Category Archives: About Music

If music be the food of life, play on!

The Importance of Music

The Importance of Music


There is so much written – these days – about the importance of music. Music in our everyday lives, music education in schools, how learning an instrument improves one’s cognitive function.

Music is math. Music improves verbal IQ. Great music can transform the mundane into magic. Music lifts your spirits, improves your mood. Singing brings us together. Music reduces stress and anxiety.

The list of the positive impact that music has on humanity is voluminous. Shelves of books on the subject abide.

For some of us who have been fortunate to be introduced to music at an early age, none of this is news. Maybe your family played instruments, sang in the church choir, sang around the piano at holidays, gathered around the radio listening to Benny Goodman, or boasted a collection of Fifth Dimension LPs. Whatever music was going on in your life, an impression was made that will last a lifetime. Every child remembers the nursery rhymes learned in kindergarten, the lullabies sung. Every teenager claims “his” music as the soundtrack of his formative years. And it will be “his” music for life.

Music is one of the most fundamental expressions of human life. And, often, the more exposure we have, the more eclectic our musical tastes become. We may live for decades, thinking that all we like is Country music, then a friend invites us to a jazz concert and we are thrown into a frenzy over this exciting ‘new’ sound. We may play guitar in a rock and roll band, be in love with gospel music, think there never will be anyone like Frank Sinatra. Then, one day, you find yourself sitting in symphony hall and the orchestra is playing Barber’s Adagio for Strings and you are reduced to a puddle of tears, your life changed forever.

This is the glory of music. It is for everyone, everywhere. It is the universal language that expresses the unexpressible. It is the destroyer of walls between us. It is the ultimate human experience.

To discuss the importance of music is fun and interesting, and science has shown how beneficial music can be in treating all sorts of neurological and emotional issues. But, it is rather like discussing the importance of the sun. Lots of interesting facts, of course, but to really grasp its importance – just imagine where we would be without it.

Written for Regina Buckley, TEMPO, The Magazine of The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Fall 2016


Classical Music in Award Winning Films!


“Vittorioso” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, March 29, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

Classical Music in Award Winning Films

Our concert on March 29 will reveal the Award Winning Films that featured these classical works.  I won’t spoil the surprise here, but will reveal the films online after the concert. 

“The marriage of the moving image and music is perhaps the most powerful visual communication we have. You can take almost any edited visual film sequence and change the emotion and feelings engendered by the use of music.” ~ Norman Jewison, Film Director

Gioacchino Rossini ~ Overture to William Tell

Rossini was the most popular opera composer in history until his retirement.  He was nicknamed “The Italian Mozart” for his song-like melodies and his music was often compared to ‘champagne’. William Tell premiered in 1829 and was the last of Rossini’s 39 operas, although he lived another 40 years and continued to compose other forms of music. Today the opera is remembered mostly for its Overture which is in four parts, each following without pause: Dawn, Storm, Call to the Cows (the calm after the storm), and the Finale – March of the Swiss Soldiers, the very familiar high energy gallop replete with horns and trumpets

Jean Sibelius ~ Finlandia, Opus 26

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius composed Finlandia for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. It was the last of seven pieces performed as accompaniment to a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history. The work is mostly turbulent and rousing, evoking the political struggle of the time, but at the end, quiets into a hymn of reverence and national pride. Finlandia was performed, at that time in history, under different titles in order to avoid censorship. But for nationalists, its message remained clear.

Aram Khachaturian ~Sabre Dance

Sabre Dance is a movement in the final act of Khachaturian’s ballet Gayane, when the dancers display their skills with sabres!  The composer’s best-known and recognizable work, it became an American jukebox hit in 1948.  Since then it has been the accompaniment for circuses, magicians, in TV shows, animated films, commercials, and even video games.  Its wild frenzy is the perfect ‘chase scene’ soundtrack!

John Williams  ~ Theme from……………

One of America’s most prolific composers of film soundtracks, Williams is known for Star Wars, ET, Jaws, Indiana Jones and the list of instantly recognizable scores goes on and on!  A little known fact:  he also composed the theme song for the TV show Gilligan’s Island.  Tonight’s offering has a very different atmosphere and has won the composer many awards.  The violin solo is haunting, sad, hopeful and unforgettable.

Kenneth Alford  ~ Colonel Bogey March

The “Colonel Bogey March” was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F.J. RIcketts, a British Army bandmaster, who composed under the pseudonym Kenneth Alford, since professional lives outside the military were frowned upon at that time. Supposedly, the tune was inspired by a military man and golfer – Colonel Bogey – who whistled a characteristic two-note phrase instead of shouting “Fore!”  His name was adopted for the standard scoring system in golf – ‘Bogey’ is now a golfing term meaning “one over par”.  Composer Malcolm Arnold wrote a counter march for his film score and the two have been entwined ever since. 

 Gustav Mahler  ~ Symphony No. 5, Movement #4- Adagietto

 The fourth movement of Mahler’s 5th may be his most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works. It is said to represent Mahler’s love song to his wife, Alma, according to whom the composer had also written an accompanying small poem:

How much I love you, you my sun,

I cannot tell you that with words.

I can only lament to you my longing and love

 Richard Wagner ~ Die Walkure, Ride of the Valkyries

Written between 1851 and 1854, this dramatic piece opens the third act of Die Walkure, an opera based on Norse mythology in which the Valkyrie sisters decide which soldiers in battle will die and which will live. They have gathered on a mountain peak in preparation to transport fallen soldiers to Valhalla.  Even without the glorious operatic voices of the women as they sing their battle song, one easily imagines terrible, flying mythical creatures on an epic mission.

