Category Archives: Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

The Peace River Wildlife Center

One of the most visited places in Punta Gorda – and certainly one of the most special – is Ponce de Leon Park and the Peace River Wildlife Center.  This year, the fine folks who run this wonderful organization have become partners with the Charlotte Symphony.  Here is an article I wrote for the January 2016 issue of symphony magazine, TEMPO, telling our patrons all about it!

The Peace River Wildlife Center ~

The Symphony’s new community partner!

 TEMPO visits the PRWC

Long before human beings lifted their voices in song, or played instruments, or composed the glorious music we enjoy at our Symphony concerts, there was the music of the natural world! Birds of all kinds filled the air with their tones. Whales sang their haunting calls from the depths of the ocean. Our human music is inspired by nature, inextricably connected with its rhythms and we, here in Southwest Florida, are blessed to be surrounded by both!

This season, our Charlotte Symphony Orchestra welcomes a new partner in the Peace River Wildlife Center.  The Center is familiar to everyone who lives here in Punta Gorda and one of the most popular attractions for our visitors.

“The most important work we do here is the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife”, says Callie Stahl the Center’s Operations Manager. Most animals that come to us are either injured or displaced because of human action. Our work is an attempt to restore to nature what humans have harmed.”

Callie is a native of Florida and was a music major at Florida State University, until she changed her career goals to working with animals and worked as a veterinary technician for several years. In 2009, she came to the Center as a re-hab specialist and then became Operations Manager in 2012.  “When I came here, I realized this is where I belong. There is something new happening every day and always something to learn,” she shared during my visit in October.

Our meeting was attended by a gorgeous Great Horned Owl named Bella.  Perched on the back of Callie’s chair, this huge bird occasionally seemed to doze off, only to become wide eyed when a passerby snapped her photo. “She seems to have a bit of attitude” I offered and then learned that she just had her nails clipped and was ‘put out’. Bella had been rescued by another facility as a nestling and released when grown. However, she was soon reported to be going around a neighborhood, house-to-house, ‘asking’ for food! Callie said, “She had imprinted with humans early in life and, even though she still has a hunter’s instinct, she has no idea it’s about survival.” So, to the Center she came and that is home.

The most famous of PRWC’s residents is Luna, the tiny white owl that is now the organization’s mascot and best spokesperson “on the road”.  He is adorable and has his own very attractive cage home in the office.  “Lu” as he is called by the staff, is often seen at meetings, luncheons, and parties around the county when everyone can snap a photo and coo over his cuteness.

While I was visiting, a local couple brought in a heron with a broken wing and another brought a soft-shelled turtle that had been hit by a car. Both couples were so happy to have rescued these creatures – it was obvious it meant a great deal to them. I could see how working in this lively place would become addictive!

Though the rescue and re-hab work is the Center’s primary intent, Callie quickly adds that the concurrent goal is education. The partnership with the Symphony will bring Callie and the Center’s resident veterinarian Dr. Robin Jenkins with some of the Center’s animals to school visits with Maestro this season. This will enrich the Symphony’s art/music school program based on the Carnival of the Animals, and will certainly add excitement and anticipation for the season’s Youth Concert, at which the work by Saint-Saens will be featured!

Callie commented that working with children is particularly important because they learn at an early age to respect animals and all of nature. They grow to be more aware and concerned adults regarding the environment and the connection of all life on our planet.

“Sometimes we can also affect adults who are not too set in their ways. Awareness is the key. So often, people just don’t know. I will get a fearful call saying there’s a bobcat in someone’s yard: “what should we do?”  I tell them to watch and enjoy – be thankful there are still bobcats in our midst. Generally they disappear as quickly as they appear.”  Callie went on to say that when visitors see animals at the Center, they get to know them –personally. Their stories, their personalities. They are no longer just some ‘critter’, they are up close and personal – and that often changes how people feel about them.

At the end of our visit, Callie remarked about the Center’s working environment, “Everyone involved with PRW is here because of their commitment to the work we do, because of their love for wildlife. There are no egos, no agendas, none of the squabbling you see in so many groups. We have the most wonderful staff, volunteers and Board – all kindred spirits with the Center’s best interests at heart. Our goal is to expand the Center to include an education facility – where families can come and learn about the wildlife of the region and become better stewards of our ecosystem.”

The PRWC is a critical component to the culture and texture of life in Punta Gorda. Its mission is simpatico with the environmentally conscious nature of our residents and, thankfully, support for its continued growth is powerfully strong.

Visit Peace River Wildlife Center on Facebook and learn about their rescued animals and events and visit their website at  The Center collects certain recycled items and in need of specific supplies on an ongoing basis.  A great way to make financial contributions is shopping on Amazon.  Go to and select Peace River Wildlife Center as your charity.

