Here... and Only Here
This column is normally devoted to upcoming performances, but in this "from home" edition of The Soundpost, we check in on some of our CSO colleagues and find out how they're adapting to stay-at-home life!
Ariel Zaviezo, Timpani:
“Since the COVID-19 crisis started, I’ve been basically working as a babysitter. Cassie, my wife, has always worked from home, and my daughter used to spend the mornings at daycare. Now I am spending every morning with my daughter - she’s almost 2 yrs. old. - and luckily for me, she’s an AVID reader, so we can spend easily two hours going over and over through classics like “Giraffes Can’t Dance”, “Dragons Love Tacos”, “Stuck”, and our personal favorite “ When Stravinsky met Nijinsky”. The rest of the time, we build towers with giant legos, scribble with Crayolas over paper (or the floor, or the walls if I am not paying attention!), and take walks around NoDa, staying 6ft away from humans and pets alike."
"I do miss the orchestra, and the beautiful playing of my colleagues, but so far, I can’t complain too much about spending such precious time with my daughter.”
Victor Wang, Principal Flute:
"Even though my sewing experience prior to this pandemic was limited to maybe a button or two, I, like many people, have recently spent some time hunkered over a sewing machine making cloth face masks for donation. Though I'm largely motivated by the protection I hope the masks will offer their recipients, sewing masks has also become an act of comfort for myself. In the absence of regular orchestra performances, it has been nice to be a part of a different kind of collective effort!"
Andrea Mumm, Harp:
"Teaching online has proven to be not a terrible transition. The students have been very patient and I’m so grateful to the technology that allows me to still teach! My sweet dog Lia (#LiaTheHarpDog) has been faithfully watching over my lessons and is overall thrilled and confused why I’m home so much."
"My husband Mike and I have taken on a lot of home projects, even though he’s still going into work daily due to “essential” designation. I’ve tried my hand at planting an herb garden (haven’t killed them yet!) painting old outdoor furniture, baking (of course), and even wallpapering our bedroom (which took the better part of 3 days). Also enjoying binging the archives of Berlin Philharmonic digital concert hall and virtual yoga classes (with Lia’s help of course)."
"I dearly miss all my CSO colleagues and can’t wait to play music again with them. I’m trying to tackle my bucket-list harp solo pieces in hopes of planning a recital when it is safe again."
Jeremy Lamb, Cello:
"My pandemic hobby of choice was initially baking croissants, but those didn't come out particularly well so I switched to another time-intensive project: macarons!"
Tom Burge, Trombone:
"I am teaching remotely and switching between zoom lessons and weeks where my university students present videos of all their Jury or recital repertoire on Youtube and share the link with me."
"For my home studio students I teach through zoom, and it is going as well as it can. It is not a perfect system, but in a time of crisis it works and is better than nothing. For my youngest student (6th grade) I have a pink flamingo suit and an outer space wallpaper that keeps her amused. She dresses as Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter." (Pictured)
'I am working on recital repertoire, now for September (I had an April recital at UNC Pembroke that had to be cancelled). I'm hoping travel bans will be lifted in July when I will fly back to Australia and teach some High School students in person after having taught them remotely through zoom during this pandemic crisis."
"I can't wait to see and hear everyone again. Oh, and I'm working on the perfect Negroni. LOTS of trial and error..."
Nancy Levine, Viola:
"Gardening gets me outside and happy. Having flowers from my garden on the dinner table every night really helps!"
Hollis Ulaky, Principal Oboe:
Hollis has been teaching her students via Zoom, and is also getting to spend lots of quality time with her grandson.
"I have been watching my grandson Xander full time while my son and his wife work from home. This is the first time he wasn't afraid of my oboe."
Jane Hart Brendle, Violin:
“This month, I'm helping to organize some activities for Team Evelyn, for the Sarcoma Stomp (this year going fully digital), which provides funding to Levine Cancer Institute and Levine Children's Hospital for Sarcoma research."
Team Evelyn at Sarcoma Stomp 2019
"One of the digital activities I'm doing for this project is a musical performance. In honor of the memory of Evelyn Blalock, Ron and I are recording a violin & bass duo in a performance of "Up a Lazy River," which will be posted on the Sarcoma Stomp website. I love the lyrics and the way they make me think of Evelyn, so I felt it was a good choice for this occasion.”
View the video here: https://www.facebook.com/PaulaTakacsFndn/videos/162181015148389/?v=162181015148389
Amy Orsinger Whitehead, Flute:
“I am so pleased to be able to continue to teach all of my amazing students online. I love springtime and have enjoyed QuaranTeam Whitehead outings with my husband, Geoff, for some sunshine, fresh air, and exercise."
"Also, I figured out my name's anagram is 'year with shoe dreaming'!"
"I can't wait to be back on stage performing with my Charlotte Symphony family!”
