Thursday, December 8, 2011

Who's who in NCDT's 'Nutcracker'

Sure, the perennial "Nutcracker" performances are a big draw for children. But adults, too, can get swept along in Clara's trip to dreamland.

N.C. Dance Theatre's performances -- with the Charlotte Symphony playing Tchaikovsky's magical music -- are about to begin. So, for the benefit of NCDT-watchers making plans to go, here's an overview of who will play which main role at what time.

This will be NCDT's first performances without three of its "Nutcracker" veterans: Traci Gilchrest, Rebecca Carmazzi and Sasha Janes, whose dancing days are winding down. So there will be new faces in leading roles, such as Sarah Hayes Watson as the Snow Queen and David Morse and Naseeb Culpepper as Snow Kings. NCDT also will welcome back Justin VanWeest, who was out during the autumn with an injured shoulder, as Clara's uncle Drosselmeyer (photo by Peter Zay).

The casting is subject to change, of course. (Here's hoping nothing has to change because someone gets hurt.) The dates refer to evening performances unless a matinee is specified.

Clara, who receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift, is played by three students from NCDT's school:
Blake Johnston, age 15: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17 matinee, Dec. 18.
Caitrin Murphy, age 13: Dec. 11, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 18 matinee.
Samantha Teves, age 13: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 17.

Fritz, Clara's bratty brother, also played by an NCDT student:
Eamon Murphy, age 11 (all performances).

Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara's mysterious uncle:
Mark Diamond: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Dec. 18 matinee.
Justin VanWeest: Dec. 10, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 18.
David Ingram: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 17 matinee.

Snow Queen and Snow King in Act 1:
Sarah Hayes Watson and David Morse: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Dec. 18 matinee.
Jamie Dee and Pete Walker: Dec. 10, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 18.
Anna Gerberich and Naseeb Culpepper: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 17 matinee.

Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in Act 2:
Alessandra Ball and Addul Manzano: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Dec. 18 matinee.
Anna Gerberich and David Morse: Dec. 10, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 18.
Jamie Dee and Pete Walker: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 17 matinee.

And, in the Land of Sweets in Act 2:

Coffee (using Tchaikovsky's Arabian Dance):
Melissa Anduiza and Pete Walker: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Dec. 18 matinee.
Melissa Anduiza and Daniel Rodriguez: Dec. 10, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 18.
Alessandra Ball and Naseeb Culpepper: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 17 matinee.

Candy Cane (using Tchaikovsky's Russian Dance):
Jordan Leeper: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Dec. 18 matinee.
Pete Walker: Dec. 10, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 18.
Gregory DeArmond: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 17 matinee.

Rose (soloist in Waltz of the Flowers):
Anna Gerberich: Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Dec. 17, Dec. 18 matinee.
Alessandra Ball: Dec. 10, Dec. 11 matinee, Dec. 18.
Sarah Hayes Watson: Dec. 10 matinee, Dec. 16, Dec. 17 matinee.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oratorio director gets bumped-up title

It's too bad that no one recorded the Charlotte Symphony's performances of Mozart's "Requiem" last month. The drama, eloquence and precision were a tribute to the orchestra and, even more, the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte. While the performances won't have a digital afterlife, the Singers' director is getting a consolation prize.

The orchestra is beefing up Scott Allen Jarrett's title. When he steps onto the podium Dec. 14 to conduct Handel's "Messiah," he'll do so as the orchestra's director of choruses and assistant conductor. (In case you're wondering about the plural "choruses," it isn't that the orchestra expects him to add more of them. It's counting the Singers' chamber chorus separately.)

The orchestra says the change recognizes Jarrett's leadership of the Oratorio Singers and his expanded role in the orchestra's activities.

"Under his directorship the chorus has flourished," music director Christopher Warren-Green said in a statement. "The progress is remarkable, and the entire Charlotte musical community is fortunate to have such excellent leadership."

This season, Jarrett's duties include conducting "Messiah" next week and Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" for the KnightSounds series in February; training the Oratorio Singers in "Magic of Christmas" music, Mozart's "Requiem" and Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis"; and conducting the Singers' chamber chorus in its annual performance at the Piccolo Spoleto festival in Charleston.

Even though Jarrett won't conduct Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" in May -- Warren-Green will -- it may be his biggest test since he took over the Oratorio Singers in 2004. The "Missa" is not only one of the most eloquent of all choral works, it's one of the most challenging to learn and sing. Warren-Green's predecessor, Christof Perick, stayed away from it for that reason. But Jarrett, who has conducted it with a Boston group he also leads, thinks the Oratorio Singers can do it. If they pull it off, that'll be his real prize.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Go to opera house via the art museum

Most of the time, audiences get their first glimpse of an Opera Carolina production when the curtain goes up. But the Mint Museum Uptown will help set the scene for January's "Madama Butterfly."

"Jun Kaneko: In the Round" will spotlight the artist whose sets and costumes give "Butterfly" a new look -- a colorful, dramatic transformation of traditional Japanese styles.

The exhibition, opening Dec. 10, will put some of Kaneko's ceramic sculptures, which have been his specialty for decades, alongside his drawings for "Butterfly," his operatic debut. The show will expand outdoors in January, when a 12-foot sculpture of Kaneko's (photo courtesy of Jun Kaneko Studio) replaces the giant red Christmas-tree ornament in the Mint's plaza.

Kaneko was born in Japan in 1942. He moved to the United States to study in 1963, and he has long resided here. One of his mentors, ceramic artist Peter Voulkos, has described Kaneko's creations as "an amazing synthesis of painting and sculpture ... intellectual and playful."

By working together, Opera Carolina and the Mint can "increase appreciation for a renowned artist by showcasing a variety of mediums of his work," Mint president Kathleen Jameson said in a statement. People who see Kaneko's work in both the galleries and theater "can experience the continuity of form, pattern and design between these two modes of expression and creation," curator Carla Hanzal said.

Kaneko, who has been based in Omaha, Nebraska, for two decades, designed "Butterfly" for Omaha's opera company. Opera Carolina will return to him when it presents his new production of Mozart's "Magic Flute" -- shared with the opera companies of San Francisco, Washington and Omaha -- in January 2013.

For a taste of his "Butterfly," you can see a slideshow on Kaneko's website. But do yourself a favor. Look at the first five or 10 images -- enough to get a taste -- and stop there. That way you'll leave yourself something to discover in the theater.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mapping out a future for culture in Charlotte

How do you see the future of the arts in Charlotte? The Arts & Science Council wants to know.

The ASC, a longtime producer of cultural plans, is working on a new one. It will lay out "a refreshed cultural vision for Charlotte-Mecklenburg," the ASC says. After holding seven sessions to collect the opinions of arts, business and civic leaders, the ASC has set up a website to let the public chime in.

The site -- -- will be online through Dec. 31.

