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Sound of Charlotte Blog


Leading up to the 2013-2014 Classics Season Announcement, we gave clues on Facebook and Twitter about details of the new season. Did you follow us? Check out the questions we asked below and test your classical music (and Charlotte Symphony) knowledge!


  1. What composer would be 100 this year? We'll perform works by this composer several times in our next Classics season.
  2. What piano concerto will make its Charlotte Symphony Premiere at our first Classics concert next season? (Hint this work is more than double our 'age')
  3. What 'out of this world' movement will we perform next Classics season that will have our Oratorio Singers of Charlotte Women's chorus singing offstage?
  4. In our second Classics program of next season we'll perform this violin concerto that the composer dedicated to a fellow composer who played the solo part at the premiere.
  5. Next fall we'll welcome this Irish Musician who's on a three-year plan to perform all of the Mozart piano concertos.  Who is this gentleman?
  6. What oratorio is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of classical sacred music? This is part of next season's Classics Series!
  7. When we feature our Principal harpist next classics season, you might just leave the concert 'dancing'... What piece will be on the program?
  8. Name a composer from Charlotte. Name a conductor who lives (full-time!) in North Charlotte. They're both part of next year's Classics season!
  9. What pianist who shares the same homeland with our music director Christopher Warren-Green, will return to the Belk Theatre stage next season?


  1. Benjamin Britten. Featured in Classics 1 (Listen), Classics 6 (Listen), and Classics 8 (arrangement) (Listen)
  2. Lizst Piano Concerto No. 2 (Listen)
  3. Holst's The Planets (Listen)
  4. Saint-Saëns's Violin Concerto No. 3 which he dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate (Listen)
  5. Finghin Collins
  6. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (Listen)
  7. Debussy's Dances Sacree et Profane (Listen)
  8. (Composer) Dan Locklair is from Charlotte and is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. (Conductor) Robert Moody is Music Director for the Winston-Salem Symphony (NC) and has lived in Lake Norman.
  9. Stephen Hough last performed with us in May 2011.
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Christopher Warren-Green, Classical, CSO Musicians, Haydn, History, Oratorio, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Sarasate.

History in the Making

For the first time in Charlotte Symphony history, the entire CSO artistic "family" will perform together on the Belk Theater stage. At the November 16 and 17 Classics Series concerts, featuring Mozart Mass in C Minor, the program will now open with a special performance of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus by members of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO) and Junior Youth Orchestra (JYO), the Winterfield Elementary Youth Orchestra, the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, and Charlotte Symphony musicians.

Winterfield Elementary Performance at Classics Series, January 2011

This special performance is reflective of Music Director Christopher Warren-Green's vision for the Charlotte Symphony as a primary source for music education in Charlotte. Warren-Green sees the Charlotte Symphony's youth orchestras as vital to the growth of the organization and the enrichment of the Charlotte community.

"I feel very strongly that you can't have one organization--the Charlotte Symphony or our Youth Orchestras--without the other," said Maestro Warren-Green. "We need the professionals to teach the youth and the youth are our future musicians, audience members, and supporters. Our mission is to educate our whole community and our Youth Orchestra [CSYO and JYO] programs, for instance, have been educating young musicians for fifty years."

Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra Performance, 2012 (photo, PRBrowning Photography)
He added, "We know that the discipline the students learn by studying music contributes to success in other subjects in school. I'm very proud to be the Music Director of an orchestra that has educated and continues to educate so many members of our community."
Mozart Mass in C Minor will take place on Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 8:00 p.m. at the Belk Theater. The concert will feature the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, the official chorus of the Charlotte Symphony, and soloists Karina Gauvin, soprano, Mary Wilson, soprano, Daniel Stein, tenor, and Sumner Thompson, baritone.
Single tickets start at $19 and are available by calling (704) 972-2000 or visiting the website.
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Posted in Classics, Education & Community, Youth Orchestras. Tagged as Christopher Warren-Green, CSYO, Education, JYO, Mozart, Mozart Mass in C Minor, Oratorio, winterfield elementary.

Singing worlds into being. A view from an Oratorio Singer

Originally Posted: July 2010

My mother is a church organist, accompanist and piano teacher; my father a retired choir director and vocal soloist.  So I grew up in a home filled with music. Dad, raised in a home where singing was not smiled upon, except perhaps in church but certainly not during a meal, encouraged his children to sing early and often. And so we did. Especially at the dinner table. We would often sing the blessing. We would frequently launch into a tune if someone uttered a phrase that reminded us of a song or inadvertently spoke a few actual words from a song. And we would sometimes create impromptu operas based on the conversation or what happened to be sitting on the dinner table. ("The Seasonings," based on a salad dressing bottle, had a particularly successful run.) It was often silly, and perhaps we didn't sing particularly well, but we sang.

