Summer 2019 Issue
Recent Performances in the Charlotte Community
by Janis Nilsen and Jeremy Lamb
This spring the Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony teamed up with Youth Orchestras of Charlotte for a Memorial Day concert, and brought impromptu chamber music to the patients and staff at Atrium Health.
On May 26, Youth Orchestras of Charlotte (YOC) presented a Memorial Day Concert featuring Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony (MotCS) Brass and Percussion. This performance of American music was a fundraising event for Veterans Bridge Home. Dr. Ernest Pereira, Symphony violinist and conductor of YOC, led the ensemble in works by Copland, Sousa, Bruce Broughton, James Stephenson, Michael Kamen and more.
Concert admission was free, thanks to the many donors and advertisers supporting the event. MotCS and YOC members donated hundreds of hours to the concert’s organization, fundraising, publicity and production.
Students from the YOC shared the stage side by side with the professional musicians for two works, Amazing Grace and Hymn to the Fallen.
This deeply moving salute to American veterans inspired thousands of dollars in donations to Veterans Bridge Home, which provides assistance with housing, employment, food, transportation, education, healthcare and social enrichment to local veterans.
On Tuesday, June 11, the Musicians of the CSO volunteered to perform live music all around the Atrium Health Foundation located in Dilworth. 28 musicians in all - almost half the entire orchestra - descended on lobbies, foyers, atriums (ha!), waiting rooms, and pretty much every public space in the medical center hoping to liven the mood of doctors, patients and passersby alike. And it seemed to work. "I was in 7th Heaven!" said one patient after stopping to listen to Kari Giles and her string quartet, who were playing arrangements of songs by Bruno Mars, Johnny Cash, and a medley of Disney tunes. "I haven't been able to go to the symphony ever since my wife developed a hyper-sensitivity to light and sound, so this is just perfect."
In all, eight groups of musicians performed around six locations, rotating three different times during the morning, and most of those groups had collected a sizable audience during their seemingly impromptu performances. "It's not just music, it's gorgeous music," said another patient waiting for an appointment. Considering its overall success, the musicians are hoping to turn this into an annual event.
Music Makers and Dreamers:
My Day in the Charlotte Symphony Pro-Am
by Andrea Long
We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams. ― Arthur O’Shaughnessy
In late October, the email landed in my inbox.
“Dust off those old instruments and perform with the Charlotte Symphony on the Knight Theater stage.”
Hmmm . . .
“I have a flute. But it’s not dusty,” I said, a tad defensively, to myself.
“That’s only because it’s been sitting in its case for the last ten years,” my self said back.
It’s pointless to argue with your conscience. Truthfully, I hadn’t played in about ten years, which was shameful to think about. What had I been doing? Why had I ignored something I enjoyed so much for so long?
I knew that signing up for the Pro-Am would put me in motion, and did it ever. The email said we’d have a two-hour rehearsal, with the pros, on the day of the concert, but the rest of the preparation was on our own. It was up to me to be ready, which meant I had a lot of work to do over the next 18 weeks. I took out my flute, pulled out my music books, and got to work.
If you think picking up an instrument after so many years of neglecting it is just like riding a bike, it is—if the rider is middle-aged, has bad knees and questionable eyesight, and is careening down a hill with no brakes.
I decided I needed help. I had enjoyed taking flute lessons in the past and knew I would again, especially since I was working towards something. I found flute teacher Alex Xeros (now a gold medalist in patience) and dove in. We focused on getting me to a reasonable level of amateur competence as we waited for the concert repertoire to arrive.
I knew the pieces I’d be playing when I signed up—Radetzky March, Pavane, Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty Suite, 1812 Overture—but had no idea how difficult they’d be. In late January, I made their acquaintance.
Have you ever seen the 1812 Overture? Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
From then on, I practiced nothing but those pieces. I knew I was improving, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be.
Alex encouraged me, as did principal flutist Victor Wang, whom I met after a Symphony concert in February. “We have all skill levels that day,” Victor assured me. “You’re going to have a great time! It’s so much fun! Come and play what you can play.”
I kept practicing and tried to relax.
The day of the concert, I was equal parts excitement and dread. I drove to Knight Theater wondering why, why, why was I doing this to myself? I could be home in my fleece pajamas, right this minute, eating peanut butter from the jar and reading the new Vogue magazine. (Fleece + peanut butter is one of many reasons I read Vogue and am not in Vogue.)