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ~ Symphony No. 25, Movement #1

Mozart lived only 35 years, was competent on both keyboard and violin at 5.  At 17, he was a court musician in Vienna, when he composed his 25th symphony, supposedly only 2 days after he finished No. 24!  In his brief lifetime, he composed over 600 works, profoundly influencing music of the western world and remaining one of the most popular classical composers.  Haydn wrote, “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years”.

Petro Mascagni ~ Cavalleria Rusticana Intermezzo

Written in 1890, this classic melodramatic one act opera has been double-billed with the one-act Pagliacci so often, it is casually referred to as “Cav and Pag”.  Both are based on tales of deception, adultery, and murder.  In Cavalleria, a lot of this action takes place in front of a beautiful church in the village square.  The famous Intermezzo is a rare moment of tranquility while the villagers are worshipping.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ~ Marriage of Figaro Overture

Among the most frequently performed of Mozart’s operas is The Marriage of Figaro, which is a sequel to an earlier work The Barber of Seville.  It’s a story of a debauched Count, a rejected Countess, and two young lovers entangled in a web of manipulation and schemes – nothing to be taken seriously except the music, which is glorious!

Ludwig von Beethoven ~ Symphony No. 7, Movement #2 – Allegretto

Beethoven composed his 7th symphony between 1811 and 1812, and it has been noted that he believed it to be one of his best works. The second movement, Allegretto, was immediately the most popular and is frequently performed as a stand-alone piece.  For decades, the theme has haunted musicians and composers of all genres.  I cannot hear it without thinking of the 1994 romantic biographical film Immortal Beloved, which Roger Ebert remarked had clearly been made by “people who feel Beethoven directly in their hearts”.

Morton Gould ~ American Salute

 A quintessential American composer, Gould played piano at movie theatres during the Depression, at Radio City Music Hall, conducted and arranged orchestral programs for radio, composed Broadway scores, music for television, the ballet, and received commissions for symphony orchestras throughout the U.S. including three for the U.S. Bicentennial celebration.  The list of his honors and awards is jaw dropping.  Gould composed American Salute, based on a folk melody, in 1942 (literally overnight) for a patriotic World War II radio broadcast.



“Nobilmente” Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

“Nobilmente” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, March 8, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 “Nobility of spirit has more to do with simplicity than ostentation, wisdom rather than wealth, commitment rather than ambition” ~ Riccardo Muti

 Johannes Brahms ~

Hungarian Dances No. 1, G minor

Symphony No. 4, op. 98, E minor

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a German composer whose prolific output included works for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, opera and song.  Considered both a traditionalist and an innovator, he is viewed as an inspiration for a generation of composers. Though known for the composition of large, complex musical structures, some of Brahms’ most popular works were small-scale, in which some critics felt he was “at his best.” Among the most cherished of these lighter compositions are the Hungarian Dances, the first of which is on our program tonight. Of his twenty-one Dances, the No. 1 in G minor is one of only four for which Brahms himself wrote the orchestral arrangements. It has been said these dances were influential in the development of Ragtime – see if you can hear the beginnings of Scott Joplin dancing around within the gorgeous folk melodies.

Symphony No. 4 in E minor premiered in 1885 with Brahms himself on the podium.  He was the first great composer who was also a musicologist and the depth of his scholarship is evident in this, his final symphony, clearly grounded in the classical past, with a soaring sound of something individualistic – new, but not pandering to trends of the time. Brahms is said to have resisted the pressure to either conform or rebel – he just ‘did his own thing’.  It seems that restriction of form liberated Brahms, allowing him to plunge deeply into his own imagination and expressiveness.

Opening with a two-note phrase, which then develops in the strings, then winds, the first movement blossoms with a modern lyric melody that carries us into the composer’s personal world – his story and how he intends to tell it.  He paints a picture of regret, of loss and longing, which soon accelerates and propels us on a ride we didn’t expect, to a hair-raising ending.  The second movement is a response to the first, offering us comfort ~ within the human heart lie all answers.  In the scherzo, we find a brief respite of humor, but it is short-lived.  The finale is stunning in Brahms’ personal statement of pessimism and apprehension. He offers us no trite happy ending; rather he reminds us that life itself is a work of art, a never-ending drama.

Claude Debussy ~

Prelude a “L’apres-midi d’un faune”

French composer Achille-Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) was one of the great composers of the Impressionist era, producing an impressive body of work including orchestral, piano, vocal, chamber, ballet and opera. He enjoyed a wide circle of artistic acquaintances that influenced his work including composers such as Liszt, Massenet, Satie, and Chausson. Perhaps surprisingly, Wagner also had a lasting impact on Debussy who admired the German composer’s sensuousness, mastery of form and striking harmonies.

Personally, Debussy was somewhat of an enigma to others, which he must have known.  In a moment of self-awareness, he once remarked: “I am too enamored of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas”.  His personal life was turbulent – illicit affairs, an unfortunate marriage, scandal, and then finally a beloved daughter who inspired him late in his life. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) is a symphonic poem for orchestra, inspired by the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé.  Opening with a flute solo that is one of the most famous passages in the orchestral repertoire, it tells the story of a faun, a mythical creature that is half-man, half-goat and his pursuit of two beautiful nymphs. Debussy’s sensuous composition is a perfect match for the imagery of Mallarmés poem.

