Sound of Charlotte Blog
We caught up with upcoming guest conductor Gemma New on what it's like to be considered a "rising star," what inspires her, and what she's most looking forward to about our upcoming program featuring Paul Huang on the Dvořák Violin Concerto, March 29 & 30. Read more below.
Photo: Anthony Chang
How do you build trust and rapport quickly with each orchestra you lead?
I try to listen carefully and sense the strengths and dynamics within the orchestra. The more I learn about the orchestra as we play together in these first rehearsals, the more I can communicate effectively. Perhaps the most important thing is that I arrive well prepared and with an open mind, and that I encourage a rehearsal environment that is supportive and based on mutual respect.
You have been called a "rising star" in the industry. As a comparatively younger conductor, do you think there is truth to assumptions that some works are interpreted best by more "mature" conductors?
When I first arrived in the US in 2009 to study a Masters in Conducting with Gustav Meier, I was quite scared of Brahms symphonies. How could I possibly understand them as a young person? Fortunately, Mr. Meier tackled those fears head-on, and he had us studying and conducting all of these symphonies, thoroughly and often, throughout the two years I was there. It's also been really helpful being a cover conductor for many excellent conductors and orchestras over the last decade. I do a lot of note-taking, and I will keep these previous experiences in mind when we come to forming interpretive choices in the rehearsal period.
For audiences who may never have heard Brahms Symphony No. 3, what would entice them to attend?
When Gustav Meier shared his love of Brahms with all of us young students he said, sure Brahms's symphonies are mature, but you have to start somewhere! And what I learned over time is that Brahms's music is not unreachable. It is some of the most humanly relatable music: intimate and loving, passionate and awe-inspiring, naturally flowing and inspiringly orchestrated. It touches and moves all of us.
Have you worked with Paul Huang before? What excites you about this upcoming collaboration?
Yes, Paul and I performed Barber's Violin Concerto with the North Carolina Symphony almost 2 years ago, it was fantastic to work with him! I'm excited to hear his rich sound in this Dvorak Violin Concerto.
Any poignant personal stories that connect you with these pieces?
I suggested Mendelssohn's Hebrides, as I thought it would complement the other pieces on the program well. I spent quite a bit of time on a Mendelssohn scholarship in Germany, studying Mendelssohn's music and learning about his incredible life with Mo. Kurt Masur and the staff of the Mendelssohn House in Leipzig. This overture evokes the magnificence of this wild cave, and the swirling power of the ocean and it is a piece that I really love.
What most inspires you?
I think that when we come together and create a beautiful and enriching performance, that is really inspiring to me, and it is a memory that I cherish for a long time.
What do you think about to "center" before a performance like this?
I don't have any rituals, I just try to keep calm, have a concept of the sound and character I'm about to be a part of, and be aware of my breathing before a performance.
Have you ever been to Charlotte?
Yes, I spent a week in Charlotte 8 years ago, serving as cover conductor for Mo. Christopher Warren Green. I'm looking forward to returning to the orchestra, and working on this beautiful program with them!
Gemma New is currently Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. See her conduct Dvořák Violin Concerto on March 29 & 30 with violinist Paul Huang. Read more
We sat down with longtime Charlotte Symphony Concertmaster Calin Lupanu and Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra Concertmaster Victor Chu, a senior at Providence Day School. Here, they dish about this important role, from onstage pressures to having the best seat in the house!
Calin, you've had this job for over 15 years. What's the best part about being Concertmaster?
CL: The responsibility that comes with the job. Personally, I love it. I embrace pressure. I also love interacting with my colleagues, getting to play solos, and working with great conductors and soloists.
And the best part for you, Victor? You're much newer to this.
VC: To be honest, I'm a pretty quiet guy. But this process -- becoming a more confident leader -- has been the best part. I still remember the first time I had to tune with Conductor Christopher James Lees. In addition to walking me through his process, he was fixing my posture and teaching me how to address the different people in the orchestra. The icing on the cake? The concertmaster seat has a great view!
Can you recall a moment of terror on stage? Any memorable faux pas?
CL: One happened when our Music Director, Christopher Warren-Green, auditioned for the CSO job. During the dress rehearsal, with an audience in the hall, my bridge (the little wooden thing that holds the strings) collapsed! I managed to give the violin to my stand partner, and took a colleague's violin and kept playing. But...it's virtually impossible to have success, without experiencing failure.
