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Sound of Charlotte Blog

“A Historic Event” the CSO Debuts at Little Rock AME Zion Church



This month, the Charlotte Symphony will make its debut at Little Rock AME Zion Church with a free concert filled with uplifting works that unite us all during challenging times. The Symphony, led by Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees, will perform works by Barber, Mozart, and John Williams and will join forces with the Little Rock AME Zion Church Choir to perform favorites like, "Oh, Happy Day" and "Amazing Grace."

"It's an honor to join the beautiful singing heard every week at Little Rock AME Zion with the artists within the Charlotte Symphony string section," said Christopher James Lees. In a time when we as a society are faced with images of inhumanity on a weekly basis, music & this program will be a vehicle for healing, inspiration, and peace. From the sorrowful sounds of Barber's Adagio for Strings to the full assembly of forces singing 'Oh Happy Day' at the top of their lungs, emotions will run deep in this cathartic & uplifting program. The choir at Little Rock AME Zion Church, led beautifully by Sidney Oliver, has vocal power which matches the potency of their message, and we are privileged to come together with them for this evening of beauty & light."

It will be a celebration of the unity found in our diversity!
~ Rev. Dr. Dwayne A. Walker

Little Rock AME Zion Church was founded in 1884 and has been located in Uptown Charlotte for over one hundred years. It is a church that has sought to open its doors to the community in an effort to uplift and empower those it is called to serve.

"We are delighted and excited to partner with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra!" said Rev. Dr. Dwayne A. Walker. "This will be a historic event. Our Minister of Music, Mr. Sidney Oliver and members of The Little Rock Choirs join me in looking forward to this collaboration. It will be a celebration of the unity found in our diversity! The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is to be commended for their willingness to reach out to the community. We are honored to be a part of that effort."

The concert will take place at Little Rock AME Zion Church (401 N. McDowell Street) on June 8, 2022, at 7:30 pm. >> Learn more Read more

Posted in Community. Tagged as community.

Amy Orsinger Whitehead Lends a Healing Hand



For over 20 years the Charlotte Symphony's Healing Hands program has sent musicians to perform in area hospitals, libraries, senior care centers, and shelters for people experiencing homelessness. Since the program's inception, CSO Flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead, violinist Elizabeth Pistolesi, and cellist Deborah Kauffman Mishoe -- named The Laurel Trio -- have been using their music to enrich the lives of patients, residents, and community members throughout Charlotte. We recently caught up with Amy to discuss what makes this program so unique and special.  

Why is the Healing Hands program so important to you? 
Our trio has done lots and lots of Healing Hands performances throughout the years taking our music on the road to wherever the need exists. I think it's very important to meet people where they are because some get to a certain point where they're not able to come to the concert hall to hear us play. If we are able to take ourselves to where people live and give them the gift of beautiful music something they've enjoyed all their lives it's a privilege for us. I think, honestly, that we get as much out of it as the people we perform for. It's really a lot of fun and it's quite meaningful for us because we enjoy being able to make a little bit of a difference in someone's day with our music.  



How does the audience respond to your performances? 
This has been quite powerful for us. In a situation where we're playing in a dementia setting, you might see a resident that doesn't seem to be responding to anything around them, but you'll see them react and respond to the music and even start singing along! We have a Motown medley that has inspired a lot of spontaneous dance parties, too! The music reaches deep inside people and has an impact that might not be easily achieved outside of music, and that is just so incredible. It's actually pretty hard to play the flute when you feel like you're getting choked up or teary-eyed, and so it can be a bit hard for me, I have to tell myself not to get swept away by the emotion of it. Seeing the immediate impact that we're having to think that we're making even the tiniest difference for people is really wonderful, and we feel so fortunate to get to have that experience.  

Your trio performs a lot at senior care facilities and senior centers, but you've also performed at Moore Place, a supportive housing residence for chronically unhoused adults. 
Yes, we have! It's a whole different age range than we usually play for, and we love to hear them tell us about their stories and musical connections the songs they remember and the instruments they played in school. Music can help ground us to where we are currently, moment by moment, but it has such a great way to take us back to a previous time in our lives. It's pretty incredible when we get to see this happening and experience the music the way the people listening are experiencing it. It's nice to relive people's memories with them. 