"We want to find new ways to make Charlotte-Mecklenburg's cultural opportunities more valued and vital to those who live and visit here," ASC president Scott Provancher said in a statement.

This will be the fourth cultural action plan -- as the ASC calls them -- since 1975, ASC vice president Robert Bush says. The ASC sees it as a complement to the cultural facilities plan that led to the building of the Levine Center for the Arts on South Tryon Street. This time, the ASC is looking for ways to:

  • encourage residents and visitors to take part in more cultural activities.
  • "nurture the totality of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's cultural community."
  • enrich neighborhoods across the county.
  • promote opportunities for lifelong learning.
In February, the ASC will hold town-hall meetings in Charlotte, Matthews and Cornelius to gather further points of view. The ASC hopes to complete its plans and recommendations by May, ASC vice president Robert Bush said.

While the ASC doesn't frame the project this way, there's no doubt that recession-hit Charlotte needs new ways to nurture its arts community.

The ASC's fundraising plummeted in the downturn. Cultural groups were forced into severe belt-tightening. N.C. Dance Theatre, for instance, laments that dancers have been leaving town for cities that offer more weeks of work. But even before the crisis, the arts community was showing strain.

The Charlotte Symphony's financial troubles began nearly a decade ago. Money woes put Charlotte Repertory Theatre out of business. Moving Poets Theatre of Dance, rather than land in that kind of trouble, shut down in the face of tough fundraising.

Charlotte and its vaunted can-do spirit have their work cut out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Never seen an opera? Now's the time

Even though you're reading an arts blog at the moment, you may not have sampled every art form that's out there. So: If you've never seen an opera -- or never seen one presented by Opera Carolina -- here's your chance to try it. For free.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation essentially has bought up a performance of one the all-time favorites -- Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" -- and let Opera Carolina give away the seats.

So 1,850 tickets to the Jan. 28 performance will be up for grabs. Anyone who has never attended an Opera Carolina performance is eligible to sign up online beginning Dec. 5. The company will give out the tickets -- a maximum of two per entry -- on a first-come, first served basis.

"Seeing 'Madama Butterfly' is a wonderful reminder of how the arts can enrich our lives," Knight Foundation executive Dennis Scholl said in a statement. "We hope first-time operagoers in Charlotte will take us up on our offer of a free seat and get a taste of all the opera has to offer." The foundation was established by former owners of the Charlotte Observer and other newspapers.

To sign up, go to beginning Dec. 5. To keep everybody honest and make sure that the free tickets served their intended purpose, Opera Carolina will check names against its database.

Newcomers to opera won't be the only people to have an eye-opening experience. This "Butterfly" will have a colorful new look, thanks to sets and costumes by Jun Kaneko, a Japanese artist with works in the Mint Museum's collection. His "Butterfly" designs premiered at Nebraska's Opera Omaha in 2006.

By the way, no operagoers will be harmed in the making of this giveaway. The Jan. 28 performance, on a Saturday, is an extra that Opera Carolina added to take advantage of the popularity of "Madama Butterfly." So no one has to be bumped.

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Rodelinda' boasts more than Fleming

Renee Fleming is the main box-office draw in "Rodelinda," which is the next of the Metropolitan Opera's movie-theater showings. But if you'll let me look back at when I saw Handel's four-hour feast of arias during its first Met run, I'll point out a couple of other things to be on alert for besides the prima donna.

Like the Dec. 3 showing of "Rodelinda" -- a drama centering on a queen of Lombardy whose husband is thought to have been killed in war -- the 2004 performances also featured Stephanie Blythe in the other female role, a woman who schemes against the heroine but eventually changes her ways. For veteran opera buffs, Blythe's red-blooded singing may bring back memories of Marilyn Horne, who was famed for dispatching Handel's and Rossini's acrobatics with aplomb.

When the vocal line plummets, the very sound of Blythe's voice harks back to Horne's walloping impact. In Handel's lyrical spots, Blythe has a warmth and poise that, for my money, outdo even Horne. But even if Horne isn't your frame of reference, Blythe is a force to be reckoned with.

The second notable item: the set. As that 2004 performance unfolded, I realized that I had never seen a set like this one. The first scene took place in the interior of an Italian villa. It was a realistic-style set, nothing unusual. Then came the surprise. For the next scene, the entire set -- the whole darn thing, filling the enormous Met stage -- moved to the left, bringing the villa's courtyard into view. Later, everything moved still further left, revealing the stable across the courtyard.

How's that for a home tour? The viewers stay put, and the house moves. It's isn't a flashy or high-tech effect, but the very simplicity makes it powerful. And it's a reminder that the Met has one of the largest, best-equipped stages in the world. You won't see the likes of this in Charlotte.

The "Rodelinda" showing will start at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the usual two Charlotte-area theaters: the Stonecrest 22 near Ballantyne and the Concord Mills 24.

Monday, November 21, 2011

'Mummies' liven up Discovery Place

It looks like Discovery Place has a live one with "Mummies of the World." The galleries were full when I took some out-of-town company to see it over the weekend. To judge from the attendance figures, that was no fluke.

More than 11,000 people visited show through Nov. 20 -- in other words, the show's first eight days -- according to Discovery Place. Including advance sales, the ticket total is 28,000.

Over the past few decades, Egyptians laid out in swanky sarcophagi have gotten most of the publicity. So the up-close-and-personal view of the dearly departed that we get from other cultures is all the more dramatic.

Even before coming within range of the artistic touch that gives the Tattoed Woman her nickname, seeing her upright position is startling enough. To me, she's even more eerie because her tilted head and flowing tresses hark back to another woman known for her artistic statements: Note the photo of Martha Argerich, the charismatic Argentine pianist, on the cover of her first LP.

If you go, here's a tip: Discovery Place says the most strategic time to visit is on school-day afternoons, beginning about 2 p.m. The daily busloads of students are usually out by then, and the galleries are less crowded than on weekends.

If voting with my feet counts as a testimony: I'm expecting to pay a return visit in a couple of weeks. I have another houseguest on the way, and this one is a dentist. He should have some interesting perspectives on the ancient teeth.

Tattooed Woman photo: T. Ortega Gaines.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bearden billboard attracts New York attention

It may not supply as much of a box-office boost as a rave review in the New York Times. But the Mint Museum Uptown's Romare Bearden show landed a spot in the Times' business section, and from the vantage point of a Charlotte cultural group, that still qualifies as big-city attention.

It was the advertising campaign devised by the Charlotte firm of BooneOakley that did the trick. The story's online version is headed by a photo of a Bearden double-image: In front of a billboard emblazoned with a Bearden artwork depicting three musicians, a flesh-and-blood trio is playing away.

It was an eye-catcher that BooneOakley and the Mint put into action near Bank of American Stadium on the day of a Panthers game.

"Art ... sometimes goes unnoticed," BooneOakley's David Oakley told the Times. "But we're trying to make it more part of the culture, and more three-dimensional and alive."