VC: There was one time that the first violin section kept messing up and I had just nailed it on the last run-through. Mr. Lees asked me to play it as an example. Everyone went silent. I started playing and it was suddenly SO OUT OF TUNE. To this day, I still don't know how that could have happened.
What do you do right before a concert? Any rituals?
CL: I try to focus and relax. I try to get ready mentally and enjoy it at the same time.
VC: Mostly I think, "You're not walking weird. It just feels weird because people will be watching." Even basic things like walking just don't feel the same when so many strangers are staring at you!
Calin, other than practicing and mastering the violin technique, what advice do you have for Victor?
CL: Moving forward always and most importantly, learning from your experiences.
Victor, what are your plans? Pursuing the stage as a career?
VC: My current plan is to explore Computer Science this fall in college. But don't worry, I'll still spend my fair share of time in the practice room!
See Victor and Calin perform together at the Charlotte Symphony and Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra Side-by-Side on May 4!
This action-packed program is female fronted, with Jessica Morel conducting and China Forbes leading the revolutionary Pink Martini.
It's the perfect concert to round up your girlfriends and enjoy a night on the town! With $5 venue parking and so many food and beverage options around the theater, there's no wrong choice.
Need some suggestions? Have a glass of wine at Sophia's Lounge or dinner at 204 North before the show. Enjoy a signature cocktail at the concert venue - ask for the Pretty in Pink at the bar. Afterward, indulge your sweet tooth at Amélie's Uptown.
Meet the leading ladies
In 1995, China Forbes was plucked from New York City by Harvard classmate Thomas Lauderdale to sing with Pink Martini, and has since written many of Pink Martini's most beloved songs, including "Sympathique," "Clementine," "Let's Never Stop Falling in Love," and "Over the Valley." Her original song "Hey Eugene" is the title track of Pink Martini's third album and many of her songs can also be heard on television and film.
Jessica Morel is currently serving in her third season as the Assistant Conductor for the Winston-Salem Symphony. In this role she conducts nearly all Pops concerts, Family Discovery concerts, Educational concerts, Symphony Unbound concerts, and serves as a cover conductor for all Classics concerts. In addition to conducting, Morel plays an active role in programming for the Winston-Salem Symphony, gives pre-concert lectures, and is committed to her role in community outreach.
China Forbes (vocals) was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she graduated cum laude from Harvard and was awarded the Jonathan Levy Prize for acting. She appeared in New York regional theatre and off-off Broadway productions, earning her Equity card alongside future stars of stage and screen such as Norm Lewis, Peter Jacobson and Rainn Wilson.
Soon after college China formed and sang with her first band. They regularly performed at NYC clubs CBGB's Gallery, Mercury Lounge and Brownies. Her first solo album Love Handle was released in 1995 and she was chosen to sing "Ordinary Girl," the theme song to the TV show Clueless.
In 1995, she was plucked from New York City by Harvard classmate Thomas Lauderdale to sing with Pink Martini, and has since written many of Pink Martini's most beloved songs with Lauderdale, including "Sympathique," "Lilly," "Clementine," "Let's Never Stop Falling in Love," "Over the Valley" and "A Snowglobe Christmas," which can be heard on Pink Martini's holiday album Joy to the World. Her original song "Hey Eugene" is the title track of Pink Martini's third album and many of her songs can also be heard on television and film. She sang "Qué Será Será" over the opening and closing credits of Jane Campion's film In the Cut and her original song "The Northern Line" appears at the end of sister Maya Forbes' directorial debut Infinitely Polar Bear, which was released in 2015 by Sony Pictures Classics.
With Pink Martini, Forbes has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Later with Jools Holland. She has performed songs in over twenty languages and has sung duets with Michael Feinstein, Jimmy Scott, Georges Moustaki, Henri Salvador, Saori Yuki, Faith Prince, Carol Channing and Rufus Wainwright among others. She has performed in venues from Carnegie Hall to Red Rocks, the Sydney Opera House to the Grand Rex in Paris. She released her second solo album '78 on Heinz Records in 2008, a collection of autobiographical folk-rock songs.
Jessica Morel is currently serving in her third season as the Assistant Conductor for the Winston-Salem Symphony. In this role she conducts nearly all Pops concerts, Family Discovery concerts, Educational concerts, Symphony Unbound concerts, and serves as a cover conductor for all Classics concerts. During the 2018-2019 season, Morel will make her debut conducting on a Classics subscription concert and will lead a majority of the Winston-Salem Symphony's performances. In addition to conducting, Morel plays an active role in programming for the Winston-Salem Symphony, gives pre-concert lectures, and is committed to her role in community outreach.
