Winter 2020 Issue
An Interview with our Music Director, Christopher Warren Green
by Jeremy Lamb
Christopher Warren-Green is now halfway through his tenth season as music director with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. During the previous decade he has worked with four CEOs, hired twenty of the musicians currently in the orchestra, and conducted hundreds of concerts all over Charlotte. In light of these changes, I thought this would be a meaningful vantage point from which to ask him to reflect on his years in the position and to talk about his goals for his future with the orchestra. However, it's not every day that you score an interview with the maestro himself, so I took the opportunity to sneak in some extra questions I had wondered about ever since joining the CSO.
I wanted to know the story of how he went from being one of the most prominent violinists in the U.K. to entirely quitting the violin in order to conduct full-time. He was gracious enough to give me an answer but it filled over an hour of conversation, so I'll save that for a future issue of The Soundpost and focus on his answers to the first question here.
Before Warren-Green accepted the position, he and his wife Rosemary were faced with some unexpected information. "When I took the orchestra contract, the orchestra was fine. A week before I signed it I got a call from the board chair who said, ‘I have to be honest, you may not have an orchestra to come to. The ASC has cut so much money for the orchestra.’ And I talked to my wife and we decided we'd go. We had the house on the market, we sold up, we bought a house in Charlotte, and we knew that sending that message out into the community would say 'this guy means business'."
Since then, the city has grown exponentially, but channeling some of that growth into funding for the arts has proven to be as difficult in Charlotte as it is anywhere. "I want people to invest in the orchestra because this city is already growing at such a fast rate. This Symphony was formed when Charlotte was a town, and the last thing it needs is for it not to invest now in its symphony. I was asked to talk to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, it was an honor, which I've done twice now, and on the whole it’s five minutes for me to talk about what the Symphony does for the community, and that we're good for business. When companies consider Charlotte as a place to rehome their businesses, they'll ask what else does Charlotte have to offer. And the Symphony, the Opera, the Ballet, all come into that." Then he adds, with a smile of practicality, "And the Symphony is cheap by comparison!"
When it comes to arts funding and community development, the maestro is quick to launch into the importance of education in our field. "One thing I don't think people understand is how important we are to education. The kids studying sciences alongside the arts -- you've heard me say this a thousand times, Jeremy -- do better than the kids just studying the sciences. And yet we continually see people forgetting the arts to focus just on the sciences." He went on to talk about the partnership with Winterfield Elementary spearheaded by his wife, Rosemary, which provided free music lessons for underprivileged children. Since then it has blossomed into Project Harmony, a wider reaching program that serves four schools in Charlotte.
I ask him which composers he would like to program more of. "I would like to do more Mahler, Sibelius, and Prokofiev. And those three have been very difficult [to program]. And I want to do more Shostakovich. I love the Russian repertoire." As a cellist in the Symphony, I was eager to know specifics since all four of those composers write tremendously satisfying music to perform but which can't be programmed often due to budget restrictions: to do justice to a Mahler Symphony, you would need almost twice the number of musicians currently contracted in the CSO (fifty-eight).
Finally, I ask him what he's most proud of and what are his remaining goals with the CSO. "Rome wasn't built in a day. I said that when I first came, and I'm really proud of the standard of the orchestra that we have now, that is not the same orchestra that it was when I took over. I said it would take nearly 10 years to build that orchestra and...and I think everyone knows that the orchestra has really really improved. My goal for the future is to have a bigger string section. We HAVE to have a bigger string section." He continues by reassuring me that many times his criticisms from the podium stem from the issue of not having enough players on stage. "I know better than anybody what the string players are struggling to achieve. So when I'm on your case, and I'm picky, and I can see your faces and I know you want to kill me with your bare hands...it's because I'm so desperately trying to find ways to make it sound the right way... So that is one of the goals is to get us on a sound financial footing and have a proper-sized string section on contract. Then, and even now if we can start using extras, we can make recordings and get us more into the national scene." As someone who has already recorded extensively for almost every major recording label both as a violinist and conductor, his goals just might have a very good chance.
