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CSO's Final On-Demand Concert Poses Questions of 2020

Dec 4, 2020

By Cecilia Whalen, CVNC 

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's fourth and final On-Demand concert, which premiered this weekend, opened not with a beginning but with a middle: North Carolina native Caroline Shaw's "Entr'acte." Through its programming and performance, the CSO was fascinating and delightful and also provoked a number of pressing thoughts appropriate to our similarly disordered year.

"Entr'acte" is both evident and mysterious. The piece plays off of classical form, structured like a minuet and trio with a recurring theme that begins and concludes. The music, however, is contemporary: with separated, dissonant strikes, layered yet opposing rhythms, and extended bow techniques, Shaw creates an almost literal atmosphere of an intermission with allusions to pre-concert tuning, whispers, and sighs of the crowd. Shaw, who is a vocalist as well as a violinist, is particularly known for her work with the experimental vocal group Roomful of Teeth, which explores the range of the human voice through mastery of a wide range of global vocal techniques. In this piece, Shaw similarly explores the ranges of the instrumental voice with strings murmuring under plucks and even appearing, at times, to whistle. These unique sounds made the piece at times funny, always interesting, and even, towards the end, poignant, when a single cello, principal cellist Alan Black, was left all alone to conclude. Black was beautiful and generous in timing and dynamic, and, with a decrescendo at the very end, evoked dimming house lights and an anticipatory hush of the audience.

Featuring a composer both contemporary and Carolina-born (not to mention female) was a treat and, especially when orchestras all over the world are streaming similar classics on YouTube, etc., it provided a unique reason to tune into this orchestra, in particular. Though surely more difficult to acquire financially, featuring local and contemporary composers for online concerts is a way to create distinctive programs, those much harder to come by elsewhere.

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