I joined the Oratorio Singers last year, and I am glad beyond words to be singing the great works of music with such a wonderful group of like-minded people who are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence. And to making great music. This November, for example, I am pretty sure that we won't be singing about salad dressing. Alongside the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, however, we will be singing Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio, Die Schöpfung (The Creation), considered by many to be Haydn's (known as the "Father of the Symphony") masterpiece.

Someone asked me the other day, "Why do you sing?" My response, of course, was that I sing because I cannot play an instrument. But the question got me thinking. Why do we sing? The human race has created music and sung songs for over 3,000 years. We know from archeological discoveries that music was a vital part of virtually all known ancient cultures, from Greece to Persia to Egypt to India to China to Africa and beyond. Australia's indigenous Aborigines believe that the world was sung into creation, and they can still navigate vast distances across the land via ancient paths known as songlines. It's a beautifully poetic notion that C.S. Lewis employed in his fictional work, The Magician's Nephew, as Aslan the lion's powerful singing calls the world of Narnia into existence.

I have come up with three reasons why we sing (well, four, if you count the inability to play an instrument). Alas, none of them include the possibility of appearing on American Idol.

We sing because making music is an intrinsic and essential part of the human spirit. It's part of what we do, and of who and what we are. We sing not because we can, but because we must. Sure, let's not get too carried away. After all, the ability to sing doesn't separate us from the animals. (That's what opposable thumbs, and instruments, are for.) But music is part of the human DNA. We aren't human because we sing; we sing because we are human.

We also sing because there are songs that need to be sung. The Oratorio Singers have performed a remarkable repertoire of the great music of our time. If you cannot be moved by the musical genius and the soaring optimism of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or by the depth of emotion and rich tapestry of folk and liturgical harmonies in Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil, then you cannot be moved.

Finally, we sing because someone is listening. Sure, you can sing along with the radio in the car without an audience (and may even be glad for the lack of one!). Singing for an audience, though, is a rich and rewarding experience for both the singer and the listener. It's a form of communication. I used to enjoy the applause at the end of a performance because I thought of it primarily as a reward for a collective job well done. Standing on the stage of the Blumenthal PAC at the conclusion of Beethoven's Ninth this past April, I realized that I had got it somewhat wrong. The enthusiastic applause at the end of a performance is indeed thrilling to hear. But not so much for what it says about the performers or the performance. It's thrilling to hear for what it says about you, the listener. And what it says is that the impact of the live performance of a great musical work has moved you to respond. In a way that no other art form (and no CD or radio or MP3 file) can, a live performance has elevated your spirit, and maybe even raised your body out of its seat. You have participated in a shared, uniquely human experience and absorbed the beauty and emotional power of live music into your very being. You have fed your soul.
Music affords us the opportunity to celebrate the most essential form of human expression and the highest reach of the human spirit.

That's a good reason to sing.

Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, Tim Parolini grew up listening to a wide range of music, but mostly classical, jazz and blues. A graduate of Aurora University, he studied voice with Mr. Sten Halfvarson and performed with the Fine Arts Chorale under the direction of Dr. Elwood Smith. His fond memories of attending concerts as a youth include many Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances under the direction of the late, great Sir Georg Solti. Tim runs a brand marketing and design business that specializes in helping niche-oriented businesses and nonprofit organizations identify and effectively communicate their brand value. He is excited to be participating with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and currently serves on its board.
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Tagged as Beethoven, Beethoven's Ninth, Haydn, History, Live Performance, Oratorio, Rachmaninoff, Sing, The Creation.

Two special nights

Originally Posted : November 2011

As a volunteer chorus, the members of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte put in a lot of hours rehearsing for concerts. We work hard at it. We do it, of course, because we love it and because we get something out of it. In exchange for the time we spend driving to and from rehearsals and the actual hours spent in rehearsal, we get to sing some of the finest music ever composed. We work with world-class conductors. We meet interesting people who share our love for music. We sing with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

It's a fair trade.