Johann Strauss, Jr. ~

Die Fledermaus: Overture

Born in 1825, the “Waltz King” composed over 500 dances, several operettas and ballets.  His composer father was adamant that his son avoid the life of a musician, but the boy’s mission was clear and as a young boy, he began studying violin in secret (for which he was severely punished). By his mid-twenties, he was on his way to becoming one of the most popular waltz composers of the era. He and his orchestra toured extensively through Austria-Hungary, Poland, Germany and, eventually Russia and the U.S.  Brahms was a personal friend who,  when asked by a fan for an autograph, rather than inscribing the paper with a few measures of his best-known music (which was customary), inscribed a few measures from the Blue Danube and wrote beneath it: “Unfortunately NOT by Johannes Brahms.”  Richard Strauss referred to him as “the laughing genius of Vienna”.  At the time of his death at the age of 73, he was working on a new ballet.

Tonight we experience Strauss in a celebration of beauty, art and laughter- the Overture for the opera Die Fledermaus, a farcical comedy evoking the gaiety and romance of a Viennese Ball.  It was first performed in New York in 1874 and has become one of the brightest stars in the operetta repertoire. It was a favorite of the great U.S. soprano Beverly Sills who performed the role of Adele in her farewell performance with the Boston Opera Company.

Gustav Mahler ~

Symphony No. 1: Blumine

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) was a late-Romantic German composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation.  Since composing was a part-time activity, Mahler’s body of work is relatively small, consisting of large symphonic orchestral and choral scores, which gained wide recognition only after long periods of neglect, including a ban on his music during the Nazi era.

Mahler expressed the belief that, “The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything”.  In keeping with the philosophy, his trademark scope of moods, accomplished by amazing orchestration, continually juxtapose absurdity with majesty, farce with tragedy – the vicissitudes of being alive!

Blumine (“flower”) is the title of a rejected second movement of Mahler’s first symphony. After being ‘lost’ for over 70 years, the piece was rediscovered in 1966 and reintroduced by Benjamin Britten a year later.  The composition is believed to have been written for the object of Mahler’s affection at the time.  A lyrical piece with a lovely trumpet solo, its style is consistent with the composer’s early works, while foretelling the distinctive style of his later compositions.


Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry


“Appassionato” Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Program Notes


“Appassionato ” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, February 22, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

“I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.” – Aldous Huxley


Howard Hanson ~ Symphony No. 5, op. 43

 Howard Harold Hanson, born in 1896, was an American composerconductor, educator, and champion of American classical music.  As director for 40 years of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York, he was responsible for the development of the school’s quality and reputation, as well as myriad opportunities for commissioning and performing American music. Hanson estimated that more than 2000 works by over 500 American composers were premiered during his tenure at the Eastman School.

Also of particular interest is the school’s flourishing Community School, which is committed to the musical education and enrichment of regional residents of all ages, a vision and commitment shared by our own Maestro and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Testimony to Hanson’s stature in the music community is the fact that a theme from this work is performed at the conclusion of all concerts at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts, conducted by a student concertmaster after the feature conductor has left the stage.  Traditionally, no applause follows its performance.

Hanson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony # 4, but is best known for Symphony #2, which was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He also composed what may be considered the first fully American opera, Merry Mount, written by an American composer and librettist, based on an American story, and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1934. The Opera received fifty curtain calls at this performance, a record that still stands.

He proposed to his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Nelson, via the composition of Serenade for Flute, Harp and Strings when he could not find spoken words for his feelings.  They married in 1946 and he left her a widow in 1981.

The audience may recall that Maestro Ponti brought us Hanson’s Symphony #2 at last season’s finale concert.  On tonight’s program is the composer’s Symphony #5, a single movement symphony. Composed in 1955, it is quite different from the lush romantic quality and themes of his earlier works.  Based on the Resurrection according to the Gospel of John, this work is passionate in its religious piety, perhaps, once again, expressing the composer’s depth of feeling through his music when there were no words.


Heitor Villa-Lobos ~ Concerto Guitar & Small Orchestra

 Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887 and was exposed early to music and literature by his father, whose frequent musical gatherings at home provided a fertile environment for the boy.  When his father died suddenly, the young Villa-Lobos earned a living for his family by playing in cinema and theatre orchestras. As a youth, he continued his ‘street’ training by absorbing indigenous musical influences and playing with many local bands. In his mid-twenties, he embarked on his career as a composer, and soon his works also reflected the influence of his widely expanding circle of European artists and musicians.  The Parisian magazine Le Monde Musical remarked of the composer’s work: “…it is…an art to which we must now give a new name”.

His bask in European acceptance and approval was disrupted one year later due to political upheaval in Brazil.  Unable to travel abroad, he remained in his native country for several years navigating his musical career through tumultuous national and international times. With the culmination of WWII and the ability to travel freely, he found himself in demand throughout Europe and the U.S., receiving huge commissions, including his Symphony # 11 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  In the last decade of his life, he was characteristically prolific, despite declining health. He died in 1959 and his funeral was the final major civic event in Rio before the capital was transferred to Brasilia. If you would like to know more about the composer, the film Villa-Lobos: A Life of Passion was released in 2000 and is available to view via

This concert provides us a second visit with Villa-Lobos, who has been described as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th century Brazilian art music”. Last season we were thrilled by the brilliance of his Harmonica Concerto, with the astonishing Robert Bonfiglio as guest soloist and tonight we welcome the classical guitar artistry of Gerardo Perez Capdevila as soloist in the Concerto for Classical Guitar and Small Orchestra, written in 1951 and dedicated it to Andres Segovia.


Sergei Rachmaninoff ~ Symphonic Dances, Op. 45

Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was considered one of the finest pianists of his day and was one of the last great Romantic composers in Russian Classical music, as well as among the last of old Russian aristocracy. Influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, he developed his own personal style of melody, expressiveness and use of rich orchestral colors and a childhood infused with Russian Orthodox teaching permeated many of his compositions.

