The North Carolina Symphony: Sharing music with North Carolina


The North Carolina Symphony and German conductor Andre de Ridder after the performance of the New World Symphony.  The orchestra performed at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh, on Friday and Saturday, November 15/16, 2019.  (Photo courtesy of Alexis Taylor)

Every few weeks, 66 full-time members of the North Carolina Symphony perform a different set with their resident conductor, Grant Llewellyn.  The North Carolina Symphony travels around the state to the towns of Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines and Wilmington to share their talent with North Carolinians.  

The North Carolina Symphony resides at Meymandi Concert Hall (at Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts), which the City of Raleigh built in 1932 and reopened in 2001.  

In 1932, Lamar Stringfield, a classical composer and symphony conductor from Raleigh, united a group of volunteers to form the North Carolina Symphony.  The original North Carolina Symphony consisted of unpaid local musicians. In the beginning, they performed in Hill Hall on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.  

Recently, I got to experience the North Carolina Symphony perform Antonin Dvořák’s  “New World Symphony”, along with additional music composed by Bela Bartok and Julia Wolfe.  The performance was really quite amazing. 

The conductor of the show (Andre de Ridder, a visiting German conductor of classical music who has conducted orchestras across the world) gave the audience some history behind the pieces.  He described why Bartok changed the setup of the instruments, making it differ from the normal setup. He explained to the audience that the composer believed it gave the music a better stereo sound, making it more immersive.

The piece the symphony played by Julia Wolfe was quite intense.  De Ridder also explained why the symphony included the piece with this classical list of music.  Wolfe wrote the piece after the 9/11 attacks, when she feared for her children who were to be at ground zero that morning.  It was a touching story and a very suspenseful piece of music.  

The Dvořák symphony, written by the Czech composer in 1893 while he was visiting the United States, expresses his impressions of America in four distinct movements.

The North Carolina Symphony also performs pieces besides classics.  Last year, I witnessed the experience of their Harry Potter production.  It wasn’t like the typical symphony experience though. The musicians played the music of the entire Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, while the film plays in the background.  As a big fan of the Harry Potter series and the works of John Williams (the composer of the soundtracks for the first three Harry Potter movies), I was able to go see one of the performances of it.  

The orchestra really immersed listeners into the movie.  I loved being able to see how the symphony performed the iconic opening theme, “Hedwig’s Theme”.  It was interesting how everyone was able to be in sync with each other, as well as with the movie.  

Another movie with a classic soundtrack by John Williams the North Carolina Symphony performs is Star Wars.  Just like the Harry Potter series, the movie plays in the background whilst the Symphony provides the movie soundtrack.  There are upcoming showings of The Empire Strikes Back performances in April of 2020.  It is an experience that Star Wars fans don’t want to miss.

The North Carolina Symphony has many more upcoming shows.  With the holidays coming up in the month of December, there will be many shows with performances of family-friendly holiday classic carols in the show ‘Holiday Pops’.  ‘Holiday Pops’ will have a performance from the North Carolina Symphony Children’s Chorus, as well as ‘falling snow, hot chocolate, carolers, and an audience sing-along’, according to a flyer the symphony gave guests at shows in November.  There will be a variety of other performances throughout the holiday season, including religious holiday songs in the show ‘Handel’s Messiah’, an acrobatic act musical number in ‘Cirque De Noel’, and a New Year’s Eve show to bring in the New Year with a bang. 

Other upcoming musical classics consists of the hits of Elton John, The Planets (composed by Gustav Holst), and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 (composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky). ‘A Rodgers and Hammerstein Celebration’ (hits by Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II, who together created many Broadway hits in the 1940’s and 1950’s), George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, and many other pieces all across the state.

The North Carolina Symphony has something for every music lover, from classics like Beethoven and Holst to hits from John Williams’ Star Wars and Harry Potter soundtracks.  It is a great experience for people of every age to come together and enjoy the power of music.


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