Sound of Charlotte Blog
This Sunday, we kick off our 2016 Summer Pops series. As preparations mount, we sat down with Conductor Albert-George Schram (he goes by George!) to ask him a few questions about his Summer Pops experience, from start to finish.
Q: So, tell us about how you program a Summer Pops concert?
A: It begins with a simple question: How can we continue to have fun? It's an organic process that starts with finding the right theme, and then plugging music into that. Sometimes I find music that I want to play and then cultivate a theme from that, but mostly it's the other way around. It starts with an idea or concept, and then it evolves, and we find the right balance of variety for our audience.
This year, there was a suggestion to play music about a lot of different places, countries, or cities. All I had to do from there was find a few more pieces of wonderful music that had been written with places in mind - from Baghdad to Chicago, New York to Paris. That idea became Oh, the Places You'll Go, which we'll present on June 26.
Q: Do you have a favorite concert on the 2016 line up?
A: If I'm not excited about it, I don't do it. I love all of the shows we've programmed, and they'll all be special.
I'm excited about Symphony Swings because of all the big band and swing music we'll get to perform. Symphony orchestras aren't big bands, so it's exciting to find a moment to rock the house down, and it's a lot of fun for our musicians especially the brass section.
And I'm always particularly proud of and excited about the Father's Day celebration. We have a gloriously testosterone-ridden evening this year with music from some of our favorite movies. We'll celebrate all the manliness that we can muster with lots of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones.
Q: Tell us about your Summer Pops rituals. What do you do to prepare for and/or unwind from the concert?
A: Right before the concert, I tend to keep a low profile. I mostly prefer being alone so I can get in the right mindset. I never eat before a gig because I get too focused and it gets in the way of my concentration.
When we've wrapped up the performance, I'm always wet with sweat from the heat and the movement during the performance, so I definitely need to shower. Then, I change clothes and by that point, I need to eat and I do so with great joy and gusto! Typically, several members of the Symphony staff join me and we get a chance to unwind from the day and enjoy each other's company.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Summer Pops?
I like how deeply we reach into the community. It's a different event all together, and there are people who come out to Summer Pops who don't come to any other concert throughout the year. To be able to connect with those people is a particular treat.
It's a wonderful, family-friendly tradition for the city and I so relish the opportunity to strut the stuff of the Symphony for the faithful audience who is there every year, and the newbies who are joining us for maybe the very first time. It's a mighty fine gang and I'm pleased to be a part of it.
Q: How does the Summer Pops atmosphere differ from a regular Pops show?
A: It's a bit more relaxed and laid back; we can simply allow ourselves to have a bit more fun. It's typically a bit more raucous, too even more so than a Pops show!
It's also accessible to a wide audience, and it's important to me that we have that. The kids don't have to be absolutely quiet and stay in one seat. People can enjoy time with their friends and family, and bring something to eat and drink and I like all of those things. We just want to play good music that people enjoy. What more could we as an orchestra want?
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.
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