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Sound of Charlotte Blog

Welcome Back to the Symphony!


It's been over a year since the Charlotte Symphony has had an audience in the hall during a performance, but that will finally change this month when the CSO welcomes back a limited number of subscribers into the Belk Theater for a performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3, featuring violinist Simone Porter, and Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances. 

In-person seats will be limited, but if you weren't able to snag a ticket, fear not! The CSO will bring audiences back on May 14 and 15 for a special concert featuring Grammy-Award winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis performing Ibert's Concertino da camera and Schulhoff's jazz-inspired Hot-Sonate. The program will also include Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances and Gershwin's Lullaby. 

The concerts in May, conducted by Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, will feel like a homecoming for musicians and audience alike. "These performances are going to be very emotional for all of us, said Maestro Warren-Green. "For the past 13 months, we've been connecting with our audiences through virtual concerts and in small groups, but I cannot wait to safely reconnect with our CSO family in person." 


Streaming concerts have made it possible to continue performing throughout the pandemic, but it just cannot replace the unique experience of sharing in a live orchestral concert. Maestro Warren-Green agrees, "to feel the energy of an audience from the podium again I've missed it so much!"  
As we work to welcome our audiences back into the concert hall, the CSO is committed to safety first and foremost. We're working in coordination with Atrium Health and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center to develop safety procedures, including reduced seating capacity, physically distanced seating, enforcement of face coverings, contactless ticketing and program books, and more! 
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical.

Spotlight: Branford Marsalis


Branford Marsalis hails from the musically rich and diverse city of New Orleans and was raised in a house of jazz royalty - his father, Ellis, was one of New Orleans' most esteemed pianists and music educators, and he's the oldest among jazz siblings Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis. The New York Times described the Marsalis family as "jazz's most storied living dynasty."

Marsalis has performed with countless jazz legends, formed his own quartet in 1986, and is the winner of three Grammy awards, but his musical interests are not confined to jazz, he is also an accomplished and dedicated performer of classical music and has made a name for himself as a soloist in the orchestral world.

Though he bridges these two musical worlds, his approach is different when playing classical music, "I have to be less loud," Marsalis said in a 2019 interview for artsfile. "I need to have a mouthpiece that allows me to control the tone. Non-classical music never really gets to pianissimo. It never gets softer than super loud. To get that you have to practice in a different way. I played clarinet first. My clarinet teacher was always on me about my tone."

When asked which genre was more difficult, Marsalis didn't hesitate, "Classical is harder. Jazz is like a story that you personalize, but classical is a story where you can't use your own words. It's like reading Shakespeare or Chaucer. You have to develop the characters to make them believable, but the words aren't yours, and you're not going to change Shakespeare. You can't. In classical music, you don't play your own notes, you play theirs." 

 
Branford Marsalis performs the first movement of Ibert's Concertino da Camera.

Reflecting on the growth of his classical music career, Marsalis said "Classical music in my 40s got me to a place where I was going to have to practice and become a better player. It made me a better musician."
Branford Marsalis will join Christopher Warren-Green and your Charlotte Symphony at the Belk Theater on May 14 & 15 to perform Ibert's lyrical and soaring Concertino da camera and Schulhoff's jazz-inspired Hot Sonate. >> Get Tickets

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, guest artists.

A Composer to Know: Jessica Meyer


As a critically acclaimed violist and passionate educator, New York-based artist Jessica Meyer embarked on her composition career only seven years ago. In a recent interview for the record label Bright Shiny Things she explained, "After many, many years of playing new music and helping kids create their own music, I could not ignore the nagging feeling I had that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I started to write for myself, but once I started writing for other people in 2014, the floodgates were opened and I knew that without a doubt that was what was missing from my life."

In her solo performances, Meyer uses a single simple loop pedal to create a virtuosic orchestral experience using her viola and voice. Drawing from wide-ranging influences which include Bach, Brahms, Delta blues, Flamenco, Indian Raga, and Appalachian fiddling, Meyer's music takes audience members on a journey through joy, anxiety, anger, bliss, torment, loneliness, and passion.