As a guest conductor, Jessica Morel has been invited to conduct the Charlotte Symphony, the Amarillo Symphony, the Abilene Philharmonic, and has served as a cover conductor for the Memphis and Portland Symphony Orchestras. She has also conducted at many summer music festivals, including the Eastern Music Festival, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Pacific Region International Summer Music Academy, the Atlantic Music Festival, and the Hot Springs Music Festival, where she was selected to be the festival's Assistant Conductor in 2015. Internationally, Morel has conducted the Budafok Dohnanyi Orchestra in Budapest, the North Czech Philharmonic, and the Lyatoshinsky Ensemble in Kiev. In 2014 she was chosen as one of three competition winners at the International Conductors' Workshop and Competition in Atlanta.
A passionate music educator, Jessica Morel serves as the Music Director of the Winston-Salem Symphony Youth Orchestras Program, which has seen significant growth under her leadership. Prior to coming to Winston-Salem, Morel served as the Visiting Director of Orchestras at the University of Evansville, Indiana, and also worked with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, where she conducted their Lollipops concerts for kids and assisted on all Classics concerts. A native of Los Angeles, Jessica Morel received her Bachelors degree in flute from Indiana University and her Masters degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She recently completed her Doctorate at the University of North Texas, where she studied orchestral conducting with David Itkin and Clay Couturiaux.
Concertmaster Calin Lupanu plays on an 1857 Pierre Silvestre violin. He traveled to many cities - at least 10 - and says he considered about 70 different instruments before coming across the one he would eventually own.
"I knew the moment that I saw it that it was a special violin," says Lupanu. "It was in mint condition and was part of a lady's estate -- she had been a professional violinist and it hadn't been played in over 30 years." He bought the violin from John Montgomery Violins in Raleigh.
Prior to his purchase of the Silvestre, Calin says he performed on a loaner instrument. And, he says, he still has his violin from Romania, where he's originally from, which he plays at outdoor venues.
But he saves the Silvestre for the mainstage. Hear Calin play on his beloved instrument when we feature him, May 17-19 as a soloist on Ravel's Tzigane at Ravel Bolero.
Whether, like us, it's a 20-year holiday tradition for you, or you're attending for the first time with your family, Magic of Christmas is sure to be full of memorable fun! Make it even better with these need-to-know tips to help enhance your experience.
This year, we're shaking things up a bit and holding performances at Knight Theater - that's the theater on the Levine Center for the Arts campus at 430 S. Tryon St.
Know the players.
Sneak Peek the Program
Get to know our composer, Gary Fry.
You know when you just CAN NOT get a song out of your head? We promise that our NEW Christmas carol written just for us this holiday season will do just that. Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry, who's new to the area (he moved here from Chicago to be closer to his family), joins us for Magic this season. Get to know Gary.
For these performances, Francene Marie Morris join us as host and narrator for 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Join the chorus!
Of course the Charlotte Symphony Chorus will make the event merry. But we know in your heart of hearts that you want to join in the fun! The chorus will lead YOU and your kin in singalongs, including the world premiere of "Christmastime in Charlotte." Pro chorister tip: Drink lots of hot tea and cover up your throat when outdoors!
Come early - or stay after - to snap family photos with Santa!
The Jolly man himself will join us on and off stage. Look for the man in red before the concert and afterwards. Charlotte Symphony backdrops and Santa's pals will make for great holiday card shots! Tag @cltsymphony and use the hashtag #CSOmagic.
And by that, we mean wear the ugliest sweater or fanciest dress you can find. In other words, come as you are - our musicians will be festive and they always love looking out to see our smashing audience. Finally, dress wamly, beacuse IT WILL SNOW in the theater!
Each day leading up to the first of 10 performances of Magic of Christmas, we'll spotlight one of the many magical elements of this year's program. Check back each day for the next installment!
Our stage is set, and we're ready to kick off the first of ten performances of Magic of Christmas! We can't wait to see you tonight.
Some sounds of the season are quintessentially Christmas particularly in Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. And no one knows that better than Acting Principal Trumpet Alex Wilborn, who performs the notorious horse whinny. Get a sneak peek of his rendition here.
