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In Person with Jessica Cottis



This month, Australian-born conductor Jessica Cottis makes her debut with the Charlotte Symphony to conduct a fascinating program including the Charlotte Symphony premiere of Kurt Weill's witty and theatrical The Seven Deadly Sins. We sat down with Ms. Cottis to discuss her path to the podium and what the audience can expect from her debut performance. 

What led you to pursue conducting as your career?
For me, growing up in a very musical family, music was very much a means of expression and communication, even more so than speaking. I did my undergraduate as an organist and musicologist and had a really excellent career, but I got carpal tunnel syndrome in my twenties and I never knew when my hands would be reliable. I needed to rethink how I was as a musician and it was incredibly hard, particularly so because I had started music at such a young age. Conducting was very intoxicating - to think there was this opportunity to get so much depth and nuance from a symphony orchestra. I was like a match struck in the dark - it was sheer exhilaration that we as humans can express thoughts, emotions, and stories through this incredible art form and this incredible instrument, which is the orchestra itself. 

What is it like stepping in front of a new orchestra for the first time?
I love meeting new orchestras because they all have such a personality, and I never know what it's going to be until we start making music, really! I took a look at many of the recent programs that the Charlotte Symphony has put on and they seem forward-thinking, friendly, and really passionate about music. For me, one of the greatest things about being a human is being able to create and participate in art, and I really feel that passion from everything I've seen. So I'm very much looking forward to being in Charlotte and meeting the orchestra.



You've created such an interesting program, from Stravinsky to Kurt Weill and Jessie Montgomery. What goes into programming a concert like this?
One of my greatest interests in music is programming, and in the way that we can find connections between music that might be so disparate - 300 years between pieces or completely different focuses from the composers, but that one piece might lead somehow, imaginatively, into another and maybe even open our ears in new ways so that we can hear old music afresh.

In this program, as with any program, I tend to start with a seed of an idea, and then from that seed I look to see how it grows, and I never know from the beginning how it will grow! The initial idea of this program was that I really wanted to do The Seven Deadly Sins with the Charlotte Symphony. Somehow that felt like a perfect matching of minds and musical intellect. It's such a fantastic piece, so incredibly theatrical, and it has such a brilliant way of depicting humor, ideas, and nuances through Kurt Weill's musical style. He had only just fled Berlin for Paris in 1933 and this is his imaginary fantastical version of the United States; of this young woman sent out into the world to make money by her greedy exploitative family. It's almost 100 years old but it's still so fresh. The work includes so many different musical styles: foxtrots, a church choral, barbershop quartet, tangoes, and lots of wit. And that wit is really what led me to the Stravinsky.

That would be the Stravinsky Circus Polka?
Yes, the piece was written for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, for elephants to dance to - which is incredibly preposterous! There's a certain theatricality to the circus that works really well with the Kurt Weill piece. 



Which leaves us with Ravel's Piano Concerto and Jessie Montgomery's Strum.
The Ravel has a strong jazz influence, which linked so well to both the Weill and the Stravinsky. And I'm very much looking forward to working with Stewart Goodyear, I think this will be a really great meeting of musical minds. I've known Jessie Montgomery's pieces for a while and I've conducted Strum in numerous places - I just love it! It's just what it sounds like, the string players spend quite a lot of time strumming their instruments rather like a banjo. I thought it linked in well to the dichotomy of the classical being influenced by more popular styles of a particular time. 

I've heard that in your limited spare time, you're learning to fly helicopters! 
Yes! I've had to stop due to the pandemic, but I look forward to getting back into that whenever it happens. There's something really special about flying. It's exhilarating and humbling, and sort of life-affirming being able to lift oneself above where we normally are and look down and have a birds-eye view. As musicians, we spend so much time on forensic detail - and we must, it's so important - but keeping an eye on the bigger visual architecture is so freeing, really. 

 

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, interview.

John Williams on His Harry Potter Children’s Suite for Orchestra



Whether it's the soaring heights of Harry on his broomstick, the grandeur of his snowy owl, or the fear of facing one's enemy in battle, John Williams perfectly captures - through sound - the majesty and wonder of Harry Potter's magical world. 

His Children's Suite for Orchestra brilliantly introduces each section of the orchestra through the musical themes we all know and love. Below, Williams describes how this piece came to be and what you can expect to hear when the Charlotte Symphony performs this piece on January 22.

When I wrote the full orchestral score for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I hadn't planned to write the eight miniatures presented here. The film's score did not require them, and our production schedule, usually very difficult in the film world, made no provision for their arrival.

However, if I can be permitted to put it a bit colorfully, each piece seemed to insist on being "hatched" out of the larger body of the full score.

Hedwig's Flight

I began writing Hedwig's little piece, and each of the others followed quickly as they seemed to arrive all clamoring for their individual identities. I selected a combination of instruments that suited each theme, and this suite of pieces is the result.

