For new symphony season, a change in tune
Plus: New Ledger podcast episode; And news of the week: Parks Helms dies at 87 — CATS reveals missed inspections — County property revaluations roll out — Hawthorne Bridge lawsuit
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Charlotte Symphony's '23-'24 lineup showcases substantial works by an array of living, diverse, contemporary composers; new musical director expected by year's end
Big names in music including opera great Renée Fleming, TikTok sensation Cody Fry and jazz violinist Regina Carter will perform during the new Charlotte Symphony season. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Symphony/Michael Harding)
by Lawrence Toppman
I’ll let a great composer of the mid-20th century sum up the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s 2023-24 season: “Roll over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”
Chuck Berry may not be featured in these concerts, though you can never tell what crossover violinist Regina Carter might play, and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are still on the roster.
But for the first time in memory, members of the Great Classical Canon will be less important than the startling array of Black, female and living composers who’ll populate the programs, not only in the Classical Series but the Pops Series and even the Family Series aimed at kids.
The CSO has yet to name a permanent music director. Officially, that will happen by the end of the year; according to informed rumor, we’ll get a decision by September. She or he will inherit an attitude that has suddenly invigorated Charlotte’s oldest professional arts organization.
Consider these numbers:
The upcoming Classical Series contains eight works by composers who are still with us, nine by women, four by African-Americans, two by living Asian-born composers.
Two of the four Pops concerts offer tributes by Black artists to Black singers: Carter will play David Schiff's “Four Sisters,” a concerto honoring Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and vocalist Dee Daniels will pay homage to them and others in an evening titled “Great Ladies of Swing.”
Even the Family Series goes farther afield. Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” pairs off with “Thurber’s Dogs,” a suite inspired by James Thurber’s drawings and composed by Peter Schickele. (Schickele is the musical satirist famous for creating the fictional composer “P.D.Q. Bach.”) Instead of a typical “Mozart/Beethoven/Brahms Lives Upstairs” morning, “Saint-Georges’ Sword and Bow” will introduce us to the Afro-European contemporary of Mozart who was a gifted fencer, violinist and composer.
Jazz violinist Regina Carter will join the Charlotte Symphony Feb. 9 and 10, 2024, for a program featuring David Schiff's Four Sisters, a concerto that pays homage to Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Symphony)
The CSO increased its commitment to contemporary and lesser-known music during Christopher Warren-Green’s 12-year tenure as music director, which ended last May. (He’ll return to lead an all-English program: Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from the opera “Peter Grimes,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 1 to texts by Walt Whitman, and Grace Williams’ “Sea Sketches.”)
Yet his freewheeling KnightSounds program stopped in 2016 after six years, and the replacement altsounds series died even faster. The CSO has put a toe or two into contemporary hot water, occasionally with a big work such as John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 but more frequently with a short curtain-raiser unlikely to drive off timid listeners.
Now we’ll hear many substantial pieces new to our ears. John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic Symphony,“ adapted from his Manhattan Project opera “Doctor Atomic,” will get an airing before Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto.
Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement will go well with “Rhapsody in Blue” by her contemporary, George Gershwin. Most daringly, William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1 — known as the “Afro-American Symphony,” the first symphony by a Black composer played by a major orchestra — anchors a program after Dvořák’s tone poem “The Noonday Witch,” Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto and a “Faust” overture by long-dead German composer Emilie Mayer.
Programmers dared to curate evenings without a single cornerstone of the repertoire. The English sea pieces above comprise one of those. A January concert matches Aaron Copland’s suite from the ballet “Billy the Kid” with Samuel Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra, Jennifer Higdon’s “Cold Mountain Suite” — co-commissioned by the CSO — and the season’s biggest surprise: Mizzy Mazzoli’s violin concerto, “Procession,” with in-demand soloist Jennifer Koh.
You may wonder who assembled this lineup, with Warren-Green back in Britain. Credit goes to president and CEO David Fisk, director of artistic planning Carrie Graham, resident conductor Christopher James Lees (who conducts the Family Series), principal flutist Victor Wang (chair of the musicians’ Artistic Advisory Committee), cellist Sarah Markle, clarinetist Allan Rosenfeld, timpanist Jacob Lipham and principal trumpet Alex Wilborn.
They’re importing some starry names: Carter, Koh, Metropolitan Opera soprano Renée Fleming for a September gala, TikTok sensation Cody Fry for a Nashville-tinged concert in October.
Yet locals will get more of a boost than usual. Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu will play his annual concerto — Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, last heard here four decades ago — but Wilborn will get a concerto, too, an obscure one by Oskar Böhme. CSO cellist Jeremy Lamb will make his Classical Series debut as composer of “A Ride on ‘Oumuamua,” inspired by the first known interstellar object to travel our solar system.
Maybe the final concert of the season best indicates where the CSO is going. Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” will draw people who like orchestral spectaculars. Before that, though, we’ll hear compositions by two youngish North Carolinians, “ ‘Oumuamua” by Raleigh native Lamb and “The Observatory” by Greenville’s Pulitzer-winning Caroline Shaw. If this thinking represents the symphony’s future, classical music fans should applaud.