by Jason McNeel
As musicians, when we look out from the stage we see many different types of music lovers. We see families coming to share in the marvel of live music, groups of friends starting their nights out after a long workweek with some emotional stimulation, and solo enthusiasts who never miss a live performance of Gustav Mahler. Last but not least, we see date night couples sharing an evening with the aid of beautiful sounds. They are dressed to the nines in an effort to impress and present their best selves. Perhaps they research a little about the piece so they have a witty remark about the conductor’s interpretation; “Bernstein’s finale is much faster.” Or they enlist a stranger to take their picture in front of the stage for the night’s Instagram post. Isn’t a night at the orchestra in fact the perfect date night? The music exudes love and intimacy along with that palpable “once in a lifetime” experience that only live performance can achieve. Unlike a club or bar where you are struggling to hear each other, the symphony hall is a place where you can experience a truly beautiful moment together. The butterflies in the stomach on a first date are a lot like our feelings as performers feel when we play the monumental orchestral works we encounter each week. After all, the great composers had loved ones themselves that influenced their works. If it weren’t for Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “immortal beloved” would his music sound so sweet? Even Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique was an effort to win the affection of his future wife, Harriet Smithson (a little creepy if you ask me). Possibly the greatest example of music as a love letter would be the first performance of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. Written as a birthday present to his wife, Cosima, the sound of the orchestra playing this beautiful work woke her up on Christmas morning in 1870. Throughout music history we see musicians coming together to enhance one another’s works. Gustav and Alma Mahler, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Robert and Clara Schumman, Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumman… These are just a few of classical music’s love stories.
Maybe you’ve noticed that there are a few musician couples that share the stage at Charlotte Symphony concerts. Many of our symphonic spouses met early in their careers and a love of music and each other has brought them to our region. This issue we are featuring three of our couples.
Calin and Monica with their son Matei
Readers of previous “Soundpost” articles might remember that Calin Lupanu (concertmaster) and Monica Boboc (violin) met as teenagers and had the same violin teacher. They were good friends for years before a romantic relationship sparked. Calin remembers, “We didn’t start dating until music conservatory. Not for lack of trying on my part, but this one took a lot of convincing, six or seven years worth.” Making music together was a huge part of their early adulthood. Monica and Calin remember these years with great enthusiasm. “We played in the same string quartet for about 10 years, trying very hard to keep personal and professional separate. It’s very difficult but I would say that overall, we have managed to keep a balance. Our quartet was formed towards the end of our conservatory studies, and was named after the legendary Romanian pianist, Lipatti. We won several international prizes (Shostakovich, iLondon, Fischoff, and others), and we have pretty much toured together almost the entire Europe as well as maybe 15-20 US states before we stopped playing in 2001.” This dedication to musical excellence graces our stage at Charlotte Symphony concerts but also in the community through their founding of Chamber Music 4 All. This non-profit organization makes chamber music accessible to families and younger audiences, as well as more experienced listeners.
Sarah Markle (cellist) and Taddes Korris (bassist) are another of our partners that play together in uptown Charlotte. They met at the Manhattan School of Music before settling here and although Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony may not seem like an amorous piece it will always be remembered as such for them because of this shared experience.
“We were invited to play with an orchestra at a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, back when we were both living in New York. It was a huge honor to be asked to play with all these orchestral "all-stars", members of the New York Philharmonic, the Met Orchestra, and incredible musicians from all over the country. The only complication was that we were flying back from New Zealand the night before the concert, a trip we took without our cello and bass, for reasons understandable to anyone who plays a large instrument."