Hedwig, the beautiful owl who magically and mysteriously delivers mail to Harry Potter at Hogwarts School, is musically portrayed in the first miniature by the celesta, a luminous little instrument which is capable of producing pearly, crystalline tones at dazzling speeds. The celesta begins its flight alone, but quickly is joined by the violins, possibly the only other instrument capable of attaining the dizzying pace needed to defy gravity and achieve flight.

Hogwarts Forever

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, that august institution that has trained and taught young wizards for centuries, is probably best described by the French horn section of the orchestra. No other instrument seems so perfectly suited to capturing the scholarly atmosphere of Hogwarts than the noble and stately French horn.

Voldemort

In the third miniature we meet Harry Potter's arch-enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort, who is portrayed here by a trio of bassoons sounding their mysteriously deep and sonorous tones.

Nimbus 2000

The Nimbus 2000 is Harry Potter's own personal broomstick. To musically depict this ingenious mode of transportation we have the woodwind section, with its flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, all capable of extraordinary leaps and astonishing agility, forming a perfect match for the nimble Nimbus 2000.

Fluffy and his Harp

On the third floor of Hogwarts School, we find Fluffy, the huge three-headed guard dog. Fluffy is a music lover who can only be made to fall asleep to the sound of music. Here the contrabassoon represents the snoozing Fluffy, while his music is provided by the beautiful...and in this case...soporific harp.

Quidditch

In the Harry Potter books, Quidditch is a form of intramural competition that's played on flying broomsticks. The games are conducted every year at the Hogwarts School with great pageantry, featuring colorful flags and cheering crowds. In the sixth miniature, the pomp and ceremony of these Quidditch games is best represented by the blazing brass section of the orchestra, with its tuba, French horns, trombones, and heraldic trumpets.

Family Portrait

In the seventh miniature, "Family Portrait," the clarinet introduces the themes that relate to the disparate parts of Harry Potter's emotional life, and here it is accompanied by the cello section of the orchestra, which produces a wonderfully warm and beautiful sound.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley is a sort of shopping mall of the wizard world. Along with the wondrous things to be seen in the Alley, we're also transported by the sounds of antique recorders, hand drums, and percussion instruments of all kinds. There is even an elaborate solo part for the violin, cast in the role of the witch's fiddle.

With all of the miniatures presented, the suite concludes with the entire orchestra as it explores many of the themes heard throughout "Harry's Wondrous World."

My fondest hope is that instrumentalists and listeners alike might share in some of the joy that I have felt in writing music for this delightful story.

~ John Williams
 

Posted in Family. Tagged as Family Series.

The Mahler Journey



This month, Music Director Christopher Warren-Green and the Charlotte Symphony complete their journey through Mahler's Symphonies with his final completed work, the powerful and introspective Symphony No. 9. 

Gustav Mahler is, undoubtedly, one of the most important and influential composers throughout history. His towering symphonies contain multitudes the very essence of the human condition love, hatred, life, and death. It's easy for people to hear echoes of their own fears, joys, doubts, and sorrows in his music. It's universal. 

"A Symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything" ~ Mahler

Despite this, decades after his death, Mahler's music was overshadowed by the modernist sounds of the second Viennese school - Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern - and his longer-living contemporary Richard Strauss. It wasn't until the 1960s that conductors, most notably Leonard Bernstein, began to rediscover and champion his works; demystifying the genius to be found within these complex and massive symphonies. 



And this is precisely what Christopher Warren-Green set out to do when, early in his tenure as Music Director, he invited Charlotte to join him and the Orchestra on a journey through Mahler's most epic Symphonies.  

"By now, everyone knows that Mahler is one of my absolute favorite composers," said Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, "not only because of the pure majesty and grandeur of his compositions but because of their complexities." 

Now, in the final leg of the Mahler Journey, Maestro Warren-Green hopes all of Charlotte will join him in experiencing Mahler's greatness through the Ninth Symphony. "If you've ever heard Mahler's music, you'll know what I mean, especially if you've heard it live, there is simply nothing like hearing it in person in the concert hall." 



Mahler was consumed with thoughts of his own and others' mortality as he composed his Ninth Symphony, following the death of his four-year-old daughter and the diagnosis of a heart condition that would take his life just four years later. But if despair and anguish are undoubtedly present in the music, they stand side-by-side with a passionate love of life and nature, and a heroic defiance of death. 

"You've trusted me along this Mahler Journey thus far," said Maestro Warren-Green, "and I truly do hope you'll join us for the final part. You'll be in for a real treat."   

The Curse of the Ninth

Mahler went out of his way to avoid a Ninth Symphony as neither Beethoven nor Bruckner had managed to reach a Tenth. At first he titled Das Lied von der Erde as the Ninth, but crossed the number out. As he wrote his next symphony, which he called the Ninth, he said to his wife, "Of course, it's actually the Tenth, because Das Lied von der Erde was really the Ninth...the danger is past." Despite his efforts, Mahler died before he could see the Ninth Symphony performed.  

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, Mahler.

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