Kirsten Swanson, Assistant Principal Viola:
"In addition to teaching my UNC Charlotte and private students online, I’ve been gardening, baking sourdough, and keeping up with my Pilates! I’ve also been hanging out with my squishface, Oliver and finding creative face mask solutions."
Sarah Markle, Cello:
“I miss playing with the orchestra a lot, and can’t wait to be back onstage. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to learn how to spin on rollerblades (DEFINITELY not providing a photo of that), and writing limericks as part of a project that supports animal welfare organizations.”
Read about "Limerickery" here, if you’re interested:
Sam Sparrow, Clarinet:
Sam has moved his teaching studio online, and recently participated in a virtual career panel for high school students at Northwest School of the Arts.
"I have been teaching all of my students virtually via Zoom, Facetime, and Google Hangouts! It's been an interesting learning experience, for teacher and students."
Janis Nilsen, Cello:
“I am teaching all of my students via internet. I am so grateful to have this tool, particularly as auditions for Youth Orchestras of Charlotte are underway. The auditions are also being conducted through electronic media. I believe 'virtual lessons' have been beneficial to my students. Some have grown greatly in a few weeks. There’s nothing like a deadline! Even better, they have more time to prepare and fewer other activities to distract them. It has also been beneficial to me. I love my students. And they inspire me to stay focused in the realm of music and not spend all of my time in my vegetable garden or in the kitchen."
Gabriel Slesinger, Trumpet:
Gabe is organizing a unique project to connect CSO musicians with medical professionals who are also amateur musicians, offering free instrumental lessons for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers currently working on the "front lines" of the battle with Covid-19.
While the project is ongoing, there are currently 13 Novant Health medical professionals from a Charlotte area hospital who have enrolled and have begun receiving music lessons with CSO musicians, including with Concertmaster Calin Lupanu.
A Symphony A Part
On April 17th at 3pm, members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony from wherever they were sheltering in place. Without convening an audience, each note played became a part of the intricate ecologies to which each musician belongs. Sounds emanating from a kitchen in NoDa or a porch in Plaza Midwood mingled with birdsong, conversations or passing cars.
Without seeing or hearing one another, each musician played their part, held space for their colleagues, and trusted that they were connected by the wholeness of the score.
Through this gesture of renewal, the music was transformed.
“A Symphony A Part is meant to show our gratitude for music, one another, the Charlotte Symphony, and the communities to which we belong. As we shelter in place, we remain present.
We are tuning into Beethoven’s symphony, the sounds of our respective neighborhoods, and each other. We are happy to share this living archive, which we hope will offer a portal into this moment.”
Many thanks to Lydia Bittner-Baird and Ben Geller who produced this project.
A Mid-Pandemic Interview with our General Manager, John Clapp
By Jeremy Lamb
No one has quite the vantage point of the general manager of an orchestra; they liaise between the CEO and every branch of the orchestra, and are directly involved in much of the decision-making. I thought it would be nice to hear our GM’s perspective on where we stand both artistically and financially amid the pandemic, and to get a slice of his vision for the future. Adding to his point of view is the fact that John went to Juilliard for bassoon performance and held positions in both the Charlotte and Grand Rapids Symphony before becoming our GM in 2017. The following are excerpts from an interview conducted online.
Jeremy Lamb (JL): So, how are you feeling about the state of the orchestra?
John Clapp (JC): Good! I'm pleased with how everyone is being responsive and cooperative, and generally just trying to figure out how to get through this thing and come out of the other side and still be ready to go for next year. And it was very encouraging to see the vote turn out in favor of moving the summer season to August. It took two weeks and three versions to figure it all out, but it was all friendly and responsive.
JL: Has it been your experience that this has brought the different branches of the organization together?
JC: Oh absolutely! It's amazing how this distance somehow brings you closer together. I've seen some really good work since we've been apart. One of the biggest things from transitioning from being on stage to being in the staff is realizing what am I really doing and how does it affect people beyond the walls of that stage. When I'm sitting next to somebody [in the audience] and they jump because something was really loud and unexpected, or they feel warmth when something's really legato etc., you can't really understand that on the stage. It's nice to be able to do that and I just try to tell you guys that you're doing great work and it is more impactful than you think.
JL: Are you concerned at all about whether people are going to be ready to sit next to each other once we start back up, even after they've lifted the shelter-in-place order?
JC: We expect it'll be gradual. There will be people who are very eager to see the orchestra, and they'll be there. And there will be people who are like ‘maybe I’ll wait a bit, or maybe I’ll change my seat’ and it will take some time to build it back up, but one thing we're trying to do with this summer season in August is that we're showing the best of what we do. That's why the series that are in there make a lot of sense; you've got a classical, a pops, a family, a brewery, a film, and maybe some people who haven't gone to hear the orchestra but who are hyper-focused on going out to do something, this is a good opportunity - look at what we have to offer.