I wondered if the other musicians would be as nice as Victor. I wondered about the trajectory of a baton hurled by an exasperated conductor and if it could reach the flute section. I wondered if getting the promised t-shirt was contingent on how well I played.
As I gathered my things from my car, I saw a woman parked near me who was also gathering her things—things that included an instrument. I asked if she was pro or am, and that’s when I met Symphony cellist Janis Nilsen. Together, we made our way from the deck to the theater as Janis comfortingly echoed Victor: “It’s wonderful. We love this day. Don’t worry. You’re going to have a great time!”
It was wonderful. I loved the day. I shouldn’t have worried. I had a great time.
It sounds unbelievable to say that everyone was “so nice,” but, to a person, everyone was. The ams bonded quickly, united by excitement, nervousness, and a sense of unreality that we were about to play with an actual symphony orchestra. The pros encouraged us and took us under their wing. They told us how glad they were that we were there. Not once did I get a feeling of “us” and “them”—it was “us” from the beginning.
I found my seat, assembled my flute, and played my first notes on a stage since high school, 35 years ago. I’ve spilled a lot of words here, but I’m not sure I can find the right ones to describe what that felt like. But I can tell you that I sound far better in Knight Theater than I do in my kitchen.
I had the good fortune to be seated next to pro, Jennifer Dior. Jennifer led our section of second flutes, quietly cheering us on and ignoring the abundance of wrong notes being played to her immediate right. During our rehearsal break, Amy Orsinger Whitehead, leader of the first flutes, came down the line of what seemed like 492 flutes (a fleet of flutes, someone called us) to welcome each one of us. She too told us how much the musicians looked forward to and enjoyed the day.
The rehearsal went by in a flash and was followed by an unhurried meal that gave us time to chat and get to know each other. Afterwards, we changed into our concert black and returned to the stage to warm up and to watch our family and friends file in.
If the rehearsal went quickly, then the concert went at warp speed. This was show time: no stopping, no do-overs, no working out the kinks. If you lose your place, then you just have to find it again. If you play a wrong note, you keep going. The conductor doesn’t turn to the audience and say, “Oh, that didn’t sound quite the way we wanted it to. Let us do it for you again.”
In what felt like fifteen minutes, but was actually closer to 45, we were on our feet and so was the audience. I was giddy with relief, joy, and the knowledge that I had played with my hometown symphony, the symphony I’ve been listening to my entire life. I had survived—and loved—my first Pro-Am!
Since that day, I’ve reflected on what the experience meant to me. First, it reignited my love for my instrument. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever put it down again for any significant length of time. Second, I met wonderful people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. We’re friends now, made so by this event. Finally, it reminded me of how much fun it is to play as part of a group. Solitary practice is a given; you won’t make progress without it. But after a while, it becomes tedious and a little lonely. I wanted to be with the people who were doing the same work I was. And when that happened, when the music makers and the dreamers were finally together, it was even better than I’d imagined—it was magic.
And . . . I got the t-shirt.
Andrea is a native Charlottean and a product of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where she began learning the flute in 5th grade. By day, she’s the “floor general” for a local real estate investment firm. She spends her non-work time watching a lot of baseball, going to concerts and operas, and doing the bidding of three demanding felines who are lukewarm about her flute playing. She also writes for and edits a newsletter for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). She continues to take flute lessons and is already looking forward to next year’s Pro-Am.
Contrabassoon: The Woodwind Giant
by Allan Rosenfeld
You go to a Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert, brimming with the confidence instilled by years of listening and time spent in a music appreciation course. You gaze at the instruments splayed out on stage. Violins, check. Trumpets, yep. Bassoons, uh huh. Wait. What’s that odd contrivance of metal tubing and wood wound multiple times around and around itself, larger than the musician seated at its pointy reed, at the end of the row of bassoons?
That woodwind giant, my fellow music lovers, is the contrabassoon. And yes, it’s big. So big that CSO contrabassoonist Lori Tiberio often has to to drive by the hall and drop off the 42 pound leviathan, along with another 30 pounds of gear (regular bassoon, reed tools, and stands) in advance at the stage door street entrance to prevent injuring herself lugging it around. You don’t just buy one of these off the shelf of a music store either: a new contra costs $30,000-50,000 and requires a long wait for it to be handmade. The instrument has a conical bore and a double reed like a bassoon, but has twice the length of tubing (16 ft. vs 8.5 ft), uses a much larger reed, and sounds an octave lower. The first section of tubing is metal, with a spit valve and tuning slide like the brass instruments. Then there is a long section of maple wood tubing that doubles back on itself to keep the instrument from being too much taller than the player. Finally, the end has a metal bell.
