If North Carolina is known as Variety Vacationland, then the N. C. Symphony should be known as Variety Musicworld because of the wide range of programming it offers each season. The recently announced 2012 Summerfest concerts and the 2012-13 Pops Series are typical.
This years seven weekly Summerfest concerts, at Carys Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Regency Park, are built around themes. Summerfest artistic director William Henry Curry conducts an evening of music celebrating nature, including Ferde Grofés Grand Canyon Suite and Alan Hovhaness And God Created Whales, with underwater recordings of humpbacks. Curry also leads a Shakespeare-themed concert offering pieces based on Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Nights Dream and Othello, with area actors supplying selected scenes.
The orchestras associate conductor, Sarah Hicks, provides some nostalgia with Total 80s Rewind, an evening of pop hits such as Thriller and Every Breath You Take. She also conducts the summers final concert, A Night in Paris, offering music associated with Edith Piaf and Django Reinhardt, as well as George Gershwins An American in Paris.
Theres also a kids night, a Play With The Pros evening with area amateurs joining in, and music director Grant Llewellyn leading Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue.
A big draw for Summerfest is its unfussy atmosphere. Concertgoers bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets to make an evening of it. Conductor Curry heartily approves.
Some people are still uncomfortable about concert etiquette and what to wear, so the amphitheatre is the perfect venue to listen to music in a relaxed way and be exposed to all kinds of music, he said. And after 17 years of working on Summerfest, Curry has learned what the public likes. We pick the classical pieces carefully Beethovens Fifth Symphony but not his Fourth and we play quieter works after dark, when things naturally settle down more.
Curry also conducts on the orchestras Pop Series, which plays throughout the season in Raleighs Meymandi Concert Hall.
One program hell head up is Wicked Divas, devoted to Broadway shows such as Gypsy, Chicago and Wicked, featuring female vocalists from the Broadway stage. Curry also conducts an evening devoted to Disney music that includes video projection of movie stills and clips, and a program honoring the music of Ray Charles with noted soul music and TV personality, Ellis Hall.
Grant Llewellyn, who worked for a time with composer and conductor John Williams while at the Boston Symphony, leads a concert of Williams music that includes not only popular selections from Star Wars and Harry Potter but also some of his less well-known works. Theres also a night with jazz saxophonist Kenny G and a holiday pops concert to round out the season.
Orchestra general manager Scott Freck considers the Pops Series to be at the forefront of the organizations mission.
Our modern mandate is to provide many different experiences. Great music comes in many shapes and shades and from many sources, he said. We often see crossover from our pops series to our classical and vice versa. The threads of influence among these musical types are not as far apart as one might think.
Curry makes the case on a more basic level.
I was once characterized in a newspaper article as an entertainer, which offended me a bit at first, he said. But then I took it as a compliment, because, although we are also here to educate and enlighten, if you dont entertain, the audience isnt going to come back.