Maestro visits PRWCIMG_4166


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




“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, January 11, 2015

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 George Gershwin, Cuban Overture

“True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time.  My people are Americans and my time is today.” – George Gershwin

Gershwin was born in Brooklyn NY in 1898, the second son of Russian immigrants. When he was 12, his parents bought a piano for his older brother Ira, but it was George who showed the greater musical talent. As a high school ‘drop-out’, Gershwin went to work as a “song plugger”, demonstrating new sheet music for prospective buyers on Tin Pan Alley. At 17, he cut his first piano rolls and began to compose songs.  At 19, he got a job as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway, and quickly became a Broadway composer.  His big break was Swanee, which he wrote with Irving Caesar and which was recorded by Al Jolson. Swanee was the biggest song hit of the composer’s entire career. By his mid 20’s George and his brother Ira became a team and produced the Broadway Musical hit LADY BE GOOD, and went on to write the scores of some of Broadway’s most successful musicals of the day. Their political satire OF THEE I SING was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Price for drama.

In 1924, Gershwin composed RHAPSODY IN BLUE, which introduced his hallmark style of integrating jazz elements with classical structure and established his credentials as a serious composer.

His subsequent CONCERTO IN F brought him to Europe and into the company of several prominent European classical composers; this exposure led to his first large-scale piece without piano, the tone poem An American in Paris, a commission for the New York Philharmonic.  In 1935, the Gershwin brothers opened their “American folk opera” PORGY AND BESS on Broadway, which ran 124 performances and never recouped its investment.  A year later, the pair settled into the Hollywood scene and wrote the songs for SHALL WE DANCE, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES.

George Gershwin died at the tender age of 38, following surgery for a brain tumor. His abbreviated life was consumed with music. Perhaps due to an awareness of his lack of formal musical training, he never stopped studying theory, composition, conducting and orchestration. He did enjoy his hobby of painting and his later works are well-regarded in the world of art. Despite his elegant social demeanor and popularity, he spent his time at parties seated at the piano and he never married.

Tonight’s performance of Gershwin’s CUBAN OVERTURE, originally entitled RUMBA, is a symphonic overture – or tone poem. It was composed in 1932, after a two-week holiday in Havanna from which the composer returned with rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.

The work represents a giant leap forward in the composer’s symphonic music, in its harmonic sophistication and orchestration. The overture is dominated by Caribbean rhythms and Cuban native percussion instruments, which he noted should be ‘set right in front of the conductor’s stand’. Rich, exciting, and complex, the work’s main theme was influenced by a then current hit “Échale Salsita” and, as the composer intended, “embodies the essence of Cuban dance”.

The work premiered on August 16, 1932, at the first all-Gershwin concert at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium before an enthusiastic crowd of almost 18,000 people, with 5,000 turned away. It was a huge success, with audiences and critics alike. About the performance, Gershwin wrote, “It was, I really believe, the most exciting night I have ever had!”

Tonight we will hear what the excitement was all about!

Leonard Bernstein, WEST SIDE STORY Symphonic Dances

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

The New York Times called Leonard Bernstein “Music’s Monarch…one of the most prodigally talented and successful musicians in American History.”  Born August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts to Russian Jewish immigrants, Bernstein fell in love with the piano as a child, earning his own money to pay for lessons. He showed such passion and aptitude, his father was moved to support his desire for a life in music. He attended Boston Latin School, was a graduate of Harvard in 1939, studied at Tanglewood under Serge Koussevitsky, and returned less than a decade later to become head of its orchestral and conducting departments. He was Music Director of the NYC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, where he led more concerts than any previous conductor and, among other endeavors, ran his renowned Young People’s Concerts.

Bernstein’s compositions span works for the concert hall, Broadway stage, ballet, opera and film. Among his long list of honors, he received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1985. He was a strong advocate for American composers, a humanitarian, philanthropist and active, outspoken advocate for world peace. Also an author, his book “The Joy of Music” is a must read for any music lover.

Fragile health since childhood in no way inhibited the Music Monarch’s ambition, commitment and productivity. Performing almost to the end, he died at the of 72 of a heart attack caused by progressive lung failure.

Leonard Bernstein’s astounding career can hardly be touched in a few hundred words. It is worthwhile for any appreciator to explore his contributions to the American music landscape.

West Side Story

A contemporary telling of Shakespeare’s ROMEO and JULIET, set in New York City during a time of gang rivalry, WEST SIDE STORY was a whole new thing on the Broadway scene in 1957 – revolutionary, different in style and content, pushing the boundaries of musicals to a new art form and setting a new standard for musical theatre. Original and innovative as it was then, the music, Latin rhythms, fantastic innovative dance, romance and drama that is WEST SIDE STORY has become indelibly woven into our culture.

Bernstein’s melodies, Steven Sondheim’s lyrics, Jerome Robbins’ choreography and Arthur Laurents’ book– the cohesive amalgamation that we have come to love and revere – was a collaboration hard-won. It took years to manifest, the concept shelved, resurrected – again and again – finally finding its way to Tony and Maria, the Sharks and the Jets. It was Hal Prince who picked up the gauntlet, ignoring the naysayers in his decision to produce WEST SIDE STORY, after others had shied away and strongly urged him to do the same.

Bernstein himself said, “Everyone told us that it was an impossible project … the score was too rangy for pop music … and who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage… then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the actors had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers!”

