We made a quick trip to Davidson and Charlotte to see Herb Jackson’s 50-year-retrospective show in the lovely Western NC college town and to visit the Knight Theatre and the Bechtler Museum in the metropolis that rivals Charleston, SC, as The City of Many Churches. Any one of the three destinations would be worth the trip, and for the benefit of Triangle or Triad readers I’ll say it’s a very easy and attractive run over and back, largely devoid of hideous billboard signs and traffic congestion, too. (Our senior dance critic reports that Amtrak service is also excellent.) Of course, Charlotte has many amenities, including a wondrously compact arts and entertainment district and many good lodging and restaurant choices nearby.

The Davidson show, housed in the college’s Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center, pays tribute to one of our state’s greatest and most prolific painters, a man I am pleased to say has been my friend for almost as long as he’s been applying acrylics to canvas. It’s not a big show, but it contains representative works from his entire career, and it’s on view till April 20. See http://www3.davidson.edu/cms/x42440.xml for details.*

The Knight Theatre and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art adjoin each other and share some common public areas. There’s a pretty spectacular exhibit on view on the museum’s 4th floor, devoted to work by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2003), the troubled and ultimately whimsical artist whose sculpture of the Firebird, positioned outdoors at the entrance to the two facilities, has already taken on iconic status in Charlotte. It’s an extraordinary mirrored piece, dazzling from a distance in bright sunlight, of course, but since it reflects what’s around it, when viewed at close range the effect can be akin to peering into your own soul.

We’ve previously reported on events in the Knight Theatre, where on March 25 the Charlotte Symphony presented a KnightSounds concert in partnership with the Bechtler and with the Charlotte Teachers Institute. This was an evening that more than exceeded the sum of its component parts, and it was an evening, too, that perhaps only Charlotte, of all the important NC cities, could have accomplished. That latter comment alludes to the close proximity of the Queen City’s arts and culture centers. (In contrast, Raleigh likes to build its a&e and sports facilities in remote cow pastures or abandoned prison yards about as far from the center of town as it’s possible to get while still remaining within the capital’s extraterritorial jurisdiction….)

This final KnightSounds event of the 2010-11 season celebrated that Firebird sculpture, the Bechtler’s ongoing exhibit, the Charlotte Symphony’s new, alternate performing venue, and the outstanding conjoined facilities. In the basement of the Bechtler is a lovely lecture hall/auditorium that was well-filled for a preconcert lecture by Meg Whalen, the CSO’s Director of Community Engagement (who from time to time moonlights as a CVNC critic), and the Bechtler’s President and CEO, John Boyer. When they were through, we knew a great deal more about the program, dubbed “Light My Fire,” and about the artist de jour, than we had at the outset, and we were primed for animated discussions at the jam-packed reception that preceded the concert. Mix and meet gatherings are key components of these events in the Knight; one could hardly have expected goodies from Dean and Deluca, but sho’nuff, NASCAR fans…!

These informal concerts run about an hour, with commentary from the stage and with colored lights playing on a screen at the back of the stage, some light mist in the air, and on this occasion nifty programs that looked like torches (“light my fire…”) and doubled as fans. The place was virtually full, and around us were several people who told us they were taking in the action for the first time – a very good sign.

The CSO has an English conductor whose banter exudes charm. Christopher Warren-Green has an involved podium manner, and he’s not reluctant to demonstrate energetic athleticism; indeed, several times I thought the front-desk players might deserve hazardous duty pay, given some over-the-top-of-the-rostrum baton jabs from the maestro…. He achieved good musical results as the orchestra played the program of mostly short bits and pieces, all related to the evening’s theme. There were some selections from Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music, followed by the opening movement of Haydn’s “Fire” Symphony, the execution of which was simply electrifying – this may have been the musical prize of the whole evening. (Incidentally, the orchestra was seated appropriately for these numbers, with the firsts and seconds divided and the cellos tucked in where the seconds usually reside. This was the seating arrangement used by Toscanini with NBC’s orchestra, too, and one readily can hear why….)

