Sound of Charlotte Blog

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
 

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.

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.

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
 

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, CSO Musicians, Music Director, Musicians, Virtual Concerts.

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