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William Grant Still: The Dean of African American Composers

William Grant Still (1895-1978), often called The Dean of African American Composers, was an American composer, arranger, conductor, and pioneer of early 20th-century classical music. He was born in Mississippi and grew up in Little Rock Arkansas where he learned to play the violin and piano. Despite facing significant racial barriers and prejudice, Still went on to become one of the most influential figures in classical music, paving the way for future generations of African American musicians and inspiring countless composers with his unique style. 

Still was the first African American conductor to lead a major American orchestra, and the first to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Throughout his career, Still composed more than 150 works, including five operas, eight ballets, six symphonies, and numerous other works for solo instruments, choral ensembles, and small and large orchestral groups. 

Still's music was born of the Harlem Renaissance and his sound is characterized by its fusion of classical, blues, and spiritual elements, reflecting his experiences as a black man in early 20th-century America. He drew inspiration from a wide range of musical styles, including European classical music, African American spirituals, and jazz, creating a unique musical voice that was ahead of its time. His compositions feature intricate rhythms, lyrical melodies, and rich harmonies, and he often used his music to address political and social issues of the day. 

Today, William Grant Still continues to inspire musicians and audiences alike. His music has been performed by major symphony orchestras, opera companies, and ballet companies around the world, and his legacy continues to influence contemporary classical music. 

Explore five of the best pieces of music by William Grant Still on Classic fm. 

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Black composers, composer.

Composer Spotlight: Daniel Bernard Roumain

Daniel Bernard Roumain is a Haitian-American composer, violinist, educator, and activist. He is a board member for the League of American Orchestras, a voting member for the Recording Academy GRAMMY awards, and a tenured Associate and Institute Professor at Arizona State University. 

Known for his signature violin techniques that fuse electronic and African American music influences, Roumain's work has a distinct genre-bending sound. Described "as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets" by The New York Times, Roumain has collaborated with the likes of J'Nai Bridges, Lady Gaga, Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones, Marin Alsop, and Anna Deavere Smith.  

A prolific composer of solo, chamber, orchestral, operatic, film, theater, and dance scores, Roumain's works have premiered at Carnegie Hall, New World Symphony, Opera Philadelphia, New Jersey Symphony, and more. In the film industry, he has composed for both feature and short films, including the acclaimed Sundance film Ailey; Requiem for the Living, In Color; and Color of Reality. Roumain also clinched an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for his collaborations with ESPN. 

In September 2010, the New World Symphony premiered Dancers, Dreamers, and Presidents -- an orchestral tone poem inspired by Ellen DeGeneres and then-senator Barack Obama dancing on The Ellen Show in 2007.

Activism is an important aspect of Roumain's work as a performer and composer. "As an artist-entrepreneur, I am committed to creating projects that speak to social injustice," Roumain says. This theme has been evident in collaborations with symphony orchestras across the country.  

On October 24, 2019, Roumain collaborated with The Flynn and Vermont Symphony Orchestra to perform for 24 hours in front of City Hall in Burlington in protest of discriminatory immigration laws in the U.S., and in November 2020, the New Jersey Symphony presented the world premiere of Roumain's i am a white person who _____ Black people. He composed this work in a fraught political climate, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests and calls for change across the country.


"I am extending what has traditionally been my choice given to any white person," Roumain says in the program note. "How do you see me and other BIPOC people, and what choice of word or phrase best reflects your opinion of Black people? Your choice, in part, reflects who you are." 

The Charlotte Symphony performs Roumain's La, La, La, La on March 21 at CSO in Concert with JCSU. >> Learn more 

Posted in Community. Tagged as Black composers, composer.

Music and the Holocaust Makes an Impact

On November 18, 2021, The Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act was passed into law, making North Carolina one of just nineteen states in the United States to mandate Holocaust education in public middle and high schools. With the act taking effect in the 2023-24 school year, the Charlotte Symphony's Music and the Holocaust program is poised to address the growing need for supplemental education about the Holocaust in our schools.  

Music and the Holocaust features an ensemble of Charlotte Symphony musicians performing music of significance during this tumultuous period in history. Through this music, students learn about Jewish culture and the horrors of the Holocaust. The music features a mix of traditional Jewish music -- which was forbidden and considered "degenerate" by the Nazis -- music composed in the concentration camps, and music that evokes survival and healing. Each concert includes narration and projected images that explore pre-WWII Jewish culture, the Third Reich's attempts to control art and culture, the role of music and musicians in the concentration camps, and how the European Jewish community refused to be silenced.  

