Sound of Charlotte Blog
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.
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.
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.
"A Symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything" ~ Mahler
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 NinthMahler 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
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!"
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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)
9) Gershwin's Concerto in F (Second movement)
8) Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, middle of Pas de Deux)
7) Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 (Fifth movement)
6) Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (Act II, scene 3)
5) Wagner's Die Walkure (Act II, scene 2; Act III, scene 3)
4) Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (Opening)
3) Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony (First movement)
2) Mahler's Symphony No. 6 (First movement)
1) Khachaturian's Piano Concerto
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.
- 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 HelpWe 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 email@example.com.
Today marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. To celebrate this historic achievement, the Charlotte Symphony is using its platform to highlight the many contributions of women in classical music. We asked a few CSO musicians and conductors to share with us a list of women composers who they wish everyone knew more about.
"She's an extremely talented individual, an accomplished violinist and chamber musician in the Catalyst Quartet, and I've been so proud to perform her wonderful music alongside the rest of our canon of timeless art pieces. I hope we will continue to share her beautiful work with our Charlotte community!" - Principal Violist Benjamin Geller
"Gabriela Lena Frank is a varied & important fixture in American composition, has numerous awards & Composer in Residence credentials, and has founded a Creative Academy of Music which enables opportunity for dozens of up & coming composers. Her string orchestra piece 'An Andean Walkabout,' written for A Far Cry in Boston, is both visceral in energy & jarring rhythmically. A terrific, monumental piece that I love." - Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees
"I think her music is important to be celebrated because, to be honest, I just really like it. When I have performed some of her solo pieces, they have spoken personally to me, and I found myself lost in tunes that I wish I had written myself." - Trombonist Thomas Burge
"When I was 13 years old, Chaminade's Concertino for Flute and Orchestra was one of the first big flute solos that I had ever performed. It's a very popular piece for young flutists, and I didn't realize until years after playing it that Chaminade is actually female!" - Youth Philharmonic Conductor Jessica Morel
"Chaminade composed more than 400 pieces, but the Concertino is her most beloved and remains an important piece in the flute repertoire. Though her father did not permit her to attend the Conservatoire de Paris, she was able to study composition privately and eventually gained popularity as a composer and pianist." - Flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead
an orchestral piece in celebration of the city's 250th anniversary.
"I think Nkeiru Okoye is important because her works incorporate many different sounds and styles from cultural areas that are both part of her own personal journey, and also are part of a larger narrative regarding the history of African American people. Spending her youth divided between living in New York and Nigeria, she offers an important personal perspective through her music that also highlights a broader cultural connection that resonates with many Americans." - Trombonist Thomas Burge
Inspired to learn about more women composers? A great place to start is Music Critic Anne Midgette's list of the top women composers in classical music from The Washington Post. Read more
A composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher, Florence Price is recognized as the first African-American woman to have a symphonic work performed by a major national symphony orchestra. Her extraordinary achievements during the racist "Jim Crow" era are a testament to her immense gifts and determination.
Born in Little Rock, AR in 1887, Price grew up in a middle-class household and attended the New England Conservatory, one of the few that admitted African-Americans at the time. Fleeing racial violence in her home state, Price moved with her family to Chicago where her career began to flourish. She won first prize in the Wanamaker Competition with her Symphony in E minor which caught the attention of Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Frederick Stock. The piece was premiered by the Orchestra in 1933 with The Chicago Daily News reporting "It is a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion ... worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory."
Florence Price's musical style was influenced by composers such as Dvořák and Coleridge-Taylor. It is infused with European and African-American musical and cultural elements, including spiritual melodies, gospel church music, and African instruments such as the marimba.
Her piece Adoration, arranged for Brass Quintet, was performed by members of the CSO's brass section on our latest al Fresco concert.
Though recognized in her day, Florence Price's memory and music faded into history - perhaps due in part to the relatively small number of surviving compositions. However, in 2009, nearly 200 of Price's manuscripts were discovered, tucked neatly away in boxes in an old fixer-upper in a suburb of Chicago. The discovery has prompted a happy resurgence in the popularity of her works. We can all hope that this re-examination of her talent and musicality will allow Florence Price to take her rightful place among the great American composers. Read more
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