The billboard still comes alive on a BooneOakley video:

Bearden Outdoor LIVE from BooneOakley on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You and Warren-Green, face to face

Did you ever wonder what an orchestral conductor and his exertions look like from the players’ vantage point? Here’s your chance to find out.

The Charlotte Symphony will let listeners this week sit in a new location: onstage.

The Bach and Beethoven works on the agenda don’t demand a stageful of players. So the orchestra will sell tickets to seats behind the orchestra – the ones the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte used in last week’s concerts.

If you listen from there, the experience is more "visceral," executive director Jonathan Martin said. He has tried it.

"What you’re going to hear is a great deal of immediacy and a lot of volume," Martin said. On the other hand, he added, the sound won’t be as "blended" as what the audience out in the auditorium hears.

The orchestra’s music director, Christopher Warren-Green, has wanted to bring listeners onstage "for a while," Martin said. It's part of the effort to "make the orchestra more accessible and more connected with audiences," Martin said. "We hope it will give people a new appreciation for our musicians and what their experience is."

Banking on the popularity of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the orchestra will perform the program three nights – adding Thursday, Nov. 17, to the usual Friday-Saturday pair. Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 are also in store.

Some concert halls have built-in seats behind the orchestra. The Belk Theater doesn’t. So the orchestra had to make special arrangements for ushering the listeners onstage – and even had to get the fire department’s OK.

Putting listeners onstage isn't feasible at every concert, Martin said. But the orchestra's leaders are looking for more opportunities this season.

“We’ll learn from this first weekend,” Martin said. “I think we’re going to want to do this as much as we can.”

The orchestra will sell 60-70 tickets for stage seats. The price: $26.50. They're available only from the Charlotte Symphony box office, 704-972-2000. Sales will cut off at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Symphony honors longtime booster Bernstein

The Charlotte Symphony paid tribute Friday night to one of its most faithful backers: Mark Bernstein, who has been a board member, donor and concertgoer for half a century.

Before Friday night's all-Mozart program at the Belk Theater, Bernstein received the orchestra's Sally Ann Hall Spirit of the Symphony Award. The award, presented each year, memorializes another longtime supporter of the orchestra.

Presenting the award, executive director Jonathan Martin noted that when Bernstein was on the orchestra's board of directors int he 1980s, he was drawn in to the point of serving on the board of the nationwide association now known as the League of American Orchestras. Bernstein put in a year as the group's president.

Bernstein has played an array of other roles in the city's arts community. Two decades ago, he served with the groups that planned and raised money for the building of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. More recently, he worked for the building of what is now the Levine Center for the Arts on South Tryon Street.

Besides being the recipient of numerous community awards, Bernstein was honored a few months ago by his own family. As a birthday present, they sponsored in his name a new ballet that was performed by N.C. Dance Theatre.

Accepting the Hall award, Bernstein said he had received more from working with the orchestra than he gave. He urged the people in the audience to pitch in with the orchestra, too.

"Support it," Bernstein said. "Do what you can for it. Take care of it. It's one of our most important assets."

Bernstein said

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mint celebrates its home state's art

The Mint Museum is showcasing one of its specialties in a show that will settle into the Mint's Randolph Road branch for a year.

"A Thriving Tradition: 75 years of Collecting North Carolina Pottery" will run from Saturday, Nov. 12, through Jan. 5, 2013. The show, part of the Mint's 75th-anniversary celebration, spotlights 75 artists who have molded the state's rich pottery tradition.

The 100-plus works include a Ben Owen vase (at right) that was given to the museum the year after the former U.S. Mint began its new incarnation in 1936.

"The exhibition pays tribute to the many collectors, past and present, whose passion, connoisseurship and generosity have enabled The Mint Museum to develop the most comprehensive collection of North Carolina pottery in the county," the museum's decorative-arts curator, Brian Gallagher, said via e-mail.

The show features N.C.'s homegrown traditions as well as works embodying influences from across the world. A face jug by Burlon Craig, a longtime Catawba Valley potter who died in 2002, represents traditional methods whose results became popular with tourists and collectors alike.

That Ben Owen item from the Mint's first year draws on the shape of Chinese pottery of the Han Dynasty. And a large vessel by Erich Knoche, a young potter working in Asheville, calls on techniques he learned by watching a potter in Thailand.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roths put their money where their music was

When most people retire, their co-workers or employers give them a going-away present, right? The Charlotte Symphony's Wolfgang and Bette Roth have turned the practice around.

The Roths, who retired last summer after more than 30 years with the orchestra, have made "a substantial gift" to its endowment fund, the orchestra announced today. As a thank-you, the orchestra has established the Wolfgang Roth Principal Second Violin Chair.

The Roths made the donation "out of gratitude," Wolfgang Roth said in a statement.

"Reflecting on the past 40 years, I realize how blessed I have been by the CSO, the city of Charlotte and even this country," German-born Roth said.

With the Roths' donation as a jump-start, the orchestra's goal is to raise money to endow the chair. That will call for a total of about $1 million, executive director Jonathan Martin said. Investing that would generate enough money to cover the player's salary.

The Roths' donation "exemplifies the dedication, character and the deep love of this institution that they brought to work every day," Martin said in a statement.

Wolfgang Roth, who joined the orchestra in 1971, signed its first full-time contract when it began to go professional. He became its principal second violinist in 1976. Bette began as a part-time member of the orchestra, then became its first full-time harpist in 1983.

Though the orchestra's announcement didn't point it out, honoring Bette with the harp chair wasn't an option. It's already named for Billy Graham.

Photo: Todd Sumlin

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Charlotte-born sculptor creates Reagan No. 3

The Charlotte sculptor who brought Captain Jack to Central Piedmont Community College has produced his third likeness of the country's 40th president.

Chas Fagan's latest monument to Ronald Reagan stands at Washington's Reagan National Airport, where it was unveiled Tuesday by former N.C. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and other Washington figures. Dole, who served as transporation secretary in Reagan's cabinet, led the fund drive that brought in $900,000 to pay for the sculpture.

Fagan's 9-foot-tall Reagan appears to be in motion, taking a step across the monument's setting outside the airport's Terminal A. In Fagan's first Reagan likeness, a 7-foot bronze across the Potomac inside the Capitol, the president stands with his left hand resting on a pedestal. All the way across the Atlantic, the artist's 10-foot Reagan has stood in a
park near the U.S. Embassy in London since last July 4.

Photo: AP

Monday, October 31, 2011

Myers Park meets John Cage

John Cage would have to rank high on any list of composers whose whose works are talked-about much more than they're actually performed. He became known far outside the classical-music world decades ago, thanks to his "4'33," " in which a pianist takes his place at the keyboard and proceeds to spend 4 minutes and 33 seconds playing: nothing.

