautiful Blue Danube Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life), Don Quixote, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme

Posted in Classics. Tagged as KnightSounds.

Bringing the Gift of Music to Local Schools

December 18, 2014

At 10:15 on a Thursday morning, the orchestra classroom at Albemarle Road Middle School is filled with chatter. Small children, some holding very large instruments, wriggle in their seats as their teacher, Mr. Logan Hughes, interrupts class. They have a special delivery.

For months, the Charlotte Symphony's director of education, Chris Stonnell, has collected instrument donations from across the community, storing them in his office, having them inspected and repaired and ready for this moment. His car is packed with black music cases stacked on top of each other, protecting shiny trombones, cellos, violins, violas, and even a bass guitar and amps.

Car packed with donated instruments

Albemarle Road Middle School Principal Toni Perry says donations like this mean everything to the students. "We have some amazing students that want opportunities like this - to be in band and orchestra - and don't have the opportunity to do so because they can't get instruments," Perry says. "This [donation] is going to really grow our program and help us to be able to give our students the education they deserve."

Music teachers at Albemarle Road Middle School inspect donated instruments

Since April of 2012, the Charlotte Symphony has accepted community donations of unused or slightly damaged instruments, refurbished them to working order, and distributed them to local schools in need. Since Instruments for Kids began, we have donated approximately 65 instruments.  

Looking ahead, Albemarle Road's music instructors hope to start up Jazz and Pop bands and even a guitar program. This donation is helping to make these goals a reality.

Music teachers and Symphony staff join students holding donated instruments

Following the stop at Albemarle Road, Stonnell and School Programs Manager Phoebe Lustig made a second donation to Sugar Creek Charter School, providing the school its first eight instruments.

We are always grateful for instrument donations from the community and are in special need of full-sized stringed instruments. For more information on the Instruments for Kids program, click here.

Post written by Virginia Brown

Posted in Education & Community.

Meet the Musician: Ben Geller

December 10, 2014

In January's performance of Don Quixote, Principal Violist Ben Geller will bow alongside guest cellist Julian Schwarz, representing his loyal, bumbling sidekick in the Strauss work. Here, Geller, who joined the Charlotte Symphony in January 2014, shares stories (along with a sense of humor) about studying Suzuki as a child, his custom-made viola, and love of naps ... and chicken.  

Does your instrument have an interesting story?
My viola was custom made for me in 2007 by Theodore Skreko of Indianapolis Violins, modeled after the Breacian master Gaspar da Salo. My bow is also fantastic and made by the incomparable Matthew Wehling from St. Paul, Minnesota.
How did you get introduced to the viola?
I'd flirted with viola a few times in different ensembles in high school, but I fully committed from the violin the summer after my undergraduate sophomore year at Butler University when I studied with Michael Isaac Strauss. I really haven't looked back since.
If you weren't a professional musician, what would you be?
I've never had a real plan B. Maybe acting? Or something in ceramics...I loved throwing pottery in high school. I'd probably just farm somewhere in Canada.
How do you mentally prepare for a performance?
Naps. Also, long baths. Seriously though, the only way to prepare mentally for a performance is by learning the music inside and out. Once I've made technical decisions about every note from informed knowledge of the score with a few recordings for reference, the performance takes care of itself. Also, deep breaths and I try not to slouch. 
What kinds of music do you listen to when you are not practicing or performing?
Jazz, Prog Rock, Classic R&B and Hip Hop, and whatever is on NPR or WDAV.
Where can we find you when you're not rehearsing or performing?
Swimming at MAC, biking around on my '89 Schwinn, playing Frisbee somewhere, but I'm probably just practicing at home.
What's one thing you can't live without?
Oxygen. Also, food. Specifically chicken.
Which composer or composition most inspires you?
Bela Bartok. He combined mathematic formulas found in nature, folk music he researched from all over Hungary and Eastern Europe, and modern art music techniques to bring the listener and the player a wild and interesting experience. He's one of my very favorites. 
Are there any other musicians in your family?
I come from a very musical family. Everyone played something at some point, however my cousin Noah Geller (Concertmaster of the Kansas City Symphony) and I are the only professional orchestral musicians. 
What is your earliest musical memory?
Suzuki class sometime in the late 80s. I had a cardboard pizza circle that I was supposed to stand on properly in designated foot outlines that was much more fun to throw like a Frisbee.
Post written by Virginia Brown

Meet the Musician: Concertmaster Calin Lupanu

November 19, 2014

Originally from Timisoara, Romania, Concertmaster Calin Lupanu moved to Charlotte in the fall of 2003, when he won the Charlotte Symphony job. Here, he talks about his hometown, his 10-city search for the perfect violin, and how he gets in the zone before a performance.