JL: Yes, I hope this turns out to be a silver lining from this crisis.
JC: Yes, I hope so, too. People come together in times of crisis. I'm so excited that when we come back in August there'll be this crazy energy in the air. It doesn't really matter how many people will be there, it's the fact that we're together, and that there'll be this appreciation of 'you didn't forget about us, we're not going to forget about you.’
JL: I'm curious, after seeing how other orchestras had such different reactions to the crisis - with some of them dropping their musicians like hot-potatoes! - I'm curious what that decision-making process was like for you guys.
JC: For us it's always a tough decision. Before there was any type of relief mentioned we were thinking about how to keep this ball rolling, and we didn't know. People were saying we were going to be back in four weeks, so we thought of it more as, well, there are a lot of things put in place, we have managed the house really well, we have some ways to get around this, we have some people I think we could turn to, let's not just knee-jerk reaction cancel things. It’s not easy, let me tell you. My job has not been simple (both laugh). However, if you have a good relationship [with the musicians] you never have to resort to unilateral decision making. There is always a way forward if both sides are willing to talk.
JL: How is it possible that Charlotte Symphony, with our comparatively small endowment, is keeping afloat, while these behemoths are not?
JC: Some of it is that we were in a good financial position coming into this, and some of that is a credit to Mary [Deissler]. Secondly, we've never really outgrown what we are. The core membership from twenty years ago, when I played here, is about the same. Salaries are different (both laugh), and if you come to my office, my contract is on the wall, you can see what they paid me. I framed it, it was my first job [on bassoon]. As an orchestra, it’s toughest if your budget is way up high, or it is way down low. If you're way down low, and you only have a few concerts a year, that is your entire budget, and if this situation fell during then, there's no way to do anything. Those per-service orchestras are in trouble and they really need this bailout. If you're way up high, you have so much financial commitment out there, that's not good either. But if you're in the middle, it's not that bad. So it's interesting; being in the middle isn't a bad place to be.
The other thing that I don't think we've talked about is that the board has been very supportive throughout. I haven't gotten one iota of negativity from our board, not a moment of panic, and I think that this board really does get the value of the musicians. Now that I've been here a couple of years and I’ve sat in the meetings and I have relationships with a lot of board members, I feel like I'm at a point where I can say that I really see that support. And we have enough diversity right now in terms of age, race, financial backgrounds, and resources; it's a very different-looking board, but I feel like this board is listening to the story of what we do and why we do it, which makes it much more interesting for them to support. If we're going to have a comprehensive campaign and get this endowment rolling, we need that kind of attitude.
JL: Well we're all excited about next season - lots of Beethoven!
JC: There sure is! Some of that is left over from the Beethoven-anniversary, and what I really liked about it is that Christopher [Warren-Green] and myself were able to sit down and look at ways to do it differently, or to work around it in a way that makes it feel fresher. If you're going to do the Beethoven Violin Concerto, which I just love, by the way; to me that's a symphony, a symphony which just happens to have an amazing violin part. The writing is so good — it's amazing what he did with that piece! — that was a great opportunity to put something in there like the Shostakovich [Symphony No. 9] and create a totally different flavor of concert. Keeping the focus on the female composers too: Vivian Fung, Jennifer Higdon, Joan Tower, Gabriela Lena Frank. Next year, I think it’s going to be great because of what's built around the Beethoven.
From the Stage: William Brittelle’s "We’re Still Here”
by Erinn Frechette
One of the greatest joys for me as a performer is being introduced to new repertoire. Seeing the print for the first time, making my way through the labyrinth of phrases, learning subtleties and nuances, and ultimately forming an attachment to an unfamiliar work is a labor of love that pays off handsomely. As an orchestral musician, it is typically through solo and chamber music repertoire that I find new material. Rarer, however, is a new orchestral piece (this is only the third piece of new music I have premiered in my seventeen years with the CSO). This season, the Charlotte Symphony had the opportunity to perform a new piece of orchestral music requiring additional collaboration with a chamber singers group and their conductor, a soprano soloist, and the composer. The results were truly spectacular.
The sixth Classics Concert of the season was an American program showcasing two pieces of standard orchestral repertoire: Samuel Barber’s haunting Adagio for Strings and Aaron Copland’s immortal Appalachian Spring. Neatly tucked in between was the Charlotte premiere of William Brittelle’s Si Otsedoha (pronounced “she oh-SAY-doh-ah”). From the Cherokee language and meaning “We’re Still Here,” the multi-movement work written for the orchestra, electronically-manipulated soprano voice, and choir. Its title may be understood in many ways including defiance, resolve, and joy.