Meyer's work Slow Burn had its premiere on March 18, 2018, performed by the string quintet Sybarite5. 

The piece was premiered at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre in Sarasota, Florida to accompany a dancer from the Black Diamond Burlesque Company which is essentially all you need to know in order to conjure up the appropriate amount of sass you need in order to play it effectively! 

It is also a combination of all the groovy music I like to listen to, at the heart of which is a theme that most singers wind up singing about at some point: that unrequited love that was never meant to be.


Photo: Black Diamond Burlesque Company / members of Sybarite5

Hear Jessica Meyer's Slow Burn performed by your Charlotte Symphony streamed from the Knight Theater on Saturday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m. (watch through March 13)

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, composer, Virtual Concerts.

Behind-the-Scenes at a Virtual Performance

Take a journey backstage to see what goes into producing your Charlotte Symphony's virtual Classical Series Reimagined. From the musicians and conductors to stagehands and video producers the work of many hands comes together to create the concerts that stream directly to your living room.

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As concert-time draws near, Charlotte Symphony musicians and staff enter the Knight Theater through the stage door in staggered 15 minute intervals ensuring that only small groups are entering at any given time.
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A check-in kiosk is located right inside the door with a symptom checker and touchless thermometer, along with ample sanitizing wipes! Musicians are tested for COVID-19 each week the day before rehearsals begin.
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Meanwhile, in the wings of the theater, stagehand Mark Show uses a special UV light wand to sanitize chairs, stands, and sheet music.
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After checking in, musicians make their way backstage to pick up music for their next concert. Music Library staff use disposable gloves to package the music into envelopes. Those envelopes are then quarantined in music trunks for 3 days.
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After collecting their music, musicians make their way past the video production area and through a large set of doors to the stage, where chairs and stands are placed a safe 6 feet apart.
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Backstage, Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees checks in with some of the team behind the recording and production of the CSO's virtual concerts - (from left to right) Director of Operations Sara Gibson, Vice President of Operation & General Manager John Clapp, and CSO Third Horn/video producer Bob Rydel.
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John Clapp watches over the stage as musicians warm-up. Everyone is required to wear a mask at all times - the only exception is for wind/brass players once they are seated and ready to play.
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The production team is making final adjustments as Bob Rydel and John Clapp monitor the various camera angles and prepare to stream the video feed live to YouTube.
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The strings are all warmed up and await their Maestro.
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As the concert begins, Sara Gibson is keeping an eye on the livestream and the score, preparing to call a light cue that shows the conductor when the microphone is ready for his speaking portion.
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When everything comes together, ticketholders are able to safely enjoy the concert, streamed live, from the best seat in their own houses.
 
 

There are many more opportunities to experience your Charlotte Symphony from the comfort of your own home. Subscribe today for exclusive content, extended access to each concert, and save 10%. Explore the Classical Series Reimagined! Read more

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, Virtual Concerts.

Representing Project Harmony


We couldn't be prouder of Kaleb, Shreya, and Micah, who join our Director of Youth Orchestra Programs Aram Kim Bryan in representing the Charlotte Symphony's Project Harmony at the 2021 El Sistema USA National Symposium and Seminario. This year's theme is "Connect, Adapt, Thrive!" with a focus on racial diversity and cultural understanding, musical excellence during the pandemic, and team and family support pre- and post-pandemic. 

Kaleb, Shreya, and Micah performed the premiere of "What We Will Be," a work composed by Danielle Williams of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids, as part of the 2021 ESUSA National Seminario Orchestra. Along with her PRESTO (Program for Rising El Sistema Organizations) Cohort members, Aram Kim Bryan will present on the core values of El Sistema, USA.
 
From left to right: Shreya, Micah, & Kaleb

A powerful after-school intensive program serving families who face challenges and seek to provide greater opportunities for their children, Project Harmony provides free instruments, ensemble music training, and homework help to Charlotte area students. Together with our project partner, Arts+, the CSO serves more than 200 Charlotte area students. 