Speaking of transportation problems, Lori recounts her adventures trying to fly to an audition with both a bassoon and a contrabassoon in tow: “I had planned on using the overhead for the bassoon, and bought a separate ticket for the contra. When I got to the airport, they weren’t going to let me on the plane because of regulations. I was so upset that I began to cry. Fortunately, the pilot came out wondering what was going on and intervened on my behalf. He let me stow the contra in the cockpit with him. For the return flight, he called ahead and made arrangements to let me sit with the instrument at my feet in the bulkhead row. Another time, I was on a flight with a fellow contrabassoonist who had let his instrument be checked in the baggage compartment. I watched through the window as they were loading it. The instrument fell off the conveyor belt and was damaged. Since that accident, I’ve taken my instruments with me in the car everywhere.”
While it may not get star billing in the educational showpiece “Tubby and the Tuba”, the contra plays an essential role in a symphony orchestra. Because it is the lowest sounding instrument in the woodwinds, it literally serves as the bass line and harmonic foundation for the entire woodwind family. In early works such as Handel and Beethoven, the contra was primarily used to reinforce and color the double basses. Later, Brahms began the innovative technique of composing for the contrabassoon in lieu of a tuba part. More modern composers recognized the distinct voice of the instrument in their scores with important solo lines, such as the bestial half of the “Beauty and the Beast” movement in Ravel’s Ma Mere L’Oye. This past CSO season, the breadth of repertoire for contrabassoon was readily on display: Handel’s Royal Fireworks from the 18th century, 19th century works by Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler, Holst’s The Planets dating from the 20th century, and film scores and pops music from the current century.
Regarding her concept and love for the contra, Lori says: “My philosophy is the contra adds depth to the sound of the orchestra. It’s not necessarily always meant to be heard so much as felt underneath everything. I never play it in a shy manner, it’s there in the orchestra for a reason. I love the sound of it…it gets a bad rap, but with a good player it can be lovely. I like having a solo role and doing my own thing on it.”
The instrument requires an extremely accomplished and versatile musician to play it in the orchestra. While there is some overlap between the fingering systems of the contra and the bassoon, the two double reed instruments are different enough that years of additional experience and practice are required for a bassoonist to master the contra and the art of making the larger reeds. Lori explains: “Unlike the bassoon, the contra has no whisper key to help play the low register. And in the high register the contra adds not just one, but two register keys which are not employed on the bassoon at all. So in this regard the technique is literally backwards from what’s done on the bassoon. Over the years, I’ve developed a whole series of fingerings for different colors, shadeings, and intonations. I have as many as six fingerings I use for many of the notes on the contra…and they are not usable on the regular bassoon.”
On top of that, the full time contrabassoonist is regularly called upon to cover bassoon responsibilities in the section. This “doubling” in concerts adds to the difficulty and complexity of the player’s job. Regularly having to make by hand two entirely different types of reeds is itself an enormous time consuming undertaking. Lori confirms the actual changes between instruments can be as difficult as any technical passagework: “The difference in reed size and air resistance is huge…and the bassoon and contra have a completely different set of intonation and response issues. I have to set aside additional time at home to practice instrument switches.”
Next time you are at a CSO concert, listen for the deep, rich low notes of the contrabassoon. In particular, you can look forward to hearing the splendid pedal tones of the instrument in the transcendent Praeludium to the Benedictus in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis next season. Those more inclined towards sports can watch the musical gymnastics as Lori Tiberio makes multiple rapid switches between bassoon and contrabassoon in the movie soundtracks by John Williams. Or catch the contra taking over for the tuba in the solo passages of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Perhaps you will nod knowingly as you feel its familiar vibrations under your feet.
Erinn Frechette's Summertime Citrus Cake
Every spring as the temperatures begin to warm and the flowers and shrubs bloom, I begin to look forward to switching my cooking to summertime recipes and flavors. Hearty soups and sauces make way for more grilling, fruits, and chilled dishes and desserts. One of my favorite warm weather desserts is my grandmother’s citrus cake. She didn’t have a name for it, and I don’t know from where the recipe came, but I saw an article online to a similar cake that is referred to as a “Pig Picking Cake.” Whatever its title, this cake is light and refreshing, and features the crisp taste of orange and pineapple.
