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Interactive: North Carolina Symphony Blog

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.

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.


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