"We spent some time on the trip studying the score to Shostakovich Symphony No. 7, an 85-minute behemoth of a piece that neither of us had ever played before, but we knew we'd be showing up to the dress rehearsal totally out of shape, and not exactly at our sharpest after traveling for 30 hours straight. So with the help of copious amounts of coffee and a lot of adrenaline, we made it to the show and joined our respective sections, each one about three times larger than any cello or bass section we'd ever been a part of. The concert still stands out in my memory as one of the most powerful, most exciting, and by far the LOUDEST I've ever been a part of. Having been able to experience it together, even in our jet-lagged stupor, made it a show neither of us will forget, one we reminisce and laugh about all the time.”
Sarah and Taddes jet-lagged at Carnegie Hall
Another of our musician couples is Ellen Ferdon (viola) and Jeff Ferdon (bass) who met while in school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Jeff remembers their first connection as if it were yesterday.
“While in school we played with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and it was during a GSO concert that lightning struck figuratively and -almost- literally.
The orchestra was engaged to perform for the opening of a new concert hall on the campus of Winston Salem State University. The venue was on the small side for a full orchestra so once the bass section was set it was difficult to get onstage. As my colleagues warmed up none of them noticed Ellen waiting to take her seat so I stepped aside to let her through. Even though we’d known each other for months, we later recalled this was the first time we felt a connection. But it was the concert, with a little assistance from Mother Nature that provided an experience guaranteeing we wouldn’t forget that moment.
In addition to the small stage, construction on the facility was not completed in time for the concert. There was no acoustic shell, just open stage wings and a bare cinder block backstage wall. Even the roof above the stage was unfinished so a temporary, corrugated metal roof was all that separated the orchestra from the sky above.
From the beginning of the concert it was clear Mother Nature wanted to hear the storm scene from Beethoven’s 6th Symphony rather than the scheduled program. There were rumbles of thunder, blustery gusts of wind and lashings of rain on the metal roof. When the rain changed to hail the metal roof became its own percussion section. Water began streaming down the backstage wall and flowing across the stage. A janitor armed with a mop crisscrossed the stage trying to stop the deluge. One of the horn players set a note adrift on the water that read, “Send help, I’m drowning!”
After the concert we learned a tornado had touched down about a mile from the hall. Clearly, Mother Nature won the musical battle. But nearly 40 years later Ellen and I know it was a look and a few quiet words that truly made for a memorable evening.”
Jeff and Ellen being adorable circa 1982
Weather and the Orchestra
by Allan Rosenfeld
Ever notice how changes in the weather can make the doors in your home stick, or give you a bad hair day? Well, the same atmospheric variables affect the way an orchestra sounds. In particular, humidity and temperature can have a profound influence on instrumental tone production.
As a clarinetist, I can attest to the daily challenges we face. Our livelihood depends on the vibrations set off by a small 2 3/4” piece of precisely shaped wood called a reed. Even small changes in temperature and humidity make the reed respond, sound, and tune differently. As a result, most players spend a lot of time and money maintaining a collection of “broken in” reeds to choose from depending on how they are vibrating on any given day. Even that is no guarantee of dependability. It’s not unheard of for a reed that is singing beautifully halfway through a concert to stubbornly stop vibrating efficiently the moment a weather front moves in. The result: the sound becomes less resonant, notes don’t speak reliably, and intonation is less centered.
Does the weather affect other instruments in the orchestra? I asked several other musicians that question. Hollis Ulaky, the CSO principal oboist, says: “When it’s cold and dry, the reeds don’t vibrate…they don’t respond”. When asked about the effect a cold or drafty stage has on the instrument itself, Hollis elaborated: “The oboe will crack, because your warm moist breath is on the inside and it expands more than the cold dry wood on the outside of the oboe. You have to swab the inside to keep condensation from clogging the tone holes, which will make a note gurgle or not speak. Also, cold air dries out your pads so they don’t cover, the oboe leaks, and then low notes won’t speak. The instrument will play flat, but the reed will want to play sharp.You have to be aware of what your instrument does in those conditions and be able to react.”