Despite the formidable odds, the team persisted. The pre-Broadway run in Washington, D.C. was a critical and commercial success, followed by moving to New York, where it won several Tony Awards, ran for 732 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre, went on tour, then returned to Winter Garden in 1960 for another 253 performances. The film version in 1961 brought the masterpiece to people who had never seen a live Broadway production and won 10 Academy Awards.

Tonight’s performance is a suite of orchestral music from the show that was prepared by Maestro Bernstein in 1961. We will hear strains of the Rumble, Mambo, Cool, Maria, Somewhere, and other familiar melodies that evoke the thrill of the entire theatrical experience. It is truly wonderful!

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




Program Notes

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, November 16, 2014

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

 “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Victor Hugo

La Forza del Destino, Overture

Giuseppe Verdi

Verdi was born in Italy in 1813 and is regarded as one of the most influential composers of the 19th century.  He considered himself to be a ‘theatre composer’, and gave the world some of the most beloved operas of all time. He lived a vibrant and successful life doing the work he loved, but was not without his share of heartache.  At the age of 27, mourning the devastating loss of his 2 children and wife, he prepared to retire from composition. Fortunately he was persuaded by a dear friend to continue. Perhaps fueled by his personal experience of powerlessness in the face of fate, he chose to bring to the operative stage a melodramatic libretto by Franceso Maria Piave – a complex plot of starcrossed lovers, curses, war, disguise, death, debts of honor, and redemption. Above all, La Forza del Destino is a tale of the power of Fate.  Verdi’s sublime musical score dramatizes the story’s message that, whatever our choices as mere mortals, we cannot avoid our destiny – that what may appear to be ‘coincidences’, though at times incredulous, are simply meant to be.

The thrilling Overture, opening tonight’s program, grabs the listener immediately with the famous and intentionally haunting Fate Theme, which rises to the surface again and again, weaving insidiously in and out of the gorgeous melodies that carry the characters forward as their story unfolds.  There is a breathtaking urgency that drives the Overture, at times giving way to a false sense of upcoming resolution, a promise of peace, the possibility of escape from what we were warned at the outset – there is no avoiding the power of destiny.

Symphony #1, op.10 F minor

Dmitri Shostakovich

At 19, young Dmitri composed his first symphony as a graduation exercise from Maximilian Steinberg’s composition class at Petrograd Conservatory. The success of its debut performance by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Nikolai Malkko on May 12, 1926 catapulted Shostakovich to international recognition.  But, this was a time of upheaval in Russia, the establishment of the Soviet Union and an oppressive regime.  Very quickly, the composer’s works became viewed as inconsistent with communist values. He was named an “Enemy of the People”, thus beginning almost 30 years of a mercurial relationship with Stalin (alternating between condemnation and reward) which profoundly affected his health, personal life and, of course, his music.

But, Shostakovich was a survivor. Despite the stifling political climate, he remained prolific, eventually completing 14 additional symphonies, as well as opera, ballet and concerti. No doubt his sense of humor, keen intelligence and fascination with human nature enabled him to walk a fine line – composing to both appease powers that he could not ignore as well as satisfy the creative drive that was his gift.

Symphony #1 feels both biographic and prophetic, with an opening full of light, expressing the composer’s characteristic wit – the playful energy of youth, childhood home, piano lessons with mother.  Subtly the mood begins to shift, hinting of challenging times and growing awareness, finally gravitating to drama and tragedy – a foreboding of the heartbreaking changes in his homeland and things to come that he could not have known, but must have sensed.

Symphony #7, op. 70, D minor

Anton Dvorak

 When we think of Dvorak, we visualize lively folk dances in a Czech village. Such was the fertile cultural soil that nurtured this much loved composer.  His deep roots in the lore and traditions of Bohemia were descriptive of and confined to his homeland in his early works, and continued to be woven throughout his music his entire life. At 30, with the influence and connections of his mentor Brahms, his recognition spread quickly throughout Germany, Austria and England.  In 1892, he moved to the United States and became director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. While in the U.S., Dvorak wrote his two most successful orchestral works – The Symphony From the New World and his highly regarded Cello Concerto.  Eventually, his heart pulled him back to his beloved Bohemia in 1895.

The composition of the 7th Symphony was a response to a commission from The London Philharmonic Society in 1885.  Dvorak was very motivated at that time to expand his international audience and hoped this new symphony would “make a stir in the world”.  Perhaps even more important, the man was in the midst of personal tragedy – the recent death of his mother and of his close friend and colleague Smetana. Within this emotional environment, which he described as “of doubt and obstinacy, silent sorrow” came forth a work of dramatic departure, an exquisite expression of this critical juncture in the composer’s life.

The first movement establishes a crisis, a disturbance amidst the familiar comfort of folk melodies, and ends with heavy sadness, even despondency. Deep from this sadness emerges a lament, a yearning for something beyond reach, becoming increasingly passionate before settling into profound tenderness. We find solace in the third movement, which evokes nostalgia for the countryside, happiness left behind– evolving into a frantic attempt to suppress the pain of loss which surfaces in quiet times.  The finale is a storm of anguish, reflective joy, ultimate resignation, grief, and perhaps, a promise of inner peace.

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