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CSO Musicians Go Totally '80s!

We asked CSO musicians to "turn back time"... and, boy, did they deliver! With its distinctive fashion, slang, and music, the 1980s was definitely the raddest decade in history. Take a blast to the past with these old-school cool photos, and then set your Swatch watch for Jan. 24 & 25 because we're going Totally '80s at Knight Theater!




Violist Ning Zhao

Ning immigrated to the U.S. to further his music education at Kent State University in 1986. This photo was taken during his first year. With this white jacket and sneaker combo, Ning shows that he definitely knows as much about fashion as he does about music - like the back of his hand. 


Acting Assistant Principal Double Bassist Jason McNeel

Jason may have been young in the '80s, but he definitely had his finger on the pop culture pulse. On Halloween of 1988, Jason was repping one of the most iconic characters of the decade: Alf. He definitely proved his love for the extraterrestrial by featuring him in his outfit not once, but twice. 

Evidently, I loved Alf! ~ Jason McNeel



Violist Nancy Marsh Levine

If there is one thing the '80s is known for, it's volume. This photo from Nancy's wedding in 1989 definitely exemplifies that trend. The amount of sleeve on her dress is beyond impressive. Modern-day bridal fashion really isn't what it used to be! 


Violist Ellen Ferdon

As hard as it may be to believe, this is not a still from a John Hughes film. This photo was taken in 1982 of Ellen and Jeff Ferdon, just before their wedding. As impressive as the fashion and hair are in this photo, the only thing we can focus on is the adoring look they're sharing.


Double Bassist Jeffrey Ferdon

This photo from 1984 shows Jeff graduating from University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Jeff claims he "had zero interest in clothes at the time," but judging by that sleek white button-up shirt and voguish clogs, we don't believe him at all. Finding inspiration from MTV's hottest music videos, Jeff's hair evolution included both the infamous mullet and even a foot-long rat tail. We can only hope to see a revival of one of those looks on stage! 
Break out those Members Only jackets, stirrup pants, and shoulder pads, and hold on to your hairspray -- We're going Totally '80s, Jan. 24 & 25 at Knight Theater.
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Posted in Pops. Tagged as Pops.

Meet "Christmastime in Charlotte" composer, Gary Fry

Emmy-winning composer Gary Fry returns this season for Magic of Christmas & The Singing Christmas Tree, Dec. 13-22 at Knight Theater. We sat down with Gary to find out if his beloved carol written for the Queen City, "Christmastime in Charlotte," will sport a new verse, when he begins listening to Christmas music every year, and more.


Do you have any holiday traditions?
I think our family traditions are pretty normal. We gather for family dinner on Christmas Eve, and my wife gives all our children (and now, grandchildren) Christmas pajamas before bedtime, and we read the Clement Moore poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Christmas Day is a time for spending time with family and opening gifts!

Last year, you wrote a new Christmas carol for us, "Christmastime in Charlotte." Will there be any changes or additions to the carol this year?
From the beginning, the idea was to have one verse of lyrics that changed each year to reflect things that were happening currently in Charlotte, or something special related to the Magic of Christmas program that particular year. You'll just have to come to the concert to find out what the "topical lyrics" are this year!

Which part of the concert are you most excited for?
It's all exciting to me especially the fact that this year joining our wonderful Charlotte Symphony are Carolina Voices' The Singing Christmas Tree, the Charlotte Children's Choir, and Grey Seal Puppets. It will all make for a very fresh and exciting new sound and look - filled with Christmas spirit!

What's your favorite Christmas carol?
Well, I must say I especially like "O Holy Night" as a traditional carol, and the music from the movie The Polar Express is wonderful as far as newer Christmas songs go. And, hearing "Christmastime in Charlotte" is always a wonderful thrill for me as a composer.

If you were a sugar cookie, what shape would you be?
Ha! A Christmas cookie shaped like a harp or a bell-- something musical!-- would be appropriate for me.