Weather does not just influence reed instruments, it affects percussionists as well. Principal percussionist Brice Burton comments: “The calfskin heads (on the timpani) require a lot of maintenance. If it’s more humid, the pitch is going to drop, because the head is going to stretch out. The way you fix that is by adjusting the fine tuners to tighten the head. Sometimes during intermission they’ll open all the doors and all the humidity will come in, or the heating or air conditioning will turn on. It’s something you’re constantly having to adjust.” The bass drum and tambourine also have calfskin drum heads that require regular attention to compensate for humidity changes. If it gets too dry, the calfskin heads can get so tight that they break. The last time the CSO used calfskin heads on the timpani one of them broke, so now they use plastic heads to withstand suboptimal hall conditions. Because the CSO’s busy schedule often requires the percussion instruments to be moved around and exposed to weather extremes, the orchestra keeps a second set of instruments for “road duty”. This helps protect the better instruments kept at the primary Belk hall from drastic changes in temperature and humidity, which over time can cause damage and “detune” the pitched instruments.
So what about all those string instruments in the orchestra? Cellist Jeremy Lamb describes their dilemma: “In high humidity, the wooden tops of instruments will expand and the arching will steepen, causing the strings to sit higher above the fingerboard and adding additional tension on the instrument. This affects the response time and can give the instrument a choked sound. String players have to decide if they can just live with it until the season passes, or they can take it to a luthier who will do either of two things: cut a second bridge, which is very expensive, or just move the soundpost to a different spot, which can help reduce tension but won't help with the string height.”
Last but not least, there are the brass instruments. I have to admit I had a pretty strong notion that this would be a bastion of weather resistance. Not quite. Principal hornist Byron Johns explains: “When there’s a cold draft that blows on the horn, it makes the horn very cold which makes the instrument play flat. It causes a lot of water to accumulate in the instrument, which has to be emptied or you will get a gurgle in the sound. Everything else affects the player, which is just as important. When it’s dry, your lip dries out, you don’t have as much padding, and your lips can crack…you can’t produce the same quality of vibration and resonance.”
After interviewing various players, it’s clear that the weather has a major impact on the orchestra. Maintaining moderate, stable temperature and humidity conditions in the orchestra hall goes a long way towards preserving the quality of the music and the well-being of the musician’s instruments. Many of the orchestra’s musicians end up having to buy a second instrument to use for outdoor concerts to protect their valuable primary instrument. So is there anything in the orchestra that’s truly weatherproof? Maybe. On a bad hair day, the triangle is still jangling up a storm.
Paws for Applause
Here, There, and Elsewhere
by Janis Nilsen
The Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony enjoyed a busy holiday season, filling the eyes, ears and hearts of Charlotte with music, both on and off the Symphony stage. From "Magic of Christmas” to “Nutcracker,” from enhancing worship services at area churches to performances at schools, libraries, and senior residences, you might have encountered us anywhere! Here are some of the places where we shared our music for the season:
Churches in Charlotte:
First Presbyterian Church, St. Peter Catholic Church, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Dilworth Methodist Church, Trinity Presbyterian Church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Providence United Methodist Church, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Myers Park Presbyterian Church, Myers Park United Methodist Church, St. John’s Baptist Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Churches in surrounding communities:
First Presbyterian Church, Belmont; First Presbyterian Church, Concord; Unity Presbyterian Church, Denver; Davidson College Presbyterian Church; Davidson United Methodist Church; First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia; All Saints Episcopal Church, Gastonia; Jamestown United Methodist Church; First Presbyterian Church, Mooresville; Ebenezer ARP, Rock Hill
Charlotte Catholic High School, Providence High School, Cuthbertson High School; Northwest School of the Arts, CMS; Queens University of Charlotte
Other organizations and locations:
Chamber Music for All; Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Hickory Grove Branch; Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte; Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center; Queen City Grounds; WDAV Lessons and Carols; Youth Orchestra of Charlotte
Renaissance West; Cypress of Charlotte; Waltonwood Cotswold; Summit Place; Urban Ministry Center/Moore Place; Sharon Towers; Southminster; Tyvola Senior Center
Two ongoing chamber music series present a variety of repertoire in Charlotte and beyond.
