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Rehearsal Whirlwind

It was a whirlwind morning’s work today for guest conductor Eugene Tzigane as he prepared with the North Carolina Symphony and pianist Di Wu for tonight’s performance in Chapel Hill and this weekend’s performances in Raleigh.  Standing at the podium in Meymandi Concert Hall, Tzigane led the orchestra through the first piece on the program, Don Juan, by Richard Strauss.  Tzigane conducted with a closed score, and moved through the piece as a piece, returning to rehearse select moments with the orchestra.  Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, the second piece on the program received much the same treatment.  Click here to see more photos from the rehearsal.

At a break, the charismatic conductor met with students from Raleigh Charter High School, who were in attendance at the open rehearsal.  He fielded questions and in his answers showed a wide range of knowledge, not only of the music, but of the history surrounding the music.

One of the students asked about the length of time it takes to prepare an orchestra to play a concert.  Tzigane was obviously impressed with the musicians of the Symphony.  “The starting point for this orchestra is pretty high, because they come prepared, which isn’t always the case with other orchestras,” he said. “It also depends on the country, and who is in charge – you clearly have a great music director in Grant Llewellyn.”

After the break, the orchestra and Tzigane welcomed Di Wu to the stage to rehearse Tchaikovsky’s magnificent First Piano Concerto.  The Chinese-born pianist showed why she was a Cliburn Competition finalist, with a touch on the keys that ranged from feather light to powerful, but always elegant and joyful.  It is going to be an amazing concert.

Tales from the Tour

I am writing from western North Carolina, where the North Carolina Symphony is in Boone as part of a residency partnership with the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University (ASU).  I am pleased to report that the residency is off to a roaring start!

Last night we had an inspiring side-by-side rehearsal of Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with the musicians of the North Carolina Symphony and student musicians from the Appalachian State University Orchestra.  Before the first note was even played, our musicians and the ASU students had the opportunity to meet at a dinner, which was graciously provided by ASU.  That way they made connections right away, even before they went in to the rehearsal, and I know that conversations included talk about careers and the musician’s life as well as about the piece.   The side-by side rehearsal process was exciting, and they made a lot of progress from the beginning of the rehearsal to the end of the rehearsal, in terms of balance and intonation in the work. 

This morning’s education concert at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts was a full house, with students from Watauga, Avery, and Caldwell Counties. You could tell the elementary school students were excited entering the building.  Our Associate Conductor David Glover did a fantastic job involving the kids, with several musical demonstrations, plus he also had the students waving and singing… “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” sounded great!

This afternoon will find our Principal musicians conducting master classes and members of our administrative staff conducting a roundtable discussion on Orchestra Management.  And, as part of our PNC Grow Up Great North Carolina Music Discovery initiative, NCS Bassist Erik Dyke will visit and play for students at Hardin Park Elementary in Boone.

Tonight, the culmination of the residency is a public concert at 8 p.m. at the Schaefer Center on the ASU campus.  I can’t wait to hear the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg performed with the members of the North Carolina Symphony and the Appalachian State University Orchestra.  That is going to be a really big band!

It takes a lot of coordination to get the orchestra out on the road, and so we want to thank our partners at Appalachian State University, including ASU Hayes School of Music Dean Bill Pelto, ASU’s Director of Arts and Cultural Programming, Denise Ringler, and Chung Park, the conductor of the Appalachian State University Orchestra.  My colleagues here at the Symphony – President & CEO Sandi Macdonald, Senior Director of Statewide Development Rob Maddrey, Vice President for Artistic Operations and General Manager Martin Sher, our backstage crew, and of course our wonderful musicians of the North Carolina Symphony – are having a great time, and all of us are enjoying western North Carolina hospitality. 

Tomorrow, on the way back to Raleigh, we will give an education concert for Iredell County elementary school students in Statesville at 11 a.m., and will then travel to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where the North Carolina Symphony will conduct a side-by-side rehearsal of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with students from UNCSA.  All in all, a really fine road trip… fitting since our orchestra’s mission is statewide service and music education.

(This education and performance residency is presented by Appalachian’s Office of Arts and Cultural Programs as part of its 2014-15 Performing Arts Series. The residency is supported by The Mariam and Robert Hayes Trust.)


West Side Story: Challenging and "Tons of Fun"

This weekend’s North Carolina Symphony performances of Leonard Bernstein’s incredible score from West Side Story, combined with a razor sharp version of the film projected on the giant screen will make for an unforgettable concert event whether you are a Jet or a Shark.

North Carolina Symphony Music Director Grant Llewellyn, who worked with Bernstein at the Tanglewood Music Center in Boston, says that he is looking forward to performing the challenging work. “There is something visceral about having the music live and acoustic in the space when you’re watching the film, but I think for this score of all scores I hope that it will also show the sheer virtuosity of this piece of music.  It is an incredible workout for a Symphony orchestra.”  Click here for some photos from rehearsal.


