Coping with crisisThe Charlotte Symphony’s “Evenings at the Park” series continued on June 11th with a brief program of Daugherty, D’Indy, and Stravinsky. The concert was performed at Symphony Park and conducted by Christopher James Lees.

The evening featured only winds and percussion for each piece, in small ensembles. “Asclepius,” a six-minute fanfare for brass and percussion by multiple-GRAMMY award-winning contemporary composer Michael Daugherty, opened the evening. The piece has a narrative quality that produces engaging moments of triumph as well as tribulation expressed through polyphonous brass, timpani, and bells and references the Greek character Asclepius, son of Apollo, and the god of medicine. Conductor Lees dedicated the piece to all of the healthcare workers who have fought against the year’s pandemic.

“Asclepius” was followed by Chansons et Danses, an 1898 work by Vincent d’Indy, performed by a septet of woodwinds and French horn. D’Indy’s “Chansons” section is gentle with a nostalgic reappearing melody that is sung sweetly through different instrumental voices. In contrast, the “Danses” are lively, beginning with a staccato layer of bassoon and oboe in the lower registers and flute and horn trilling and declaring overtop in the upper registers. Lees described the piece as demonstrating “the many aromas of Paris.” In the opening “Chansons,” we might imagine walking across the Seine at twilight; in “Danses,” we hear more sounds of the street, perhaps those a little more mischievous. At times, the interacting staccato woodwinds even sound like an accordion echoing between buildings and cobblestone.

Chansons et Danses is a piece full of dynamic contrast, particularly allowing for very soft piano moments which both begin and end phrases. Throughout this piece, it was difficult to hear all the dynamic nuances, due to the outdoor setting paired with the fact that it was only a small ensemble playing. I believe the musicians (with the help of Lees) were playing consciously of these dynamic subtleties; however, particularly if you were seated in the back, like I was, there were times when the lower registers, especially, were lost in the sounds of the breeze and occasional traffic. 

Concluding the evening was Stravinsky’s 1923 Octet for Wind Instruments. Mysterious and interesting, Stravinsky’s octet is only about fifteen minutes long, but carries the listener through a dramatic epic. Divided into three parts – a sinfonia, theme and variations, and a finale – the listener moves from a careful promenade into an imaginary world full of excitement and uncertainty. The octet is not known to be based off of any story (unlike Stravinsky’s earlier epic ballets like Firebird (1910) and Rite of Spring (1913)), but Stravinsky’s use of dissonance, acceleration, and solo voices creates a drama full of distinctive characters who embark on a captivating adventure. The orchestra played with great spirit even if here, too, it could be hard to appreciate all of the musical details present in the piece and onstage, due to the performance arrangement.

The CSO appears to slowly be coming back to live performance. They will continue through the summer with a concluding evening in the park on June 18, and the orchestra’s annual “Celebrate America” concert featuring American music and fireworks on June 25 will take place at Truist Field. The 21/22 season promises to return to the concert hall in the fall and the orchestra will celebrate its 90th anniversary this coming year. Please visit the CVNC calendar for more details.