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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. 


Sculpting a Beautiful Messiah

The North Carolina Symphony will perform Handel’s Messiah, Friday and Saturday, December 5-6, at 8 p.m. in Meymandi Concert Hall in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, and Sunday, December 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Pinecrest High School’s Lee Auditorium in Southern Pines. 

Handel’s masterpiece will be led by Douglas Boyd, and will feature soloists Joélle Harvey, soprano; Susan Platts, alto; Robin Tritschler, tenor; Christòpheren Normura, bass; and the North Carolina Master Chorale, under the direction of Alfred E. Sturgis.

Watching rehearsal this morning was like seeing stars swing into alignment on the horizon on a perfect night – Robin Tritschler’s tenor voice effortless and clear; Susan Platts’ alto rich and dramatic; Christòpheren Nomura’s bass notes full and low; and Joélle Harvey’s soprano silvery and soaring.  Conductor Doug Boyd worked with both hands, looking like a sculptor shaping clay to create something beautiful.


An Opportunity to Confound Predictability

One of the greatest attributes of the classical canon of music is its familiarity. The music has staying power. It has become the soundtrack for our lives. Imagine a graduation ceremony without "Pomp and Circumstance" or a wedding without Pachelbel's Canon. Familiarity can breed great love, but it can lead to predictability, or worst of all, boredom.


Copland in Mexico: Transformative, Beautiful

This weekend, the North Carolina Symphony will perform two concerts built around composer Aaron Copland’s transformative experiences in Mexico, showcasing magnificent music performed by the orchestra, plus actors, a multi-media presentation, and an iconic and beautiful film, with the soundtrack performed live.

Copland in Mexico,” which will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 8, is the latest in the Symphony’s Explorations program, which uses music, art, and literature to provide a tool for examining culture more deeply.   The project is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Before each performance, “Copland in Mexico” creator Joe Horowitz and actors Mary Irwin and Matthew Bulluck will perform excerpts from Aaron Copland’s 1953 testimony before a committee chaired by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  The pre-concert events begin at 7 p.m. each night.

Following the orchestra’s first rehearsal this week, Joe and the actors got together to look at the scripts and run lines for the pre-concert reading and the performances with the orchestra. Sitting at a long table in the Symphony’s Green Room, Joe, Mary, and Matt brought to life the words of Aaron Copland and Silvestre Revueltas that will give the audience a glimpse into the creative lives and history of these amazing composers.   Click here for a video preview.

After a short break, the three began work on recreating testimony from Copland under questioning from McCarthy, who gained fame in the 1940s and 1950s investigating allegations of Communist influence in the United States – from the State Department and halls of power to the work of composers, artists, and musicians.

As he worked with the actors, Joe demonstrated a keen ear for accents, cadence, and pronunciation.  He also exhibited a wry sense of humor, saying at one point, “I’m not sure if I like the writing here, even though it’s mine!”  Matt and Mary came prepared, but were open to notes from Joe on the fine points of delivery, with Matt proving a quick study on the subtleties of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s speech rhythms.

Other events around Explorations: Copland in Mexico have included a talk by NCS Scholar-in-Residence William Robin, a roundtable discussion at Duke University with Grant Llewellyn, Joe Horowitz and Duke’s N.C. Latin American Film Festival Director Dr. Miguel Rojas Sotelo, and open rehearsals. 

The “Copland in Mexico” project will culminate with the performances at Meymandi Concert Hall tonight and tomorrow night. Led by Grant Llewellyn, the concerts include Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday from Rodeo and El Salón México, as well as Son and Duelo from Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca, Sensemayá, and the soundtrack from the film Redes, all composed by the visionary Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas.  Redes will be shown on a giant screen in Meymandi Concert Hall, with live accompaniment by the orchestra.

Phantoms of the Orchestra

A collection of ghouls, goblins, and an “orchestra of the undead” is getting ready to descend on Meymandi Concert Hall on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., as the North Carolina Symphony, with special guests Magic Circle Mime Co., presents “Phantoms of the Orchestra” as part of its NCS Kids Young People’s Concerts, sponsored by WakeMed Children's Hospital. 

At rehearsal this morning, I found Magic Circle Mime Co. co-founder Doug MacIntyre getting props together for the concert, including a very special light.  “I have to take the ‘creepy candelabra’ apart and reassemble for every show. We have a special traveling case for it,” Doug says.  “ I found in a thrift store, and when we wrote the Halloween concert I knew that we would use it.”  He uses pipe cleaners to fish the wires through the “candles,” which are actually small pieces of PVC pipe covered in dripped hot glue.  Doug quips that it looks just fine from “fifty feet and a fast horse.  You can get away with a lot.”

This is a fun show, based on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and the Symphony musicians really have a good time portraying the “orchestra of the undead.” Doug is looking forward to working with the orchestra again.   “This is our fourth time with the North Carolina Symphony, and we had an especially good time getting together with your Associate Conductor David Glover last night to bring out his inner Vincent Price.  Of course, he has a secret weapon to control these ghoulish musicians – the baton!”

Doug describes the concert is much like an old melodramatic Castle horror film, combined with Abbott and Costello.  He tells us that the entrance of the “orchestra of the undead” is not to be missed. “My fellow mime Maggie Petersen hits the chords to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on the organ and it draws them to the stage.”

If you are coming to the concert, we encourage you to celebrate the Halloween weekend by dressing up in costumes and entering the pre-concert costume contest. And, one hour before each concert, the Symphony will host the MetLife Instrument Zoo, which allows young concert-goers the opportunity to try out an instrument. It is going to be a “Boo-ti-ful,” family-fun experience all the way around.

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