Mozart's Requiem dress rehearsal

And then, sometimes we get a night where the conductor, the symphony, the chorus and the soloists are all in sync, the house is full, and the audience is engaged. When that happens, the experience can be magical. Of all the arts, music alone, I think, has that singular ability to so collectively elevate the human spirit.

I think we experienced that twice this past weekend.

At the post-concert talk after Saturday night's performance of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony and Requiem, a member of the audience noted that she had been attending concerts that featured the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte for about 15 years. She wanted to know why we sounded so much better in this performance than she had ever heard before.

Scott Allen Jarrett,  Director of Choruses and Assistant Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony, primarily credited our musical growth to the commitment of the Charlotte Symphony to the Oratorio Singers and to its ongoing commitment to the choral repertoire.  (He was right, though his own commitment to Oratorio Singers should have been included as well.) We are, in fact, larger in number than in recent years (about 150-strong), and I do think our quality is on the rise. One aspect of that quality is having enough mastery of the material to be able to respond to the spirit of the moment--and of course, the direction of the conductor--during a live performance.

Oratorio Director Scott Allen Jarrett during the dress rehearsal

Christopher Warren-Green obviously has the musical standards, knowledge and sensibilities one would expect from a conductor of his pedigree. He also makes himself available to moments of inspiration on stage. One could argue that this is in fact the essence of a live performance, but not all conductors allow themselves the same level of expressive freedom. Warren-Green does. And for a chorus that has sung only a couple times under his direction, this can be a scary notion.

It can be a bit nervy for the conductor as well. Getting an orchestra to perform with four soloists and a large chorus requires a lot of trust on his part. Trust that wherever he leads, they will have not only the technical ability, but also the musical instincts to follow. I think Christopher Warren-Green trusts his orchestra. Soloists can be a tricky proposition, especially when much of their performance is ensemble singing, as it is in the Requiem. Soloists are, by definition, individualistic. (That's not a knock. It's who they are.)

And then there is the chorus. If the conductor doesn't trust the chorus, he will reign in his musical muse in order to preserve the integrity of the music. The result is a competent concert, but not a transcendent one. So within our preparation for a concert, we don't just learn the music as indicated in the score. Scott Allen Jarrett has us practice different endings to movements, different tempos and dynamics, different interpretations of key passages, even different ways to produce vowels. By the time rehearsals began with the orchestra last Tuesday, we had developed the confidence to not only sing well, but to deliver what Maestro Warren-Green was asking of us. And if he wanted to try something else, we could produce that as well.

So this past week weekend, the result was two great concerts. The soloists did marvelously, the orchestra did its usual excellent job, and I think the chorus gave Maestro Warren-Green enough confidence to follow his muse without having to worry about whether we were going to come along. The house was full, and the audience each night was both engaged and receptive to the music. The result? Two special nights enjoyed as much by those of us in the chorus as by those in the audience.

The Oratorio Singers of Charlotte
 Photos by John Graham ©
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Christopher Warren-Green, Mozart, Oratorio, scott allen jarrett.

Listening in Context: Does Knowledge of a Piece’s History Affect What We Hear?

Originally Posted: February 2011

So apparently, you can't believe everything you read online after all.

Most performance notes found on the web of Herbert Howells' Requiem (which the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte perform this Friday February 25, 8:00 p.m. at Myers Park Baptist Church) relate the same tale of how Howells composed the eloquent and moving work in 1935 after the death of his young son, Michael. Poignant. Tragic. And yes, his son did pass away in 1935 at the too-young age of nine. Howells, though, had written Requiem three years earlier.

Herbert Howells, born in 1892, was regarded as something as a composing prodigy and upheld as one of the great hopes of English music. He had his share of troubles along the way, including his own near-death experience, the death of his son, and a sensitivity to criticism that caused him to stop writing for nearly a decade. In the end, though, he helped define and advance the voice of English classical music, particularly that of the Anglican church. He also provided us with the moving Requiem, a work full of texture, subtlety and emotional depth.

Howells shared a musical sensibility with Ralph Vaughan Williams. A September 1910 concert in Gloucester Cathedral included the premiere of a new work by the then little-known Vaughan Williams. Howells not only made the composer's personal acquaintance that evening, but the piece, the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, profoundly moved him. Howells and Vaughan Williams met again, and after the First World War, their acquaintance deepened into a lasting friendship. Howells studied at the Royal College of Music under C.V. Stanford, Hubert Parry and Charles Wood. (Works by both Vaughan Williams and Wood are also featured in the Oratorio Singers program, as is a piece by the decidedly-non-British Johannes Brahms.)