Project Harmony is inspired by the revolutionary music-for-social-change organization, El Sistema, which began in Venezuela in 1975. There are more than 100 El Sistema USA member organizations and programs throughout the United States. The CSO is one of only five in the state of North Carolina, and Project Harmony is the only affiliated program in the Charlotte region. Read more

Posted in Education & Community. Tagged as community, Education, Project Harmony.

A Composer to Know: Jessie Montgomery

Photo credit: Jiyang Chen
A composer, violinist, and educator, Jessie Montgomery's music melds the classical tradition with elements of folk music, spirituals, improvisation, language, and social justice. As a rising star in today's classical music scene Jessie has made a name for herself composing works that have been described as "turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life" (The Washington Post). 

Jessie was born and raised in Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1980s during a time when the neighborhood was at a major turning point in its history. Artists gravitated to the hotbed of artistic experimentation and community development.

Her parents - her father a musician, her mother a theater artist and storyteller - were engaged in the activities of the neighborhood and regularly brought Jessie to rallies, performances, and parties where neighbors, activists, and artists gathered to celebrate and support the movements of the time. It is from this unique experience that Jessie has created a life that merges composing, performance, education, and advocacy.

Through her music, Montgomery often explores the theme of what it means to be an American (especially a Black woman in America), her heritage, and what her parents have experienced in this country.

"My privilege [to be able to compose and make art] comes from my parents having fought through the civil rights movement," Montgomery said in a 2016 interview with New Music USA. "My mom was very active, actually, and she was in many of the protests, and my dad, just being a rogue artist, that's an act of protest in itself - but it's just this idea that I came from that period, the political changes that happened during that time, so that's what it means to me, to be an American."

Montgomery's work, Starburst, was commissioned by the Sphinx Organization and premiered by its resident Sphinx Virtuosi in 2012. Montgomery writes:

"This brief one-movement work for string orchestra is a play on imagery of rapidly changing musical colors. Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multidimensional soundscape. A common definition of a starburst, 'the rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly,' lends itself almost literally to the nature of the performing ensemble that premiered the work, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and I wrote the piece with their dynamic in mind."


Hear Jessie Montgomery's Starburst performed by your Charlotte Symphony - streamed live from the Knight Theater on Saturday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 pm (watch through Feb. 13). >> Details
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as composer.

Time Traveling with A Little Night Music


By Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees 

Analogies for the art form we know as "classical music" run the full expressive gamut from museum pieces under glass to masterpieces delivered by the Divine through unparalleled genius. While each person develops their own relationship with this timeless music, along my journey I learned that classical music is a "living tradition." As artists, we honor our important history through our repertoire choices and performance practices, while also breathing life into new pieces filled with fresh inspiration. Sometimes the ink is still wet on the page it's so new.

And every so often, the timelines combine. A composer from the current century may look directly into a piece from the past for inspiration. Such is the case with Leonardo Balada's magnificent 2007 work: A Little Night Music in Harlem

Like so many composers we know, Leonardo Balada left his home to study composition in another country. His journey took him from the Catalan region of Spain to New York City, in 1956. 

Perhaps then, as now, there was no more famous a piece than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's own Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which itself translates to "A Little Night Music." One only need hear the opening two bars to immediately connect with its universal representation of all classical music in popular culture. 

Combining the energy of Balada's adopted home in New York with the perfect craftsmanship of Mozart, we hear incredible reflections and refractions of both worlds simultaneously. Details of Mozart's genius we might miss during a casual listening become magnified and transformed through Balada's contemporary eye and ear. Other moments take us straight to West 132nd street, with urban grit and energy summoned through the brilliant virtuosity of the Charlotte Symphony strings.

I'm so excited for this upcoming concert because as we play the first two movements of Mozart followed by the Balada, I envision it as Mozart's brilliance and Balada's captivating compositional sounds becoming linked through time, that ephemeral medium all performing artists wield on stage. 