Lawrence Toppman covered the arts for 40 years at The Charlotte Observer before retiring in 2020.
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This week in Charlotte: CMS to hold 3 school boundary meetings; Dale Halton dies at 85; Huntersville rejects Birkdale expansion; Hornets ticket prices drop to $1
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
Upcoming CMS south Charlotte boundary meetings: (Ledger 🔒) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will hold three meetings about proposed changes to south Charlotte school boundaries as it prepares to open a new relief high school and seeks funding for a new relief middle school. The meetings will be on March 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the Myers Park High School cafeteria, March 29 at 6:30 p.m. at South Mecklenburg High School and March 30 at 12 p.m. on Zoom.
Gaston County church pays off student lunch debt: (Observer) City Church in Gaston County raised more than $26,000 to pay off the $13,000 lunch debt incurred in Gaston County Schools so far this year. The rest of the money will go toward any future lunch debt.
Parks Helms dies: (Ledger) Former county commissioner and N.C. statehouse representative Parks Helms died Saturday at the age of 87. Helms, a Charlotte Democrat, was a fixture in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina politics for decades.
CATS skipped inspections: (Observer) The Charlotte Area Transit System revealed Wednesday that it missed required inspections on light rail bridges and parking garages in 2021. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Leigh Altman made a motion Wednesday to seek a third-party investigation into issues that include the derailment in May 2022.
Property revaluations roll out: (Ledger, Ledger🔒, Ledger🔒) Mecklenburg’s new property revaluations landed in mailboxes this week. We’ve got the goods on where the biggest gains — and losses — are, from the rise in million-dollar houses to country clubs and commercial properties.
Hawthorne Bridge lawsuit: (WCNC) The contractor who built the much-delayed Hawthorne Lane Bridge project in Elizabeth is suing the city of Charlotte for $115M, saying the city has not paid what it owes. The lawsuit, filed by Johnson Brothers Corp. last month, blames the city for repeated delays, including changing aspects of the project and failing to follow its own traffic management plans. It says the company delivered a “world-class project.”
Dale Halton dies: (Ledger 🔒) Dale Halton, who led Pepsi Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte for more than two decades and gave generously to institutions including UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College, died Tuesday at age 85.
Birkdale expansion rejected: (Cornelius Today) The Huntersville Town Board voted down a request by the owner of Birkdale Village to add an office tower and a parking deck. Nearby residents said they worried about building heights, traffic and parking.
Michael Jordan might not be selling the Hornets: (Observer) Michael Jordan’s family company Jump Management released a statement Wednesday saying that it is unclear if Jordan will sell a part of his large stake in the Charlotte Hornets.
Cheap Hornets tickets: (Axios Charlotte) Some tickets to Monday’s Charlotte Hornets game against the Indiana Pacers were selling for as little as $1 apiece, or $14 including fees.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Summer camp planning: It’s crunch time for booking summer camps. Some Charlotte-area summer camps say they’re filling up faster this year compared to past years, and parents say prices are higher at some camps.
Should the city rename uptown park for Hugh McColl? Local history buffs believe Thomas Polk Park in uptown should keep its name, which honors one of the city’s most important founders. They argue that renaming the park after Hugh McColl Jr., former CEO of Bank of America, would “erase” history.
Controversial SouthPark rezoning: The Charlotte City Council voted Monday to approve a rezoning proposal in SouthPark by The Related Group to build 730 apartments by the intersection of Colony and Roxborough roads.
Time to let Wells Fargo out of the penalty box? More than five years after the Federal Reserve announced it would ban Wells Fargo from increasing in size, the restriction is still in place. But it’s unclear how close Wells Fargo may be to moving past the most severe consequence of its 2016 fake accounts scandal.
Small business spotlight: Local broker and general contractor Chisa Brookes uses her unique background to her advantage when working on projects.
Providence Road neighbors oppose townhome plan: A group of neighbors off Providence Road is opposing plans for 17 townhomes to be built across the street from the Levine Jewish Community Center, saying they worry about water runoff into their yards.
You Ask, We Answer: Is Shell fuel out at Charlotte’s Circle K gas stations? Chris Barnes, director of communications for Circle K/Couche-Tard, told The Ledger that all Charlotte Metro area locations will offer Circle K fuel by the end of April.
Mike Cipriano dedicated many years to coaching countless young West Charlotte baseball players, including his sons and grandsons. He died in early March at the age of 80 from kidney disease.
Flipping for Kerwin Vargas: Left winger Kerwin Vargas scored his first goal with Charlotte FC last Saturday in Orlando, giving Charlotte a 2-0 lead in an eventual 2-1 win — its first win in four games this season.
Cheryl Richards, CEO of the employers association Catapult and former president of Johnson and Wales University’s Charlotte campus, discusses how companies are overcoming workplace challenges in a post-pandemic world. The Charlotte Ledger Podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast platforms.
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An article in Friday’s newsletter about next week’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools boundary meetings gave the incorrect location for Monday’s meeting at Myers Park High School. It will be in the cafeteria at 6:30 p.m., not in the auditorium. Apologies.
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