In 1915, Howells was diagnosed with Graves' disease and given six months to live. He became the first person in the country to receive radium treatment. His doctors had no idea how much to inject into Howell's thyroid. They stopped treatments when his neck showed signs of radioactive burns. Howells lived for another 70 years.

Despite his prodigious compositional abilities, Howells was plagued by a disabling sensitivity to criticism. After a hostile reception to a performance of his second piano concerto in 1925, Howells simply stopped composing. By 1932, though, he had written Requiem, which was commissioned by King's College, Cambridge. Howells never sent the completed work and Requiem remained unknown for nearly five decades. In the months after his son's death three years later, Howells was unable to write. The following year, though, he used material from the previously unaccompanied Requiem to compose another work,  Hymnus Paradisi for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

So, how did the misconception about the Requiem develop? In 1980, an unreleased, undated Requiem for unaccompanied chorus was discovered. According to Dr. Robert Michael Istad, Associate Professor of Music at Cal-State Fullerton, who studied Howells for his doctoral dissertation, "It shared a significant musical connection with Hymnus Paradisi, which had first been performed in 1950Howells, then elderly, indicated that this unreleased work was the inspiration for Hymnus Paradisi. The work immediately became popular throughout the choral community. Unfortunately, many assumed that the delayed release of Requiem indicated personal struggle and profound grief. Printed materials began to relay a connection between Requiem and Michael's death as fact, and Howells was too ravaged by senility to engage in fruitful discussion."

Herbert Howells Trust acknowledges that Howells wrote Requiem in 1932 and incorporated some of its material into Hymnus Paradisi, which he did complete in memory of his son in 1938. Mystery solved. But does the fact that Howells didn't write this Requiem while grieving over his son's death change the way we listen to it? Does the context of a composition change how we hear it? If, for example, we learned that Beethoven had his full hearing ability when he composed his Ninth Symphony, would that change our response to it? We like context. Our understanding of art is given meaning by our understanding of the artist. Besides, we just like to know where things come from, and if there is a good story behind it, so much the better.

In music, interestingly enough, this context serves us best when contemplating or discussing a work, but not when actually listening to it. When we listen, the music stands alone. During a live performance of a musical work, the composer, the context, and the story behind it all melt away and there remain only the performers, the music, and the listener. Further, if we as a chorus do our job well, even we "disappear" and what is left to the listener is simply the music. With Howell's Requiem, what is left is a work of sheer beauty.

While rooted in the past traditions of English music, Howells was not afraid to experiment outside of traditional tonality. He did so to great effect in  Requiem. Like Faure's Requiem, Howells' is restrained--but it is richer harmonically with a rapt, almost hushed intensity and a more pointed sense of grief and loss. Only two movements use the traditional words of the Requiem as Verdi or Mozart employed them. The others are in English, based around Psalm texts. Throughout the work, Howells moves us between pleas on our own behalf and those for the ones who have gone before us.

Regardless of the context of its origins, Howells' Requiem is ineffably beautiful. Mournful, pleading, and ultimately, dare we say it, hopeful--or at least peaceful--it is a work full of rich harmonic texture and immense emotional depth. We hope you will be able to come and hear it.
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Tagged as Grave's Disease, Herbet Howells, History, misconception, Oratorio, Vaughan Williams.

Preparing for The Creation

Originally Posted: October 2010

"Be a pixel."

That is tonight's instruction from our director, Scott Allen Jarrett, as he prepares the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte to perform Franz Joseph Haydn's The Creation(Die Schöpfung) with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra on November 19-20.

With just a little more than three weeks until the performances, tonight's rehearsal is a physical and mental workout. A successful performance, as with most things in life, lies in the details. That takes work, and even more so with the classical style of Haydn.

Just the other day, I was reading through one of the classical music discussion forums on amazon.com that questioned why Haydn doesn't engender the same kind of passion from classical music lovers that the Romantic era composers seem to.

One contributor surmised that Haydn's music, while beautiful, engaging, and at times profound, rarely touches the sublime. His theory was that to our post-Romantic ears, the classical style doesn't deliver the dramatic tension and release that we crave and typically get from the music of the Romantic era composers. In other words, we love our emotionally-fraught Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, but Haydn is just too...organized. It's nice to listen to, but it never really soars.

