Bringing the Classics to Raleigh
Buffeted by declining revenue during the Great Recession, the North Carolina Symphony has spent the last few years staging a remarkable comeback, ensuring that the beauty of classical music is here to stay in the Tar Heel State.
That’s an important step, because whether our state faces lean or prosperous economic times, the uplifting value of the arts is always significant.
“In a day and age when there is an increasing attraction to living on the surface, the arts can take us to places in the mind, heart, and spirit that other activities just can’t,” said Grant Llewellyn, the Welsh-born Music Director for the N.C. Symphony.
“The glory of the arts is that they take us outside and beyond the mundane, and challenge and enrich our lives in ways that cannot be duplicated by any other activity,” he added.
For over 80 years, the N.C. Symphony has carried out its dual mission of undertaking top-rate performances and educating students across the state about classical music.
Lamar Stringfield, a Tar Heel native and Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship recipient, created the N.C. Symphony in 1932. The symphony performed its first concert on a spring evening in 1932 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In 1943, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill that provided the symphony with partial state funding from that day forward. Today, the orchestra of 69 full-time musicians travels 18,000 miles across the state and reaches over 50,000 children and more than 250,000 adults each year. In 2012, the Symphony entered its 80th year of serving the people of North Carolina.
The orchestra is based in Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina’s capital city. The Symphony also has a summer venue at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary.
In keeping with its commitment to support the fine arts in Raleigh, the John William Pope Foundation is honored to have supported the N.C. Symphony for decades.
When most people think of the N.C. Symphony, they immediately imagine beautiful concerts in downtown Raleigh or the Cary amphitheater. But a foundational plank of the Symphony’s mission is to provide a musical education to youth.
In fact, so committed is the Symphony to this goal that its leaders devote more resources to reaching young people than any other professional orchestra in the U.S. Each year, the Symphony performs more than 40 curriculum-based education concerts for school children in N.C., many times in high-poverty, rural areas.
“Our goal is to encourage the love of music by reaching these fourth and fifth graders,” said Sandi Macdonald, President and CEO of the N.C. Symphony. “We seek to annually serve all 100 counties of the state.”
The Symphony’s comprehensive curriculum includes information on the six components of music — rhythm, dynamics, texture, tempo, form, and melody — and introduces students to great composers who mastered these elements.
Students also have a chance to witness a live Symphony performance to show firsthand the concepts they’ve learned. The Symphony also presents ensembles in schools.
The mixture of classical music and eager young learners has led to some magical moments. One example that Llewellyn recalls was a performance near Burlington.
“We played the ‘Dance of the Adolescents’ from The Rite of Spring,” he said. “I like to turn to the audience and say, ‘What does that make you think about?’ A little boy in the fourth grade put his hand up and said, ‘A really bad breakup.’”
Educating students is important, but what would a symphony be without an array of top-notch performances for the public? The N.C. Symphony’s 39-week season features a diverse array of concerts, including a classical and pops series.
Concerts for the 2014-2015 season include Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Beethovan and Mozart, and Handel’s Messiah. The Symphony’s pops series features such classics as West Side Story and Casablanca with the films running in the background.
A hopeful future
“Looking to the future, I hope that we are able to once again grow as we were leading up to the recession — in many ambitious ways,” said Llewellyn. “That includes the stature of the repertoire we’re able to play, and some of the visiting soloists that we are able to invite.”
All of the N.C. Symphony’s future ambition is based on the simple principle that music is not only essential for learning — it’s essential for society, culture, and good citizenship.
“Classical music allows us to share thoughts and feelings that cannot always be put into words – hope, comfort, promise and beauty,” said Macdonald.
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