How was the program able to adapt during the pandemic? 
We were able to pre-record two programs, one holiday program and another non-holiday program for people of all ages. We provided online performances where the video was played and each one of us would announce the next piece live. It was a really great mix of technology and heartfelt love between all of us! We loved being able to interact with the people who were zooming in and we always had a really fun chat thread during the performance. People were really needing something like this in their lives at that moment. And to be able to have a holiday concert in December, when we were so closed off from each other for so long was extra meaningful.  



Do you have a favorite memory from a Healing Hands performance?  
I think my favorite moment ever was when we were playing at a senior living facility called Renaissance West. That's the place where they have been known to break into spontaneous dance parties and they love to sing along! One time, during a holiday concert, I could see a lady moving from person to person and I could tell she was on a mission to get everyone in the room to do something. We didn't think much of it, but at the end of the concert they brought up to us a Christmas card that they had all signed. It was just so sweet, and I carry that with me in my folder because it's such a special memory. That was such a great day, I can't think of it without smiling.  

Learn more about the Charlotte Symphony's Healing Hands Program. Read more

Posted in Community. Tagged as community, CSO Musicians, interview.

Alan Black on Stepping Back with Grace



A fixture of the Charlotte Symphony since 1986, Principal Cellist Alan Black is stepping back from his role of leading the cellists to continue playing in the section. Black will be ending his tenure on a high note at the end of our 2021-22 season, having played the solo in John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 and capping off with his feature in the Music & Healing concert at Queens University on April 3. We talked with Alan about his decision to step back now, his favorite memory with the CSO, and his hopes for the section as he ends his tenure as Principal Cellist and begins the 2022-23 season as Principal Cello Emeritis.

Why have you decided to step back into the section at this time?
Well you know, I've been thinking about this for a couple years. I'm going to be 65 in a month and I'm thinking to myself, well, what else do I need to accomplish as a principal player? I've done all the solos....my colleagues are great cellists and I feel the talent level has risen. They're great players and so it's time for somebody else to do it. And the stress of sitting principal is actually fairly strong.... I want to enjoy playing without the stress of the job. And since I've done basically everything I've wanted to do and checked off all those boxes, I feel like it's kind of time for me to let somebody else take over the mantle; let somebody younger come on in and provide a fresh vision. 



How have the other players reacted to your decision?
I think a lot of them were surprised, which makes me feel good because they were like, "Wait a minute, what? Why are you doing that?" A lot of them didn't realize I was going to be 65 and that makes me feel good....I think my cello colleagues were surprised and they've been very gracious about it.

After so many years as Principal, you must have some great memories.
Oh, yes! The highlight of my career was in 2000 when Yo-Yo Ma was in town performing with us and I got to play the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos with him. Aside from being the most visible and famous musician on the planet, he is also an amazing human being -- warm, engaging, and filled with humility. We had a great time together and hung out at the after-party on the 60th floor of the Bank of America center. I had a great time and will never forget this moment. Ultimately, it was because of this concert that five years later I was able to purchase the cello I bought from him. In many ways, he has been the most influential person in my musical life, and I am filled with gratitude for this. 



Do you have any words of wisdom for your successor?
I felt like as a principal the most important thing I could do is manage the section in a way that creates a great working atmosphere; a collegiality within the section. That's been my most important goal for the last twenty years, that I want us to all get along and be happy together....To me, the most important thing is that you've got to treat your colleagues with respect and you've got to treat them right.

What are your hopes for the cello section, and the CSO as a whole, for the coming years?
I hope we can continue to have great dialogue with our management and the board; that we continue to work as a team the way we did during COVID. These have been the best two years of my entire career in terms of our working relationship....it's been great and that's what we should have. We should have a great working relationship: between the players, the management, and the board. We need to do that....and I'm really hopeful for that going forward.