Cage wrote reams of works that do produce sound. But until the Third Coast Percussion quartet played at Queens University of Charlotte on Oct. 29, none of those -- nor "4' 33," " for that matter -- ever landed in front of me at a concert. That must've been true of most everyone else in the audience, too.

So we all had our inauguration at at Queens, in Myers Park -- the heart of Charlotte gentility. Guess what: The earth did not open up and swallow Selwyn Avenue. Actually, minds may have opened instead: Some ordinary Charlotte concertgoers came up to me afterward and said they enjoyed Cage's music.

Admittedly, the music in question was nothing outlandish. Third Coast, a quartet based in Chicago, included two works that Cage wrote for his own percussion ensemble around 1940, when he was just beginning to evolve into the cheery provocateur of 20th-century music. Cage's "Construction No. 2" and "Construction No.3" employed a wide but un-shocking array of drums, bells, rattles other instruments from around the world. The main innovation was what Cage dubbed a prepared piano: an instrument with paper and other objects stuck between strings to alter the sound.

So there was an extra rumble to a pithy theme that welled up from the piano's bass range. Cage did work with some building blocks as traditional as identifiable themes, you see, in addition to indulging the sheer sonic impact of the instruments. The music that emerged from the stageful of instruments -- and kept the four players very busy -- was dynamic, colorful and exuberant. No wonder it spoke to people.

Besides keeping Cage's music crisp and vivid, the group turned the sound of the marimba into the stuff of sculpture. When the four players joined forces at two marimbas, strumming them gently, the glowing tones let Tobias Brostrom's "Twilight" very much live up to its name. Along the way, a melody floated from player to player, and the four of them showed that percussionists can operate as smoothly as any violinist or singer.

The marimba music particularly struck someone I spoke to afterward. He said the mellowness of it took him back to when he attended concerts by the Grateful Dead. This time there were no controlled substances.


Friday, October 28, 2011

You decide if Fabio is fab

Legions of opera lovers are about to become acquainted with a conductor who's likely to become very important to them in the coming years.

Fabio Luisi will conduct the Metropolitan Opera's movie-theater relay of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" on Saturday, Oct. 29. He's stepping in to replace the Met's ailing music director, James Levine, and he'll take on even more heavy lifting next Saturday, Nov. 5, when the Met beams Richard Wagner's "Siegfried" out to the theaters.

The peripatetic Luisi -- raised in Italy, leader of an opera house in Switzerland, head of an orchestra in Vienna -- has conducted more than 70 performances at the Met since his debut there in 2005. But these will be his first appearances for the movie-theater crowds. In "Don Giovanni," besides introducing himself to them, he'll treat many opera buffs to something they've never encountered: Unlike most conductors, Luisi puts down the baton and plays the harpsichord during Mozart's sung dialog. As best I recall, even Levine -- who's a keyboard virtuoso -- leaves that to others.

When he took over Levine's autumn performances, Luisi -- who became the Met's principal guest conductor in 2010 -- was elevated to principal conductor. There's wide speculation that Luisi will ascend to the Met's top artistic job if Levine's health woes force an end to his 35-year reign.

However that turns out, Luisi is already making his mark.

The Met did an audio webcast of the opening night of "Siegfried" on Thursday, Oct. 27, and I heard most of it. The performance's sweep, subtlety and theatrical spark showed that Wagner was in accomplished hands. The orchestra's rich experience playing this music under Levine must've contributed, of course. But Levine wasn't behind one thing: Luisi brought in "Siegfried" in about 5 hours and 10 minutes -- 20 minutes less than the Met's website predicted. No wonder the music seemed so alive.

Photo: BALU Photography

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brush up your Wagner

Many devotees of the Metropolitan Opera's movie-theater showings have been following the installment-plan presentation of Richard Wagner's epic "The Ring of the Nibelung." Part 3 of the epic cycle, "Siegfried," beams into theaters Nov. 5. If you're a real Wagner fan, you can get a jump on it Thursday, Oct. 27.

Listen in on the Met's website as the new production of "Siegfried" premieres, beginning at 6 p.m. Obviously, you won't be able to see how director Robert Lepage uses his staging's most famous component: the 45-ton set, a mechanical contraption that has turned out to be as temperamental as any prima donna. (A computer glitch held up the movie-theater relay of Part 2, "The Valkyrie," for about 45 minutes. Do you suppose any human diva has ever done that?)

Unless you're a hardcore Wagner buff, though, you can probably use a refresher before going out to Stonecrest or Concord Mills on Nov. 5. "Siegfried," the next-to-last opera in Wagner's 19-hour saga of gods and monsters, introduces the hero bred to untangle the mess the gods have gotten themselves into. But there's far more to it than I can summarize here.

Assuming that the set cooperates, "Siegfried" will run from 6 p.m. to about 11:30. If you happen to be tied up early in the evening, there's good news: the juiciest part is the last half-hour. That's when Siegfried discovers Brünnhilde, the warrior maiden put into a magic slumber at the end of "Valkyrie." He wakes her and they instantly fall in love. If you're still up around 11 p.m., it could make a nice bedtime story.

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Orchestra will have a second date wiith Bearden

The Charlotte Symphony is getting ready for Romare Bearden 2.0.

The orchestra opened this season's KnightSounds series last Friday by combining the Charlotte native's art -- projected on a screen above the players -- with music that amplified it. For instance: "Take the A Train" and other Duke Ellington hits became the soundtrack for Bearden's depictions of jazz musicians in full swing. The orchestra swung right along with them.

Versatility is one of American orchestras' virtues. The same musicians who dance a graceful Mozart minuet can turn around and kick up their heels with Bearden and the Duke. They'll have another date with Bearden on Nov. 3, when the orchestra plays an altered version of the concert at Central Piedmont Community College.

The bulk of the program will be the same, including the Ellington medley, Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Leonard Bernstein's "On the Town." If the orchestra delivers the "Fanfare" the way it did at the Knight Theater -- with the brass and percussion lined up across the stage, firing into the audience at almost point-blank range -- the Halton Theater may still be vibrating the next morning.

The concert will give the orchestra a second crack at the Bearden multimedia component, which hit a snag last Friday. Introducing Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos told the audience about the black-and-white artworks that were in store. But as the music unfolded, the screen remained blank. What happened? The computer that was programmed with the images malfunctioned, according to the orchestra's executive director, Jonathan Martin.

Maybe the second time will be a charm. The concert will start at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at CPCC's Halton Theater. Unlike the KnightSounds evening, this one won't include free food beforehand or a free visit to an art museum. But the tickets are only $20 for adults, $12 for students. So it's still a good deal. Tickets are available from the Charlotte Symphony box office (not in this case) at 704-972-2000;

Romare Bearden photo by Marvin E. Newman.

Friday, October 21, 2011

'Trovatore' hits high note with a boost from France

In a post earlier this week, I pointed out that an extra high C that Lisa Daltirus adds to Opera Carolina's "Il Trovatore" harks back to the celebrated soprano Leontyne Price. In the meantime, I've gotten a handle on where the flourish in Act 4 -- a Price trademark -- actually originated.

