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News - October 2009

October 31, 2009 - Various:

Maxine McMahon Swalin

October 8, 2009, Chapel Hill, NC: Maxine McMahon Swalin, 106, one of the most brilliant cultural stars ever to illuminate North Carolina's people and their children, died Thursday, October 8. Hers was a fitting and poetic death: she peacefully and spiritually "wrapped the drapery of her couch about her and lay down to pleasant dreams" in her lovely home among the trees in Chapel Hill.
Martha Maxine McMahon — who was always called "Maxine" — entered the world as a 10-pounder on May 7, 1903, in Waukee, Iowa. Her father, Dr. George McMahon, was a physician, and her mother, Mary Wilson McMahon, a teacher. Her older sisters were Bea and Roxy. She began studying the arts early in her life, in Des Moines, attended primary school in Waukee, and took her first two years of high school in Denver and the last two in a private girls' school near the University of Chicago. She obtained a teacher's certificate from Drake University, taught in the Waukee public schools for two years, and then went to New York to attend the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School), where she met another student named Benjamin Swalin. Following graduation, she taught music theory at the Hartford School of Music, returned to Iowa to finish her college degree, and went east again to get her Master's degree at Radcliffe. Love prevailed; she married Dr. Swalin on January 1, 1935.
By her own philosophy — "surpass yourself by accomplishing something of value that will carry on without you" — she was wildly successful, for she became known and admired throughout this state and beyond as the "Mother and First Lady of the North Carolina Symphony," the orchestra she and her husband resurrected following its Depression-era collapse.
Though she was immensely gifted and talented in all the arts — she read music before words, played piano until just weeks before her death, and was skilled in painting, writing, and public speaking — it was as a music educator that she will most likely be remembered, thanks to her considerable legacy in that field.
The Swalins' lives were synonymous with the establishment of the North Carolina Symphony, one of North Carolina’s best-known cultural gems, and they were instrumental in helping make North Carolina "The State of the Arts."
The two musician-teachers came to North Carolina in the summer of 1935 for Dr. Swalin to teach a short course in the Music Department of UNC. The violinist and conductor also had degrees from Juilliard and Columbia University, a doctorate from Vienna, and post-doctoral work with children's concerts in Moscow. How fortunate it was for North Carolina that their intended short stay turned into the rest of their lives!
The "first beginning" of the North Carolina Symphony had ended earlier in 1935, but within a few short years the Swalins were encouraged to lead what is known as the organization's "second beginning." This became their lifetime struggle and their intensely zealous mission until they retired in the early '70s, leaving a viable orchestra with a $1.7 million dollar endowment from the Ford Foundation.
It is hardly possible to speak of one Swalin without the other, for this was truly a synergistic relationship, a dynamic duo, a team nurtured and enhanced by each partner. Benjamin Swalin was the Artistic Director/Conductor and the creative genius. Maxine was, to quote her husband, the "linchpin of the whole outfit."
Maxine wore many hats in those 40 years with the orchestra: conductor’s assistant, pianist/keyboardist, librarian, assistant programmer, commentator, and narrator of children's concerts, educator (instructing both teachers and children), judge of auditions and student art shows, office manager, orchestra and personnel manager, on-the-road advisor, publicity and PR coordinator, fund-raiser, chapter organizer, community worker, finder of orchestral practice sites, securer of overnight accommodations, trouble-shooter, hostess, and more. In addition, she is credited with pioneering music in the public schools in 1942 and choral music in high schools in 1944.
The late Governor Terry Sanford summed up the story of the Swalins and the North Carolina Symphony succinctly: "But for Ben Swalin, the North Carolina Symphony would not be. But for Maxine, Ben would not have prevailed. Bravo!"
This "adopted daughter" of North Carolina, who became a state treasure, a cultural icon, and a legend in her own time, lived 74 years of her long and productive life in Chapel Hill — 74 wonderful years, she said.
After Dr. Swalin died in 1989, she continued working for and diligently championing the arts at every opportunity; among her final passions were the UNC Symphony Orchestra and the proposed Arts Commons at the University.
Along the way, she garnered many prestigious awards, including honorary doctorates from Duke University and the University of North Carolina, the North Carolina Award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the North Caroliniana Society Award, the Carolina Performing Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, and recognition from the Juilliard School of Music.
As we celebrate her life, there is no doubt that her legacy will leave indelible prints on all who knew and loved her and on the State of North Carolina.
The NC Symphony will pay tribute to her during its October 8 concert in UNC's Memorial Hall, for details of which, click here. Other memorial events will be announced. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to the NC Symphony, the UNC Symphony Orchestra, or Classical Voice of North Carolina, Inc.
Note: The Swalins' life-history, Hard-Circus Road: The Odyssey of the North Carolina Symphony, was published in 1987. Maxine Swalin's autobiography, An Ear for Myself, was published in 1996.
Opera Company of North Carolina Director Resigns
October 8. 2009, Raleigh, NC: Frank Grebowski has resigned as the General Director of the Opera Company of North Carolina.Grebowski served for three years at the helm of the OCNC, a regional opera company currently entering its 14th season. Under Grebowski's term, the company was able to expand its seasons, increase and diversify its audience, restructure financially, and position for future growth."The company is ready to introduce a new and exciting era of opera in Raleigh," said Grebowski in a statement. "I have accomplished what I set out to do, and feel good about handing over the leadership to a new team with new ideas." Grebowski, who has an MBA from MIT, is considering employment options in both the for-profit and non-profit sector.... Taking over ... on an interim basis will be Francis A. Acquaviva, the Vice-Chair of OCNC's Board. Mr. Acquaviva indicated that the Company immediately will begin a nationwide search for a new General Director, and hopes to have the position filled by the first of the year.
The Opera Company of North Carolina is a permanent regional opera company headquartered in the Research Triangle area, enhancing the quality of cultural life in the community by presenting the highest possible artistic quality professional opera performances, and by working to increase the awareness of opera in all its forms.
(Press release supplied by OCNC 10/8/09)