Magic of Christmas includes all of your favorite holiday tunes, festive singalongs, and a brand new Christmas carol written just for Charlotte. In THREE days, we kick off the first of ten performances! Click here for a sneak peek of the program.
Did you know that there are 10 GUARANTEED snowfalls in Charlotte? At each Magic of Christmas, snow will fall in Knight Theater using four snow cannons positioned around the theater.
December 9 is World Chorus Day, and there are just six more days until the Charlotte Symphony Chorus joins us for carols and singalongs at Magic of Christmas!
Just eight days until we kick off this year's ALL NEW Magic of Christmas program! Take a look at how this year's performance stacks up.
Santa's bringing some friends to Magic of Christmas in just nine days! Don't forget to capture the memories with a photo when you join us for Charlotte's favorite holiday tradition!
Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees will take the podium to kick off this year's Magic of Christmas in ten days! Hear a message from him here.
Whether you know him as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or Santa, don't forget to visit the jolly man himself at each Magic of Christmas performance!
Get to know "Christmastime in Charlotte" composer Gary Fry.
At this year's Magic of Christmas, new Charlottean and Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry has written a Christmas carol fit for the Queen City! Get to know Gary below.
Tell us briefly about how you came to be a composer.
I grew up in Iowa, and my parents were farmers. I loved music from an early age and had public school music training with wonderful teachers who encouraged me to write for high school chorus and jazz band. Following my time at the University of Miami (Florida)--where I met more great mentors in choral music and composition--I graduated with a double major in music composition and music education. I taught middle school general music in New Jersey briefly, began to write arrangements for music publishers, and in a couple of years got a staff position at a commercial music agency in Chicago. I've now written thousands of commercials and began to write arrangements for the Chicago Symphony Christmas program, which I did for 19 years. I still write a lot of music, especially for Christmas!
What's your favorite thing about writing music? Do you prefer composing Christmas music?
Three things. First, the "aha" moment when you think about a concept that really makes a piece work. Second, the moment when you hear musicians bring that concept to life for the first time; and third, when you see an audience respond to that concept the way you had hoped.
And yes, I love writing Christmas music! It's such a joyful season, filled with family and tradition and generosity and good will.
How do you gather inspiration when beginning to look at a piece like "Christmastime in Charlotte?"
Well, it's easy to be inspired when you consider all the things I just mentioned--and then, of course, there's the city of Charlotte itself and the things that make it special and the Christmas activities and traditions that make it unique.
You're from Chicago. What have you learned about Charlotte along this process?
It's been terrific for me as a new resident of the area to become acquainted with the city: learning the landmarks like Independence Square, and street names like Tryon and Trade, and nicknames like "The Queen City," and discovering the things that folks here commonly do at Christmastime (especially without the sometimes frigid weather I knew in Chicago). It's all been great fun, and though I definitely still feel like a newcomer, but that does give me a fresh view of just how dynamic and full of energy the city of Charlotte is.
How does this type of collaboration work?/How much input does the conductor have?
This is very much a collaboration! My first contact was with Mary Deissler, who has a wonderful vision of what the all-new Magic of Christmas concerts could be for the orchestra and for the city. And then there's Christopher James Lees--what a marvelous conductor and person, whose personality on the podium will really infuse the program with enthusiasm and joy and fun. And in seeking input from both of them, I actually wrote two songs with completely different melodies and musical frameworks, so that they could consider them both and choose the one they thought would work best for the orchestra and the program. And we're still fleshing out all the lyrics, with plenty of back-and-forth about that. They are both invaluable resources to a composer!
How many songs have you written total?
That depends on just what you consider a song! If mini-songs like commercial jingles count, that number would be well into the thousands. But if you're talking full-length, original songs with verses and refrains and so forth, it's in the hundreds. And as an arranger, I've written hundreds more arrangements of existing songs. So ... a lot!
What makes a holiday tune "catchy," so you can't get it out of your head?
With a background in commercial jingles that are supposed to do exactly that, it boils down to simplicity, sing-ability, and repetition. The trick is to do that without being boring! I think it's also the way the words marry to the melody, and hopefully a little different sort of twist that sets the tune apart and gives it real identity.
For "Christmastime in Charlotte," my hope is that by the end of the very first performance, the audience is singing along!
Hear this world premiere Christmas carol at Magic of Christmas, December 14-23 at Knight Theater.
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