I had time one night to check around through CDs and LPs on the shelves at home. Nothing bore out my original impression -- which I kept quiet about a couple of days ago, luckily -- that the alteration rose in Germany. I finally tried out the very first recording of "Trovatore," made in France in 1912.

Not only is it sung in French, but it's based on a revised version that Verdi himself crafted for use in Paris. The biggest change: Because even Verdi knew when he had to comply with the fashions of Paris -- where audiences demanded ballet -- a dance sequence pops up in Act 2. It's predominantly bright, perky and hardly recognizable as Verdi. And in Act 4, when the offstage voices of the tenor and chorus chime in with the heroine, soprano Jane Morlet lets fly with the same high C that later became fodder for Price -- who, for my money, did it better.

Shining high notes were a specialty of Price's during her heyday. In that passage of "Trovatore" -- where there are four opportunities to throw in the C -- she sometimes did it twice. Opera buffs cherish a recording made in 1962 during a fireball of a performance at the Salzburg Festival in Austra. If you enjoy full-throated singing, it's worth tracking down.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Latest NPR flap draws in WDAV

WDAV-FM is helping deal with the latest brouhaha involving National Public Radio and politics.

WDAV produces "World of Opera," a weekly program featuring performances recorded in theaters across the United States and Europe. Distributed by NPR, it airs on 61 U.S. stations. Lisa Simeone, a Maryland-based broadcaster who works for WDAV as a freelancer, is the host.

The Capitol Hill journal Roll Call reported Tuesday night that Simeone also acts as a spokesperson for October 2011, a group involved in anti-Wall Street demonstrations in Washington. NPR, which has been stung by disputes involving its radio personalities and their political views, put out word that it was looking into Simeone's actions. The blogosphere quickly picked up on the hot topic, as did Fox News.

Simeone was fired Wednesday as the host of another program: "Soundprint," a show that airs on some NPR stations but isn't produced by NPR. Meanwhile, WDAV general manager Scott Nolan went into discussions with NPR about "World of Opera."

Thursday afternoon, WDAV put out word on its blog, Classical Musings, that Simeone will stay put on "World of Opera":

As host of World of Opera, Lisa Simeone is an independent contractor of WDAV Classical Public Radio. Ms. Simeone’s activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV’s employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance at WDAV. Ms. Simeone remains the host of World of Opera.

The item added that the station is working with NPR to "find a solution to the issues surrounding 'World of Opera,' " and said it will publish any updates on its blog.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Il Trovatore' carries extra resonance

Besides containing the most powerful collection of voices that Opera Carolina has fielded in recent years, the company's "Il Trovatore" contains a couple of reverberations from the big, splashy world of opera outside Charlotte.

Italian tenor Antonello Palombi, who plays the troubadour Manrico, made international news in 2006 when he made a sudden debut at Italy's -- if not the world's -- most famous opera house.

Milan's La Scala had hired Palombi to do a couple of performances as Radames, the tenor role in Verdi's "Aida." Palombi also signed up to be the backup for other occasions. On one of
those nights, he was on standby offstage -- warmed up but not in costume -- when star tenor Roberto Alagna went onstage for the evening's performance. Mere minutes into the performance, at the end of Ramades' aria, Alagna was pelted by boos. So Alagna did something that rarely happens even in Italy's tempestuous theaters: He threw up his hands and walked out in mid-scene.

There was no time to waste. The stage manager grabbed Palombi and pushed him onstage in his street clothes. Even if you don't understand the narrator in this report from Italian television,
the video will take care of you.

Palombi got into costume during the next intermission. And soon, media around the world picked up the story. Another biographical tidbit about Palombi: He grew up in Spoleto, the Italian hill town whose summer cultural festival spawned the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston.

The other reverberation comes through the music: an echo of a great American singer, Leontyne Price.

If you go to one of the remaining performances, be on alert early in Act 4. First, the opera's heroine, Leonore, laments the fate of her beloved Manrico, who languishes in a dungeon. Then an offstage chorus chimes in, praying for mercy for prisoners who are about to be executed. Leonore's voice sails above, and toward the climax, her voice rises repeatedly to a high A-flat.

That's what Verdi wrote, anyhow. But when Price was in her heyday, she spurned one or two of the A-flats and, staying with the right harmony, vaulted on up to high C -- to radiant effect. I don't think she wasn't the first soprano to do that, but she was the one who became known for it.

When Opera Carolina's "Trovatore" opened last Thursday, soprano Lisa Daltirus followed Price's lead. The last time the phrase came along, Daltirus, too, zoomed up to a high C. It took that prayer a little closer to heaven.

Friday, October 14, 2011

4 dancers take their places with NCDT

Dancers come and go from N.C. Dance Theatre most every year. Not only do they move around in search of opportunity, but, let's face it, dancers' careers aren't very long. That's why they're eager for opportunity.

If you go to N.C. Dance Theatre's "Director's Choice" program this weekend at the Knight Theater, you'll see four dancers who have joined the main company this fall. aking their debut with the main company. You may have a bit of deja vu, though: Three of them moved from the NCDT 2 training company. Here's an introduction to the group:

You're sure to notice Jordan Leeper during William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," where he has a series of athletic solos. Also be on the lookout for him in one of Forsythe's less-conspicuous but intriguing turns: Leeper will be in a back corner (to the left from the audience's perspective) reaching through the air as if he's measuring off the space around him. While this is his first season in the main company, Leeper belonged to NCDT 2 last year.
Hometown: Jamestown, N.Y.
Began dancing: age 12.
Training included: Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet School near his hometown;San Francisco Ballet School summer program.
If he weren't a dancer he'd be: a figure skater.
Favorite thing to do an a day off: relax and watch movies.
Never misses an episode of: "True Blood."
Pet peeve: when people chomp on food.

Naseeb Culpepper, the only complete newcomer to NCDT, is one of the five men in Sasha Janes' "Rhapsodic Dances." He and Jamie Dee are the couple in green.
Hometown: Florence, S.C.
Began dancing: age 11.
Training included: UNC School of the Arts; Houston Ballet.
Last season: member of the Colorado Ballet's studio company.
Favorite music: Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac.
Favorite TV show: "Batman: The Animated Series."
Prized possession: electric guitar, a Jackson KE3 Kelly.

Kate Ann Behrendt, like Leeper, moved up this season from NCDT 2. She's one of the women who stir up the lazy men in Mark Diamond's "Bolero."
Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.
Began dancing: age 10.
Training included: Minnesota Dance Theatre; Pacific Northwest Ballet; bachelor's degree in dance from New York University.
At NYU: minored in anthropology.
If she weren't a dancer she'd be: an archaeologist.
Favorite music: Lynne Li, Mumford & Sons, Yann Tiersen.
Pet peeve: clutter.

