Sound of Charlotte Blog

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.
 

Christopher Warren-Green's Summer

September 10, 2014



Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green has been busy since the Classics series season finale of Verdi's Requiem in May. He kicked off the summer by conducting the Minnesota Orchestra in performances of the final three symphonies by Mozart Nos. 39, 40, and 41. Next up: Turkey, where he led the Istanbul State Symphony for the city's Summer Music Festival. Later in June, he returned to the UK to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in an all-Tchaikovsky gala at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Back in the States, he conducted the Detroit Symphony in performances featuring the DSO principal trumpet performing the Telemann Trumpet Concerto and other works by Schubert, Rossini, and Mozart. After a busy summer, he spent a much-deserved rest with family in the beautiful Surrey Hills countryside outside of London. We look forward to his return to Charlotte next month, as he gears up to lead the Charlotte Symphony for Beethoven's "Eroica" Sept. 19-20 to open the season. We hope to see you opening weekend!

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Christopher Warren-Green.

Meet Summer Intern Patrick Hoffman

July 10, 2014

I cannot remember a time when music was not part of my life, when it was not something that provided refuge from daily life. In one aspect or another it was always present, growing and developing until it became my passion and lifelong ambition. For many people music is not important to them, not because they dislike like it or because it fails to affect them, but because music was something that was inaccessible to them when they needed it.

I am very fortunate that I have been involved in music outreach programs since I started playing viola in middle school and for this, I thank Charlotte Symphony. Their outreach programs provided me with the opportunity to cultivate my musical interests and lit a flame of curiosity and desire to explore the complexities that music so effortlessly veils. These programs followed me from middle school at Piedmont Middle School to Northwest School of the Arts, and into Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra. From work with coaches to private lessons and performances, I am incredibly lucky to have had such a close relationship with the Charlotte Symphony. In fact, I credit most of my success to working side by side with professionals throughout my adolescence; developing relationships, networks, and friends. It is such a privilege to work with kind and hardworking professionals who have made an impact such as Susan Blumberg, Cindy Frank, Deb Mishoe, Tom Burge, Sakira Harley, Carlos Tarazona, Leonardo Soto, Felicia Sink, Amy Whitehead, and Lori Tiberio.

Presently I am a sophomore at UNCG for Music Education and interning at the very place that gave me my start, Charlotte Symphony. Recently I was pleased to teach a class of about thirty elementary school students with the Freedom Schools program. My lesson was on the relationships and intersections between music and language. We explored deep into vocabulary, learned that expression can take many forms, and music can be translated many ways.  I also bridged these two concepts at the Winterfield Elementary summer program. By working side by side with symphony professionals and learning how they approach lessons, these musicians have grown to be like family. I am thrilled that I helped to meaningfully impact these students' life with music in the same way it has for me. 

Sometimes it feels a little odd that the program that I am now teaching I was only a student in not too long ago. I believe this goes to show that music can be a hobby or a creative outlet, but it certainly also is a career. Whether music selected me or visa-versa I will never really know, but I do know that my heart beats for all things music.
 
This post was written by Patrick Hoffman, Summer 2014 Education Intern  

Posted in Education & Community. Tagged as Internship, winterfield elementary.

Music al Fresco

June 19, 2014

Photo taken on June 15, 2014 at Symphony Park. Photo © Genesis Group Photography
 
 L to R - Independence Park, Freedom Park, and former tent at Symphony Park
 
The Charlotte Symphony played a free outdoor concert during its very first season. In July of 1932, the orchestra performed in Independence Park, the city's oldest public park. The program included Beethoven's might Fifth Symphony and the Overture from Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner. Some 3000 people attended.
 
Over the years, the orchestra occasionally performed open-air concerts, inaugurating, for example, Festival in the Park at Freedom Park with two concerts in 1962.  But the CSO Summer Pops series as we know it today began in 1983, when the CSO took over the independently-run Summer Pops, organized in 1975 with musicians from Charlotte and other nearby towns.
 
The symphony's Summer Pops series had a variety of homes: Freedom Park, Independence Park and the lawn at SouthPark Mall. On sultry Sunday evenings, crowds of Charlotteans spread picnic blankets and lawn chairs, but the settings were not always ideal for musicians.
 
"The season used to go from the third week in June into early August," remembers CSO Principal cellist Alan Black.  "It was so brutal. The bandshell at Freedom Park it was so hot when we used to play there because it was enclosed, and the air couldn't flow. And we used to do it for TV (broadcast on WTVI), so there were lights everywhere."
 
In June 2002, the orchestra and thousands of listeners found a new permanent home in the elegant Symphony Park at SouthPark. Its sloped lawns and canopied stage are the setting each June for four weeks of Pops concerts, currently lead by Albert-George Schram.
 
"I enjoy and relish being a part of these symphony concerts in the park in June," Schram says. "It allows the orchestra to dig deeper into the community, to crawl inside. That has been the greatest joy."
 
 
This article originally appeared in "The Sound of Charlotte: The First 75 Years of the Charlotte Symphony," a commemorative history written by Meg Freeman Whalen.

Posted in Summer. Tagged as History.

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