A potentially controversial question: At what time of the year do you start listening to Christmas music?
Since I work on so much Christmas music, I listen to it literally year-round. I'm already listening to Christmas music for 2020!
Joyful. Heartwarming. Pure family fun. Make new family memories to cherish for years to come at Magic of Christmas & The Singing Christmas Tree, Dec. 13-22 at Knight Theater.

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Posted in Pops. Tagged as holidays, Magic of Christmas, Pops.

5 Exciting holiday experiences with your CSO this season

The Holidays are just around the corner, which means the return of time-honored traditions and the making of new ones. From acrobatics above the orchestra to snow in the theater, check out these five exciting experiences that you can have, only with your CSO. 

1. Snow in the Knight Theater

You may already be familiar with the CSO's annual Magic of Christmas, but did you know that it snows in the theater following the concert? Featuring a visit from Santa, audience sing-alongs and your favorite holiday music, this longstanding Charlotte tradition combines this year with Carolina Voices' The Singing Christmas Tree December 13-21.



2. Acrobatics above the orchestra

When the circus comes to town, they don't mess around. Cirque de Noel on December 28 at Belk Theater will include stunning aerial feats that will wow the whole family.

3. Dancing on stage for New Year's Eve

The party has moved to the Belk Theater this year to accommodate more room for the post-concert festivities. Swing into the New Year with style with Gershwin's famous Rhapsody in Blue, followed by champagne, desserts, a live jazz band, and a countdown to midnight. 



4. Halleluja!

Handel's Messiah returns this year by popular demand. The CSO will perform this beautiful, dramatic work featuring the Hallelujah Chorus with the Charlotte Master Chorale and four soloists on December 6 & 7 at Knight Theater. 

5. Watch Kevin get left Home Alone

Part of the CSO's Movie Series, the orchestra will perform the soundtrack to this delightful holiday classic live in sync with the film projected on a large screen above orchestra. Don't miss it on November 29 at Belk Theater. Read more

Tagged as holidays, Magic of Christmas, Movie Series, Pops, Special Event.

Father and daughter share the stage at Stars, Stripes and Sousa

Violinist Jenny Topilow has a special connection to our upcoming Stars, Stripes and Sousa concert on Nov. 15 & 16: her father is the guest conductor! Find out in our interview below what it's like for Jenny to see her dad on the podium, and how Carl Topilow creates his patriotic clarinet for this concert. 


Jenny, what's it like to have your father on the podium as your conductor? Have you worked together like this before?
JT: My Dad was my primary conductor when I was 18-22 years old. During that time, I wouldn't say we "worked" together as much as I was a student learning from him as a teacher, which he's great at. He did give me a B in conducting class [at the Cleveland Institute of Music], though (he was probably being generous!). 

Since becoming a member of the Charlotte Symphony, I have worked with my Dad many times. Often it's just us playing duets (with him on the clarinet), but also in [an orchestral setting] a few times, too. 

I'm very proud of my dad and his amazing career, and it is special when he is on the podium, but he's very cognizant about not treating me any differently when we are in a professional setting. Maybe he'll point out that I'm his kid and he's excited to have me in the band, but then it's down to business. As he says "I've worked with hundreds of violinists, and you're definitely one of them."

Carl and Jenny, what inspired you to choose a career in music?
CT: My love of music and my desire to pass this passion on to other people as teacher and performer was my inspiration to make this a full-time profession.

JT: I started violin at age three after seeing Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street (a surprisingly common story!). It's been simply amazing to share the stage with him recently.

My dad being a conductor and my mom being a ballet dancer, they basically had the 16th sized violin waiting for me in the closet. I was pretty talented and practiced pretty diligently, but as a professional musician and a teacher at a conservatory, my dad knows just how hard it is to have a successful career in music, and never pushed me to go into it. He didn't exactly stand in my way, but he made sure I knew how competitive it is. 

