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Refreshing, Accessible, and Adventurous Programming from Charlotte Symphony

Jan 28, 2022

By Josh Bottoms, CVNC--

Showcasing works spanning 300 years of composition, the Charlotte Symphony, under guest conductor Jessica Cottis, demonstrated the power of an expertly curated program. With each selection, the program highlighted the influence of popular music within the classical sphere and broadened the conventions of what constitutes a symphonic performance. And without being too programmatic, the concert was in many ways broadly American. Imitations of American folk idioms, French perceptions of jazz, American circus music, and a barbershop quartet all culminated in a soundscape that was relevant and vernacular.

Fresh and positively restless, Jessie Montgomery's "Strum" is a musically appetizing new work. Holding the viola across his body like a guitar, principal violist Benjamin Geller began the piece with an adventurous and steadfast strummed solo. Joined by heedful violin, the two pioneered the silence together. An intrepid, bowed cello solo from principal Alan Black took the lead and emboldened concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu to join in harmony and bolster the endeavor. Originally composed in 2006 for cello quintet, Montgomery's orchestration in the 2012 arrangement for string orchestra recalls the piece's roots in chamber music. Gaining confidence and momentum, the strumming speeds ahead and takes hold of the entire first violin section, launching the ensemble into a gallop. From here on out, the piece rarely ever settles for too long. Lighthearted, hot, and organic, the nature of the work reminded me of the second movement from Ravel's String Quartet in F, Spanish guitar inspirations in Gabriela Lena Frank's Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, and the orchestral hocketing style of Copland.

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