Curry to Conduct in Taiwan
October 8, 2009, Raleigh, NC: NC Symphony Resident Conductor and Durham Symphony Orchestra Music Director William Henry Curry has been invited by the U.S. Department of State to participate in a cultural exchange program with the Kaohsiung Symphony in Kaohsiung, which is Taiwan's second largest city. Curry will conduct a gala concert there, to include Dvorák's "New World" Symphony as well as his own work, "Eulogy for a Dream," which is a moving tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Curry also will give master classes and visit schools. He'll be in Taiwan from November 8 through 15, 2009.
(Based on information provided by the NCS 10/8/09)

John Ruggero Snares Teacher of the Year Award
October 10, 2009, Raleigh, NC: John Ruggero has been named Teacher of the Year by the North Carolina Music Teachers Association. The presentation was made by Frank Pittman during an awards ceremony at the association's banquet. The keynote address was given by Gary L. Ingle, Executive Director of the national association. Numerous pedagogues from across the state were present to celebrate Ruggero's 30+ years of teaching, mostly in Raleigh. The award is also a step toward possible national recognition by the Music Teachers National Association (
Meredith professor Margaret Evans wrote the nomination letter, which cites Ruggero as "a complete musician — ... a superb teacher, ... performer, collaborator, composer, scholar, music copyist, publisher, and author." She goes on to say that he "is perhaps best known for his work with advanced students. Over his thirty years of teaching," she writes, "he has consistently attracted, inspired, and developed gifted students and has achieved superb results with them." In closing, Evans writes, "It is said that one of the marks of a great teacher is how many of his students continue on in music. Here," she affirms, his "record speaks for itself."
We congratulate Ruggero on this distinctive honor in his home state and wish him all the best as his packet makes its way to the national level.
If I may be permitted a personal note, I've known Ruggero since we were in high school together in the early '60s. He was, back then, an extraordinary and extraordinarily creative musician — a standout among his peers. Among other things, he wrote a chamber opera (The Sandbox, after Edward Albee) for a senior honors project. It says much that of the four folks involved in that premiere production, three grew up to be artists and teachers. Even in high school, John Ruggero knew how to pick 'em, so his success on this occasion comes as no surprise whatsoever.
John W. Lambert
Brevard Music Center Reopens Search for New President
October 15, 2009, Brevard, NC: John Candler, President and CEO of Brevard Music Center, has announced his upcoming retirement. He will continue to serve as president until the search for his replacement is successfully concluded and the position is filled. Candler joined the Music Center’s governing board in 1981 and has served as the Center’s first president with great distinction since 1993.
A 2008 retirement announcement, in order to spend more time with his wife, was rescinded following the unexpected death of Linda Candler. John Candler remained President of the Music Center without interruption. The Executive Committee of the BMC Board of Trustees will conduct a national search to find a replacement. The Committee’s process will actively solicit input from the Center’s key constituencies of faculty, trustees, employees, volunteers, patrons, and supporters.
Candler’s tenure has overseen the successful transition of artistic and instructional leadership, and has strengthened the organization’s financial framework. Keith Lockhart, a BMC alumnus and conductor of the famed Boston Pops, was appointed Artistic Advisor and Principal Conductor of the Music Center in 2007, the fourth to hold this position in the Center’s 73 year history. Candler has secured a strong endowment fund and significantly increased the net asset value of the Music Center, which completed fiscal year 2009 with a balanced budget for the 31st consecutive year.
Candler, age 68, said, “Being part of the growth and development of the Brevard Music Center for the past twenty-eight years has been a joyful experience. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying than working in an organization that is so dedicated and committed to investing in the future achievement of such promising young people.”
Mitchell Watson, Chairman of the Board, said, "John Candler has been an outstanding leader, guiding BMC to national prominence as a summer music program. His belief in and understanding of our educational and artistic mission combined with a business approach to fiscal responsibility and strategic foresight have prepared BMC well for the future.”
The Brevard Music Center was founded by James Christian Pfohl in 1936, whose vision to establish a music program for talented young people has since matured into one of this country’s finest summer institutes and festivals for aspiring musicians. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, BMC welcomes to its 180-acre campus each year 400 students, representing over 40 states and eight foreign countries, as well as 65 distinguished faculty artists drawn from America’s most prestigious conservatories, universities and orchestras. Each summer, the Center invites an array of celebrated guest artists to appear in performance with the students of BMC. BMC’s unique learning environment — students living and working alongside faculty and guest artists — creates an unparalleled sense of community.
(Press release supplied by BMC 10/15/09)