Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Spring' will arrive with Martha Graham company

Charlotte will renew acquaintance with a piece of the nation's cultural heritage this winter, when UNC Charlotte hosts a visit by the Martha Graham Dance Company

The venerable group, whose founder and namesake was a pioneer of modern dance,  will perform at the Knight Theater on Jan. 18. The program will include Graham's most famous work, "Appalachian Spring."   

As far as I can find, this will be the company's first performance in Charlotte since 1981. And it apparently will be the first Charlotte performance ever of "Appalachian Spring," nearly 70 years after Graham's story of a frontier wedding had its premiere. 

This is where you can pitch in. I wrote "apparently" just now because it's hard to prove a negative -- that Graham's portrayal of a frontier wedding has never been performed here. The beloved Aaron Copland score has been performed plenty. But the ballet that goes with it?

As someone who has only been in Charlotte since 2003, I can't make any sweeping statements. But the Observer's archives have no reports of  "Appalachian Spring" ever busting out in Charlotte.  N.C. Dance Theatre has never performed it, the company says. Nor did Graham's own company do it here in 1981. (Get a load of this, though: The Observer's review says that Ovens Auditorium, with 2,500 seats, was nearly full. Give credit to the much-smaller Charlotte of 1981 for turning out.) 

So: If you remember seeing "Appalachian Spring" here, sound the alarm. Otherwise, it's about time that "Spring" arrived in Charlotte,  isn't it? 

In any case, the January performance will have the added attraction of an instrumental group playing Copland's score. Anytime dance is performed in Charlotte with live music rather than a recording, that's noteworthy. The program will also include Graham's "Imperial Gesture," a long-neglected work brought back by Kim Jones, a UNCC faculty member who used to dance in Graham's company. 

Tickets will go on sale in the fall. In the meantime, here's a snapshot of Graham in her own words. Before the company's 1981 visit, Graham -- who danced into her 70s -- told the Observer's Richard Maschal what it was like when she finally left center stage.    

'The decision (to stop dancing) made me physically ill," Graham said. "I had to retreat to the country until I made certain adjustments within myself. Someone once told me, 'Martha, you are not a goddess. You must admit your mortality.' That's difficult when you see yourself as a goddess and behave like one." 

(Photo of "Appalachian Spring": Martha Graham Dance Company)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Donor will help Charlotte Symphony find leader

The Charlotte Symphony, which has a tight budget to say the least, will get some financial help for its search for a new executive director. 

A donor came forth with a "highly timely and welcome offer" to pitch in toward the expenses of finding Jonathan Martin's successor, board chair Emily Smith said Friday. 

Martin announced Monday that he'll step down in August to become president and chief executive of the Dallas Symphony. The orchestra's leaders learned about his plans Monday only a little before the rest of us. 

The orchestra's "first priority" is finding an interim director, Smith said. The board's executive committee met Friday morning and made a list of potential interim directors. The group hopes to line someone up in time for him or her to work alongside Martin before his departure in mid-August. 

The executive committee also drew up a list of potential chairs for the search committee. The money from the donor, who is remaining anonymous, will go toward the cost of a search firm, the orchestra said. 

The orchestra's leaders hope to have Martin's replacement on the job by spring, Smith said. 

If the orchestra meets that target, the search will have gone a little faster than the one that found Martin. His predecessor, Richard Early, announced his departure in June 2007. Martin, who came from the Cleveland Orchestra, arrived for duty nearly a year later, in May 2008.  

"Jonathan had a wonderful combination of artistic instincts and business acumen," board member Robert Stickler said Friday. "That's the kind of person we need to continue to enhance the symphony." 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Donkeys, elephants and Discovery Place

Even before the Democrats hit town, political animals will invade uptown, and they could get you into Discovery Place for free. 

Beginning Monday, July 30, a total of 24 toy donkeys and elephants will be stashed throughout the EpiCentre entertainment complex. Each will be redeemable for two tickets to Discovery Place, whose exhibitions include the "Crittercam" show -- the inspiration for the bipartisan scavenger hunt. 

The political critters will be hidden throughout Epicentre, not only in the open areas but inside businesses. 

"People should look in places they wouldn't expect an animal to be hidden," Discovery Place's Logan Stewart said. "Think creatively." 

One rule: To qualify for the free tickets, the animals have to have their Discovery Place instruction tags still attached. It's the science center's version of a voter ID law, I guess.  

The elephants and donkeys will be in place at the EpiCentre as long as it takes for hunters to find them. So, if you want to score free tickets to Discovery Place -- or maybe tune up your eyes for celebrity-spotting during the convention -- you can start stalking at 10 a.m. Monday. Happy hunting. 


