Friday, September 28, 2012

Cast your ballot -- for music

Are you mad about Mozart? Bonkers for Beethoven? Smitten with Smetana? Here's your chance to express yourself.  


"Cast Your Classical Ballot" is the lure for WDAV-FM's fall fund drive, which kicks off Oct. 3. Listeners can log onto the station's website and vote for their favorite composers in six categories, from Baroque through post-Romantic to contemporary. The station will feature the winners in its "Symphony at 7" program Nov. 5-8, when the music will offer a refuge from that other election. 

"In this time of political tug-of-war, WDAV has remained an oasis from the onslaught of campaign messaging," general manager Scott Nolan said in a statement. "And yet, in the spirit of the democratic process, we are giving our listeners the opportunity to elect the greatest composers of each classical-music era, once and for all." 

The election supervisors at WDAV have put only three names on the ballet for each category. But they've also left spots for write-ins. That's where you'll have to go if you are a fan of Smetana -- or Chopin, Puccini or Philip Glass.

WDAV aims to raise $210,000 through its fall campaign, which runs through Oct. 11. So it no doubt hopes listeners will also vote with their dollars by making contributions. Or do you think there's a super PAC that wants to spend money on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Take a look behind the scenes at 'Tosca'

Whether or not Samuel Johnson was correct that opera is "an exotic and irrational entertainment," it's definitely a complicated one. Opera Carolina is offering two behind-the-scenes looks at what it takes to get its opening production of the season -- Puccini's "Tosca" -- onto the stage. 

It will start at the beginning. The company is inviting visitors into the rehearsal studio this Saturday, Aug. 29, as the cast -- including principals who have performed Puccini's thriller before, but not necessarily together -- sings through it together for their first time. Accompanied by piano, they'll tackle the entire, three-act score, Opera Carolina general director James Meena says. 

It should be a busy three hours. Then the spectators will go home, and the cast will get down to the nitty gritty of Puccini's stormy but tuneful tale of love, lust, murder and a double-cross from beyond the grave. They'll spend nearly two weeks polishing the music, putting together the staging with director Jay Lesenger, and adding the Charlotte Symphony. 

Opening night, with Meena conducting, will be Oct. 13 in the Belk Theater. The next afternoon, Oct. 14, the company will hold an open house at the Belk. The activities will include makeup and costume demonstrations, a tour of the theater, and activities for kids, Meena says. 

There's no charge for either occasion. But Opera Carolina asks that  visitors call to RSVP, especially since space is limited at the rehearsal studio. 
The company will make behind-the-scenes glimpses a regular event, Meena says. It hopes that will help more people bond with Opera Carolina and opera in general. 

"I'm guessing we won't get a huge response the first year," Meena says. "But if we can build it up into something people look forward to, it will strengthen our relationship with the public, and hopefully get people interested in seeing more of what we do." 

Besides showcasing the art and craft that go into producing opera, Saturday's rehearsal will also spotlight one of the challenges -- finding a place to rehearse. Since Blumenthal Performing Arts converted the studio behind the Belk Theater into a pocket-size theater, Meena says, his company and the Charlotte Symphony have had to go elsewhere -- carting around their singers, players and equipment. 

"Both of us are using churches," Meena says. "It's not where a real, professional company should be working, quite honestly. We make do. ... But it sets a standard that I'm just not happy with." 

"This is very much on my to-do list -- to address the issue of poor rehearsal facilities in town," he says. But there's no easy solution.

"Support space is just not sexy," Meena says. "Nobody (who might help pay for it) wants to put their name on a rehearsal facility. So it's kind of hard to address. But it's something we have to get done." 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Orchestra picks team to search for new leader

The Charlotte Symphony has picked the 14-member hunting party that will look for its next executive director.

The group is dominated by members of the Charlotte Symphony  operation: present and past board members, plus one player. It also includes representatives of some of the orchestra's main financial backers.

For the first time in recent years, at least, the president of the Arts & Science Council will take part in a symphony committee. Scott Provancher not only leads the ASC, one of the main supporters of the arts in Charlotte, but he also has experience in orchestra management, search committee chair Richard Osborne said. Provancher was the executive director of the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky before he moved to the arts-fund arena. 

Wells Fargo and the Leon Levine Foundation, both of which have emerged as donors to the orchestra in recent years, are also represented. The search committee: 

Catherine Connor, board member. 
Brian Cromwell, board member. 
Jay Everette, Wells Fargo executive.
Bernie Hargadon, board member. 
Jane McColl, former board member. 
Richard Osborne, board member and search committee chair. 
Larry Polsky, a program director for the Leon Levine Foundation. 
Frank Portone, the orchestra's principal French horn. 
Scott Provancher, ASC. 
Laurie Readhead, board member. 
Pat Rodgers, former board chair. 
Emily Smith, chair of the orchestra's board. 
Bob Stickler, board member and interim executive director. 
Christopher Warren-Green, the orchestra's music director. 

