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Winter 2021

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Reimagined 

by Amy Orsinger Whitehead

What began as a volunteer project initiated by Charlotte Symphony principal cellist, Alan Black and the musicians of the Charlotte Symphony in June and July 2020 opened the door to a new direction of programming in the Charlotte Symphony's 2020-2021 Reimagined fall season.  Charlotte Symphony al Fresco was a live-streamed series of eight outdoor chamber music concerts developed, performed, and produced by members of the Charlotte Symphony in order to fill a gap left by COVID-canceled summer symphony pops concerts.

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The CSO's Reimagined 2020-2021 season was kicked off this fall by chamber music offerings Symphony On-Tap series and Front Porch series.  Symphony On-Tap was a series of six chamber concerts performed (and some, live-streamed) to a small in-person audience outdoors at popular local brewery, No-Da Brewing Company.  The brewery’s outdoor pavilion offered a safe environment for the musicians to perform, while the audience enjoyed plenty of space and open air in the outdoor beer garden.

Also outdoors, the Front Porch series showcased small ensembles of symphony musicians in three free community concerts on front porches of historic houses in Charlotte’s uptown neighborhoods.  Offering chamber music to prime time audiences has not been the norm for the CSO, so many adjustments have been made to facilitate these offerings while large indoor gatherings have not been possible.

One highlight of the fall schedule was a collaboration between the CSO and the Charlotte Knights Minor League Baseball Team at Truist Field.  The social-distanced, sold-out event was designed to celebrate Charlotte and unite our community through the power of music, and marked the first-ever orchestra performance on the team's baseball diamond.

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Indoors, four CSO On-Demand concerts have featured (masked, distanced, and with no live audience) string orchestra performances which are recorded and streamed to at-home audiences.

An ongoing partnership between the CSO and the Atrium Health hospital system has meant a continuous flow of information essential to the development of procedures for safe performing, while also allowing swift adjustment as safety protocols evolve.  Weekly onsite COVID testing for musicians and onsite staff began in December.  Facilitated by Atrium Health, this testing allowed the safe return of woodwinds and brass to a performance of The Story of the Nutcracker in December.

Musicians and management continue to work together with flexibility and speed to make the changes necessary to ensure that the CSO remains poised to play through the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unicorn Hair For Sale

by Sarah Markle

Tucked away on the 11th floor of an Uptown Charlotte high rise is a service you may be familiar with if you happen to play a stringed instrument. The excellently-named Lamb's Magical Bow Rehairs, owned and operated by CSO cellist Jeremy Lamb, provides an essential service to symphony players and the wider string community: bow maintenance, repair, and rehairs.

Typically necessary anywhere between one and four times a year, bow hair (most often it's horsehair, although some choose a synthetic version - more on that later) gets worn down over time from the friction of playing, and needs to be replaced. On a more zoomed-in level, each hair has tiny notches on it, allowing the rosin to stick, which then grabs the strings and produces sound as the bow is drawn across them. Worn down bow hair means the notches have smoothed over, making it less able to hold rosin, meaning it's time to call up Jeremy and have the hair replaced.

When asked about the name of his shop, he replies, straight-faced, 'Well, I wanted to find something that was the most self-serious and respectable name possible, so..." Before moving to Charlotte and joining the CSO, Jeremy had run a similar business out of his apartment in New York City, where he lived and worked as a freelance musician for ten years. That one had been called Lamb's Stringed Instrument Bow Repair, so named for IRS tax code reasons, "...so basically it was super boring." After restarting the business here in Charlotte, he decided on the current name mostly just to get a laugh, and takes the "magic" a step further by including the following description on his company website: "About my operation: Each morning I delicately clip a portion of tail from the unicorn living on my roof..."

Jeremy has been rehairing bows for over fifteen years. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in cello performance from the Peabody Conservatory, he faced the conundrum most of us encounter after finishing music school, namely how to support oneself while freelancing and taking orchestral auditions. "I didn't want to teach. And I didn't want to go to grad school. So I was looking for something else to do that was music-related, and my parents had the idea, my mom specifically, of learning to rehair bows."

A two-week course by Lynn Hannings through the University of New Hampshire taught him the fundamentals of bow rehairing and basic repair, but he recalls needing a lot more time to practice and develop a method that worked consistently. Bow rehairing requires an intricate set of skills that takes years to refine, and Jeremy quickly discovered that no two people in the industry do it the same way, that there's often "almost no overlap in methods". The DC-based shop Potter Violins agreed to employ him early on, mailing fifty bows at a time to be rehaired at $5 per bow. He describes that first year as being a difficult one: "It took me so long to get through that many bows - I remember I had to redo almost every one, because it would come out just looking terrible."

While attending the Violin Society of America's annual convention in Oberlin, Ohio the following summer, Jeremy made a fortuitous connection with Jerry Pasewicz, a master luthier based in Raleigh. A Raleigh native himself, Jeremy had already established something of a relationship with Pasewicz as a cellist, but during that convention he was able to seek his advice on all things bow related. He attributes much of his eventual success in the business to studying with Pasewicz: "Jerry really helped me get over the hump. I learned as much as I could from him at the convention for two weeks, and then I actually flew down to Raleigh in the winter, after I'd had enough time to try all the stuff he said, and spent another week with him in his shop."

Having eventually settled on an amalgamation of the different methods he'd picked up along the way (I'm calling it a proprietary blend - hence the magic), Jeremy established a successful rehair business, first in Oberlin, and soon after in New York. "At first, my main clientele in New York were a lot of the freelance musicians from Washington Heights, some of the full time quartet players, etc." By a few years in, he was sought out by players at most of the major musical institutions in the city, including the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, and many conservatory faculty. Bassists in particular had an affinity for Jeremy's rehair work - eventually he was working on bows for virtually the entire bass sections of the NY Philharmonic and the Met.

At the same time, he was also maintaining a freelance career as a cellist, which meant fitting in rehair work around an increasingly busy gig schedule. "As I started doing more and more freelance orchestra work, taking lessons again, trying to get into the audition scene, I was just not in the city as much, so it became harder and harder to find time to do bows." During a yearlong stint working for DZ Strad Violins, a shop north of the city in White Plains, Jeremy describes a fairly common experience: getting on a 6am train with his duffel bag of tools, cello and concert clothes, working on bows from 9am to 5pm, playing an evening show with New Haven Symphony, and finally heading home to Brooklyn in the wee hours.

Since winning a spot here in the CSO in 2016, Jeremy now balances his rehair business with the symphony schedule, along with his composing, freelance work, and teaching on the side. Occasionally he'll get an entertainingly strange phone call from someone misunderstanding the nature of his business - recently someone called inquiring about whether he works on crossbows. Others simply get hung up on the language of a very niche industry; my favorite instance of this is a story he tells about his aunt asking him, "Jeremy, are you still restringing oboes?"

Lamb's Magical Bow Rehairs offers a few different varieties of hair (in addition to unicorn), though one type in particular may stand out as somewhat new to many string players. Synthetic bow hair, though still not at all widely used in the classical world, has become a go-to for some of the low strings in the Charlotte area, myself included. A few years ago, after I learned about the origins of bow hair (a longer story, but the gist is that it's almost always a byproduct of slaughter - not the news I'd been hoping for), I purchased a small amount of Coruss synthetic hair for myself from a distributor in Europe, and asked Jeremy if he'd put it on my bow. The result was pleasantly surprising: louder, more responsive, and "grabbier" than traditional hair, ideal for orchestral playing especially. We've both been using it ever since, along with several other players including our principal cellist, Alan Black.

Not everyone liked it as much, or were motivated by the same reasons to seek an alternative. "String players are too finicky about how the hair feels to make an ethical decision on something like that alone", says Jeremy. Still, he predicts synthetic hair overtaking horsehair eventually, even in the notoriously slow-moving and technology-resistant world of classical music, as soon as there's enough incentive driving the development. "The hair has to be as good, if not even a little bit better, which I think is very doable - I don't think horsehair is even that great, it's just the best we've got." He also believes that changeover will be driven more by musicians than by luthiers and bow makers: "Players just want to sound good... If synthetic hair actually outperforms regular hair, I think the revolution will be fast. I could be wrong, but that's my hunch."

As someone who's already embraced said "revolution" and just plain likes it better, I say bring it on. In the meantime, both varieties are available at Lamb's Magical Bow Rehairs. His traditional hair is sourced from Mongolian stallions, widely considered to be the best-performing horsehair in the string world. On display next to that is a rainbow of Coruss synthetic hair, "from some really colorful horses."

Thoughts from All Sides of a "Socially-Distanced" Stage

By Jeremy Lamb

Adjusting to rehearsals in an orchestra where every member has a donut of empty space around them, 12' in diameter, has been... weird. As a string player, I feel especially exposed without a stand partner. In pre-Covid times, I would try to match my sound with my section, then hear our section's sound fit into that of the full orchestra. In a "socially-distanced" seating formation, I can hear myself very clearly. And that's about all I hear. Other musicians in the CSO are saying similar things: easy to hear yourself but not anyone else. It's amazing what a difference that space donut makes to our experience!

Though I had talked to many other musicians, I had no idea what it was like from the podium. What were our conductors' experiences, both from an acoustic and rehearsal-leading perspective?

Our resident conductor, Christopher James Lees, weighed in with this:

"The aggregate sound of everybody playing really as soloists... creates a vibrant and homogenous sound even at the same time that we're so far apart and there is so much distinction between players. So it's actually a really unique experience for me because I can sort of hear further into the sections. It also means that everybody is really contributing that much more, proportionally, to the total sound. From my vantage point, it's a joy to be able to hear all that."

Our principal conductor, Christopher Warren-Green, also acknowledged the novelty of the situation in a positive light:

"I think the musicians found it in some ways a new experience to have that amount of space around themselves, which gave a different sound picture." Then he spoke about some of the difficulties that arise from that space, namely dynamics (how loud to play), and ensemble (playing together). "The musicians can't really play out because then they can't hear each other, right?"  Right.

When asked if he'd miss anything when we return to the original setup, he surprised me. "I don't think I'll miss anything but I've learned something. I mean, I've always squeezed orchestras together as tight as possible so they can hear each other. But I'm wondering whether actually being more spread out, putting a little bit more space around each individual musician so they can feel the room and hear themselves, might be a good thing."

After hearing their responses, it is nice to think that we might have stumbled on a way to improve our regular seating formation.  Even if we don't, though, we are all so grateful to be playing — period. It is nothing short of miraculous that our board, patrons, subscribers, and all who are buying tickets to our streaming performances have kept us afloat during this awful time. We will continue making the best recordings we can these next few months, no matter how large a space donut we're all sitting in.

Candy's Coconut Curry Soup

(highly recommended by her friend, flutist Amy Orsinger Whitehead)

Ingredients:

2 tbs. olive oil or coconut oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbs. ginger, minced

2 1/2 tbs. red curry paste

1 15 oz. can of coconut milk

3. c. vegetable broth

1 tbs. agave or honey

8 oz. rice noodles

7 oz. tofu (about 1/2 block), cubed

2 c. broccoli florets

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 tbs. lime juice

salt to taste

fresh cilantro, to serve

 

1.  In a large pot, heat the coconut oil or olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.

2.  Add the red curry paste and stir for another 2-3 minutes.

3.  Add the coconut milk and stir well to evenly distribute the curry paste.  Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

4.  Once boiling, add the agave or honey and rice noodles and cook for 2 minutes.  Stir frequently to prevent the noodles from sticking together.

5.  Add the tofu, broccoli, and bell pepper and stir to combine.  Cook 3-5 more minutes, until the noodles are done and the broccoli is tender.

6.  Stir in the lime juice and add salt to taste.

7.  Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

8.  Enjoy!