It is this unique time traveling experience that keeps our marvelous tradition very much alive - breathing, full of inspiration, and made perpetually new. 
Don't miss Mozart Night Music, led by Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees, streaming live on Feb. 6 at 7:30 pm. Read more

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Mozart.

Clarinetist Allan Rosenfeld’s Top 10 Orchestral Bass Clarinet Solos


In a previous blog post, I featured a list of my favorite orchestral clarinet solos. While a significant amount of my in the orchestra is spent playing the clarinet, there are many occasions when you can also catch me at CSO concerts performing on the bass clarinet. The bass clarinet is often featured for its ability to fortify and color the woodwind section. Nevertheless, there are some spectacular passages that spotlight the appeal of this magnificent instrument as a solo instrument in its own right.

Here are my Top 10 Orchestral Bass Clarinet Solos:

10) William Schuman's Symphony No. 3 (Part II, Toccata)

After a brief snare drum solo, the bass clarinet introduces the thematic material for the Toccata movement. Here is a chance to hear the bass clarinet whip up and down the lowest and highest parts of its range in an impressive display of virtuosic technique.

9) Gershwin's Concerto in F (Second movement)

This is a clarinet section soli accompanying various wind solos. It shows how wonderful the clarinets sound together with the bass clarinet filling out the bass line. Of particular note is the slinky and sensuous close harmony, which is unmistakably the sound of Gershwin!



8) Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, middle of Pas de Deux)

The Sugar Plum Fairy solo is a classic -- instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent time in an elevator during Christmas season. The Pas de Deux solo is an especially tender bit of melodic writing for the bass clarinet.

7) Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 (Fifth movement)

Low register mischief displays the boisterous side of the instrument's personality. 



6) Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (Act II, scene 3)

Wagner may have understood the lyrical capabilities and expressive character of the bass clarinet better than any other composer. These gorgeous opera passages really dig deep into the mournful, introspective side of the instrument.

5) Wagner's Die Walkure (Act II, scene 2; Act III, scene 3)

These two opera scenes showcase some of the best of the many big moments for bass clarinet in Wagner's Ring Cycle. For a truly outstanding example of great bass clarinet playing, try to get your hands on the Metropolitan Opera recording featuring former CSO clarinetist Jim Ognibene, who sadly passed away last year.



4) Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (Opening)

You've heard of Dueling Banjos; these are dueling bass clarinets!

3) Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony (First movement)

This is one of the prettiest melodies written for the instrument. It features the lyrical solo capabilities inherent in the bass clarinet's deep, dark voice.



2) Mahler's Symphony No. 6 (First movement)

Mahler and the bass clarinet go together like fine red wine and dark chocolate. Don't miss a lot more great writing for the instrument in Symphonies 1, 4, 7, and 9.

1) Khachaturian's Piano Concerto

Soaring, sustained solo passages venture into the lowest of low notes on the bass clarinet. Listen also for the unusual sound of a Flexatone -- a rarely scored percussion instrument. See also: Beginning and ending of second movement.

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, CSO Musicians, Musicians.

The Classical Series: Reimagined


Your Charlotte Symphony's virtual concerts have already been viewed by thousands of people and received widespread acclaim, with a critic from Classical Voice North Carolina observing that, "the Charlotte Symphony's [virtual concert series] demonstrates the persistence and resilience of the arts and artists and the organization's commitment to its musicians, as well as its listening community."

We're reimagining what it means to serve as your orchestra during the pandemic, and it's been thrilling to find new and innovative ways to bring the music directly to you and your families. 

But we're just getting started! The New Year brings four new virtual concerts.

Highlights include:

  • The return of Music Director Christopher Warren-Green conducting works by Elgar, Holst, Mozart, and more.
  • The continuation of our celebration of Beethoven 250 with performances of his First and Seventh Symphonies.
  • Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu and Principal Trumpet Alex Wilborn take center stage for concerti by Mendelssohn and Hummel, respectively. 
  • Contemporary works by Jessie Montgomery and Leonardo Balada, led by Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees.
 