Young Sergei studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory, composed several small works and then, in his mid-twenties, premiered his First Symphony.  It was severely critiqued, sending the composer into a deep depression, slowly recovering his confidence sufficiently to write again a decade later.  In 1901 he premiered his Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, Op. 18, with himself as soloist.  It was enthusiastically received and Rachmaninoff was launched into a successful upturn, making his first tour of the U.S. for which he composed the Piano Concerto #3, Op. 30. During this period, he turned down many offers to remain in the U.S., but he was unwilling to leave his homeland. Then, in 1917, the Russian Revolution meant the end of Russia as he knew it, and he left home in an open sleigh with a few belongings and some music. A year later, he was back in the U.S., where he played 40 concerts within 4 months, signed a contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company and bought a house.  He made a living by touring and performing, but in the next 25 years, he completed only six compositions.  In leaving Russia, he also left his inspiration.  He was homesick. Eventually he built a summer home in Switzerland that reminded him of his old family estate.  It was here he composed the luscious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, his last completed work and the one that is on our program tonight.

It is said that this work ‘summarizes’ Rachmaninoff’s compositional output.  In it, his nostalgia for the Russia he had known and no longer existed is evident.  The opening motif is a nod to Rimsky-Korsakov, whose music was the only work by another composer that he had taken with him when he left Russia. In the first dance, he echoes the opening theme of his anguished First Symphony, which was derived from Russian Church Music. The second dance is often called “Dusk”, and the finale quotes the Dies Irae and chant “Blessed be the Lord” from his All-Night Vigil, which expresses the victory of Resurrection.  He wrote the word “Hallelujah” at this place in the score.


Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry


Sheet Music

Looking for a piece of music I sang a long time ago.  I can visualize it – a copy of a copy from a book of Operatic Duets I studied in New York back in the 70s.  I never – well, hardly ever – throw away sheet music.  It is here, somewhere.  And I need to put eyes on it to see the notes, the range, the possibility of singing it again, decades later, with a new friend who also studied the piece – perhaps that long ago, perhaps not.  It is a favorite of both of ours.  So, I search.

When I packed all my sheet music to bring to Florida, I just emptied the cabinet and put everything into boxes, without sorting at all – no catalogue, no categories, no labels.  Just a very large pile of sheet music.  And, when I emptied the boxes, I just stacked everything in a new cabinet – with similar abandon.  So, tonight, it is ‘needle in a haystack’ time.  It’s here.  Somewhere.

I begin. One drawer at a time.  The first is a real hodgepodge – popular tunes from the 60s.  Sheets of nothing but lyrics and chords from my guitar days. Playlists for gigs, small concerts.  Excel spreadsheets listing repertoire… order by type of music – uptempo, ballad, classic rock, standards, indications of voices needed to perform – SATB, SSA, solo alto, solo soprano, bass, tenor.

Church music – from my growing up church in Massachusetts, to St. Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue, to Don Hermance’s choir in Scituate in the relatively recent past.  Alice Blue Gown, one of my first solos in Junior High School – I wore a pretty blue dress Mother had made.  She’d sent me on my way with her standard wish “Sing pretty!” as she did for every concert, every show.

An entire drawer is my childhood.  Music my Gram played on her upright piano, while my musical family all stood around and sang.  By the time I was 10, I knew all the words to Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, Over There, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.  From another world, they’re all still with me, along with Mother’s piano music, her name written across the top in her perfect artistic pen.  She has been gone over 40 years, but I can hear the sounds of Claire de Lune, punctuated by the click-click-click of her long manicured nails as clearly as if she were sitting at my piano here in this room.

There is something holy about these pieces of paper, a few with small tears, most completely intact.  One by one I finger them, put them in fresh folders and put them back, where they will stay – probably until I fly away somewhere to sing them again with Mother and my Gram.

Music books are elsewhere – on their own shelves because of their size. Opera and musical vocal scores, collections of The Eagles, The Beatles, Elvis, Streisand, and thematic collections like The Most Beautiful Songs Ever Written – given to me by Doug, who helped me start our singing group Mixed Company back in Massachusetts.  He was a fabulous bass with exquisite taste in music and a great work ethic. I loved singing with him. We once performed a duet arrangement combining My Funny Valentine and How Do You Keep the Music Playing – so touching, heartbreaking.  Years later – not too many, but enough for me to have grown very attached to him and to have sung together many, many times – Doug died and I was asked to speak of him at his memorial service.  I began by saying “How do you keep the music playing?”  – a question I asked myself in the face of such profound loss.

There’s a lot of Mixed Company music here.  All songs we personally chose, learned, tried to make our own, performed and loved.  There are one or two I’ve sung since, but never as a group, only alone and, when I do, I hear the rest of the parts, the other voices of my friends, singing with me. The group tried to survive after Doug left us, but in the end, it morphed into something entirely different, which was a good thing.  We couldn’t resurrect what was gone forever.

A new drawer. I don’t know why I’ve kept all this wonderful Opera and Art Song music – the work I did with my voice teachers in New York, Sam Sakarian and Cesare Longo.  Hours. Weeks. Years. Italian, French, German, dictionaries my constant companions, attempting to divine the true poetry the librettist had in mind.  Unending scales and vocal practices, all in the effort to even the tone throughout my range, to produce a sound pleasing to the ear, able to be heard at the back of the hall, to create an artistic environment, to give listeners an experience that might leave them in love with Shubert or Mozart.  I still have the music, even though I let go of the dream to sing in the opera. Still, even though I don’t sing like that any more and am most comfortable in a good ensemble or choir, I adore the rehearsal process – the work – even more than the performance itself.