Monday, July 23, 2012

Charlotte Symphony's Martin takes Dallas job

Jonathan Martin, the Charlotte Symphony's executive director, is leaving to become the president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony. 

Martin, who came to Charlotte in 2008, will step down Aug. 19, he said Monday afternoon. He'll go to work in Dallas in September, according to the Dallas Symphony's announcement Monday. 

"Jonathan brings extraordinary experience, a pleasant personality and an inspirational vision" to Dallas' orchestra, its board chair, Blaine Nelson, said in a statement. The interim president whom Martin is replacing, David Hyslop, said Martin was the "clear choice" for the job. 

"He is a great fit for the Dallas community, soft-spoken and thoughtful, and possessing a strong set of guiding principles for the creation of the new American orchestra model that has been honed through 33 years of experience in the field," Hyslop said. 

 Martin will start his new job with a five-year contract. In the announcement, he said he's "thrilled and honored to be joining the Dallas Symphony. ... I believe strongly in this orchestra, and I join its musicians, staff volunteers, generous patrons and passionate supporters at a time of unparalleled excitement and opportunity." 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Davidson College pianist Cooper dies

Ruskin Cooper, a pianist who taught and performed at Davidson College for more than a decade, died in Winston-Salem on Wednesday after a brief illness. 

Cooper, 54, collapsed on July 12 and never regained consciousness, the notice written by his family says. While it doesn't cite the cause, Cooper's family thanks the staff and Cardiac Care Unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for their efforts.

Cooper took up music as a child in Savannah, his hometown. He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, the University of South Florida and UNC-Greensboro, where he won the school's Outstanding Dissertation Award. With the help of a Fulbright scholarship, he also studied in Germany. 

"He loved Germany and harbored a personal dream of opening a soul food restaurant in Berlin," the notice says. "The main obstacle was how to get collard greens delivered to Berlin from the United States." 

Davidson enlisted Cooper as artist associate in 1997. Commuting from his home in Winston-Salem, he taught piano and played concerts on campus and beyond. 

Cooper had a host of interests outside music, such as cycling, cooking and languages, said Mauro Botelho of Davidson's music faculty. He was always on the lookout for someone with whom he could practice one of the languages in his arsenal. 

"He was just a great guy -- a lot of fun to be around," Botelho said. "It wasn't the in-your-face kind of humor. You'd just be with him and realize that you were enjoying yourself." 

For years, Cooper raised money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of his mother, who died from complications of the disease in 2007. His family suggests donations be made to the society in Cooper's name or that of his mother, Emmeline King Cooper. 

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. July 28 at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah. Davidson's Botelho said the college will have a memorial after school reopens in the fall. 


Monday, July 16, 2012

Washington chips in toward North Tryon art

The federal National Endowment for the Arts is giving Charlotte $100,000 to help commission art for a revitalization project for North Tryon Street. 

It's part of the NEA's Our Town program, which aims to help communities improve their quality of life, reinvigorate their economies and encourage creative activity. This year's 80 grants, totaling $4.995 million, are spread among 44 states and the District of Columbia. 

The Charlotte art will be part of a "green" streetscape running along North Tryon from Dalton Avenue, a few block above I-277, to West 30th Street, the Arts & Science Council says. The city of Charlotte and ASC applied for the grant together, and the ASC will also put in money. 

"This grant is great news for the North Tryon Street corridor and its residents," Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "Strong neighborhoods are critical to a strong local economy." 

Rather than aiming for a certain number of separate sculptures, the ASC and city hope to have the art woven into the entire streetscape, said Nicole Bartlett, the ASC's program director for public art. It might include furniture, lampposts or other elements. 

The art is expected to cost about $260,000, Bartlett said. Besides the NEA money, the city has about $95,000 in its public art budget, she said. The ASC will also put money in.  

The ASC will invite a group of artists to submit proposals this fall, Bartlett said. Once an artist is picked, he or she will start designing the art during have a three-month residency at the McColl Center for Visual Art, which is a few blocks below the site. The ASC hopes the residency will take place in the spring.   

Kinston, Wilson and Star have also received Our Town grants. Wilson, whose $250,000 grant is the biggest in the Carolinas, will use it to help build the Vollis Simpson Windmill Park. The park will feature folk artist Vollis Simpson's creations, which have brought the area publicity and tourists. In South Carolina, the NEA is funding projects in Charleston and Pendleton. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The diplomat's fashion statements

For all the stories about war and peace that Madeleine Albright's jewelry tells in the "Read My Pins" exhibition, she acknowledged Friday that there's nothing to represent one of her signal accomplishments as U.S. secretary of state: making peace with Jesse Helms. 