What can you tell us about your part in Music and Healing?
Two years ago I commissioned Leonard Mark Lewis to write [I Will Wade Out] for cello and piano, and we played it at Davidson [College] when I was on faculty there. And I really loved that piece. So I was thinking about what I wanted to do -- because I want to go out strong, like "Yeah, I'm making this decision. I don't have to, but I am because I just want to go out on a high note." And I thought, "You know, the perfect thing to do was play Mark's piece," because Mark and I are very close friends. I really like it, and it will give him a chance as a local composer to be showcased and to have another orchestral piece out there. So I'm really excited about us being able to do that. We've done a lot of tinkering with it since we played it two years ago. So it's been really neat to sort of reconnect with it and find more things that are amazing about it. So yeah, it's going to be fun. I'm really excited about it and it's a new venue that we've never played in, so I think it will be a really nice addition to the program.

Is there anything you'd like to say to the audiences who have been with you for so many years?
I want to say thank you to everyone, it's been such an honor to be Principal Cellist of the Charlotte Symphony. It's been an absolute joy!


Join us at Queens University for Alan's final solo performance as Principal Cellist of the Charlotte Symphony.
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Posted in Community. Tagged as community, CSO Musicians, interview.

SLIDESHOW: Spoon River Anthology


The Charlotte Symphony kicked off spooky season with the premiere of a new stage adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, a series of monologues that collectively tell the story of Spoon River, a fictional small town in Illinois, spoken from beyond the grave by the town's former residents who provide accounts of their lives, losses, and deaths. Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery provided the perfect backdrop for this supernatural performance.

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The audience gathers around tombstones in Charlotte's historic Elmwood Cemetery, surrounded by the graves of those that lived, worked, and died in the same era as our Spoon River residents.
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Nearby, the cast and crew assemble for a quick photo op (From L-R: Frank Dominguez, Melissa Bowden, Nancy Cottingham, Haley Harkins, Nick Asa, Morgan McDonald, Anthony Neal, Isabel Gonzalez, Tyler Hope Milton, Kat Brown, Chris Stonnell, Hank West, Gray Rodgers)
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Writer and Director of the production, Chris Stonnell, who is also the CSO's Director of Education and Community Engagement, sets the stage before the performance begins.
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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Michael Hosford, Joe Brown, Scott Hartman, and Tom Burge - pose for a quick photo. The unique trombone quartet brings the show to life, weaving music throughout the dialogue.
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In the distance, actress Morgan McDonald stands next to her character's resting place - poised to return to Spoon River and speak of her earthly travails. 
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The audience sits at attention as the spirits of Spoon River gather once again to spin old tales.
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The Four Horsemen delight with tunes evoking turn-of-the-century America including selections by John Phillip Sousa, Scott Joplin, and W.C. Handy.
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As the final strains of "Going Home" from Dvorak's New World Symphony die down, the ghosts of Spoon River head back to their eternal resting places while the audience erupts in applause.
 
 
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Posted in Community. Tagged as community.

SLIDESHOW: Celebrating America

The Charlotte Symphony welcomed over 4,000 fans to Truist Field to Celebrate America with an evening of patriotic favorites and fireworks. Concertgoers enjoyed the North Carolina premiere of Fanfare for Democracy, a work performed at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration; works by Aaron Copland, John Williams, and more; an appearance by Charlotte Knights' mascot Homer the Dragon; and a spectacular fireworks finale. (Photos by Laura Wolff for the Charlotte Knights)