How were you introduced to the violin?
I didn't have much of a choice. My mom was Principal Harp at the Bucharest Philharmonic and my grandfather was the Music Director of the Opera House in Cluj.
Is there an interesting story behind your instrument?
My violin is a Silvestre, 1857. I purchased it about 6 years ago. I did travel to about 10 major cities in the U.S. to see violins, and I saw 79 violins before I got to see this one.
Tell us a little bit about your hometown of Timisoara, Romania.
Timisoara is a beautiful city, architecture inspired by the Austro-Hungarian and the House of Habsburg. German and Hungarian communities are very prominent. Its nickname is "the Garden City" because of the numerous parks and gardens. River Bega runs through its downtown.
What goes through your head just before each performance?
Before the performance begins I am trying to focus and get into a musical "zone," if that makes any sense. I am trying to visualize the stage, the audience, and get in the right mood. We performers have one chance to get it right. We don't have a "delete" or "backspace" button that can redo any passages. A live performance is nothing like a recording. A recording usually has lots of takes, even the Live recordings. That creates a lot of mental pressure and you need to be able to stay focused for long periods of time. I have been dealing with this kind of pressure my entire musical life, from international competitions, to performances and tours, and playing for some of the greatest musicians, especially in the chamber music world.  
What would surprise audiences about your role as Concertmaster?
Everyone knows that a Concertmaster has to be a strong player and a good musician, but what would surprise people is the endurance required to play a major solo one day, a violin concerto the next day and a chamber music concert after all that. That is something that comes with experience, and they don't teach you in school how tough it is. Pacing yourself is paramount so you can always sound fresh. 
What would you do if you weren't a professional musician?
I only know music, and I can't imagine myself doing something else. 
What music do you listen to when you're not performing or rehearsing?
I listen to a lot of music, different genres, from Classical to Rock, Jazz, etc. The music on my iPod is a melting pot. 
What is something you can't live without?
I can't live without my family: my wife and my almost-7-year-old boy. At some point, I will have to learn to live without my violin, but I don't think that I could learn to live without my family. 
Post written by Virginia Brown

Orchestra On Campus performance poster

October 31, 2014

Check out Central Piedmont Community College graphic design student Tyler Neal's creative design of our Orchestra On Campus performance poster! This annual concert will take place Wednesday, November 5 at Halton Theater. The theme of the program is "Mavericks of Sound," paying homage to musicians who broke ground in the music industry with their compositions.
"This is an awesome opportunity, to be a part of such an enriching experience for our community," says Neal.
Roger Kalia will conduct the Charlotte Symphony in this performance for a capacity crowd of CPCC students. For more information on our Orchestra On Campus partnership, click here.

Urban Sketchers Group Captures Bachtoberfest II Rehearsal

October 24, 2014

Urban Sketchers Charlotte and artist Don Colley joined us at the dress rehearsal for Bachtoberfest II: Bach and Beer on October 22. Don is a Faber-Castell artist who is currently on a sponsored roadtrip across the US, sketching as he goes.  Thanks to Urban Sketchers for joining us again!

Meet the Musician: John Parker

October 15, 2014

Joining the Symphony straight from college, John Parker had a lot of adjusting and learning to do. As the youngest member of the orchestra approaches the end of his first year with the CSO, we catch up with him about what he's learned, what's surprised him, and his love of Carolina basketball.

How were you introduced to the trumpet?
Being the son of two instrumental music educators, I grew up immersed in instruments of all kinds. Because of this, I became seriously invested in music long before I picked up the trumpet. I started playing piano at age 7, but since both of my parents were band directors, I felt inclined to pick up a musical instrument in middle school band. My older brother, who's also a musician, started playing trombone. I liked the sound of brass instruments, but I didn't want to be the same as my brother, so I started playing the trumpet. I didn't even like trumpet that much until I heard Wynton Marsalis live for the first time. That experience changed me, and I still consider it one of the reasons, in addition to my family, that I pursued music, especially the trumpet, so heavily. 
What has surprised you most about your first year at the Symphony?
I have been most surprised by the level of support that the entire orchestra has given me.  There has never been a time when I've felt uncomfortable, and I attribute that to my colleagues on stage. They genuinely care about seeing me do well, and I think that has boosted my confidence.
What have you learned in your first year with the CSO?
The thought of moving into a leadership role in a premier professional orchestra was one that left me worried, like I was in over my head. After being on the job for a few weeks, I figured out how to put all of those emotions aside and just take things one week at a time, one performance at a time, and not let myself become overwhelmed. Sometimes I even tell myself how ridiculous it is that the one thing I have wanted to do my whole life is blow into a brass tube for a living. Taking the situation with humor, humility, and with the understanding that this is what I have been in school for so many years to do, has helped me tremendously. 
What would you do if you weren't a professional musician?
I was always good at math in school and even considered going to school for engineering or architecture. I think if I hadn't pursued music, I would have gone that route. 
Any hidden talents or interesting fun facts?
I'm from North Carolina. I grew up in High Point, N.C. and attended school at UNC-Chapel Hill. One of the best parts about the job with the CSO is that I am a short drive from my family and can make it back to my alma mater frequently. Outside of the Symphony, I like golfing and pretty much any sport, am a huge college football and basketball fan (Go Heels!), and enjoy good food, especially sushi. 

