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Father and Son

The North Carolina Symphony will feature father and son - Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane - in exciting concerts in Raleigh and Chapel Hill on Saturday and Monday.  The program includes Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, performed and conducted by Jeffrey Kahane; the world premiere of a work by Gabriel Kahane commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony called "Hard-Circus Road" (more about how it got its title later); selections from the Gershwin Songbook performed by both Kahanes; and "Gabriel's Guide to the 48 States," also by Gabriel Kahane.

About the Program
Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra music demonstrates the influence of the early jazz that was making its way to Europe from America, and sets the stage for the world premiere of Gabriel Kahane’s piece, “Hard-Circus Road.” The title refers to a conversation that Symphony Music Director Benjamin Swalin had with a young girl while on tour in the North Carolina mountains in the 1940s. When he asked her if she lived around there, she pointed across the asphalt and concrete highway and replied, “Yes sir, right over yonder ‘side the hard-circus road.” Mr. Swalin said that when he heard that particular pronunciation of “hard surface road,” he knew he had the title of his memoir.

Composer Gabriel Kahane says, “I have tried to honor the great history of the North Carolina Symphony while reflecting more generally on the frequently grueling life of that particular specimen, the touring musician.” Following “Hard-Circus Road,” the first half of the program will be bookended by Jeffrey and Gabriel Kahane performing from the songbook of one of Ravel’s influences — George Gershwin.

After intermission, Gabriel Kahane and the North Carolina Symphony will perform his orchestral song cycle, “Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States,” whose text is adapted from The American Guide Series, produced in the 1930s by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, with additional prose supplied by Harry Hopkins, one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest advisers and a chief architect of the New Deal.

We look forward to seeing you!

Chamber Music by Immersion

Ten days and over 50 hours… That was the time spent earlier in July with seven incredibly focused and talented young people and some esteemed colleagues on music by Mozart, Arensky and Brahms at our North Carolina Chamber Music Institute (NCCMI) Summer Intensive Workshop.

We launched our workshop on a Sunday afternoon in the lovely and intimate Brown Chapel at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. The stained glass windows in the room glowed in jewel tones, but the students’ first reading of the Brahms Sextet in B Flat Major seemed lacking in color.  Playing with hesitation and stumbling a bit through the complicated rhythmic passages, they seemed intimidated.  I asked a question about the “swing” or “feel” of the harmonic rhythm. “Is this music in three. Or in one?” A question answered with mostly silence. And so we began.

Each morning of camp found us in the much-larger sanctuary, intoning scales together like monks in an ancient church. The pattern of our scale practice changed, depending upon the daily goals which my colleague, North Carolina Symphony violinist Eric McCracken, and I identified. Each day, we became more complex in our warmups, building group awareness of rhythm, sound and pitch.


NCS at Yale Symposium on Music in Schools

Earlier this month, I had the honor and pleasure of participating in the Yale School of Music Symposium on Music in Schools on the beautiful New Haven campus. The fifth biennial Symposium focused on successful music education partnerships between public school systems and arts organizations. Anita Hynus, Orchestra Director at Martin Magnet Middle School representing the Wake County Public School System, also participated in three days of thought-provoking discussions with 37 other partnership leaders from around the country.

Lectures and breakout sessions explored current events impacting arts education in the United States.  Just a few of the questions included: What are the most compelling reasons for music education in today’s society and schools, and how can we position ourselves to communicate these reasons most effectively? How can we use the arts to help students identify their own unique voices to fully participate in society? How can today’s college graduates best be prepared for careers as 21st century teaching artists? What impact do the new national arts standards and common core requirements have on our partnerships?

While the debate around those (and many other) questions could have continued for days and weeks and months, one thing was clear, and that is how committed everyone at the Symposium was in helping students to achieve through the arts. The musicians, board, donors, and staff of the North Carolina Symphony have shared that dedication and passion for decades and will continue into the future. The Symphony’s many statewide partnerships in education are created with the goal that every child in the state of North Carolina has access to music, and through music, that they will develop valuable life skills to reach their greatest potential.

Thank you to the Yale College Class of 1957 for funding the Symposium, and to the Yale School of Music for awarding the North Carolina Symphony and Wake County Public School System the Yale Distinguished Music Education Partnership Award. I am so very proud of this partnership, and look forward to many more years of high quality programming equally deserving of this award.

N.C. Symphony Chosen for Prestigious SHIFT Festival

The North Carolina Symphony has been chosen as one of four American orchestras that will participate in the inaugural year of SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras, a three-year festival which launches in the spring of 2017. Congratulations to our colleagues at the Boulder Philharmonic, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Brooklyn-based ensemble, The Knights, for their selection.