Apparently, that contributor has never listened to The Creation. Considered to be Hadyn's masterpiece, The Creation is beautiful, profound, and yes, sublime. The oratorio consists of thee parts. Part I unveils the creation of light, the earth, the heavenly bodies, water, weather, and plant life. Part II unfolds the creation of sea creatures, birds, animals, and lastly, man. Part III celebrates the happy first days of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The oratorio kicks things off with an overture representing chaos. Its initial notes are devoid of perceptible melody. Gradually one instrument after another attempts to extract itself from the chaos, and a sense of order emerges. As the discordance settles, the music gently illuminates the spirit of God moving over the waters. Then, God commands that there to be light, and in response the orchestra and chorus burst forth with the joyous reply, "und es ward Licht!" -- and there was Light! Brilliant. And that's just the overture.

Haydn began composing The Creation in 1796 at the age of 65, after a highly successful tour in England. While in London, he attended several performances of George Frideric Handel's oratorios. These large scale works inspired Haydn, and The Creation became his most personal composition. A deeply religious man, Haydn no doubt reveled in the opportunity to compose something that would enable people to enjoy a musical representation of God. He would later remark, "I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation. I fell on my knees each day and asked God to give me the strength to finish the work." Haydn appended the words "Praise to God" at the end of each completed section.

He completed The Creation in 1798. It was the longest time he had spent on any of his 750+ compositions. When urged to bring it to a conclusion more quickly, Haydn replied, "I spend so much time over it, because I intend it to last a long time." In fact, he worked on the project to the point of exhaustion and collapsed into a period of illness after conducting its highly successful premier performance in Vienna.

"Picture an old television set. If you get close enough to the screen, you can see the individual pixels. Step back, though, and you see the whole picture."

The Oratorio Singers and the Charlotte community are extremely fortunate to have Scott Allen Jarrett. His musical taste is impeccable, but he also has the unique ability to convey both the necessary specific musical instruction and the insight into the larger context of the music -- the pixels and the picture if you will. That he does so engagingly and without a trace of personal ego is probably even rarer. (If I had his talent, I'm pretty sure I would have the ego to go with it.)

"...Men, you have to stop the tone at the dot. If you sing into the 16th note, you can't articulate the note and the whole passage gets bogged down...."
"...Women, you need to be sturdier, less dainty here. Make the quarter notes shorter."

Details. Pixels. The classical style of Haydn demands it. The actual notes may not be as hard to sing or to play as those of other composers, but the precision required to perform them successfully is probably more difficult to achieve.

The Oratorio Singers of Charlotte is composed of professional singers, musicians, music educators, music students, and amateur singers like myself who have had musical training but don't make our living in music. It's Scott's job to bring us together as a cohesive ensemble.

He makes a point of apologizing to the chorus for the TV/pixel metaphor, but as with all his illustrations, it's spot on. As he says, it's very difficult for an individual to extract the kind of skill required to honor what is in the score -- to execute the details that unleash the sublime. It's even more challenging to produce that as an ensemble. So our rehearsals are spent developing the focus, the agility, the cohesiveness, and the attention to detail that are required to deliver all the subtleties and all the glory of this music. Individually, we are charged with the responsibility to sing accurately -- in tone, rhythm, diction, dynamics, and emotion -- and to be available to the music and to the director.

To be a pixel. Singularly precise, but part of a bigger picture.

Like I said, it's physically demanding. At the end of rehearsal, my feeling is that of one who has just had a good workout at the gym. Spent, but also fully engaged and energized in body and spirit. And what a thrilling experience it is when you get a glimpse of the big picture. When all the individual voices work together to create a glorious musical portrait of nothing less than the creation of the world. No, not thrilling. Sublime.

My only regret is that I won't be in the audience to hear the whole "picture." But you can, and you should. If you think the music of Haydn doesn't have a place in your life, come and let The Creation change your mind. It will, and you will be forever glad that it did.

Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, Tim Parolini grew up listening to a wide range of music, but mostly classical, jazz and blues. A graduate of Aurora University, he studied voice with Mr. Sten Halfvarson and performed with the Fine Arts Chorale under the direction of Dr. Elwood Smith. His fond memories of attending concerts as a youth include many Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances under the direction of the late, great Sir Georg Solti. Tim runs a brand marketing and design business that specializes in helping niche-oriented businesses and nonprofit organizations identify and effectively communicate their brand value. He is excited to be participating with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and currently serves on its board.
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Tagged as Haydn, Oratorio, pixels, romantic, scott allen jarrett, The Creation.