News from the ASC palace has been encouraging this afternoon. After contemplating the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's plans for financial recovery -- and perhaps tallying box office receipts from their opening weekend of the 2009-10 season -- bankers and beancounters at the Carillon Building have judiciously turned the funding spigot back on for the remainder of 2009, pumping an additional $375,000 into CSO's budget for FY10. Checks will be cut for $75,000 a month through December after an initial $150,000 payout this month. Added bonus: CSO doesn't have to change their name to Merrill Lynch.
It's not inconceivable that the ASC hearkened to the "Stand Up for Your Symphony" people's rally that the CSO staged last month at The Square. Our little burg's orchestra actually has its fans and supporters, and last Friday night's Beethoven's "Emperor" concert resoundingly demonstrated why. On an artistic plane, this was the musicians' rally.
As the ensemble played Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite under the baton of guest conductor Larry Rachleff, I couldn't help flashing back to the final days of Leo Driehuys's tenure with the Symphony in 1991. Yes, the season ended on a lofty plateau with an inspired performance of Beethoven's Ninth by the orchestra and the mighty Oratorio Singers. But there were two other performances along the way -- like the Choral Symphony, slated for reprises during the current season -- that sent me scurrying home to my CD player for reassurance. Driehuys-led performances of Beethoven's "Eroica" and Copland's Appalachian Spring were so dreary and spiritless that I had to reassure myself that I really liked the music.
Back in those days, I gnashed my teeth thinking of the bounty lavished by the ASC on Symphony while other organizations performing at a higher artistic level were allowed to founder and expire. Even a miniscule fraction of that funding -- and the ASC's endorsement -- could have meant salvation.
Eighteen years later at Belk Theater, all the CSO's former dreariness had been dispelled. The richness of Copland's colorful orchestration was all there. The strings' transparency evoked a dewy dawn. Exchanges between the French horns and the trumpets had a jocund folksy spark. Down to the last exquisite plink of the xylophone, the whole panorama of atmospheric delicacy, human zest, and scenic splendor cohered perfectly -- with lyrical exploits from three wind principals, Elizabeth Landon on flute, Hollis Ulaky on oboe, and Eugene Kavadlo on clarinet.
Guest soloist Yuja Wang was most revelatory when the 22-year-old reached the exquisite soft sections of the opening allegro of the "Emperor" -- and afterwards, luxuriating in the luscious adagio. She can play so softly that, at times, the sound of the keyboard seemed to be wafting in from backstage. Wang was most surprising in the closing rondo, with its infectious theme and variations. I honestly didn't think she had the muscle that great interpreters of the Beethoven concertos have wielded in the past. She's got it. Wang had merely disdained using that muscle in the opening.
So it was snap-your-head-back startling when she unleashed her full force after dreamily ending the middle movement. Involvement and intensity were amped upwards as Wang hunched over the keys, her lips now moving for the first time, adding their percussive thrust to the performance. Spiritedly led by Rachleff, the CSO more than held up its end of the dialogue.
During the first standing O of the evening, Rachleff did something I can't remember seeing before. He strode over toward concertmaster Calin Lupanu's music stand and lifted the score of Appalachian Spring high in the air for our approval. That's pretty much what the CSO was doing all night long.