Participation in the festival, which is a collaboration between the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington Performing Arts, is designed to bring national attention to the work of each organization chosen, not only for their artistic excellence but for their relationships with their communities. Click here to read a news release from the Kennedy Center about the project. Generous support is provided through a matching grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. SHIFT is presented in cooperation with the League of American Orchestras.

As a SHIFT Festival orchestra, the North Carolina Symphony will incorporate full orchestral and smaller ensemble performances, symposia, workshops, and other events at the Kennedy Center and in smaller venues and schools throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Our participation will occur over a 3-day period envisioned for March 2017, with our full orchestral program featuring the works of our great friend, composer Robert Ward (1917-2013), and a new work by Sarah Kirkland Snider, commissioned by the Symphony, that will premiere this September during the opening week of our 2015/16 season. The SHIFT program will be rounded out with Rusty Air in Carolina, a work by Mason Bates that the orchestra performed in the 2014/15 season, and North Carolina-born Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw’s violin concerto Lo, which was co-commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony.

The SHIFT Festival uniquely aligns with the North Carolina Symphony’s long history as the nation’s first state-supported orchestra, and its current and future strategy of sharing innovative programming in communities all across the state of North Carolina, and at the same time performing music of the highest artistic excellence. SHIFT will take Symphony programs already being performed in North Carolina communities – such as our PNC Grow up Great Music Discovery program, our Soundbites and KINGS chamber ensemble concerts performed in alternative spaces such as restaurants and clubs, as well as its statewide education concerts – and place our musicians and our music director into a well-deserved national spotlight.

Bravo to Music Director Grant Llewellyn and the orchestra!

What I Listen to When I'm Not at Work (Hint: Gabriel Kahane)

I'm frequently asked what kinds of music I enjoy when not at work. I always find this a hard question to answer, not because I don't like to listen to music outside the classical genre, but because my tastes are fickle.


Wilson County Students "All About that Bass" Before N.C. Symphony Visit

Fifth-grade music students from Rock Ridge Elementary, and band students from Hunt High School in Wilson, N.C., sang and choreographed an "All About That Bass" video to celebrate the upcoming North Carolina Symphony Education Concert that Wilson County fifth-grade students will attend on Tuesday, April 14 at 10:30 a.m.

The Rock Ridge students, directed by Corri Skinner, and Hunt High School Band students, directed by Keith Dublin, joined forces with Tech Team members from both schools to create the iMovie.

The lyrics, which are based on the original song by Meghan Trainor, were written by Ms. Skinner to highlight the the different symphonic instruments that students will experience when the North Carolina Symphony performs in the Vick Elementary Auditorium on April 14.  Students sang and choreographed the video, which also prominently features the curriculum-based guide that teachers use to prepare students for Symphony education concerts, titled “What Makes Music MUSIC?”

Ms. Skinner started writing the new lyrics to the song at the beginning of the school year while the original was atop the charts.  “I emailed Cindy Berry, our Instructional Technology Facilitator here at Rock Ridge Elementary and sent her my new lyrics and she thought it would be a great idea to involve Hunt High School Band to use their instruments for our video,” she said.  “Nora, one of my 5th graders, recorded all the audio for the video, and she sounded wonderful!  From there, we got together with some Hunt students and Mrs. Berry and Hunt Instructional Technology Facilitator Matthew Mayo, and it was smooth sailing!”

The North Carolina Symphony has one of the most extensive music education programs of any U.S. orchestra, annually performing approximately 50 concerts given free of admission to over 50,000 school children throughout the state.

In its education concerts, the Symphony pulls out the building blocks of music-making to illustrate five key characteristics of symphonic music, including Melody, Rhythm, Dynamics, Tempo, and Texture.  Students are also introduced to each section of the orchestra, and learn how the musicians work together. The repertoire for each Education Concert consists of important composers and their most exciting works to introduce and demonstrate those fundamentals of classical music.

The program was created to introduce young people to repertoire they will certainly hear again in the orchestral world.  Teachers prepare their students for the concert through comprehensive supporting materials, with suggested lesson plans, and important connections to the school curriculum.  By concert time, students have learned all about the musical compositions and the composers featured in the North Carolina Symphony's performance.  For more about education programs from the North Carolina Symphony, visit

On its Facebook page, Wilson County Schools gave a shout out to all of the teachers and students who integrated technology with the arts, and another shout out to the Wilson Educational Partnership for bringing the North Carolina Symphony to fifth-graders in Wilson County.

In Memoriam: Jess Isaiah Levin

Our friend and colleague Jess Isaiah Levin passed away suddenly on February 16, 2015.  A member of the North Carolina Symphony since 1974, he held the J. Felix Arnold First Violin chair.  This weekend's performances in Chapel Hill and Raleigh will be dedicated in his memory.