Daniel Rodriguez is one of the men roused by Behrendt and the women in "Bolero." At the beginning, he's stretched out at the front of the stage, toward the audience's left. He also moved up from NCDT 2.
Hometown: New York City.
Began dancing: age 10.
Training included: National Dance Institute in New York; LaGuardia High School of Music & Art.
Prized possession: Lava lamp.
Favorite Charlotte restaurant: Cuisine Malaya.
Favorite thing to do on a day off: watch football.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One sour note in "Prohibition"

Ken Burns' "Prohibition" on PBS isn't about music, obviously, but music helps tell its story. Church hymns capture the temperance movement's rock-ribbed resolve. Wynton Marsalis and his band keep the party rolling for revelers in clubs and speakeasies. One choice of music bothers me, though.

The booze-fueled business boom for gangsters is one of the documentary's main story lines. A chapter titled "The Goons" describes criminal action in Chicago and other big cities. It tells about crooks who aren't well-known today, such as the Bernstein brothers and the Fleishers, descendants of Jews from eastern Europe. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, a piano and orchestra rip through the Concerto in F by George Gershwin -- a descendant of Jews from eastern Europe.

"Prohibition" is sweeping and thought-provoking. It's well worth 5 1/2 hours of your time. But that one conjunction of story, music and heritage grates on me, and I'm still trying to figure out why.

After all, it was probably just a coincidence. Gershwin and his background aren't mentioned. In the part of the concerto we hear, the pianist lets fly with a pounding bass line. That could've struck a producer or music consultant as a perfect match for mobsters' strong-arm tactics. But to me, it rings hollow. Gershwin's music is one of the most uplifting examples of how immigrants have defined this country's spirit and flavor; the mob's Bernsteins and Fleishers definitely are not. Should Gershwin supply the soundtrack for the goons?

Monday, October 10, 2011

A boost for arts coverage

Since the recession broke out, arts coverage by newspapers and other media has probably been even more squeezed than the cultural groups receiving the coverage. But a consortium of Charlotte media organizations including the Charlotte Observer is among five groups nationwide that will look for ways to use new media to reverse the trend.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts announced this morning that they will give up to $20,000 in planning money toward each of these projects:

In Charlotte, media outlets will join with UNC Charlotte to create the Charlotte Arts News Alliance. The group envisions publishing arts stories across media platforms including a newly developed mobile app. The media operations involved are the Charlotte Observer; Charlotte Viewpoint; WCNC-TV; WFAE-FM; and After talking with the ringleaders, I'll put more about the project in the Observer, or here.

In Detroit, iCritic Detroit aims to have a mobile video booth in which audience members will record reviews to be posted on websites and shared via social media.

In Miami, ArtSpotMiami plans to create an online marketplace and app through which citizen journalists propose stories about the local arts scene, the public pays for the stories they like, and the citizen journalists team with traditional media to produce the stories.

In Philadelphia, students and faculty from Drexel University would work with one of the city's newspapers, the Philadelphia Daily News, to expand the paper's arts coverage.

In San Jose, Calif., Silicon Valley Arts Technica envisions a three-part endeavor: a mapping component to highlight arts events; a mobile app allowing users to add comments, reviews and images; and a series of investigative stories about arts funding in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

The five groups will use their grants to create fleshed-out proposals they'll submit to the Knight Foundation and NEA by the end of the year. Three of the groups will receive up to $80,000 each to produce their projects. Those winners will be announced next spring.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Working overtime at the Bechtler

Galleries in a museum do no one any good when they're closed. But paintings and sculptures can't just be thrown in and yanked out. What's a museum to do?

Get busy, that's what.

"Niki de Saint Phalle: Creation of a New Mythology" closed Monday afternoon, Oct. 3, at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. The museum's next show -- "Geometry and Experimentation" -- opens tonight, Oct. 7. And it isn't as though the Bechtler has acres of space at its disposal. The precise, cool works in "Geometry" have moved into the same galleries "Niki" left behind.

Here's how it played out. As soon as the museum doors closed at 5 p.m. Monday, president John Boyer said, workers went into action. They toiled into the night, moving Saint Phalle's art into other parts of the museum, patching up holes where art had been attached, and repainting the walls.

Over the next two days, the 50-plus works in "Geometry" were uncrated and assembled -- a delicate operation, in some cases. Meanwhile, workers began crating Saint Phalle's works. For the more complex pieces, they used photographs they had taken while unpacking them last spring.

Thursday, a semi stood outside the museum, ready to take Saint Phalle's works back to their home in southern California. One of the last to go was that dramatic wedding-dress sculpture, which took a last look at Charlotte -- and vice versa -- from museum's front plaza before the last piece of its crate was fastened up. By midafternoon Thursday, the new show -- "Geometry and Experimentation: European Art of the 1960s and 1970s," for its full title -- was ready to go.

The lights in the galleries are lower, this time, and Saint Phalle's grand, dramatic fantasies have given way to more compact and controlled works. But that doesn't mean that "Geometry" is sedate. As you can see from even a miniature image of Angel Duarte's "Untitled," art that's carefully wrought can still play games with your eyes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

'Bolero' needs a white knight

In a city that's still developing, as Charlotte is, you have to get used to the idea of having to wait for some things you'd like the arts scene to have. But once in a while, a better setup comes so close that you can nearly see it dancing before your eyes.

If you've ever been disappointed when N.C. Dance Theatre performs to the sounds of a recorded orchestra, this is one of those occasions.

Last weekend, the Charlotte Symphony capped off a Spanish-style program with Maurice Ravel's "Bolero." When NCDT opens its season next week, Oct. 13-15, it will do Mark Diamond's choreographed "Bolero" -- accompanied by a CD. So close, yet so far.

As with so many aspects of the arts in Charlotte, money is the hitch -- especially since the recession. But solutions are out there.

NCDT isn't the only dance company crimped this way. The Miami City Ballet, a substantially bigger company than NCDT, originally used an orchestra, but had to give it up during the downturn.

So I was a little let-down when I headed to a performance by the company during a trip to Florida last spring. George Balanchine's "Scottish Symphony" was on the bill, and I wasn't looking forward to hearing Mendelssohn's music emanating from loudspeakers. Imagine my surprise, then, when I drove into the parking garage and saw people dressed in black taking instrument cases from their cars.

The printed program held the explanation. Miami City Ballet had brought back its orchestra thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which was started by the onetime owners of the Miami Herald. The Knights owned a newspaper in Charlotte, too, and their foundation has an office here. Shouldn't someone go by there with a proposal?

Photo of Mark Diamond's "Bolero" by Jeff Cravotta.

Friday, September 30, 2011

$500,000 worth of opportunity

Alisa Weilerstein's artistic options just got a lot richer.