Warren-Green had an attractive and talented mezzo-soprano soloist lined up for the two big arias from Bizet’s Carmen, the story of a cigarette girl who’s always looking for a light, and he was clearly so excited about her (or perhaps about this music) that he brought Carla Dirlikov on prematurely, before he’d had the band play the next scheduled number. No matter. She was hot in her fire-red dress and with her imaginary castanet moves, and yes, it’s a splendid voice, one surely to be followed with interest as Dirlikov’s career evolves, downstream.

The program then picked up with the great “Ritual Fire Dance,” from Falla’s El Amor Brujo, and dark and smoky it was, too.

The grand finale was a sequence of dances from the finale of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, enlivened and enriched with a short film by George Cochran and John Errington of the spectacular Firebird sculpture that provided so much of the impetus for this KnightSounds concert. This last segment was introduced by John Boyer, who showed more slides and set the stage admirably for the music and for the audience’s visit to the gallery after the concert.

I wasn’t set afire by the sound, some of which reached these ears a bit shallow and underpowered. The percussion seemed particularly weak, and sometimes the horns and brass didn’t mesh too well. Others have commented that the Knight needs a shell to give the sound a boost into the auditorium. On first hearing, I think that assessment holds merit. In any event, the place erupted with applause which elicited several returns to the platform for the CSO’s Music Director.

But it wasn’t over then, for the Bechtler was open after the concert, and many members of the audience availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibit before strolling past the big sculpture outdoors on the way home.

As it happened, the CSO announced next year’s KnightSounds lineup on this very day; we’ve folded them into our calendar and put that press release at the foot of the CSO’s 2011-12 season announcement, at https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=1177.

For what it’s worth, Warren-Green will be conducting for the upcoming royal wedding; this ought to be a marketing bonanza for the CSO. I’ll paste the news release below for all the royal-watchers among our readership!

*CVNC will begin listing visual art events in its calendar in July.


Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green to Conduct at Royal Wedding

March 15, 2011, Charlotte, NC: St. James’s Palace announced today that Charlotte Symphony Music Director Christopher Warren-Green will conduct the London Chamber Orchestra at the Royal Wedding of HRH Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton on April 29, 2011.

The wedding ceremony will take place at 11:00 a.m. at Westminster Abbey. The Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, will conduct the service, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr. Rowan Williams, will marry Prince William and Miss Middleton.

The London Chamber Orchestra is the UK’s oldest professional chamber orchestra. Christopher Warren-Green was appointed as Music Director and Principal Conductor of the London Chamber Orchestra in 1988 and continues to hold that position. In September 2010, he became Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony. He and his wife Rosemary reside in Charlotte with their son, Jamie.

 “The choice of Christopher Warren-Green to conduct at the Royal Wedding confirms his stature abroad as a musician of the highest caliber,” said Jonathan Martin, Charlotte Symphony Executive Director. “As Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony, Christopher brings international attention to Charlotte as he participates in the Royal Wedding activities. We are very proud and honored that Charlotte will be represented at this important and memorable occasion by our esteemed Music Director.”

“Dottie and I are excited and pleased that our friend Christopher Warren-Green has been chosen for such a distinguished role and responsibility,” said Charlotte Symphony Board Chair and former N.C. Governor James G. Martin. “At the same time, this goes to show how fortunate Charlotte is to have recruited such a globally established and highly regarded musician to lead our Charlotte Symphony.”

Maestro Warren-Green has conducted numerous concerts at Buckingham Palace, Highgrove House and St James’s Palace. To mark the occasion of Her Majesty The Queen’s 80th birthday at Kew Palace, he conducted a private concert for the entire Royal family. In 2005, he directed the Philharmonia Orchestra for the celebration of the marriage of HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall and in 2008 he conducted at the 60th birthday celebration concert for HRH The Prince of Wales.

In addition to the London Chamber Orchestra, other ensembles performing at the Royal Wedding include The Choir of Westminster Abbey, The Chapel Royal Choir, and The Fanfare Team from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. Further information on the music will be made available nearer the time of the wedding.

(Press release provided by the CSO.)