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It's a beautiful day to Celebrate America in Uptown Charlotte as CSO musicians take their places on the field and begin their warm-up.
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Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees and the Charlotte Symphony kick off the concert with a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
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Jim Stephenson's Fanfare for Democracy receives its North Carolina premiere in front of an audience more than 4,000 strong. The work was commissioned for the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris in January 2021.
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The audience cheers as the CSO performs Morton Gould's American Salute performed tonight in tribute to the bravery of America's frontline and essential workers.
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Christopher James Lees came to play, showing off the Charlotte Knights jersey he stealthily hid under his white jacket before launching into works by Aaron Copland and Leroy Anderson.
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A night at the ballpark is never complete without the 7th inning stretch! Tonight, Homer the Dragon leads the crowd in a boisterous performance of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
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Christopher James Lees takes back the baton to lead the Orchestra in Grainger's "Molly On the Shore," "A Chorus Line" by Marvin Hamlisch, and Duke Ellington's "A Medley for Orchestra."
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Not to be outdone, Homer the Dragon returns to the field to conduct one of Sousa's most well-known marches, "The Thunderer," while an enthusiastic crowd clapped along.
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Christopher James Lees brings the concert to a close by acknowledging three retiring musicians, each of whom has been a member of the CSO for over 40 years!
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Violinist Judith Ledbetter, a member for 42 years.
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Cellist Janis Nilsen, a member for 41 years.
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Bassoonist Lori Tibero, a member for 44 years.
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A fireworks finale lights up the night sky in Uptown Charlotte.
 
 
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Posted in Community, Summer. Tagged as community.

Celebrate America with Your Charlotte Symphony


The Charlotte Symphony takes the field on June 25 to Celebrate America with an evening of patriotic favorites and memorable anthems and marches. Truist Field, home of the Charlotte Knights, will be rocking with an all-star lineup of works by Aaron Copland, John Williams, Duke Ellington, and more. And what better way to cap off a celebration of America than with a spectacular fireworks display in the home of America's favorite pastime!
Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees will kick off the concert by leading the CSO in Jim Stephenson's Fanfare for Democracy, a work premiered at the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris in January 2021.

World Premiere of Jim Stephenson's Fanfare for Democracy at the 59th Presidential Inauguration, Jan. 20, 2021.

The concert continues with Morton Gould's American Salute, a tribute to the bravery of America's frontline and essential workers.

The United States Air Force Symphony Orchestra performs Morton Gould's American Salute.

Christopher James Lees and the CSO will dedicate John Williams's "With Malice Toward None" to the memory of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic. This piece comes from the critically acclaimed film Lincoln and the title refers to a line from the second inaugural speech of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. John Williams chose to set a trumpet solo for this scene -- which will be performed by Principal Trumpet Alex Wilborn -- to remind listeners of its evocations of bugle calls, trumpet annunciations, and the death call of Taps. 

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band Performs Williams's With Malice Toward None from Lincoln.

The evening will also include popular works by power hitters Leroy Anderson, Aaron Copland, Percy Grainger, Marvin Hamlisch, and Duke Ellington. And we'll keep an eye out for pinch-hitter and Charlotte Knights mascot Homer the Dragon.  


In the bottom of the ninth, the CSO will serve up a grand slam of marches by John Philip Sousa, including Stars and Stripes Forever, followed by a spectacular fireworks display that will light up the Uptown sky. 

We hope you and your families will join us for a fantastic evening of music and fireworks under the stars!
Celebrate America is presented in partnership with

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Posted in Community, Summer. Tagged as community.

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.

Playing for the Panthers

We got a kick out of opening this Sunday's Carolina Panthers game with a rousing rendition of The National Anthem. The game may have been a loss for the Panthers, but it was a win for Byron Johns (French horn), Alex Wilborn, Jonathan Kaplan (trumpet), Thomas Burge (trombone), and Scott Hartman (bass trombone), who didn't fumble a single note. Go team!

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Posted in Community. Tagged as community, CSO Musicians.

Celebrating the Power of Women in Art

A special collaboration between the Charlotte Symphony and The Mint Museum



In celebration of The Mint Museum's new installation, Foragers, the Charlotte Symphony and The Mint partnered with Wells Fargo to create a short film that unites the visual and performing arts. 

The artistic collaboration features Charlotte Symphony violinist Jenny Topilow, violist Alaina Rea, cellist Sarah Markle, and harpist Andrea Mumm Trammell performing works by Arvo Pärt and Caroline Shaw in front of Summer Wheat's contemporary work of art in the Mint's Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium.

We welcome you to experience the power of women in art presented at the intersection of art, architecture, and music.

This special presentation is brought to you by Wells Fargo, The Private Bank.
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Posted in Community. Tagged as community, CSO Musicians.