When I won my job with the CSO, he was the first person I called and he was the one person who cried happy tears with me, because he really understands how rare it is to win a job and how hard musicians work to prepare for auditions.

Is anyone else in your family musical?
CT: My brother, Arthur, is an excellent jazz pianist. He's also a much-respected hematologist/oncologist.  My younger daughter Emily enjoyed performing as violinist with her college orchestra for 4 years and is now playing with a community orchestra in Cleveland. I recently appeared as guest conductor with that orchestra, and it was very rewarding to perform together!

JT: Like my dad said, my Uncle is a fantastic jazz pianist and my little sister plays the violin. My mom was a ballet dancer with Joffrey and the Metropolitan Opera in NYC before I was born and is a great lover of classical music (especially opera), and my stepmom, Shirley, is a professional tap dancer and also started the Cleveland Pops.

Carl, this kind of patriotic concert is one of your specialties. How did that come to be?
CT: These concerts do so much to instill a sense of pride and privilege to be living in the United States. There are many portions of the concert that are very moving, but I strive to create a balance of solemn and upbeat selections. It's always great to observe the reaction of the audience when they are touched by particular piece.

We hear you have a very patriotic clarinet... What's the story behind that?
CT: I have red, white, blue, and green clarinets, and can assemble parts of each to come up with multicolored clarinets. I always play the piccolo obbligato to the Stars and Stripes along with the orchestra piccolo players on a red, white, and blue clarinet.
See Jenny and Carl on stage together at Stars, Stripes and Sousa, November 15 & 16 at Knight Theater. Read more

Posted in Pops. Tagged as Pops.

Learn about Lenny: 10 Interesting Facts about Leonard Bernstein

On March 23 & 24, your Charlotte Symphony will perform Bernstein at 100: West Side Story and More. Join us in celebrating the centennial of Bernstein's birth and expand your knowledge of this great American composer!



1.
Leonard Bernstein was originally born Louis Bernstein at the pressing wishes of his grandmother, but his parents and friends preferred to call him Leonard ("Lenny" for short). When Bernstein was 16, his grandmother passed away, which allowed him to have his name legally changed to Leonard. 

2. He was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Russian/Jewish immigrants, and began playing piano at young age of five.

3. Bernstein's rise to fame was rapid. He was unexpectedly named Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic with less than 24 hours' notice, when he was called upon to stand in for flu-stricken Bruno Walter. The program included works by Schumann, Miklós Rózsa, Wagner and Richard Strauss's Don Quixote with soloist Joseph Schuster, solo cellist of the orchestra. After a brilliant performance, he made the front page of The New York Times the following morning. 

4. In a concert of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1, where he famously argued with the pianist Glenn Gould in rehearsal (Gould wanted a slower tempo), Bernstein made an announcement to the audience before they began: "Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here....in a concerto, who is the boss....the soloist or the conductor? The answer is, of course, sometimes one and sometimes the other, depending on the people involved." Ever the entertainer, who waited for the applause between each line of his address, Bernstein was later criticized for either attacking Gould or simply abdicating responsibility for the performance that was to ensue.

5. Perhaps his best-known work is the Broadway musical, West Side Story. Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical explored rivalries between two 1950's New York gangs (the Jets and the Sharks). What many don't know is that the musical was originally going to be about an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the lower east side of Manhattan. This idea was discarded, however, and replaced with the story we know and love today.

6. Bernstein was one of the first classical musicians to "master" TV. The Young People's Concerts existed in the US since 1924, but Leonard Bernstein brought them to a whole new audience in 1958 with the first televised concert of its type. Then, in 1962, The Young People's Concerts became a TV series, of which Bernstein conducted 53!

7. Bernstein was a close friend of Aaron Copland and recorded all of his orchestral works. He also played the Copland Piano Variations so regularly that they became his trademark piece.

8. He has been famously quoted saying, "I'm not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer."

9. Though considered a conductor and great pianist, Bernstein oddly never performed a solo piano recital. He did, though, conduct and play in performances of Mozart piano concertos (and memorably in the Ravel Concerto in G).

10. Bernstein died only five days after retiring. His death was a result of emphysema

Source: CMUSE. Read more

Posted in Pops. Tagged as Pops.

Lions, mermaids and… bassoons?

Originally Posted: January 2012

Happy New Year, CSO fans! This weekend ushers in the first Charlotte Symphony concert of 2012, with "Disney In Concert: Magical Music from the Movies." This show will feature famous Disney songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, among others. Four talented vocalists will perform with the CSO, backed by original storyboard artwork and Disney-produced visuals.



We sat down with the dynamic singers Andrew Johnson and Candice Nichole to get the inside scoop on Disney princesses, how they made it to the top, and wha treally goes on backstage.


                                  
How long have you been singing and performing?
Candice Nichole.: My parents always exposed me to music and theatre when I was a little girl, but it wasn't until I was about 7 or 8 years old when I really began singing and got involved in community theatre.  From there, I began training vocally at the age of 9 and started working professionally for Disney at the age of 11.  At 13, I was invited by Maestro Barry Jekowsky to be the guest artist with the California Symphony and from that moment on, I knew for sure that this was my path and what I wanted to do with my life.  
Tell us about your role within the production.
 
C.N.: As the soprano of the two female singers in "Disney in Concert" I really love the material I get to sing in this show.  I have always loved the music from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast  As a child I used to wrap a towel around my legs and sing "Part of Your World" pretending that I was Ariel, so it's really fun to get to sing these classic Disney songs in such a fabulous show as an adult now.  
What do you love most about the show?
Andrew Johnson.: I love being on stage with my fellow cast members all at the same time. We have such a blast!
C.N.: What I love most about this show is the reactions we get from the audiences we perform for.  There is such a love for these Disney classics not only from young children, but all ages.  For those of us who grew up watching these Disney movies or whose children or grandchildren did, it's very nostalgic and a real walk down memory lane for them as they watch the show.  For the children of this generation who are still watching these Disney movies because they are so timeless, it's magical for them.  It's also such a fabulous way to introduce young children to Symphony music because it's music they can relate to.  I think it's so wonderful that the show appeals to all ages. Ted Ricketts and his wife Sherilyn Draper (Show Director) did such a fantastic job of weaving all these classic songs together in such a beautiful way.  
We all have our favorite Disney characters and princesses- who's yours?
 
 A.J. My favorite character is Ursula, because she's the most unique! Who ever thought of a evil octopus witch?!?
 
C.N.: I have to say, Ariel and Belle are my absolute favorites!  I've loved them ever since I was a little girl, and I'm not just saying that because I get to sing their songs in this show!  I have always identified with their passion and strong-willed determination.  
 
Give us the real deal: what really goes on backstage? Got any fun stories?
 
A.J.: Backstage is a lot of prep for the show with lots of laughter. We don't see each other everyday so we catch up a lot. Sometimes it involves jokes and YouTube videos! Of course, there are lots of vocal warm ups too.
 
 C.N.: Well....that would spoil all the magic, wouldn't it?  
 
What one piece of advice would you give to young singers who want to make it?
 
A.J.: Always continue molding your craft. There's always room to be better and for the best foundation of singing and performing, study performers from previous generations...you will find all the skills needed for a successful and long career!
 
C.N.: I would say to any young aspiring singer/performer to train hard at your craft and keep on training even after you're busy performing.  It's important to constantly be working on your instrument and craft and always working at being the best you can be.  Also, perseverance is key.  If you really want to make it in this business, you have to be willing to never give up. 
 
 
The Disney In Concert performances are this Saturday, January 7 at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Hear more from these amazing talents and experience the magic of Disney that can infuse kids of all ages.
 
 
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Tagged as Andrew Johnson, Candice Nichole, Disney in Concert, Disney Music, Pops.

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