Editorial Speaks of Symphony's Reach

As our 2014-15 season opens, we wanted to share a link to a Op-Ed piece by News & Observer editorial writer Jim Jenkins.  Mr. Jenkins’ editorial is a testament to the North Carolina Symphony’s 80-plus years of bringing great music to the people of North Carolina, and also reminds us that our work is more important than ever.


Llewellyn on Bernstein: “Charisma and Brilliance”

The North Carolina Symphony’s 2014/15 Pops Series opening weekend is September 26-27, and features West Side Story, with Leonard Bernstein’s extraordinary score performed in Meymandi Concert Hall by Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony as the film plays on a giant screen in high definition. 

NCS Music Director Grant Llewellyn (pictured here with Bernstein) says, “Never have I met a more charismatic and simply brilliant communicator. Those same qualities – charisma and brilliance – permeate the entire score of West Side Story, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.”


North Carolina Symphony Education Program… A Teacher Says Thanks

I am Jenni Sonstroem, and I am a music specialist at the year-round Laurel Park Elementary School in Apex, N.C.  I am so excited to have the chance to express how grateful I am for the opportunities provided to teachers and students by our very own North Carolina Symphony. As a former “symphony student,” I understand how beneficial the Symphony’s Education Concerts are for the youth of our state.

I’m also honored to have been asked to help author this year’s curricular materials published by the North Carolina Symphony in partnership with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Every year, teacher workbooks featuring the composers and lesson plans that correspond to the concert program are published for use in North Carolina arts education classrooms. These workbooks aid educators in preparing students for their North Carolina Symphony field trip and education concert. Along with three other colleagues, I was invited to write lesson plans and be a presenter at the 2014-2015 Symphony Education Teacher Workshop held earlier this month.


Remembering Lorin Maazel

The brilliant conductor Lorin Maazel passed away July 13 at the age of 84.  North Carolina Symphony Resident Conductor William Henry Curry shared this remembrance.

I am greatly moved by the passing of Lorin Maazel.

I first saw Maazel when the New Philharmonia was on an American tour and came to my home town of Pittsburgh. I was 16. I was used to seeing the rather restrained and idiosyncratic William Steinberg conduct. He was the longtime Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and in failing health.  In comparison, Maazel was a cyclone of youthful energy and commitment. For me, his intensity and control of the orchestra that evening was the most stunning concert experience of my teen years.

The program that night was truly "his":

Sibelius 7th symphony
Bartok Miraculous Mandarin Suite
Delius Paris
Strauss Till Eulenspiegel

An absolutely unforgettable concert! Sitting directly behind him in the second row I felt electric shock waves from him in the climax of the Sibelius where the strings suddenly play alone. After the concert, as I was waiting on the elevator at the parking garage, I surprised myself and all my friends by suddenly throwing the printed program to the floor and shouting, "THAT is the standard! Otherwise, you shouldn't bother!"  After that, I resolved that, whatever it took, I was going to be a conductor.


Go 'Fourth" and Enjoy Great Patriotic Music!

The North Carolina Symphony will celebrate America’s 238th birthday with patriotic favorites and high-spirited classics in its popular free Independence Day concerts July 1 in Fayetteville, July 3 in Garner, and July 4 in Cary

The programs, which will be conducted by North Carolina Symphony Associate Conductor David Glover, will include “Servicemen on Parade,” “Hoedown” from Copland’s “Rodeo,” and “Duke Ellington Fantasy.” The concert also includes John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post March,” Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and much more. 

Each patriotic concert will, of course, include the Star Spangled Banner.  North Carolina Symphony 2014-15 Scholar-in-Residence Will Robin recently wrote a fascinating piece on How the National Anthem Has Unfurled in the New York Times.

These free Independence Day concerts are part of the North Carolina Symphony’s “Concerts in Your Community” series. Click here for more information about these outdoor concerts that highlight the role of the Symphony as the state’s orchestra.


As the fiscal year draws to a close, our Philanthropy department has been asking our donors to remember to make a year-end gift.  One of our appeals was for them to be a bit “EXTRAordinary” and give more this year, Dr. and Mrs. James W. Winslow, from Tarboro, N.C., replied: “We are glad to be a bit extraordinary this year—the Symphony is extraordinary all the time.” Thanks to generous North Carolinians, the Symphony is able to continue to be extraordinary through comprehensive statewide service and artistic excellence.


On the Road, #ncstruck

As folks drive the highways and byways of North Carolina they see a very visible reminder of the North Carolina Symphony – our 28-foot insulated truck with the orchestra’s photo on both sides and a beautiful violin on the back door – purchased through a generous gift from State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) members via the SECU Foundation.   The truck carries instruments and gear as the Symphony travels 18,000 miles each year to North Carolina students and communities. 


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