We're Here to Help

We want you to make sure that everything is working for you once you're settled in to watch our concerts. Please check out this blog post for information on how to access the CSO's virtual concerts. We also have step-by-step instructions for how to stream the concert from a variety of devices, including your computer, phone, or smart TV.  

If you would prefer to speak to someone, please contact Patron Services at 704.972.2000 or ticketoffice@charlottesymphony.org
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, CSO Musicians, Music Director, Musicians, Virtual Concerts.

What I have learned (and am learning) as a professional musician


By Violinist Jenny Topilow

As an orchestral player and violinist, like all musicians, I have a long list of compositions that I turn to time and time again for emotional and aesthetic fulfillment on a personal level; works that are particularly beautiful and/or satisfying to me. These pieces include the late Beethoven Quartets, Stravinsky's "Petrushka," Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," Shostakovich Symphony No. 10, the Bartok Quartets, Debussy's "La Mer," Caroline Shaw's "Partita for Eight Voices," and Andy Akiho's "21," to name a few. 

It's funny to think, however, that the most memorable and important moments that I have had as a member of the Charlotte Symphony really have nothing to do with my list of favorite works. The most poignant experiences of my tenure as a musician are exactly that, experiences; experiences that have deeply moved me, changed my perception, taught me, connected me to those around me, and have brought me closer to my community.

Major side note: I'm not a huge fan of the term "classical music" as I feel that "classical" is simply a descriptor of a specific era in Western music (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms). I would never discount the absolute brilliance of those composers, yet the breadth of what is coined as "classical music" encompasses so much more than what the antiquated term has to offer. Maybe "orchestral music" and "art music," etc., could serve our purposes better.

But, I digress, because even if I personally believe it's outdated, I still call myself a "classical musician," since the label itself is the most recognized tag for what I do -- interpret and play music written by other people. In that sense, we are more like actors; we are not creators, we are not artists (in my opinion), but we have devoted ourselves to creators and artists. So at its core, even though it is vast, every orchestra on the planet plays music from a finite pool of works. That being said, what I have learned is that it is not the music (alone) that makes an orchestra, but the community that it is part of. The Charlotte Symphony belongs to all of Charlotte; every member of the community should feel ownership of the organization and all arts organizations throughout the city. It's this sense of ownership that builds commitment, connection, and those beautiful, profound experiences through music that are transcendent, beyond the notes on the page. All art for all people.

It would be remiss of me to not give personal examples of music plus circumstance making for meaningful experience. Here are two:
  1. The CSO accompanied the Morehouse College Glee Club in a performance of Atlanta based composer Joel Thompson's "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed," a work that uses the liturgical format of Haydn's "Seven Last Words of Christ" to honor and humanize black men unjustly murdered, namely Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Kenneth Chamberlain, Amadou Diallo, and John Crawford. It is a sobering piece that reminds us of how powerful art can be when inspired by, and dedicated to, relevant and pertinent issues. The experience of the performance connected everyone in the room through a shared understanding of the necessity of the message and the emotion of that message being delivered through song by those directly affected by the theme of the work.

  2. Last season the CSO started a series called CSO Off the Rails, where smaller ensembles curate programs to be played at Snug Harbor, a local club/bar/music venue and Charlotte staple. Essentially standing room only with a small stage about three feet off the ground, these shows are really an immersive and interactive experience, bringing what we do to an audience that wouldn't necessarily seek out music at a concert hall. The success of the series, the energy surrounding it, and the electric atmosphere in the room during performances has solidified in my mind that "classical music" is completely accessible to everyone when we remove the formality and actively engage with the community.
These are just a few examples of many, and I feel unendingly grateful to be in a field where these experiences are not only possible, but essential. Read more

Posted in Community. Tagged as CSO Musicians, Musicians.

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