Albright came to the Mint Museum Uptown and gave a guided tour of the show, which showcases the jewelry that she made a vehicle of diplomacy and patriotism. Beginning with the snake pin that she wore as a retort to Saddam Hussein, who had called her an "unparalleled serpent," she discussed the roles that some of her favorite pins played in the tumultuous era of Saddam, Kosovo and Kim Jong Il. She also added some non-diplomatic perspective. Pointing to a photo showing her side-by-side with the North Korean ruler, who stood about the same height, she recalled the situation: "I knew I had high heels on," she said, "and I looked down and saw that he did, too." 

Afterward, I asked if there was anything harking back to her relationship with Helms, who was known for bottling up State Department initiatives in his Senate committee -- until Albright staged a charm offensive. No, she said, there was no pin for him. But she did have story to tell.  

Helms once invited her to speak at St. Mary's School in Raleigh, she recalled, and he came along to introduce her. In a situation like that, she said, he couldn't exactly say that she was an idiot, could he? Later, he brought her down to speak at his alma mater, Wingate University. They found some barbecue first, then went for the speech, then flew back to Washington together.

During the flight, Helms turned to her and said: "Miss Madeleine, we're going to make history together." 

"And we did," she said. One thing she didn't mention: That very day, according to a news story from then, Helms had announced that he'd relent on a chemical-weapons treaty he had been opposing, and let it move from his committee to the full Senate for a vote.  

"While Jesse Helms and I didn't agree on a lot of issues, we did agree on the interests of the United States," Albright said. 

"We really were friends," she added. In the face of the partisanship and venom that bottle up U.S. politics nowadays, she said, she often points to her relationship with Helms as an example of how the country ought to operate. 
If she can get more people on board with that, she and Helms  will really have made history. 

(Photo of the American flag pin by Robert Sorrell: Mint Museum Uptown) 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Young organists keep King of Instruments going

Four teenagers from the Charlotte area will take turns in a concert this Sunday showing off what they've learned as winners of a scholarship for budding organists. 

The local chapter of the American Guild of Organists gives out the annual Stigall Scholarship in honor of Ann and Robert Stigall, longtime Charlotte church musicians. Each year, some of the recent winners perform on the AGO's summer concert series, which raises money for the scholarships -- besides helping keep Charlotte from suffering a summertime musical drought.  

The four who will play Sunday: 

Emma Haupt just graduated from the Woodlawn School in Davidson. She's involved in the youth handbell choir and other groups at Davidson United Methodist Church. Emma took part last year in the Oberlin Summer Organ Academy in Ohio, and she plans to major in church music or organ in college. On Sunday, she'll play Eugene Gigout's Toccata, a favorite organ showpiece, and "Le Jardin Suspendu" by Jehan Alain. 

Chase Loomer will be a junior this fall at the Community School of Davidson. He plays the piano and trombone in addition to the organ, and he performs in the senior high choir and brass ensemble at Davidson United Methodist. He'll play another popular showpiece, the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Symphony, and a work by Johann Ludwig Krebs, a younger contemporary of J.S. Bach. 

Joe Setzer is a new graduate of Hopewell High School, where he played the saxophone in the band in addition to his keyboard studies. He plans to pursue a church-music career. On Sunday, he'll play Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C major and a work by the 20th-century composer Margaret Sandresky. 

Clara Gerdes of Davidson is homeschooled. Clara sings in the girls choir and plays the organ at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Mount Holly. She'll play Paul Hindemith's Sonata No. 3 and Cesar Franck's Prelude, Fugue and Variation. 

Even if you can't hear them on Sunday, keep an eye out for their names in the future. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Arts study puts Charlotte in perspective

Comparing itself to other cities is a favorite activity of Charlotte's,  and a nationwide study about the economic impact of the arts could provide plenty of fodder. 

Charlotte is one of 182 cities, counties and other areas analyzed in "Arts and Economic Prosperity," a new report by Americans for the Arts. The study, based on 2010 and 2011 data, aims to calculate the ripple effects as the spending by cultural groups and their audiences moves through the local economy of each area.  

In North Carolina, the report looks at 16 counties, one city -- Cary -- and the state overall. Here are a few tidbits and perspectives beyond what we had in the Observer's story about the Mecklenburg results:

  • The arts community in Mecklenburg had the most economic effect of that in any N.C. county: $202 million. That was split roughly evenly between the impact of the groups' spending and that of their audiences. The runner-up, not surprisingly, was Wake County, whose population is about 15,000 people smaller. The arts' total impact in Wake was $166,228,401,  with the cultural groups responsible for a little more than half. 
  • Durham County's arts community deserves credit for punching above its weight. The county's population of 269,706 is less than a third of Mecklenburg's 913,639. Yet its arts groups (separate from their audiences) had nearly three-fourths the economic impact: $74,120,175 to Mecklenburg groups' $101,177,294. It no doubt helped that in Durham, 56 of 84 eligible groups answered the study's questionnaires -- compared to 73 of about 200 eligible groups in Meck. Adding the spending of Durham's audiences, the arts' total economic impact came to $125,534,858. The presence of Duke University and Research Triangle Park, along with the highly educated people attached to them, must be a factor.   
  •  Because of the different response rates to questionnaires noted above, comparisons are dicey, strictly speaking. Nevertheless, is isn't unreasonable to look at the numbers as broadly a proxy for the size of the arts communities. In that case, if you take the Triangle area as a whole -- which is plausible, since people in Raleigh, Durham and thereabouts can so easily circulate among cities for events -- then its arts community eclipses Mecklenburg's. That isn't really shocking, anyhow. Raleigh has cultural groups of statewide scope, such as the North Carolina Museum of Art and the North Carolina  Symphony. Durham has several weeks of the American Dance Festival each summer.
  • Did you know that the population of the city and county of San Francisco is smaller than Mecklenburg's by nearly 100,000? That was news to me. San Francisco is the heart of a huge metropolitan area, of course. So, get a load of the arts' economic impact out there: The cultural groups drove $472,127,310 in activity; their audiences, $237,851,931. The total, as you can see, was nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars. 
  • But look at another place that's smaller: Indianapolis. Its population is about 100,000 less than Mecklenburg's. But the arts' impact was almost double: a total of $384,244,432 between the groups and their audiences. Indianapolis is the state's capital and dominant city, of course. Also, I've heard it said for years that the city's big homegrown business, the Ely Lilly drug company, spawned philanthropic foundations by family members that have been a blessing for the arts. But I've never seen the specifics laid out.  
  • Here's one thing Charlotte can lay claim to: Its arts events bring in a bigger percentage of out-of-towners than those in most places. The study found that most area's audiences were 32 percent from outside, but Mecklenburg's groups drew 40 percent from beyond. Remember to thank them for their dollars.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Let music ward off the summer heat

Along with the air conditioning we all rely on, how's about a dose of breezy and graceful French music on Saturday to fight the summer heat? 

That's not entirely a joke. I remember once walking through the outdoor sauna that Charleston can be at Spoleto Festival time to attend one of the midday chamber music concerts. A cold towel for my face would've felt good, but the concert's opening turned out to be nearly as refreshing: the sprays of sound that a harp, flute and others dished out in Maurice Ravel's "Introduction and Allegro."  

Even though Ravel won't be on the agenda, the same kind of thing could happen Saturday night, when players from the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival come down from the cooler altitudes of the N.C. mountains to perform at Queens University of Charlotte.   

No matter how humid the night may be, the clean, simple lines of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedies," which starts the program, should clear the air. Claude Debussy's String Quartet offers a wealth of Gallic style and vitality. And Francis Poulenc's Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano can be as much fun as a fireworks display -- which is only fitting, since Bastille Day will be just a week away. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Arts groups nourish pocketbooks, not just souls

Despite pulling back because of the recession, Charlotte's cultural groups are the engine behind $200 million a year in economic activity that supports more than 6,000 jobs, a study by a national arts group says.  

Americans for the Arts, which looks every five years at cultural groups and their economic impact nationwide, recently released its fourth report, based on information from 2010. In Mecklenburg -- one of 182 areas it studied -- the number-crunchers worked with information from 73 nonprofit cultural groups and 740 audience members who filled out questionnaires. 

To gauge the ripple effects as the money moved out from there, the analysts used an economic model tailored to Mecklenburg by economists from Georgia Tech. A few of the headline findings: 

  • The cultural groups' spending drove $101 million in economic activity. 
  • Spending by the groups' audiences generated another $101 million. 
  • People coming from outside Mecklenburg County to see cultural events made up about 40 percent of audiences. 
  • Those out-of-towners spent an average of $41.58 per person -- not including the ticket price -- on food, drink, souvenirs, parking and such. 
  • The groups' and audiences' spending ultimately yielded $8.4 million in tax revenues for local government and $9.8 million in taxes to the state.  
Statistics are sometimes hard to relate to, of course. And my impression is that, in Charlotte, economic-impact studies have gotten a bad name because of disputed analyses of roads and other subjects. So, for the purposes of a story about the report, I'm gathering real-life examples of where arts groups' money goes. I think that will be more tangible. 

For the moment, here's one example: Children's Theatre of Charlotte last season spent  $97,000 with Mecklenburg businesses on lumber, paint, fabrics and other raw material for sets and costumes, said Linda Reynolds, the theater's managing director for development, marketing and sales. That's part of about $360,000 the theater spend with Mecklenburg vendors. 

"It's insurance. It's printing. It's design work," Reynolds said. "It's important for people to understand. We're shopping the same places they are, in some cases."