Mitch Rifkin is Chairman of the North Carolina Holocaust Foundation, a non-profit that helps fund the many programs offered by the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust such as teacher workshops, traveling plays and exhibits, and speaking engagements.  

Why was The Holocaust Education Act so important to advance the work that you're already doing? 
[The Act] passed after a lot of hard work, as you can imagine. We are excited about the fact that it came about because of all the right reasons. Not just talking about the horrors of the holocaust, but about how the holocaust came to be and that it could happen again -- meaning the hatred prevails -- and how one man was able to exterminate 12 million people.

How is the Foundation and the N.C. Council on the Holocaust preparing educators for this upcoming school year? 
To teach this topic properly, educators need to understand the facts behind the holocaust. We hold nine seminars a year where we bring teachers in to learn these facts and how to address holocaust denial and distortion. We also sponsor a bus trip that takes educators to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. It truly is enlightening for them, and they come back and tell other teachers about their experiences. The curriculum being written by the Council is designed to teach the holocaust correctly, how it came to be, so we can avoid this happening again.

How can a program like the Charlotte Symphony's Music and the Holocaust help to educate students? 
Music is important, there's no question. When I attended Music and the Holocaust, I noticed that the students were engaged, they weren't wiggling in their seats, they were paying attention to the music, so that's 90% of the battle -- getting them engaged. I think your music and this topic are current. The rise of hatred in America, and globally, today is horrific. There is so much hatred in the world, and certainly the rise of antisemitism is a daily occurrence. When you see people like Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, with a huge following on social media, put that junk out there and no one contradicts them, it's horrible. But we contradict it. And we try to bring forth the understanding of how we, as a people, should be more tolerant of each other.

Learn more about the Charlotte Symphony's Music and the Holocaust program.

Posted in Education & Community. Tagged as Education.

Joshua Weilerstein on Brahms’s Fourth Symphony

Acclaimed conductor Joshua Weilerstein makes his debut with the Charlotte Symphony on February 10 & 11, leading the orchestra in Brahms's Symphony No. 4. This remarkable work showcases the composer's mastery of form, counterpoint, and emotional expression; and is a must-hear for classical music lovers and newcomers alike. The program will also include Ethel Smyth's On the Cliffs of Cornwall and Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. 

Here, Joshua Weilerstein shares some insight into this incredible program. 

What stands out to you most about this concert?
Brahms's Fourth Symphony is one of the most intensely passionate pieces that Brahms ever wrote. It represented 'the end' for him in many ways. It is his last symphony, last major orchestral work, and it seems to almost express an apocalyptic sense as well, as Brahms saw the deepening fissures and cracks that would result in the breakdown of European society in the years after he wrote the symphony. At the same time, it is a piece full of all the love and warmth that makes Brahms's music so irresistible to us.

To put it briefly, it is a symphony that encompasses the entire gamut of human emotion, and its intensity makes it unforgettable to hear live! It's also a great pleasure to be doing the music of Ethel Smyth and Edvard Grieg as well. The three composers once shared a meal together, which makes us feel like we've gone back in time to hear this music.

What are you looking forward to about working with the Charlotte Symphony?
I've never been to Charlotte before, so I'm very excited to be meeting the orchestra for the first time and to get to know the city. It's always a thrill to make music with a brand new group of people.

Learn more about this program from Joshua Weilerstein at the pre-concert talk, held before each concert on the Mezzanine Level of the lobby at 6:30 pm. Get tickets today!

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Brahms, Classical, interview.

2022: A Year in Review

2022 was a huge year for the Charlotte Symphony. We celebrated our 90th birthday and launched a digital archive to honor our history. We bid a fond farewell to Christopher Warren-Green after twelve years as Music Director and welcomed an impressive lineup of guest conductors and artists to the stage. We performed for healthcare workers, forged city-wide partnerships, launched a new Youth Ensemble, and welcomed more than 11,500 fifth-graders from CMS to the Belk Theater. Thank you for making our favorite moments possible and for being a part of our CSO family. Let's take a look back!


Christopher Warren-Green conducts Mahler's epic Symphony No. 9, a continuation of The Mahler Journey. 

