On the evening of June 1, 2016, Meymandi Concert Hall was filled with anticipation as the North Carolina Symphony tuned up on stage. A reschedule due to weather, this event promised to be worth the wait. Conductor Albert-George Schram, best known in North Carolina for his work in Charlotte, seemed delighted to see so many people fill the seats of the auditorium, despite this schedule change. We were quickly introduced to Oscar Andy Hammerstein III, grandson of Oscar Hammerstein, who went on to give us wonderful insight and knowledge about his grandfather and Richard Rodgers throughout the concert.

The audience was first introduced to the orchestra with “The Carousel Waltz” from Carousel, the only piece in the program without vocalists. Acting almost as one body, the orchestra members followed their conductor diligently and artistically, embodying the music from their fingers to their toes. Each accelerando and crescendo was executed cleanly as each member of the orchestra carefully followed the conductor.

Hammerstein explained that part of what makes an excellent show is an excellent first number. The orchestra wasted no time enveloping their audience in a familiar and beautiful song: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” from Oklahoma! This is when we first heard a velvet-like baritone voice pouring out of speakers. Soon after the first phrase of the music, Sean MacLaughlin joined the symphony, singing the promise of something beautiful, just beginning, and the hope that every new day holds.

Joining MacLaughlin on stage for the next piece was Sarah Pfisterer, a vivacious soprano. Both singers exemplified this perfect balance between gorgeous vocal technique and keeping true to a character. “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” reflected this balance as both singers demonstrated both beautiful tone and an artful interpretation of the lovable, southern characters. 

The highlight of the evening, for me, was the performance of “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. MacLaughlin shared that his introduction to this song was through his mother when he was a child. We were also told that the singer’s own mother was in the audience that night. The audience was invited to sing along, creating a beautiful connection between performers and audience members. The mood of the evening developed into something incredibly intimate as every person around me quietly sang to themselves; some of them getting emotional, some tightly holding the hand of the person next to them, and some drifting off into their own memories.

Having been briefed on the significance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s productions and the social/political influences of the time, I found new meaning in songs like “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music. Particularly towards the end of the event, it felt less like a concert and more like a friendly gathering of people, reminiscing in the music of their youth. The audience was invited to sing along to “Do-Re-Mi” recreating the scene from The Sound of Music in which the Von Trapp children learn to sing.

The North Carolina Symphony will be performing throughout the summer; see our calendar for details.