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Sound of Charlotte Blog

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. 

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, interview.

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.   Read more

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, Mahler.

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! 
Read more

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.

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.

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