They'll be looking for someone to help drive the orchestra's years-long effort to gets its finances onto a stable foundation. The new leader will succeed Jonathan Martin, who left in August to become chief executive of the Dallas Symphony. Martin came to Charlotte in May 2008 -- just before the recession made the already challenging job even tougher.  

The committee will meet for the first time Tuesday, Sept. 24. Its first task will be to spell out the qualities it wants in a new leader, Osborne said. It's likely to enlist an executive-search firm to help go from there. 

Having committee members from outside the orchestra's immediate circles -- such as the ASC, Wells and Levine Foundation -- helps widen its perspective, Osborne said. That  "increases the likelihood that you're going to hire someone who will be a success." 

Wells Fargo executive Everette has become prominent in Charlotte's arts scene as the bank has stepped up its support of cultural groups, including the orchestra, Opera Carolina and Mint Museum. Everette chairs the Mint's board of trustees. The Levine Foundation's Polsky is a former board chair of Discovery Place. 

The search committee will "try hard," Osborne said, to have the new chief in place by the start of the 2013-14 season -- which would be roughly the same amount of time it took to find Martin. But "we can't create candidates out of thin air," Osborne added. "We're at the mercy of the pool of candidates who are attractive and available."  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eight artists, teachers to be honored by ASC

The spotlight will land on eight standouts in Charlotte culture and education  when the Arts & Science Council presents its ASC Honors on Oct. 16

The awards, given out every three years, recognize Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents who have increased the area's creative richness. 

"From Clara Jones transforming her west Charlotte home into a piano studio, housing 26 pianos, to teach hundreds of students, to Libby Withrow, an educator who engages students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (in) the field of science every day, ASC is proud to honor them," ASC president Scott Provancher said in a statement. 

The honorees are: 

Robert Corbin, vice president of learning experiences at Discovery Place. He took part in the design of the new exhibitions unveiled in the science center's 2010 renovation. 

Clara Jones, a retired CMS music teacher and private piano teacher. She expanded her Lincoln Heights home repeatedly until it held more than 20 pianos for her students' use. 

Wesley Mancini, fiber artist and founder of Wesley Mancini, Ltd., which employs artists, colorists and others to create fabrics, rugs  and related products.  

Dan Morrill, a longtime UNC Charlotte history professor and Charlotte champion of historic preservation.

Kathy Reichs, a novelist, forensic anthropologist and UNCC professor. Reich's books inspired the television series "Bones," of which she's a producer. 

There also are three recipients of the Cato Lifetime Achievement  in Teaching Award: 

Byron Baldwin, photographer and longtime photography teacher at Myers Park High and colleges in the area. 

Andrew West, speech teacher at Myers Park High and coach of its prizewinning debate team. 

Elizabeth "Libby" Withrow, longtime CMS teacher and chair of the science department at South Mecklenburg High. 

The awards will be given out at concert featuring the Sphinx Virtuosi, a string orchestra founded by the Sphinx Organization, a national group aimed at creating classical-music opportunities for young African-American and Latino players. Charlotte Concerts brought the ensemble to Central Piedmont Community College last season, and it played with gusto. 

Tickets to the ASC event, which is co-sponsored by the Charlotte Symphony, are $20. The program will begin with spoken and video presentations honoring the recipients, the ASC says. Then the Sphinx Virtuosi will take over.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Charlotte Symphony takes to the airwaves

The Charlotte Symphony will reach far beyond the walls of the Belk Theater on Friday, taking to the airwaves and the Internet with the opening concert of its Classics season

WDAV-FM will broadcast the music live as the orchestra's music director, Christopher Warren-Green, leads a night of Beethoven. For an orchestra that rarely travels far from its home venues, this is a rare opportunity to reach listeners who are usually beyond its reach. 

"Our ability to broadcast select concerts, through our partnership with WDAV, helps us fulfill our mission to serve our whole community and reach a broader audience with powerful music," the orchestra's interim president, Robert Stickler, said in a statement.

Friday's broadcast will begin at 7 p.m., when Frank Dominguez, WDAV's program director, interviews Warren-Green from the stage. Announcers Mike McKay and Matt Rogers will take over at concert time, when the orchestra will play Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture, Piano Concerto No. 4 -- with Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen as the soloist -- and Symphony No. 4. 

WDAV says it's planning to be back at the Belk Theater in May, when the orchestra caps off its season with Beethoven's Ninth. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy 193rd birthday, Clara!

After around a century and a half of being overshadowed by her husband, Clara Schumann is finally having a posthumous moment in the spotlight. 

Robert Schumann's wife is getting a 193rd-birthday greeting from Google. Information-seekers who go onto the site today see a cozy little scene: a young woman reaching around eight little children to touch a keyboard. It's an homage to the fact that Clara was one of the most famous pianists of the 19th century -- and, on top of that, somehow found time to bear Schumann eight kids. 

That was only after a romance that today would probably be a media scandal. Schumann, as a young man, met and was smitten with Clara when she was barely  more than a child -- though she already was charismatic keyboard prodigy. Her father, who taught piano to both of them, was horrified, partly for selfish reasons: She was his claim to fame. Years of struggle between the two men ensued. Some biographers think the stress helped pave the way for the mental illness that eventually overtook Schumann.