Posted in Classics.

Bringing the pipa to the Western World

September 29, 2014

Photo credit Chad Batka
Wu Man is recognized as the world's premier pipa player, dedicating her career to giving the ancient Chinese instrument a new role in today's music.

Born in Hangzhou, on the east coast of China, Wu Man studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she became the first person to earn a master's degree in pipa.

The Grammy Award-nominated artist is a respected expert on the history and preservation of Chinese musical traditions. In 1999, Yo-Yo Ma selected her as the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in music and communication, and she is the first artist from China to have performed at the White House, along with a cellist with whom she now performs as part of the Silk Road Project.

She has been referred to as "the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western world."

Hear Wu Man's impressive virtuosity on the ancient Chinese instrument, as she performs Jiping's "Concerto for Pipa and Orchestra," a piece that was written especially for her.

For more information on this Classics Series performance, click here.

About the Pipa                                                                    
The pipa is a four-stringed Chinese lute-like instrument with a history dating more than 2,000 years. During the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC 220 AD), instruments with long, straight necks and round resonators, with snake skin or wooden sound boards, were played with a forward and backward plucking motion that sounded like "pi" and "pa." Throughout history, the instrument has evolved, and today's pipa consists of 26 frets and six ledges, arranged as stops, and its strings are tuned to A, D, E, A.

What does it sound like? Click here to listen.  

Post written by Virginia Brown

Posted in Classics.

Meet the new CSO Musicians

September 17, 2014

This fall we welcome three new musicians to the Charlotte Symphony family!

Sarah Markle, cello
How did you spend your summer?
I recently moved to Charlotte from New York, so a lot of my summer was spent packing and finding an apartment! I got to do some slightly more fun things too: I played in my hometown's summer chamber music series, the Roycroft Chamber Music Festival, hiked in Jasper National Park, Canada, and got a lot better at rollerblading.

How did you get started playing cello?
My school required all 4th graders to start on a string instrument, and I picked the cello because my grandmother loves it, and also because pretty much everyone else picked the violin.

Where's the most interesting place you've played?
Last fall I played at Radio City Music Hall for a live TV broadcast of "America's Got Talent" that involved a lot of fog machines, crazy light shows, and a crowd of about 6,000 people. Thankfully we were just back-up musicians, basically serving as props, so I could look around and really take it all in while I was onstage.

What is the one thing you can't live without?
Chocolate. Typical, I know, but it's true.

What do you enjoy doing outside of performing?
I got into ultimate Frisbee during my undergrad, and while I haven't played much since then, I'm always looking for opportunities! I also like reading anything by Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.

Scott Hartman, principal bass trombone
How did you spend your summer?
I was at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts this summer. It was a terrific summer and it was a great experience to work with and learn from the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In my free time, I enjoyed kayaking and hiking in the beautiful Berkshires.
How did you get started playing trombone?
I got started on the trombone in the school band when I was 12. A few years later at a jazz camp they asked if I would be willing to play bass trombone, so I borrowed a bass and ended up loving it. After that I played both tenor and bass pretty equally for a few years before switching to bass trombone full time.
Where's the most interesting place you've played?
It's hard to choose, but one that comes to mind is a brass quintet performance in western Massachusetts, where we played on the grounds of a colonial house that dated to the 1760s. We sat at the base of a mountain facing toward the house and lawn that the audience was seated on. It was really cool to hear the quintet sound resonate through the woods and hills.
What is the one thing you can't live without?
I don't know that there's anything I really can't live without, but one thing I don't want to live without again is a car. I'm a big car buff (especially vintage cars) and I love driving. I didn't have a car when I was in Chicago and I quickly realized how much I missed driving.
What do you enjoy doing outside of performing?
Growing up in Florida instilled in me a love of water recreation. I enjoy kayaking, boating, canoeing, and fishing, plus hiking and camping.

Marlene Ballena, cello
How did you spend your summer?
I attended the Beethoven Institute in New York and the Banff Centre Chamber Music Residency with my quartet.
We enjoyed both the music and the beautiful scenery of the Canadian Rockies.
How did you get started playing cello?
Both my parents are musicians. They picked the cello for me. At the beginning I was unsure about their decision but eventually I fell in love with it.
Where's the most interesting place you've played?
I had the opportunity to perform in Doha, Qatar with my quartet. We played for the Queen!
What is the one thing you can't live without?
Chamber music!
What do you enjoy doing outside of performing?
I love running and salsa dancing.

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