You may remember her as the cellist who helped Christopher Warren-Green launch his tenure with the Charlotte Symphony last fall, when she was the passionate soloist in Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto. Those of you who head to Charleston for the Spoleto Festival USA may know Weilerstein from the daily chamber-music concerts, where she's a regular.

A half-million dollars is headed her way. Weilerstein is one of 22 recipients of awards from the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation, which picks artists and scientists for recognition without letting them know it's looking them over. They got the bolt from the blue Sept. 20.

When foundation called, the news was "completely overwhelming," Weilerstein said in a statement. "My first response was an expression of total shock and amazement, and I still cannot believe it."

The foundation's award, paid out over five years, comes with no strings attached.

"Unlike many musical prodigies," a foundation statement says, "Weilerstein chose to pursue a liberal arts (college) degree while continuing to maintain a busy performance schedule. ... Weilerstein has successfully navigated the transition from child prodigy to accomplished professional musician and is expanding the cello repertoire through her collaborations with leading contemporary composers."

Pianist Stephen Hough, who soloed with the Charlotte Symphony in May near the end of Warren-Green's first season, belongs to an earlier group of MacArthur honorees. He used some of his money to buy an apartment in London, the crowded and expensive city that's his home base, and fit it out as a studio for practicing and composing.

Neither Weilerstein's statement nor her Facebook page says what she plans to do. But we can allow her a little time to think it over, can't we? With $500,000 at her disposal, she no doubt has a wealth of possibilities.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The giant head will soon depart

The art show that has livened up South Tryon Street since springtime will only be here a few more days.

"Niki de Saint Phalle: Creation of a New Mythology" ends Monday, Oct. 3, at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Since I'm not a visual-art critic, I won't try to expound on the show itself. Instead, I'll just offer my perspective as someone whose desk is only a block from where Saint Phalle's sculptures are glistening on the Green.

I pass there several days a week, headed to lunch or to concerts at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center further up the street. Saint Phalle's mirrored "Firebird," with its permanent perch in front of the museum, has lit up the neighborhood since before the museum even opened -- well before the supersized death's head (photo by T. Ortega Gaines) and the trumpeter with his coat of many colors joined it across Tryon.

Here's what I see most every day. People stop. They look. They have their pictures taken with the "Firebird." They step inside "La Cabeza" and peer out through its teeth. They linger in front of the trumpeter as if they're listening to his solo.

Check out reader photos of 'La Cabeza'

Compare that to what happens nearby. There are a pair of newish sculptures on the bridge across I-277, flanking the Observer's front lawn. They're right by the path of uptown workers heading to and from home, and I've never seen anyone stop and look at them. On North Tryon, there are four brawny sculptures at the Square. For all the attention they get, they might as well not be there. And in a way, they aren't -- since their pedestals lift them above the level where actual humans are.

But the "Firebird" and its companions draw people to them. If you believe the old saying that everybody's a critic, there's a review for you. The sculptures on the Green will outlast the indoor part of the show by a few days: They'll stand their ground through Oct. 12.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pianist Kern will return with fireworks

Olga Kern isn't one to play it safe. Assuming that the announcement lists things in the right order, the Russian pianist will walk onstage and dive straight into one of the most challenging works in the piano repertoire when she returns to Charlotte for a concert Oct. 7.

Kern will start her recital for Charlotte Concerts with a favorite warhorse of generations of virtuosos: "Islamey" by Mily Balakirev, one of her Russian musical forebears. Based on fiery folk music from the Caucasus, it's something of a keyboard equivalent of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" -- ringing, flamboyant and lush. And it's condensed into eight or nine action-packed minutes.

So it takes nerve to tackle it first thing. But Kern may know what she's doing: The first time she played in Charlotte, in 2006, she started with another whirlwind of a piece -- in that case, by Felix Mendelssohn. She tossed it off with no trouble. By the end of the concert, she had whipped the audience into a state that made Charlotte's usual standing ovations pale by comparison.

This time, she'll move on from "Islamey" to another dose of Russian opulence, Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2. (Not only has Rachmaninoff been something of a specialty of Kern's ever since she won the Van Cliburn piano competition in 2001, but she played his Piano Concerto No. 2 and "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" in her last two Charlotte visits.) And she'll cap off the concert with one of the piano world's most beloved blends of poetry and exuberance: Robert Schumann's "Carnaval."

Kern will play at 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at Central Piedmont Community College's Halton Theater. Details: 704-330-6534;

Balakirev's "Islamey"

Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2

Schumann's "Carnaval"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Domingo's voice rings out through the decades

A friend of mine who's a veteran operagoer has a favorite anecdote about hearing a young tenor named Placido Domingo in the 1960s.

Domingo had made a splash as the ardent young Alfredo in Verdi's "La Traviata" -- a basically lyrical role. Then he turned right around and appeared in a role that's much more tougher on the voice, especially for a singer who's still maturing: Samson in Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah." At one of the performances, my friend and a fellow opera buff shook their heads and said that if Domingo kept on that way, he'd never last.

He showed them a thing or two, didn't he? He did keep on, and at 70 years old, Domingo is still at it.

If he has a secret recipe for longevity, he doesn't divulge it in "Placido Domingo: My Favorite Roles," a tribute that begins airing Friday, Sept. 23, on PBS' "Great Performances." Relaxing in an armchair, he reflects on life, opera and the characters he plays -- many of whom are feeling the pangs of betrayal, lost love or other misfortunes. "In real life, I want to be happy," Domingo explains. "But onstage, it's wonderful to suffer. ... You can give so much of yourself."

And give he does, in video clips of opera performances from across his career. Domingo's robust, ringing tones pour out through the 1970s, '80s and '90s, unleashing the despair and exultation of an array of characters familiar and otherwise. Most of the performances come from the opera house, of course, but a few arise from special circumstances -- such as a "Tosca" filmed in the opera's real-life locations in Rome. As Domingo sings the doomed Cavaradossi's last-act aria, St. Peter's Basilica glows behind him in dawn's early light. Could any opera-house stage equal that?

"Placido Domingo: My Favorite Roles" airs at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, on S.C's ETV network. UNC-TV will start it the same night at 10 p.m. If past experience is any indication, each network may show it more than once.
For details on the program:

Monday, September 19, 2011

An anthem to simplicity

If the goal of playing the national anthem is to get the audience to sing along, the Charlotte Symphony probably should go back to the basics.

The arrangement the orchestra uses now gives the patriotic tune a grand symphonic setup. It starts with fanfares, as you might expect. Then it switches gears for a bit of state-occasion dignity. After a half-minute or so, the orchestra launches into the famous melody, and it's time for everyone to join in.

So here's what happened Friday night. It was the opening concert of the season, and the first piece on the program was Shostakovich's Festive Overture, a flashy but not especially well-known piece. Christopher Warren-Green emerged from the wings, bowed and put the orchestra to work. The audience sat quietly and listened. After all, if you didn't happen to know the Festive Overture -- which also starts with fanfares, incidentally -- it would've been perfectly reasonable to think you were hearing it. There wasn't much in the anthem arrangement that would've tipped you off to what was actually coming if you weren't already on the lookout.