From an early age, Jess had designs on a career in science. He began serious study of physics while in elementary school, and went on to major in that subject at the Bronx High School of Science. However, as the son of one of New York’s premier violinists, it was not surprising that the music bug would bite him eventually. Jess began studying violin while in junior high school, and studied composition with Juilliard resident composer Hall Overton beginning at the age of 14.

During his teen years, the photography bug also took up permanent residence next to music and Jess pursued both creative areas from then on. An undergraduate degree in violin performance (with unofficial minor in composition) and a graduate school major in composition (with unofficial minor in violin) helped prepare Jess for his place in the First Violin section of the North Carolina Symphony.

Highlights of his career with the North Carolina Symphony included four performances of his own violin concerto (premiered in 1976), performances of Mozart’s Concerto No. 5, and the orchestra’s performances of two of his compositions – TAKI 183 for string orchestra, and Tessellation for full orchestra. His chamber works have been performed in Raleigh, Albuquerque, and several Wisconsin venues.

A continued fascination with physics and the other sciences provided just one area among the many that occupied Jess’s voracious appetite for reading that also included music and the visual arts.  Click here to see his blog, called Classical Photography. And, click here to listen to an interview from last year when Jess was featured on WCPE's "My Life in Music."

Our thoughts are with his wife, Pam Halverson.  She is also part of the North Carolina Symphony family, serving as Assistant Librarian.

Where words fail, music speaks. – Hans Christian Andersen

Here's Listening To You, Kid

The North Carolina Symphony will be saying “Here’s listening to you, Kid,” on Valentine’s Weekend, as it performs Max Steiner’s Casablanca score live while the film plays on a giant screen in Meymandi Concert Hall. 

One of the world’s most romantic films,Casablanca features iconic performances by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  

"I think this is a great way to introduce new audiences to the thrilling sound of a live orchestra," says Constantine Kitsopoulos, who will be leading the North Carolina Symphony in this weekend's performances of Casablanca. 

Along with playing the score, is keeping score on the frames per second as the film runs. "I have a couple of video monitors in front of me," Kitsopoulos says.  The conductor uses the monitors to match music to the on-screen action.

The music from the original 1942 film was digitally removed from the soundtrack, while retaining the dialogue, sound effects, and even “As Time Goes By” from Dooley Wilson and his piano from the famous scene in Rick’s Café Américain. Max Steiner was a well-known Hollywood composer; among his many credits were the original King Kong and Gone With the Wind.  The Austrian-born Steiner was steeped in the Viennese classical tradition – taught by Brahms and Mahler, the composer Richard Strauss was his godfather.

Casablanca was one of the films discussed today on North Carolina Public Radio’s The State of Things, in a segment about memorable movie kisses.  Host Frank Stasio and film experts Marsha Gordon of N.C. State University and Laura Boyes of the N.C. Museum of Art, also talked about the Symphony’s performance on Valentine’s Weekend.


Peter and the Memories

The North Carolina Symphony’s NCS Kids Series continues on Saturday with a production of Peter and the Wolf, featuring the orchestra and the Triangle Youth Ballet.  Watching rehearsal today brought back in a rush the million and one times (that’s the total my parents probably would have told you) that I played my recording of Leonard Bernstein narrating the story, with the help of the New York Philharmonic. 

Peter and the Wolf is one of the beloved compositions in all of music, and is a great way to introduce young audiences to classical music, with the flute as the bird; the clarinet as the cat; the oboe as the duck; the bassoon as the Grandfather; woodwinds as hunters, with gunshots on timpani and bass drum; violins, violas, cellos, and basses as Peter; and French horns as the Wolf.  The Symphony’s collaboration with Triangle Youth Ballet, with direction by Tito Hernandez and narration by Heather Patterson King, and starring Joseph Gaitens as Peter and Kurt Uphoff as the Grandfather, also adds a delightful entrée into the world of dance and theater.


Holiday Magic

Each year, the North Carolina Symphony celebrates the holidays with a wide range of music, and our performances over the next couple of weeks highlight that versatility.

This weekend, Meymandi Concert Hall will come alive with the magical “A Pink Martini Christmas.”  Joining forces with Associate Conductor David Glover and the Symphony, Pink Martini band leader Thomas Lauderdale, vocalist Storm Large, and the “Little Orchestra” will offer the jumping blend of  classical, jazz, Latin, samba and good, old-fashioned pop that has made them one of the hottest acts in music. I was at rehearsal this afternoon, and I can safely say that Little Drummer Boy has never sounded so good!  You can click here to see some photos from rehearsal, and click here to read a preview in the Indy Week.  There are a few seats remaining for performances tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., but don’t wait too long. 


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