Jessica Cottis makes her debut conducting the Charlotte Symphony premiere of Kurt Weill's witty and theatrical The Seven Deadly Sins. 


CSO musicians spread out at local Atrium Health hospitals across the region to perform for healthcare workers during their shift change. 

The Charlotte Symphony launches its Youth Ensemble, a training ensemble with no audition requirements designed to bridge early music education with the Intermediate and Advanced Youth Orchestras.


More than 11,500 5th graders from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools pack the Belk Theater over three days for the annual "One Musical Family" concerts.

The Symphony celebrates its 90th birthday with a concert featuring Vaughan Williams's Dona Nobis Pacem, dedicated to the people of Ukraine, and launches a digital archive, honoring the CSO's storied history. 


The CSO welcomes Atlanta-based Orchestra Noir for a sold-out performance of R&B and hip-hop hits of the '90s performed side by side with Beethoven.


Blood, Sweat & Tears arrive in Charlotte for Sounds of Joy!, a benefit concert supporting the CSO's education and community initiatives.

In his final concert as Music Director, Christopher Warren-Green leads the Charlotte Symphony and Charlotte Master Chorale in one of the greatest works of all time Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.


The Charlotte Symphony makes its debut at Little Rock AME Zion Church with a free concert of uplifting works that unite us all during challenging times. 

The Charlotte Symphony's iconic Summer Pops Series returns to Symphony Park for the first time since 2019. 


Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees leads the CSO in an exciting program of patriotic music at Village Park in Kannapolis, one of the Symphony's many free concerts for the community.


The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra reaches a two-year agreement with its musicians, creating stability for the Symphony and allowing for a more innovative, united, and diverse organization that reflects our community. 


After two years of virtual and hybrid instruction, Project Harmony returns to in-person instruction.


Just in time for Halloween, the Charlotte Symphony presents Jordan Peele's ground-breaking social thriller Get Out, with Michael Abels' award-winning score performed live to the complete film.


The Charlotte Symphony welcomes superstar vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens to the stage for the CSO's 2022 Annual Gala.  

Students from the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra perform works by Dvořák, Grieg, Bizet, and Elgar side by side with the Charlotte Symphony musicians.


Awe-inspiring acrobatics and feats of strength take place above the musicians of the Charlotte Symphony while they perform for three packed houses at Cirque de Noël. 

A Composer to Know: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

If you've visited a movie theater and delighted in the grand scores of composers like John Williams, Michael Giacchino, or Hans Zimmer, you owe a debt of gratitude to a composer who came before -- Erich Wolfgang Korngold. 

Born in 1897 in what is now the Czech Republic, Korngold was a child prodigy, composing the ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman) at age 11, causing quite a sensation at its debut performance in Vienna. As a young man, he composed multiple operas including Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), which became one of the greatest hits of the 1920s, receiving several performances at the Metropolitan Opera. The work was eventually banned by the Nazi regime because of Korngold's Jewish ancestry and after WWII, it fell into obscurity. 

But it was Korngold's background in opera which revolutionized cinematic music. In the early 1930s, Korngold traveled to the United States to work on the film A Midsummer Night's Dream and began traveling between the US and Europe until the spread of Nazi influence forced him to settle in California in 1938. Korngold brought to film scoring the technique of mimicking the rhythms of spoken word and the frequent use of leitmotifs -- musical themes for characters, items, or concepts -- borrowed from Wagner's epic operas and heard today in movies like Star Wars. In 1938 Korngold received an Oscar for the score of The Adventures of Robin Hood. 

Outside of the film industry, Korngold wrote plenty of non-programmatic music, including his Violin Concerto, which has become one of the mainstays of the repertoire and received an enthusiastic response after its premiere in St. Louis. The critics in New York were harsher, with The New York Times critic panning it as a "Hollywood Concerto," reflecting the prejudice against Korngold's lush and romantic musical style and the way in which the music establishment looked down upon film composers. 

The work was dedicated to Alma Mahler, the widow of Korngold's childhood mentor, Gustav Mahler, and received its premiere in February of 1947 by Jascha Heifetz and the St. Louis Symphony conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. All three movements of this virtuosic and demanding concerto draw on themes from films produced between 1937 and 1939.

Experience Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto performed by Bella Hristova with conductor Kwamé Ryan on January 13 &14 at the Belk Theater. 

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Classical, composer.