And here it is!  Lakme, the flower duet!  My memory served me – it is a copy of a copy of music from an old book.  Probably purchased at Patelson’s on the West Side, because that’s where everyone went for their music in New York in those days.  I will make a copy for my friend, perhaps enlarge it so we have a chance at the French!  I hope we are able to sing this together.  It would be wonderful. I’m glad I hadn’t thrown it away.  Any of it.  This music has been the best part of my life.  Through everything else that happened and didn’t happen.  The music has never stopped playing.

Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer

Read about historic Patelson’s music and its painful closing in 2009.



“Gustoso ” Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, January 25, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

“All that is important in this one moment is movement.  Make the moment important, vital, and worth living.  Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” – Martha Graham, Choreographer

Kenneth Fuchs, Discover the Wild

 Fuchs is a contemporary American composer, born in 1956, who received his B.A. in Music from the University of Miami, and went on to complete his masters and doctorate work at Juilliard. His compositions include works for orchestra, band, chorus, and various chamber ensembles. A cursory survey of his compositions is impressive, but my interest was piqued by those whose inspiration came from literature – including novels and poetry by John Updike, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Yeats.  A particularly notable work is his transcendent composition Falling Man, based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, evoking the very personal tragedies that unfolded in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster.

Tonight’s offering is Discover the Wild, a bright, engaging opening which expands to a beautiful, lyrical, almost cinemagraphic romantic second theme. The third section weaves the first themes with a fresh approach and ends with a light, optimistic finish. Notice the variety of percussion instruments and textures throughout.

Though this composer and his music may be new for many in our audience, there is a comfortable familiarity to our ears with influences of Copland, and other popular contemporary American composers. Don’t be surprised if you hear passages that bring to mind one of your favorites!

Manuel de Falla, El sombrero de tres picos Ste. No. 1 & 2

Born in Cadiz, Spain in 1876, Manuel de Falla is the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century. This reputation is largely attributed to two Iberian ballet scores: El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician), which includes the popular “Ritual Fire Dance”, and El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) which he wrote for the Ballet Russes.

With regional success in his early career in Madrid, particularly for Andalusian Flamenco, de Falla moved in 1907 to Paris, where he lived for seven years and discovered the world of French composers Debussy and Ravel. The profound influence of these years inspired his first piano pieces and songs, and gained him status among international Impressionist composers. His exposure to Stravinsky during this time also inspired the incorporation of neoclassic style in later compositions. De Falla is still considered ‘hard to classify’ as either Impressionist or Neo-Classic.

Formally retired in 1926, having produced a relatively small body of highly regarded work, de Falla was able to remain apolitical during the Spanish Civil War, living in Granada and continuing to work at a lesser pace. Following Franco’s victory in 1939, de Falla moved to Argentina, where he taught, worked on his pet project Atlantica, adamantly refused requests to return to Spain and died in 1946.

On tonight’s program, we are treated to two Suites from El sombrero de tres picos.  Based on a novella, which involves a powerful magistrate who has a lustful eye for a humble miller’s wife, the story is a humorous tale of flirtation, disguise, reconciliation and comeuppance. The Spanish–inflected music is filled with colorful folk tunes, sultry Latin attitudes, sharp Spanish rhythms, fanfares, birdcalls, soaring string melodies – all designed to tell the story in dance.

Aram Khachaturian, Spartacus, Ste. No.2

Born to poor Armenian parents in Tbillsi, Georgia, June 6, 1903, Khachaturian showed early musical prodigy that eventually opened the doors to the Moscow Conservatory, an introduction to Sergei Prokofiev and the beginning of a prolific career. Though his brightest talent was expressed in symphonic composition, he also made significant contributions to the ballet, dramatic plays and films. The composer was among those who walked the fine line of approval and critique from the Stalin regime. Ironically, his first ballet Happiness was reworked during World War II as the patriotic ballet Gayaneh, with its famous “Sabre Dance.”

In 1954, Khachaturian wrote the ballet music for Spartacus, loosely telling the story of the slave uprising against the Romans and its heroic leader. It was staged three times before the 1968 version secured its place as one of the composer’s greatest popular works and one of the best ballets of the 20th century. The sweeping, lush main theme is familiar and beloved.

Joseph-Maurice Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe, Suite #2

Ravel was born in 1875 in the Basque town of Ciborne, France, near the Spanish border, and his mother had grown up in Madrid. Though his family moved to France when he was an infant, the Spanish influence in his music is apparent. Ravel was among the most prominent French composers considered Impressionist, a style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term is also applied to the compositions of Debussy, DuParc, de Falla in Spain and John Ireland in England, and is linked to the art of Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. True in both the art and music worlds, Impressionism is evocative of moods, atmospheres and feelings – one could say that the music ‘sounds like’ the art and the art ‘looks like the music”.

Ravel is known particularly for his melodies, masterful orchestration, rich harmonies and inventive instrumental effects.  Perhaps best known of his compositions is Bolero, originally composed for ballet, which the composer described as “a piece for orchestra without music” and is instantly recognizable by its incessant theme, which is repeated throughout the piece and intentionally is never ‘developed’.

The Greek tale of Daphnis and Chloe involves a boy and a girl who are abandoned by their parents and raised by shepherds. The two meet and gradually fall in love as they grow up. After various trials, the two are reunited with their families and married to each other. This popular story was the main source for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and inspired many musical compositions.

Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe was commissioned in the early 1900s by the Ballet Russes and its wildly successful impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Igor Stravinsky called the work “one of the most beautiful products of all French Music”. Tonight we will hear Suite #2 from the ballet, which Ravel remarked was his ‘most important score’. This is a work of lush harmonies typical of the Impressionist style.  Listen for the familiar strains borrowed for the writing of  “You can see forever” from the musical On a Clear Day.

Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry













Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, December 7, 2014

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

Carl Nielsen, Symphony No.3, op. 27 (Sinfonia espansiva)

Nielsen was one of 12 children, born in 1865 to parents of modest means on Funen, the “garden island” of Denmark (also the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen). His musical experience began when, at the age of 6, he was bedridden with measles. His mother took one of his father’s violins off the wall and gave it to the boy to keep him occupied. He began composing at 9, attended the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen on scholarship, and worked as a professional musician for years before the success of the first of his popular symphonies in 1896 truly launched his composing career. He worked incessantly both conducting and composing throughout his life, ignoring signals from his body to slow down.  In October of 1931, he was finally hospitalized against his will, forced to lie in bed and listen on the radio to a substitute conductor perform a concert of his music. He died a day later and all of Denmark mourned the loss. At his funeral, his wife commented that his nature “never stagnated, was always on the move….it was running water.”

Nielsen named his Symphony #3 ‘Espansivo’, perhaps referring to the international breakthrough it represented for the composer. Many have speculated what other meaning was implied in the name; biographer Robert Simpson has written that it suggests the ‘outward growth of the mind’s scope and the expansion of life that comes from it’ and Nielsen’s belief that ‘great art, although forged from the private fires that burn inside an artist, seeks to grow beyond its origin and contribute to humanity’s collective experience.’

This explanation seems consistent with the composer’s philosophy and certainly his ideas of movement and organic development are embodied gloriously in this work. We feel as though we are on his “garden island” – a fresh wind from the sea, capturing and carrying the fragrances of flowers, orchards, trees in a vast waltz, always moving and transforming, leading to new variations and new motifs.  We hear the wordless voices of two soloists, soprano and baritone, intermingling with the forces of nature, as they soothe and calm the temperamental wind.

Even as the third movement quickens the heartbeat with its building sense of urgency, in the end the clouds part and the sun shines once again. We are reassured and left with an uplifting feeling of peace and exhilaration.

Giuseppe Martucci,  Notturno,No. 1, op.70

Born in the Campania region of Italy, Martucci was a child prodigy performing at the age of 8, and a student at the Naples Conservatory at 11. Although he began to compose as a teenager, concentrating on instrumental music and songs, he is best known for his work as a pianist, conductor and educator (Ottorino Respighi was his student). Atypical of Italian composers, Martucci wrote no opera and was influential in reviving Italy’s interest in non-operatic music, in particular giving exposure to the music of Debussy, Berlioz and Wagner.

The great conductor Arturo Toscanini performed many of Martucci’s works with the NBC Symphony Orchestra between 1938 ad 1952. Last season, we recall Maestro Ponti introduced this audience to the composer with the performance of his Symphony #1.

The Notturno we hear tonight was originally written for piano in 1891, followed by the enchanting full orchestral version in 1901. It has become his most widely performed work. Musicologists and critics have described this piece as ‘delicate’, ‘refined’, bittersweet’, ‘tasteful sentimentality’, ‘smooth Italian lyricism’, evoking ‘a mood of wistful introspection’. All of these words are certainly suitable….but ‘deliciously gorgeous’ feels right to me.

Ottorino Respighi, Feste Romane, P. 157 (Roman Festivals)

Respighi learned piano and violin from his father in his childhood home of Bologna in the 1880’s. His musical studies continued throughout his youth with a number of notable teachers in Italy and Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia. Well into his career as composer and conductor, he was appointed as teacher of composition at the Conservatorio de Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he lived the rest of his life. His body of work is an impressive mixture of Orchestral, Chamber, Vocal/Choral, Opera, Ballet and Orchestral, for which he is best known. His crowning glory is the spectacular trilogy of tone poems: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals, the third and most ambitious of the three and the thrilling conclusion of tonight’s concert.

Written toward the end of his career, Respighi said that this work represented his “maximum of orchestral sonority and color” and upon its completion stated “I do not think I shall write any more scores of this kind.”

Opposed to the settings of Fountains and Pines, which are a sparkling tour of modern day Rome, Festivals graphically depicts scenes dating back to antiquity and brings us to the traditional celebrations that have survived millennia. The first movement Circuses brings us to the arena, gladiators, trumpet fanfares and the violence of pitting beasts against man. In the second movement, we experience the Papal tradition of Jubilee, celebrated every 50 years since 1300. It is easy to imagine being with the pilgrimage to a sacred site at the top of a hill, enjoying a breath-taking view of Rome with church bells ringing in the background. Harvest of October paints the scene of harvest and the hunt,  a French horn solo signifies day’s end and a mandolin plays a serenade in the twilight.

Finally, we celebrate Epiphany in the Piazza Navona with trumpets once again raising a riot of Roman songs and dance, food and drink. Notice the solo tenor trombone and envision a reveler who has stayed a bit too long at the party!

Program Notes are the property of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra are posted here by permission from the Orchestra and the author.  Photograph credits: Steve Lineberry


Opera comes to Punta Gorda!!!! Hallelujah.

Gulfshore Opera comes to Punta Gorda

 On a rainy Saturday evening, while very few people were watching, something really remarkable happened in Punta Gorda. A brand new southwest Florida opera company graced the Charlotte Performing Arts Center and made some music lovers very, very happy.