After his death -- when Clara was only in her 30s -- she became the keeper of the flame for his music, as well as the breadwinner for the children. Nevertheless, she must have still had magnetism: The young Johannes Brahms fell in love with her. But he got nowhere. Her devotion remained with her late husband. 

Clara was a composer, too. As with many female musicians of her day, her creative work was mostly ignored for generations. The same fate befell Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix's sister. In past couple of decades, though, Clara's works have finally attracted attention again. So, as a postlude to Google's greetings, here's a sample of her music: the lusty finale of her Piano Concerto in A minor. See what you think.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Operatic epic arrives in your living room

Some people make pilgrimages across oceans to see Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung," but this week there's a simpler way: You can immerse yourself in the four-opera saga of gods and gold in the comfort of your home. 

Thanks to public television's "Great Performances," the Metropolitan Opera's staging of the "Ring" is being shown on stations across the United States, including UNC-TV's Explorer channel and South Carolina's ETV. These are the same performances that many opera lovers saw in movie-theater relays as the Met unveiled its "Ring" step-by-step across two seasons.  

UNC-TV begins at 8 tonight, Sept 11, with "Wagner's Dream," a two-hour documentary about the Met's massive undertaking of planning the producing its "Ring." Among other things, the film offers an up-close look at the 45-ton, computer-controlled set nicknamed "The Machine" -- as well as some of the singers' jittery first encounters with it. "Das Rheingold," the opening drama of Wagner's tale, comes Wednesday night. 

On ETV, which started a day earlier, "Das Rheingold" launches the cycle tonight, Sept. 11, at 9 p.m. The remaining three operas  follow night by night on each station. (Charlotte's WTVI doesn't have the "Ring" on its schedule as far as I could find. If it's really there, let me know and I'll gladly update this.) 

There's really no way to avoid an over-used expression: This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take in an operatic landmark without having to invest anything more than your time. As best I can recall, the last time broadcast TV showed the "Ring" was in the early 1980s, when public television broadcast the cycle from the festival founded by Wagner himself in Bayreuth, Germany.

Admittedly, the 20 hours or so that the "Ring" involves are an investment of their own. If you can't afford it, here are a couple of suggestions for spots you might sample. 

The opening act of the second opera, "The Valkyrie," is a little love story unto itself, building up to some of the most rapturous music in opera. The opening of the climactic drama, "Twilight of the Gods," is another oasis of romance and optimism before the gods' Armageddon finally arrives. Behind the warriors' breastplates, passionate hearts are beating.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Uptown chamber music moves, adds admission fee

After more than a decade of free chamber-music concerts that made it an uptown institution, Charlotte Chamber Music -- formerly named Chamber Music at St. Peter's -- says it's merging with the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, where its monthly concerts will gain a home and an admission charge. 

The group's main series will open its season Oct. 2 in its new location, the gallery on the Bechtler museum's fourth floor. The added value of the museum visit explains the admission fee, Bechtler vice president  Christopher Lawing says.  The 12:10 p.m. performance will be free for Bechtler members, $5 for others. The 5:30 p.m. performance, which includes an after-concert reception, will be $15 for museum members, $20 for others. The concerts will continue through May on the first Tuesday of each month. 

Charlotte Chamber Music reached "a crossroads," the announcement on its website says. 

"We have had to confront a challenge that many nonprofit organizations eventually face: becoming a viable entity that exists beyond its founder and early roots," the letter from CCM executive director Elaine Spallone says. 

The group is "confronting the realities of the present," the letter says.  "Beyond our own walls, the Charlotte area has been roiled by economic and civic upheaval. ... The economy has severely affected all of us in the nonprofit industry and the arts especially."

When the concerts begin Oct. 2, they'll be "under the management of the Bechtler Museum," the letter says. But CCM's artistic director, former WDAV head Ben Roe, will "continue to be involved in programming." 

The Oct. 2 concert will feature the Bechtler Ensemble in works by Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky and Erik Satie. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Former NY Yankee, band will promote the arts

Baseball player-turned-bandleader Bernie Williams and his band will headline a late-night concert Tuesday at the McGlohon Theater promoting the support of the arts.  

The ArtsJam concert is parts of ArtsVote2012, a national initiative launched by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts.  ArtsVote2012 is aimed at "ensuring that the arts impact federal elections," according to the concert announcement from the Arts & Science Council. The ASC is the local partner for the concert and ArtsSpeak, an invitation-only panel discussion Tuesday afternoon. 

The afternoon panelists will include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx; and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn; Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and bandleader Williams. They'll talk about the value of the arts and arts education, and they'll "underscore the importance of developing strong public policies" supporting the arts, the ASC says. 

Bernie and the All-Stars, the ex-Yankee's Latin Grammy-nominated musical group, will perform at 11 a.m. at the McGlohon Theater. "As a special thank you to Charlotte," the announcement says, Mecklenburg and Charlotte teachers and municipal workers, members of the military and college students can get two free, non-transferable tickets to the ArtsJam by visiting the Belk Theater box office.  Details: 704-372-1000.