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The Charlotte Symphony Returns

May 14, 2021

By Lawrence Toppman, WDAV "Of Note" 

Belk Theater was full Friday night for the public return of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Not full of listeners: We sat in masked pods of two and four, separated not only by multiple seats but multiple rows behind and before.

Not full of musicians: The stage contained 30 people, including saxophone soloist Branford Marsalis and conductor Christopher James Lees.

But full of delight at hearing an orchestra in person for the first time in 15 months, full of wonder upon rediscovering the power of live music.

Were there glitches? Of course. Lees took over when COVID-19 restrictions trapped music director Christopher Warren-Green in England. The musicians, who'd played just once for an audience a small group of invitees -- since winter 2020 sounded rusty once or twice. Even the drinking fountain in the lobby made a grinding growl when asked for water, like a sick grizzly roused from hibernation. (As I left, I saw it draped in funereal plastic.)

Yet the concert became a celebration and a renewal. Levine Cancer Institute president Derek Raghavan, a current CSO board member, introduced it by saying, "It's been a tough year folks, and this is our coming-out party." At the end, after Lees and Marsalis left the stage, the crowd gave the musicians spontaneous applause while they packed up their instruments. As patron Cristina Bolling noted afterward, we've all spent 15 months listening to headphones, mobile devices and stereos: Sound resonating around a hall, where we can't pause the music to grab a sandwich, is new to us again.

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