You will need:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 11 oz. can of mandarin oranges (packed in juice)
½ cup oil (I use everyday vegetable oil)
4 large eggs
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 small package of instant vanilla pudding
1 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple (packed in juice)
Preset oven to 350° and grease and flour a 9 x 11 cake pan (I don’t do layers with this recipe).
Mix the cake mix, mandarin oranges and the juice, oil, and eggs. Don’t over-blend!
Bake according to the box directions and cool completely (I just leave the cake in the pan).
For the topping:
In a medium bowl fold the pudding powder directly into the pineapple and juice. Finish by gently folding in the Cool Whip. Chill for at least ½ hour before frosting.
Keep finished cake refrigerated.
The light texture of the cake with its slight hint of orange flavor is simply divine. And the cool, creamy frosting makes for a refreshing dessert that you and your family will love!
Frank Portone Retires from the Charlotte Symphony
by Janis Nilsen
Frank's remarkable 42-year career as a Principal Hornist began when he won an international audition for the Hong Kong Philharmonic. During his third season there, his wife Maria gave birth to their first child. They knew it was time to return to the US to be closer to family. At that time there were two horn openings in the States - one was the Principal position in the Charlotte Symphony. Frank knew nothing of Charlotte but with openings so scarce he took the leap and came to audition. Charlotte became home.
Frank could have made a living with either his tenor voice or his horn, but he has always been a hornist at heart. Professor Grooters, head of the vocal department at Temple University, offered Frank a full scholarship if he would switch his major to voice and join the Opera Workshop program. His reply: “No thanks. I’m a horn player, sir.”
Singing came first in his musical life. Picture the third-grader singing “When I beheld your beauty” from Rigoletto! Early training included the All Philadelphia Boys Choir and voice lessons at Settlement School.
His interest in the horn began at age 11, eventually becoming a member of the All City Wind Ensemble and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. By the time he graduated from Temple University, he had taken lessons with nearly all the members of the horn section of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His job as an usher at The Academy of Music, The Philadelphia Orchestra’s home, enabled Frank to hear many of the great orchestras of the world - always attentive, always analyzing.
Of singing and playing the horn, Franks says “I love them both, and I have always done both. They are the same to me. Only as different as a fork and a spoon. (They both deliver the food!)” He has been featured in Opera Scenes productions of Opera Carolina, and performed with symphonies in Nashville, Columbus, and Quad Cities Iowa. To the surprise, then delight of the Symphony musicians and our audiences, Frank has set his horn on his chair, walked to the front of the stage and sung Nessun Dorma or Vesti La Giubba so magnificently that for that moment we felt as if we were at the Met.
The greatest love of Frank’s life is his family. He and Maria have three children and four grandchildren. Their daughter Carissa Maira is a leading Speech-Language Pathologist at Emory Voice Center in Atlanta. Son Daniel is a real estate attorney in Charlotte. After daughter Teresa finishes her PhD in Computational Science, Engineering and Mathematics at University of Texas - Austin this summer, she will begin her new position at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. Frank’s voice warms whenever he speaks of his kids. “Thank goodness they all took after Maria!”
Asked to name a favorite performance with the CSO, Frank replied, “Every one of them. Just walking onto the stage and looking into the audience gave me energy.” One concert that stood out in his memory was when CSO accompanied legendary soprano Dame Joan Sutherland in Rock Hill. The inspiration from Dame Joan’s superb offerings propelled the Symphony into a rendering of Respighi’s Pines of Rome that brought deafening “Bravos!” from the huge Byrnes Auditorium audience. “It was a magical night. The orchestra was really on.”
Frank has shared his abundant musical gifts generously with the Charlotte community for nearly 40 years. We wish him health and happiness as his focus shifts from practicing and performing to fishing, working out, playing golf and enjoying the company of his family.
CSO Oboist Erica Cice and her husband Chris Mann welcomed
Freya Rose Mann on April 14.
Pete Duca Retires from the Charlotte Symphony
by Jason McNeel
“You could play your whole career on that bass.”