 The company’s inaugural season opener was Viva Verdi!, a concert with full orchestra, full chorus and 5 soloists transforming our hometown hall into what could have easily been Avery Fisher in the middle of New York City.  In fact, Maestro Paul Nadler, the company’s conductor, has a Metropolitan Opera pedigree. And, a quick glance at the program revealed impressive resumes for everyone – San Diego Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Boston Lyric, Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, many international theatres, as well as respected Florida companies in Naples, Sarasota, and Palm Beach. 

 From the moment Maestro Nadler and the soloists took the stage, the air began to crackle with electricity. These people had the air of confidence that only training and experience provides. This was going to be good.

 The evening opened with The Chorus of the Gypsies from Il Trovatore, followed by Stride la Vampa sung by the beautiful young Ola Rafalo who rocked everyone’s world with a glorious full mezzo soprano voice that was a complete surprise. Thomas Cannon and Michael Wade Lee followed with powerful familiar arias proving that, to a person, this company is world class.

 For the Rigoletto offerings, Wade Lee thrilled us with La Donna e Mobile, conveying all the wit and spectacular high notes we could ask for. Soprano Julie-Anne Hamula joined the ensemble, singing the beloved Caro Nome, plus two duets and a quartet with Rafalo, Wade Lee and Cannon (would have liked to have heard even more of his divine baritone). It was glorious. I was there with Regina Buckley, Executive Director of the Charlotte Symphony and a classically trained singer herself. We just kept looking at each other with wide eyes and huge smiles saying ‘wow’.

 During intermission, we chatted with Ken Barber and some other Symphony fans, pretty excited about what we had just experienced.  I think we were all ‘blown away’. We didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly didn’t expect this.

 The second half of the program included spine tingling selections from Verdi’s Requiem, where the chorus was able to pull out all the stops in Dies Irae, as well as some of the big highlights of La Traviata. Everything was extraordinary. But, for me, the showstopper was Stephanie Pearce (the founder of the company) singing Pace Mio Dio from La Forza del Destino.  I was spellbound, probably with my mouth open during the whole thing, hardly breathing. I realized halfway through that I had begun to cry. She was simply magnificent.

 I know that not everyone loves opera as I do. My life in Manhattan was rich with music, and I lived right around the corner from the Met, where I held season subscriptions and grabbed student desk rehearsal tickets for $5 as often as I could.  So, yes, I’m an opera junkie. The manifestation of opera at this level, right here in my backyard, feels like special delivery direct from heaven. 

 For those opera lovers in our community who were not there on Saturday, I am so sad you missed this.  For those who are not quite sure about opera, this company is coming for you! They want you in their audience. The ticket prices are reasonable. They travel to various locations to make the performances available. They provide lovely visual projections evoking the locale and setting of each opera performed, and there are English translations of everything being sung in a foreign language. The soloists are beautiful, charming, funny and talented. Oh, they are talented!

 This performance was worthy of a sold out house and I truly hope the next time Gulfshore Opera is in town, they will have that. What a gift to our community this is!

Feature photo by Ivan Seligman 


Let Freedom Ring!

Let Freedom Ring!
Fourth of July debut concert of 
Bion Cantorum

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

(Published in part, Florida Weekly Newspaper, June 2014)

Bion Cantorum is a new choral group in Charlotte County, with an unusual name. Bion (pronounced beeyon) is a Japanese word which translates “sweet voice” or “beautiful sound”and was contributed to be part of the group’s name by Francis Wada, Board Member and Director at Large, and a well loved and respected musical figure here in Florida.  Cantorum , Latin meaning “singers”, was added by the group’s Artistic Director Roy Engler, also familiar to local audiences as Director of the Suncoast Chorale for many years.

Last year, local businessman and Baritone John Pappa, after his own experiences with outstanding choral organizations, was inspired to start something new right here in Charlotte County: a small Chamber Chorale dedicated to serious music. He knew Roy Engler, who had the skills, musicianship and temperament to get the job done.  He knew Angela Navarro, a fine Music Teacher in the Charlotte County Public School System, who had been the accompanist for the Charlotte Chorale.  He knew singers who were hungry for a challenge.  And, finally, he had been working with the Charlotte Cultural Center for years and felt a cooperative venture was a natural fit.

Bringing it all together with a stellar board of directors, this was a great opportunity to build something special for local audiences and this spring, Bion Cantorum was born!

Here it is the middle of June, the core of the group has been recruited and they are deeply involved in rehearsals for the debut concert, Let Freedom Ring!, on the 4th of July.  The program is diverse, with its centerpiece The Testament of Freedom by Randall Thompson.  A significant work, this is a setting of four passages from the writings of Thomas Jefferson which lay the emotional groundwork for the Revolution.

Additionally, in the celebratory mood of the holiday, there will be a glorious arrangement of America the Beautiful, a rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic guaranteed to produce spine tingles and goosebumps, a rendition of Dixie that will make you weep, a remarkable Aaron Copland homage to our country’s trademark sense of brotherhood and love of the land and there is so much more! The repertoire expresses Roy’s eclectic taste in music and his skill in putting together a concert that offers old favorites alongside pieces you may have never heard before, but that are destined to become new favorites.  “I have a really long list of music I would love to perform”, Roy remarks wistfully.

I asked Roy why he decided to dive in and start something new with Bion Cantorum.  He said it was “the promise of being able to work on good music and sing it well”.  He was particularly interested in working with a small group  – under 30 – for many reasons. He remarked, “You know, most choral music is written for a smaller group. Working with a smaller group, you can do more material, you know the voices you have to work with and what you’re able to do.”  The decision to establish standards for singers, and base membership on auditions was also important to him.  Whether a singer has an extensive resume or has sung in a church choir, Roy looks for ability to read music, have a good ‘ear’ and a commitment to learning.  Less time spent on mechanics, fixing basic issues and learning notes means more time for “making music”.