Composer William Brittelle (a North Carolina native raised in New England and now based in New York City) was asked to be involved in a “multi-year, multi-faceted collaborative project with the North Carolina Symphony and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.” Si Otsedoha is one of the fruits of this partnership. The Cherokee Chamber Singers from Cherokee High School provided the inspiration for Brittelle. Their thoughts and feelings of the history, persecution, and survival of the Cherokee people provided the text in Si Otsedoha. Brittelle states, “…this work was truly shaped and driven by sixteen amazing students—The Cherokee Singers. The text, spirit, and overall direction of the project is theirs alone.” The focus of the piece was firmly on the high school singers while soprano soloist Catherin Brookman provided soaring melismas above. The orchestra, in an almost techno-based fashion, pulsated its rhythms and harmonies with occasional punctuations (or outbursts) of melodic flourishes. Brittelle used multiple music genres as inspiration for the score: “Song-form [is used] as an underlying structure, with systems of verses, bridges, introductions, choruses, and codas that are reflective of more modern forms of music. Fresh, new ideas at every turn create a sense of surprise and drama.”
From the start, I could see that the audience at each of the three performances was enraptured. The Cherokee Singers were adorned in full traditional dress—white shirts, red skirts, gold and red jewelry, and moccasin shoes. They stood at the front of the stage led by director Michael Yannette; the orchestra, led by Maestro Warren-Green, was situated in its normal fashion just behind, while Ms. Brookman stood near the back of the first violins. The first movement, Still Here Overture, saw each student take their turn coming forward to a microphone to speak about a fragment of Cherokee history. If hearing statements such as “Between the devastation of smallpox and the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee lost over half of their population. In American textbooks we are rarely mentioned, and if we are, it is only briefly and often inaccurately” doesn’t elicit full attention I’m not sure what will. The piece continued with four additional movements containing a mix of speaking and singing, and culminated in a jubilant finale in which the phrase “Si Otsedoha” was repeatedly sung by choir soloists.
Each performance was greeted by an enthusiastic and immediate standing ovation followed by several curtain calls. Mr. Yannette beamed with pride at his outstanding group of singers, and Ms. Brookman was applauded for her soaring vocals.
Of their performances in Charlotte Michael Yannette said, “We had an incredible experience in Charlotte! First of all, your director, Christopher Warren-Green was wonderful! He added so much to the performance in ways that I wasn’t expecting. It is such an unusual work, and it’s important that a conductor does his research so he is prepared for it when there is very little available in the way of reference material and previous performances. He gave us very effective notes and did some things intuitively with the tempos and feel of certain areas that added so much to what had already been discovered about the work, creating very special moments. I think we were all blown away with the level of musicianship from the musicians, the obvious sincerity of them personally and musically, how well prepared they were, and what an incredible connection they seemed to have musically with Christopher. The Barber and Copland were so well done… really transparent, sensitive and compelling! Thank you all so much for this absolutely remarkable experience!”
While standing ovations and curtain calls make me proud to be a Charlotte Symphony musician, it’s even more thrilling to see an unknown piece come to life and to share that with my colleagues and our audience. This concert will be one that stands out in my memory for the remainder of my career.
At a Glance: William Brittelle, born 1976
Si Otsedoha- Composed, 2018; premiered on October 12, 2018, North Carolina Symphony
The Cherokee Singers: The Cherokee Chamber Singers are the premier vocal ensemble from Cherokee High School in Cherokee, North Carolina, under the direction of Michael Yannette. As representatives of both their school and the Cherokee community, their unique and varied programs offer audiences not only a traditional and modern glimpse of Native American music, but also performances of traditional choral, classical, musical theatre, and pop/rock genres. They have performed at various venues around the country including Carnegie Hall, the Smithsonian Institution, and Disney World.
Pictured above: Music Director Christopher Warren Green in rehearsal with the Cherokee Chamber Singers at Belk Theater
Summer Garden Pasta
Recipe by CSO retired violinist Martha Koljonen
2-4 servings of pasta, any shape
1/2 c. or more raw cashews
1 to 2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
3 large chopped fresh ripe tomatoes, or one small can diced tomatoes
handful of fresh basil, chopped
Cook pasta according to package directions. Keep warm.
In a large skillet, sauté cashews in olive oil until cashews are golden. Transfer to another bowl.
Sauté ginger, adding more oil if needed, and add tomatoes. When tomatoes are at desired consistency*, add cashews and fresh basil.
Serve immediately over pasta.
*Roma tomatoes need a few minutes of cooking time. If using canned tomatoes, just heat through. If you have fresh, ripe tomatoes, they may be served with very little cooking.
All amounts are approximate, according to availability and taste. This recipe is very forgiving.
Congratulations to cellist Marlene Ballena and her husband Matt Toffey!
Congratulations to principal second violinist Oliver Kot and his wife Yinping Gao!