The 2018/2019 season marks the closing of Pete Duca’s 44-season tenure as bassist in the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. As the newest member of the bass section I sat next to Pete for two seasons, admired his great wealth of experience and aspired to his level of preparation for every concert. On top of the nuts and bolts of playing in the orchestra, Pete has offered up many great stories from his musical life, from how he was treated to a private concert by Emmanuel Ax in the music library (Pete was librarian at the time and Mr. Ax needed to practice) to stories of the many music directors and guest conductors he has played under. My favorite of Pete’s stories is how he found the bass that he played on for all 44 of his years in the orchestra. Many musicians can attest that finding your instrument can be a difficult and crucial part of realizing your voice and the right bass can make all the difference in your musical path. However, for Pete, serendipity seemed to have chosen the bass for him.
The son of a steel worker in Youngstown, Ohio, Pete studied with famed bass pedagogue and principal bassist of the Cleveland Orchestra, David Perlman. At his first lesson, while Pete was unpacking his Cleveland-made American Standard bass for a coaching, Mr. Perlman asked, “What is that?” “Sir, that’s my bass” Pete said. Perlman had built up a collection of the finest Italian double basses in the world and had so many that they surrounded his entire studio. He pointed around the room at his prized instruments saying, “That’s a bass, that’s a bass…. This thing you have… I’m going to find you a bass.” After some searching Perlman pinpointed a German bass from a then unknown maker and let Pete play. A beautiful and big bass sound exuded from the instrument. Perlman stopped him and said, “ Whoa, that bass isn’t supposed to sound that good. You could play your whole career on this instrument.” Three years later Pete won the an audition for the Charlotte Symphony on this unnamed German bass and played it for 44 seasons under five music directors. Whether performing on his American standard or his German bass, Pete’s contribution to the musical life of Charlotte cannot be overstated.
We wish Pete and his basses all the best in his retirement and are so grateful for his numerous contributions to the orchestra.
Here, There, Elsewhere:
Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony Performing Beyond the CSO Stage
by Janis Nilsen
Davidson College, Sunday, September 15th at 3 pm, Tyler Tallman Hall in the Sloan Music Building, Tickets $20, available through the box office or at the door.
Clarinetist Samuel Sparrow, violinists Joseph Meyer, Jenny Topilow, violist Kirsten Swanson, and cellist Sarah Markle perform the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets
Erinn Frechette is premiering two new works: one for flute (alto flute and piccolo) and percussion; one for flute, viola, and piano on the “Concert of Miniatures” Saturday, June 29 at 4:30 at Crown Station as part of the Charlotte New Music Festival. Admission is free.
In fall 2019, CSO flutists, Erinn Frechette and Amy Orsinger Whitehead will tour as members of Flute4, a flute quartet with fellow Carolina flutists, Carla Copeland-Burns and Caroline Ulrich. "Flute Day" residencies will take place at Meredith College on September 5-6, at Duke University (with the Raleigh Area Flute Association) on September 8, and at Gardner-Webb University on September 15.
CSO musicians performing and teaching at summer festivals around the globe
May 30 - June 9 Troy, NY Contrabassoonist Lori Tiberio performs at the American Music Festival and Sing Out New York Tour with the Albany Symphony from May 28 to June 9.
June 4 - 15 Cellist Sarah Markle performs at the Roycroft Chamber Music Festival, in East Aurora, NY
June 22 - August 25 Violist Cynthia Frank is a member of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua, NY - on leave of absence this summer
June 26 - August 6 Jon Kaplan, trumpet and Jonathan Lewis, cello perform with Central City Opera, outside Denver, Colorado
July 1 - August 3 Clarinetist Samuel Sparrow goes to Switzerland to perform with the Verbier Festival Orchestra
July 6 - 12 Bassist Jason McNeel performs as principal bassist with the Charlottesville Opera Orchestra
July 10 - August 10 Clarinetist Taylor Marino will play in the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Center
July 15 - 19 Violinist Kathleen Jarrell is teaching at "Arts Plus Orchestra Camp" in Charlotte
July 15 - 27 Oboist Erica Cice will be the oboe faculty at New England Conservatory’s Summer Orchestra Institute (SOI)
July 22 - August 12 Violinist Jenny Topilow is performing at Breckenridge Music Festival in Breckenridge, CO
July 28 - August 11 Violinist Carlos Tarazona plays at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz California
August 10 and 11 Violist Ben Geller performs in Chamber MusicFest at Pierce Hill Performing Arts in Viroqua, WI
August 22 Percussionist Brice Burton is performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl