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Charlotte Symphony reveals America in many guises

Mar 30, 2015


Performers with diverse cultural backgrounds come together to showcase Barber, Copland, Bernstein


There's something quintessentially right about a concert of American music where the conductor comes from England, the violin soloist is an immigrant from Romania, and the narrator in "Lincoln Portrait" is a black man whose ancestors might've been slaves when Lincoln's words came forth.

Belk Theater was the place to be Friday to see the melting-pot theory in action. The Charlotte Symphony gave an all-American program with gusto, interrupted by an odd tentativeness in a few spots.

Conductor Christopher Warren-Green opened with two showpieces, Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" (highlighting the new strengths of the brass) and Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." He took the measure of both: Copland was majestic but not bombastic, Barber tender but not lachrymose.

CSO concertmaster Calin Lupanu and Warren-Green found a healthy contrast in Barber's Violin Concerto. In the first movement, the soloist stressed the introverted sweetness; the conductor supplied extroverted drama. Lupanu rose in intensity in the second movement to meet the orchestra, then fiddled with speedy grace through the famously difficult finale.

Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" began wanly but soon gathered strength. Narrator Duncan Gray brought conviction, a sonorous voice and a preacher's fire, rising in volume to ride out over the orchestra and proclaim democracy's eventual triumph in a thrilling climax.

Those final thunderclaps were followed by Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms." The Oratorio Singers did beloved director Scott Allan Jarrett proud with the syncopated rhythms, knowing he's leaving at the end of this season; boy soprano Seth Bingham had wistful plaintiveness in his solos. (Saturday's audience will get Noah Henthorn, his comrade at the Choir School of St. Peter's.)

Bernstein's piece verges on the full-out rock that emerged six years later in "Mass," but he mostly set texts about a comforting, merciful God. A final quotation from Psalm 133 reminds us "How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."

That message has special application today. For besides being U.S. natives, the composers on this weekend's program had something else in common: They were all homosexual. When states pass laws letting people use religious beliefs to refuse service to the LGBT community, maybe that's worth remembering. Gay people, too, are America.

Article at Charlotte Observer