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This concert series lets you hear Charlotte Symphony Orchestra musicians for free

Feb 25, 2020

By Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer 

The upside? Free chamber music, almost all of it impossible to hear elsewhere in the region, played for sheer joy by members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, their friends and peers.

The downside? Pews at Providence United Methodist Church can be hard. These Sunday nights concerts are always BYOC: Bring your own cushion.

The PUMC Chamber Music Series has gathered a steady following in the hundreds, but that means most people who attend CSO concerts still haven't discovered the biggest classical music bargain in town. They'll get their next chance March 1, when 20 musicians tackle half a dozen lesser-known works dear to their hearts.

The night starts with the small-scale "Cricket Symphony" by Georg Philipp Telemann, who had a penchant for replicating animal noises. It ends with three short works by the Charlotte Mandolin and Guitar Quintet, including an arrangement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. In between come Mikhail Glinka's Trio Pathetique and a new piece by CSO cellist Jeremy Lamb: "A Ride on Oumuamua," which he'll play with cellist Sarah Markle and bassist Taddes Korris.

That's a program only musicians would've assembled. In fact, they do everything for this series themselves: pick programs, locate music if it's obscure, get permission from living composers -- they like to feature those -- and find other musicians they can talk into playing with them.

CSO bassoonist Lori Tiberio manages the series, which generally offers seven concerts between September and May. Tiberio gives application forms to all her symphony colleagues to help her assemble the programs, and she's not in the habit of turning people down.

"There are seasons where a particular piece may not fit," Tiberio said. "But if a musician really wants to do it, I'll schedule it. What's the worst that can happen? I'll get a little hate mail, and we'll do another concert the next month." (Complainers, who have grown fewer through the years, must beef in e-mails to the church for her to find out.)


"One of the first things I heard about when I moved here (in 2006) was this series," said violinist Kari Giles, assistant concertmaster of the CSO, who'll play in the Telemann. "They trust you and are willing to go with you. I paired a solo piece by Elliott Carter with a piece by Robert Mann (of the Juilliard Quartet) for violin and cello. I suggested that to Lori, and she said, 'Cool!'

"Orchestral music is my job; chamber music is my passion. If I don't have chamber music ..." Giles pauses, searching for a metaphor to echo something pianist Paul Nitsch had said earlier: "My life as a solo pianist was sitting in a practice room for 200 hours, giving a concert, getting applause and going home. The first time I was invited to a chamber music concert at a Virginia festival -- it was for the Smetana Piano Trio -- I had tears in my eyes. I had been given a chance to find out why I played the piano."

Nitsch, who'll play in the Glinka trio, taught at Queens University and helped start a chamber series there that ran for years. He has seen such enterprises come and go, including another long-running series at St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

Only the PUMC team has endured, and its humble beginnings gave no sign of longevity. Tiberio remembers the late 1970s, when section leaders in the CSO got together to make music wherever they could find an inexpensive (preferably free) space and a reasonably tuned piano.



The free concerts all begin at 7 p.m. at Providence United Methodist Church, 2810 Providence Road. After the March 1 outing described above, three concerts remain. There are no tickets to buy, but you'll find the schedule at

The March 29 concert offers Dvorak's Piano Quintet No. 2 and Toru Takemitsu's "Between Tides." On April 19, you'll hear Zoltan Kodaly's Duo for Violin and Cello, Victoria Bond's "Dancing on Glass" and Marc Mellits' "Splinter." The May 17 concert contains one full-length work, René Clausen's "A New Creation," with the PUMC chancel choir and an orchestra under the direction of Adam Ward.

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