Finally, the players rose to their feet and started into a lusty tune. Surprise! It was the national anthem. By the time the audience caught on, stood and inhaled, the first words that came out with much impact were, "the dawn's early light," as best I could tell.

Now, that wasn't much of a way to stir up people's patriotic fervor, was it?

I'm not ordinarily addicted to the way things were done in the past, but orchestras used to do this in a simple but effective way. The conductor stepped onto the podium, cued the percussion, and a drum roll rang out. Everybody recognized the signal and got on their feet. By the time the orchestra set off on the anthem, anybody who wanted to sing was ready to fire away. Maybe we should go back to that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Princess Grace Award boosts dancer and NCDT

N.C. Dance Theatre's Pete Walker landed an award that not only brings recognition to him, but pays off for NCDT.

Walker, who joined the company last season, is among 21 recipients of this year's Princess Grace Awards. The prizes, given out by the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, go to creators and performers in theater, dance and film. The New York-based charity views that awards as a continuation of the actress-turned-princess' work encouraging young artists.

The award "gives me an overwhelming sensation that dance is the right thing for me to do in my life," Walker said in a statement released by NCDT.

The award includes a cash fellowship for Walker and a grant to NCDT to help with its general operations. The grants to cultural groups that employ the winners range from $5,000 to $30,000 a foundation spokesman said, but she wouldn't specify NCDT's amount.

Walker, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., studied at the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut. (For you trivia buffs, Connecticut is nicknamed the Nutmeg State.) NCDT hired him last fall for its NCDT 2 entry-level company, then promoted him to the main company in mid-season after a dancer stepped down. He quickly made his mark though the dynamism he injected into such works as Jiri Bubenicek's "Le Souffle de l'Esprit," (pictured above; photo by Christopher Record) and Twyla Tharp's "The Golden Section."

NCDT's Alessandra Ball received a Princess Grace Award in 2005. The same year, an award for choreography went to Uri Sands, who had previously been a member of NCDT -- and of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre before that.

Walker and the other honorees will pick up their awards during a black-tie gala at New York's Cipriani hotel on Nov. 1.

Rembrandt's on the way to N.C.

No matter how hard Charlotte tries for the cultural major league, one thing is probably beyond reach: landing some Old Master art works to anchor the city's museums.

Museums elsewhere that had a head start by decades or centuries got first crack at the big names, of course. When something notable goes on the market, the price involves the kind of money that Charlotte doesn't deal in -- at least not for art. (If anyone out there has tens of millions of dollars to work with and wants to prove me wrong, go for it.)

One of the hopes for the new Mint Museum Uptown is that it will be able to bring in touring shows offering Charlotte a glimpse of what it doesn't possess full-time. Until then, for art lovers who are willing to hit the road, the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh is stepping in with "Rembrandt in America."

The show, which opens Oct. 30, will include more than 30 of the Dutch master's paintings. They come from private collections and more than two dozen U.S. museums -- including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. (Speaking of museums that recently expanded: A few weeks after the Mint Uptown opened, Boston's MFA unveiled a $345 million American-art wing.)

The paintings in Raleigh will include the fruits of Rembrandt's successful career as a portrait painter, such as his "Joris de Caulerij" (pictured); his historical and biblical scenes; and three of his self-portraits. As another way to open viewers' eyes to Rembrandt, the show will also include more than a dozen paintings that were once thought to be his, but are now attributed to others.

"Questions of authenticity have plagued Rembrandts for centuries, even during the artist's own lifetime," writes Jon Seydl, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The confusion reached all the way to the N.C. Museum: Its first director, William Valentiner, was a Rembrandt specialist who "greatly expanded" the list of works ascribed to him, the museum's announcement says. More recent scholars have cast doubt on many of Valentiner's attributions -- including those of two paintings the N.C. Museum bought on his recommendation.

The show will help viewers look, examine and decide for themselves. But Valentiner won't be able to give his side of things: He died in 1958.

The show will run through Jan. 22, then move on to museums in Cleveland and Minneapolis. Details:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Charlotte Symphony will go on the air

For the second year, the Charlotte Symphony's first concert of the season will go out over the airwaves - and the web - Friday thanks to WDAV-FM

The concert, launching Christopher Warren-Green's second season as the orchestra's music director, will feature three Russian crowd-pleasers: Shostakovich's Festive Overture; Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1; and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Those will add up to a night of "wall-to-wall musical blockbusters," WDAV general manager Scott Nolan said in a statement.

Warren-Green said in an interview last week that he'd like for all the orchestra's concerts to be broadcast. That would extend the orchestra's reach beyond the music lovers who attend its concerts.

Friday's broadcast will start at 8 p.m. over the air at 89.9 FM and on the web at Before that, Warren-Green and the orchestra's No. 2 conductor, Jacomo Bairos, will step onto the Belk Theater stage to discuss the coming season with WDAV's program director, Frank Dominguez. Their chat will start at 7 p.m., and it's free for ticketholders.

The concert will start at 8 p.m. - and the same time Saturday night - in the Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets are $31.50-$80.50. Details: 704-972-2000;

Friday, September 9, 2011

Website gives art groups something to sing about

The songbirds at Wing Haven will be as well-fed as any opera diva. The 200-year-old house at Historic Rosedale will be a little safer, thanks to lightning protection hooked up to the green ash tree next to it. The Light Factory will be able to bring its film series back home to the Knight Gallery.

Those are a few of the latest arts projects that have been paid for during the first week and a half of, a fundraising site devised by the Arts & Science Council. It lets cultural groups post projects that need funding, and it's set up so visitors to the site can make donations on the spot.

Since it went into action Aug. 29, the site has attracted more than $65,000 in donations, the ASC says. Fifteen projects out of more than 50 that the site began with have been completely funded.

As of Friday afternoon, 258 donors have made 325 donations, the ASC says. Forty-four people have given to multiple projects.

So far, the big winner has been N.C. Dance Theatre, which had two projects fully funded on power2give's first day. NCDT is getting $10,000 for a revival of Mark Diamond's "Bolero" and $1,038 to buy uniforms for children taken dance classes through NCDT Reach, a program for kids whose families need help paying for lessons.

Even before NCDT hit the mini-jackpot, executive director Doug Singleton was a backer of power2give, he says. He liked the idea as soon as the ASC first described it to arts leaders.

"It doesn't exist" until now, Singleton says. "That's why it's brilliant."

The two projects nearest their funding targets now: WTVI's request for backing for "City of Canvas," a documentary about Camp Greene, a World War I training camp in Charlotte; and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art's request for backing for an art project for homeless people at Hope Haven. As of Friday afternoon, WTVI is $442 from the $4,592 it needs. The Bechtler is $316 from its goal of $2,000.