CLTSymphony X Beatties Ford Strong



This fall, CSO musicians and the Beatties Ford Strong Project came together to create a video project that was inspired by and features the music of Brooklyn-based violinist and composer Jessica Montgomery, and showcases the Beatties Ford Strong Project, violinist/composer Lady Jess, musicians of the Charlotte Symphony, and Charlotte-based artists. 

Below, we hear from CSO violinist Jenny Topilow, educator/artist/social activist Ricky Singh, and Charlotte-based artists on how the collaboration was conceived, their reactions, and what comes next.


"We have been referring to the project as CLTSymphony X Beatties Ford Strong" Ricky says. "The X is intentional, for we feel that a title that is purposefully not combined respects each entity as having its own identity, and also allows for either side of the equation to be replaced or modified as the project evolves to encourage further community engagement."



"I've always been enamored with public art," Jenny shares, "murals and such that everyone can enjoy by simply being a member of the community; beautiful pieces by talented artists that become interwoven throughout the landscape and make a place more vibrant and colorful."

In February of this year, a quartet of CSO musicians played Jessie Montgomery's Strum for a CSO Off the Rails concert at Snug Harbor. According to Jenny:

We completely fell in love with the piece. We were slated to play it again, but when the pandemic hit, that performance was of course canceled. So, it occurred to me that it would be a lovely marriage to record 'Strum,' during this new virtual age, in front of public art in Charlotte, specifically works created by people of color.

Excited about the idea, I reached out to a muralist friend of mine, who got me in touch with Ricky Singh. Ricky is an artist, educator, community leader/activist, and one of the founders of the Beatties Ford Strong/Historic West End Project, an initiative to beautify neglected areas of the city through public art paired with community ownership, brought about as a reaction to the June 19, 2020 massacre on Beatties Ford Road, where four people were killed and several others injured.

My introduction to Ricky was the catalyst for the project to really take flight through intentional collaboration. We communicate well and ended up making a good team; we are mutually intent on the vision and are invested in being proactive and bringing the best of what we know to the table. All that being said, there is no way for me to truly express how grateful I am to Ricky. He is a beacon within the Charlotte community, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have formed a partnership with him.

There are so many artistic circles throughout Charlotte that are too often separated by class and race. The purpose of this project is to bring some of those circles together; not for one to overshadow another, not for one to do the other a favor, not for one to mold to the other, but for local creatives to do what they love all within the same space. We are committed to having more multi-faceted performances throughout Charlotte, through the lens of all art being accessible to all people, and with the ultimate objective of limitless circles overlapping to create a more connected city.


"My experience with the project was nothing like I ever experienced before," Artist Michael Grant shares. "This project captured both classical art and visual arts simultaneously. As an artist this project made me feel valuable and appreciated. It was such an honor to be a part of this moment of history and to collaborate with great artists as well." 

Artist Makayla Binter also shares that "[the project] was just so pure and enjoyable because of the connection between artistic forms, and just the positive energy that creating makes. It was a great experience to live paint and also meet some very talented artists in music that I had never met before."


Ricky and Jenny plan to unveil the finished video at an event on a large screen, where they would also auction off the pieces of art created during filming. It is not finalized, but they are hoping to utilize a space like Camp Northend, where people can come to a beautiful outdoor area and celebrate in a Covid-safe way. All proceeds would go to provide local youth programming tied to the arts. 

Credits:


Organized by Ricky Singh and Jenny Topilow

Featured Artists:
Michael Grant (@infamous_kiddo)
Makayla Binter (
@mkay_15)
Ricky Singh (
@mrrickysingh)
DJ Pauly Guwop (
@djpaulyguwop)
Lord Phly (
@lordphly)
Lute West (
@lute_west9)
Dancer: Jessica Thompson (
@babyhairprincess)
Spoken Word: Hannah Hasan (
@iamhannahhasan)
CSO Musicians: Jenny Topilow, violin; Lenora Leggatt, violin; Ben Geller, viola; and Sarah Markle, cello

Videographer/video & sound editor:

Bob Rydel
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Posted in Community. Tagged as community, CSO Musicians.

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