For serious singers, this is thrilling. Roy’s education and experience are steeped in vocal and choral music and it is a joy to work with a director whose specialty is the human voice.  Of course, knowing the instrument and how to create sound is just the beginning  – “making music” involves telling a story, drama, pulling at the heartstrings, surprise, intrigue, suspense, the human experience. Drawing that from a musician is what makes an Artistic Director, whether of a Symphony Orchestra or a Chorus, inspire performers and bring audiences to their feet.

making soundroyangela







After spending time with the singers and Roy, if I had to choose a word to capture the group mentality, I would say “passion”.  “I’m here because I want to make beautiful music”. I heard this expressed again and again from the group members.  It is this passion for the music. There is no other reason to be here.


Jean Finks, Board Member and Alto, shared with me, “There is something magical when you are part of an  ensemble and it approaches an ideal sound.  It happens so rarely…sometimes you are part of a group led by somebody charismatic.” She told me she has been singing for a long, long time (pretty much all her life). She admires Roy’s capable direction, and hopes Bion will provide her the opportunity to work on the complex literature she longs for. “I was intrigued by the audition requirements”! The standards do suggest a commitment to taking on some challenges!theteam

Ray Byron, the group’s Treasurer and a Baritone is a man of very few spoken words. As I talked with several others about their own experience and what brought them to Bion Cantorum, he stood on the side line, shaking his head that he had nothing to say.  Then, as we were finishing, he came over to me and showed me a quote he likes to think about: “improve your self-esteem with your voice and bring out the emotions of the recipients”.  The he added his own personal philosophy, “You know, I don’t always like the music in an upcoming program, but I remind myself that someone in the audience may love it, so I give it my best and hope it will make someone happy.  That makes me happy”.

Regina Buckley, who is Executive Director of The Charlotte Symphony and a Soprano told me, “I joined primarily because Roy Engler was going to direct.”  Regina is a classically trained singer and, like many others, is partial to directors who have a depth of understanding of vocal production and literature.  Regina had sung with Roy in Wada’s final concert when the Symphony performed Beethoven’s 9th.  “I was impressed with his style.”


So am I. Roy’s ‘style’ is inspirational.  His technical knowledge of vocal production is impressive, but it is his ability to convey the spirit of the music – the text, the harmonic construction, the mood, the composer’s intention – that makes me sit up and take notice. This is more than something one learns in conservatory, this is the gift that builds a loyal group who are there for the same reason he is – to “work on good music and sing it well”.

If rehearsals are an indication, the debut concert should be very exciting.  Another gem in Charlotte County’s portfolio of artistic offerings!


The Art


In our small circle of acquaintances here in Southwest Florida, we are rather myopic.  Everywhere we go, it seems that retailers, restaurants, cultural events are hyperaware of our demographic category: retirees who have money to spend and time up for grabs.

I love this.  I get special rates and discounts.  I get to hear the soundtrack of my life piped through every loudspeaker in every public space.  Shop people are extremely accepting of me carrying my little dog in places I would not be able to take her, if I were back up north.  There are folks ready to help me if I happen to need a bag toted out to my car.  There are about a million things to do each day – classes to take, art shows, festivals, gallery walks, bike trails, boats to ride on, great fishing, gorgeous beaches, nature parks.  Oh yes.  It is pretty darned special for those of us who have worked hard all our adult lives and are lapping up all the goodies available to fill our days in relative comfort and fulfillment.

What we do not see much of is KIDS.  Honestly, I had heard years ago that there just weren’t that many KIDS around here.  Seemed true.  I didn’t see them… least, in any number.

Then.  My love of music and devotion to our wonderful Charlotte Symphony Orchestra opened a door to a world I didn’t know existed.  Because our new Maestro – Raffaele Ponti – made it clear from the get-go that he wanted an educational initiative, this year the CSO created an outreach program aimed at school age children and I asked “Can I help?”  Hint:  do NOT ask that question in Punta Gorda unless you are prepared to dive in!

Now, during “Symphony Week” – the week before the monthly CSO concert – I have the privilege of accompanying Maestro Ponti to two elementary schools where he works with the teachers to conduct a music/art class.  He introduces the music, talks a bit about the composer and invites the kids to create art while they listen to the music.  He’s been using Beethoven’s Fifth and Stravinsky’s Firebird to prepare them for the special Youth Concert in May, when those works will be performed.  The music begins with a resounding DA DA DA DAAAAA.  Dot Dot Dot Line.  Ah, Beethoven!  And the kids begin to draw, paint, mark, dab, whatever they have for tools on the blank paper in front of them.  It’s crazy good!  Everyone is exhilarated.

Then, on Saturday, during the rehearsal for this week’s concert, there are kids who participate in  what we call “Musical Chairs” – they sit in an instrumental section of their interest while the Maestro works the rehearsal.  What a trip!  Sitting on the stage with professional musicians, a brilliant conductor – as music is brought from practice to performance level.  I would have LOVED that when I was a kid.

So, back to the premise that there are no (few) kids in our area.  There are THOUSANDS!!!  The public school system boasts music and art programs and teachers (wow, are they dedicated) who show up every day to open up the world for their charges.   Now, I have the opportunity to share in their experience and have my own world broadened in the deal.  That’s what I call a win/win.

Click the link below to see a video of our Friday morning classes with Maestro.

Maestro school visitswith the kidsmaestroCSO rehearsal