Providence Chamber Music Series
Concerts begin at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of Providence United Methodist Church, 2810 Providence Road. Events are free and open to the public.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
Cricket Symphony, TWV 50:1 by Georg Phillipe Telemann
Amy Orsinger-Whitehead, piccolo; Erica Cice, oboe; Samuel Sparrow, clarinet; Jane Hart Brendle and Kari Giles, violin; Ellen Ferdon, viola; Janis Nilsen, cello; Jeff Ferdon and Kurt Riecken, doublebass; Emily Jarrell Urbanek, harpsichord
A Ride on Oumuamua by Jeremy Lamb
Jeremy Lamb and Sarah Markle, cellos; Taddes Korris. doublebass
Trio pathétique in D minor by Mikhail Glinka
Taylor Marino, clarinet; Olivia Oh, bassoon; Paul Nitsch, piano
Brandenburg Concerto, No. 3 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Isaac
Simple Symphony: Playful Pizzicato by Benjamin Britten, arr. Boden
“Waitin’ on the Julia Belle” by John Goodin
Charlotte Mandolin and Guitar Quintet
Jane Hart Brendle and Donald R. Tison, mandolins: Matthew Darsey, mandola; Nick Lampo, mando-cello; Troy Conn, guitar
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Between Tides for violin, cello, and piano by Toru Takemitsu
Tatiana Karpova, violin; Oksana McCarthy, cello; Tomoko Deguchi, piano
Piano Quintet No. 2, op.81 by Antonín Dvořak
Tatiana Karpova and Lenora Leggatt, violins; Vasily Gorkovoy, viola; Oksana McCarthy, cello; Tomoko Deguchi, piano
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Dancing on Glass (2003) by Victoria Bond
Anna Cromwell, violin; Lisa Nelson, viola; Mira Frisch, cello
Splinter by Marc Mellits
Teil Buck, oboe; Dylan Lloyd, clarinet; Jessica Lindsay, bass clarinet; Stephanie Lipka, bassoon; Jack Murray, alto sax
Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7 by Zoltan Kodaly
Kari Giles, violin; Mira Frisch, cello
Sunday, May 17, 2020
A New Creation by René Clausen
The Chancel Choir Of Providence United Methodist Church with Orchestra
Adam Ward, Music Director; Andrew Pester, accompanist
Chamber Music for All
March 8, 2020 3:00 pm Sedgefield United Methodist Church
Victor Wang, Monica Boboc, Ben Geller, Sarah Markle
March 17, 2020 8:00 pm Gardner-Webb University
Beethoven and Debussy with Calin Lupanu, Monica Boboc and Suzanne Polak
March 22, 2020 3:00 pm St. Alban’s in Davidson
Beethoven and Debussy Sonatas with Calin Lupanu, Monica Boboc and Suzanne Polak
April 19, 2020 3:00 CPCC’s Tate Recital Hall
Colin Sorgi, viola, and Lachezar Kostov, Associate Principal Cello from Baltimore Symphony, with Phillip Bush, piano, and Calin Lupanu performing Brahms Piano Quartet
May 10, 2020 3:00 pm Sedgefield United Methodist Church
Beethoven String Quartet op. 131 and Shostakovich String Quartet No. 7 with Calin Lupanu, Monica Boboc, Ben Geller, Marlene Ballena
Don’t miss these performances:
February 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm CSO Off The Rails at Snug Harbor
Ben Geller, Jenny Topilow, Sarah Markle and Lenora Leggatt
April 3 and 4 at 7:30 pm, April 5 at 3:00 pm Knight Theater
CSO Concertmaster Calin Lupanu performs Wieniawski Concerto No. 2 with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra