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Winter 2024

Welcome Kwamé Ryan!

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In case you missed the news in December, the Charlotte Symphony announced Maestro Ryan as its new Music Director. More on this in our spring issue, but in the meantime, read all about it in the Charlotte Observer!

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Photo credit: Charlotte Observer

Cello in the Spotlight

by Sarah Markle

"Oh, I just love the cello!" "The cello is my favorite instrument!" I can't count the number of times I've heard some version of this, whether at a concert, a party, on public transit, or just yelled in my general direction from across the street. (Actually that usually goes more like "YO IS THAT A CELLO?? THAT'S DOPE!") I tend to agree - it's a well loved instrument, possibly the dopest. Speaking purely objectively.

There seems to be a shared fascination in popular culture, based on the number of times the cello shows up in movies and TV. Most instruments get their turn to shine - the violin and piano certainly have heavy representation, and who can forget Ron Burgundy's jazz flute solo in Anchorman - but cello appearances always stand out to me as being particularly entertaining. Again, totally objective here.

My CSO cellist colleagues and I recently compared some of our favorite cello moments in entertainment, which is impossible to do without laughing. I'd imagine it's the way ballet dancers might feel about Black Swan, or pro soccer players may react to Bend It Like Beckham. It’s very cool to see your profession in the spotlight, AND it can be hilarious. For us, it depends on how the actor approaches holding and interacting with this weirdly shaped instrument - it’s just hard to make it look natural. I don't envy the task, and I doubt I could pull it off myself, but I reserve the right to laugh at them because they make gazillions of dollars.

First up, we have the VERY SERIOUS movie characters, reminding us that music is not to be taken lightly, that playing cello can be a dreadfully weighty business, and that the best musicians are all a little bit tortured. Christopher Walken's face here says exactly that, portraying cellist Peter Mitchell in A Late Quartet.

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Jamie Foxx does an admirable job as well in The Soloist, capturing here that lost-in-musical-bliss look that Hollywood loves to romanticize.

Emily Watson sells the Elgar Concerto very well as the prodigy Jacqueline du Pre in Hilary and Jackie, and a special shoutout to the ultra-theatrical scene in which she drops her bow while playing during an emotional meltdown, a slow motion cloud of rosin rising as it thunders to the ground. I've dropped my bow a few times onstage - it's noisy and hideously embarrassing, but I'd probably do it more often if it had that kind of dramatic impact.

All of these cello appearances, aside from the actors doing a pretty good job with the instrument, are helped immensely by some sneaky editing, cutting rapidfire between different angles so the viewer's gaze can't really take in much information. The actor’s hands might be doing some bizarre things that don't match what we're hearing at all, but we can only conclude from the pace and intensity that we're witnessing a moment of genius-level musical rapture.

Speaking of, Keri Russell does a nice job of conveying said musical rapture in August Rush, managing somehow to still look beautiful here while playing up in 18th position. In reality, playing  this high is usually accompanied by profuse sweating and muttered profanity, but not for Keri...

This brings us to a different category, holding a special place in my heart - the sexy lady cellist. I'm not sure exactly what the contributing factors are, but the cello gets eroticized a good bit in popular culture. Maybe it's the vague similarity in shape and size to the human body? This tattoo, made famous in the TV series Mozart In The Jungle, certainly suggests so. (And yes, I knew someone in college with that tattoo.)

Also in this show, actress Saffron Burrows makes a great sexy-but-complicated orchestral cellist, pictured above rocking the formal-black-except-for-one-entire-exposed-leg look.

Another favorite is James Bond's love interest in The Living Daylights, played by Kara Milovy - here she's going with an interestingly blank, middle distance stare that says “I absolutely know what I’m doing”, and also positioning her head in a way that makes my neck hurt.

Lastly, Meaghan Rath plays cool-girl cellist May on the show New Girl, and in one scene manages to maintain long, sultry eye contact with her love interest while performing, a multitasking feat hard to pull off without either 1) messing up your song, or 2) coming across like a psychopath. Brava Meaghan! We forgive you for your questionable left hand technique!

Having covered movies and TV, we're left with my personal favorites, coming from the wonderful world of stock photography. Feast your eyes!

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These cello moments mostly speak for themselves, and are downright delightful without any commentary at all, but a few themes emerge. If I knew nothing about the cello except from what Google Images tells me, I'd conclude that it requires the following: a lot of hair flinging, feet in permanent Barbie position, wearing basically no pants, and... whatever these folks are experiencing. Musical rapture?

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As you can see, some stock photographs appear to actually go out of their way to avoid looking realistic. One of these cellos is missing a bridge. The gentleman above is holding a half-sized instrument made for children. If you see someone onstage holding a bow like any of these people, try to get your money back. And the wide leg placement for several of these ladies evokes more of a gymnast-doing-splits vibe than anyone is comfortable with.

Regardless, as much as I enjoy cracking up at these photos, my suggestion to whomever took them would be to hire actual musicians! I, and probably every other freelance musician living paycheck to paycheck back in grad school would have gladly posed for stock cello photos, even the hair flingy ones. Then Google would know what actual cello playing looks like.

As long as I could wear pants. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

Meet our New Members, Continued...

by Allan Rosenfeld


Lenora Leggatt, Violin

Any pieces you’re particularly looking forward to playing in the orchestra here?

Brahms 1st Symphony and all of the movie series shows.

What’s your favorite place in the whole world and why?

The closest greenhouse. I love plants. 

Tell us a little something people would be interested in hearing about your life offstage?

Offstage is my other favorite place—hanging out with friends after a concert!

Andrew Merideth, Horn

Why did you pick your instrument?
I was recommended horn by a teacher, but later fell in love with it after hearing amazing horn parts in film soundtracks.

Any pieces you’re particularly looking forward to playing in the orchestra here?
As a big film score nerd, any performance of a live soundtrack is so much fun.


Tell us a little something people would be interested in hearing about your life offstage?

I analyze film music and post my findings on YouTube, so like I said, I'm a big film score nerd.

Philip Brindise, Horn

Why did you pick your instrument?

It was the only instrument I could make a sound on.


What do you love most about your instrument?

It has a sublime sound and sensation.

Any pieces you’re particularly looking forward to playing in the orchestra here?

Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde by Wagner, and First Symphony by Brahms.

CSO Side Gig: Working in our Local Schools

by Erinn Frechette

Each year, the Charlotte Symphony partners with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools to provide supplemental instruction in the middle and high school bands and orchestras. CSO musicians sign up to travel to schools for what are called “sectionals.” These intensive sessions pair a professional musician with a small number of young instrumentalists for focused practice. The group may be all the same instrument, such as a trumpet sectional, or a mixed ensemble such as a string quartet. The goals vary from addressing intonation or ensemble precision, to matching articulation or achieving greater dynamic variety.

Gabriel Slesinger coaching CMS trumpet students

Recently, I went to Northwest School of the Arts to coach. I wasn’t told anything beyond that I would be working with high school students in a mixed ensemble. When I arrived, I found I would have a bassoon and cello duo. As I’m not a bassoonist or cellist, I was a bit apprehensive. What would I say to these kids? How would I relate my experience and knowledge as a flutist to their instruments and music? My fears were quickly allayed. Both students were well-prepared and eager to learn. I found it easy to shift from “flute brain” to “music brain.” Sure we discussed the basics—“Can you listen to your partner there and match what she is doing with the bow with your articulation?” “Can we make more of a crescendo into this cadence?” But I was pleasantly surprised at how interested they were in going beyond, diving into the history of the piece (Mozart), and what it might be like to pursue music in college (one was thinking of minoring in music). It was a joy to hear them talk about their love of music and the program and teachers at Northwest. And my bassoonist even plays in the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra! I left with a full heart, knowing that a love of music and the arts was firmly established in these two outstanding students.


In speaking with my colleagues, I learned we all have the same appreciation for the opportunity to get out into the community and work with CMS students. Sam Sparrow, our second clarinetist, said, “It’s always a joy to work with students through our CSO coaching program. It’s a blast to get to know them and help foster their musical growth, and to get to know our wonderful local music educators as well!” At another session, I bumped into violinist Susan Blumberg who told me how much she loved getting out into the schools and spending time with the kids one-on-one.


After my sectional at Northwest, I wondered about the flip side. What does it mean to the teachers and students to have us come to teach? I reached out to Ashleigh Cook, who is the Band Director at Northwest School of the Arts, and asked. Her reply literally made my heart swell, and confirmed the importance I feel this partnership carries. Ashleigh said, “I really appreciate CSO musicians coming to work with students at NWSA. It’s a great opportunity for my students to hear professional musicians play and hear about how their path led them to such a high level of musicianship. Any time that my students can spend with a professional in a small group setting is beneficial to my program as a whole. There are many coaches that have made lasting impacts on my students, and they look forward to seeing them again!”

A Shoutout to our Staff

by Jeremy Lamb

It's not just the musicians who donate their time and energy -- our staff have also been hard at work spearheading projects to assist the community. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day., members of our administration partnered with A Roof Above to help unhoused people move into new homes. Over two weeks, they collected donated items to assemble around eight Fresh Start Kits to help people get their places looking clean and nice. Here are a few pictures of our staff assembling these kits in the CSO office.

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