North Carolina Symphony Tours to Washington, D.C. as One of Four Orchestras Chosen for SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras Preview Performances in Raleigh, North Carolina, on March 24-25
The North Carolina Symphony is one of just four American orchestras selected to participate in the inaugural year of SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras, a collaboration between The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington Performing Arts. Together with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Boulder Philharmonic, and the Brooklyn-based ensemble The Knights, NCS was chosen for this prestigious festival for its artistic excellence, creative programming, and dedication to serving and building relationships in communities across North Carolina.
Each of the orchestras participating in the SHIFT festival will perform a mainstage concert at The Kennedy Center and “residency” programs around the D.C. area. NCS performs at The Kennedy Center on March 29 and offers a casual concert at the Kogod Courtyard (between the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery) on March 30. Before the Symphony travels to Washington, D.C., it will give preview performances at Raleigh’s Meymandi Concert Hall and CAM Raleigh (The Contemporary Art Museum) on March 24 and 25.
Music education is at the core of NCS’s mission and identity—the Symphony runs the most extensive program of any symphony orchestra, traveling statewide and engaging more than 50,000 students each year. Bringing that commitment to D.C., NCS will give an education performance on March 30 for 500 public schoolchildren at Stuart-Hobson Middle School, near the United States Capitol building.
NCS is deeply committed to presenting artists and works with ties to North Carolina, and the state’s musical culture will be ever-present during the Symphony’s tour to the nation’s capital. The mainstage concert at The Kennedy Center features composers and works with North Carolina connections. Championing the music of our time, the program also consists entirely of works by extraordinary composers who wrote, or are continuing to write, in the 21st century: Caroline Shaw, Mason Bates, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Robert Ward.
Caroline Shaw—a New York-based composer, violinist, and singer—originally hails from Greenville, North Carolina, where some of her earliest musical memories were hearing NCS perform at her elementary school. “I'll never forget being one of hundreds of third graders in the gym, learning about the instruments of the orchestra and wondering what it must be like to play such thrilling music,” says Shaw. In 2013, at age 30, the North Carolina native became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her enigmatic composition Partita for 8 Voices. NCS is proud to highlight North Carolina-grown talent by performing Shaw’s Lo, with the composer playing the partially improvised solo violin part. The Symphony co-commissioned the piece and first performed it with Shaw in fall 2015.
Distinguished as the second-most performed living composer in the United States, Mason Bates brilliantly and beautifully expands the orchestral sound by incorporating electronic effects. In Rusty Air in Carolina, a beat track under lush harmonies and bluesy tunes evokes katydids and cicadas on a summer night. Bates explains, “The work uses electronics to bring the white noise of the Southern summer into the concert hall, pairing these sounds with fluorescent orchestra textures that float gently by.” The Southern air Bates evokes is that of Brevard, North Carolina, where he spent a summer at a music festival as a teenager.
Last season, NCS co-commissioned a new work by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Hiraeth, inspired by childhood visits to her grandparents’ home in Salisbury. The title is a Welsh word that loosely translates to “homesickness” and the music is deeply emotional, affected by Snider’s loss of her father as she was composing. The music is performed with an original film by Mark DeChiazza, which includes footage from the Piedmont region. NCS gave the world premiere of Hiraeth in spring 2016 in Raleigh, followed by a performance in Salisbury.
NCS will open and close its Kennedy Center program with works by the late composer Robert Ward (1917-2013). His exuberant and tune-filled Jubilation Overture was written in the World War II era when Ward led a band in the Seventh Infantry Division. The program’s finale, City of Oaks, is a 2008 celebration of the city of Raleigh. Ward, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was professor of music at Duke University and spent the last 35 years of his life in the Research Triangle area.
NCS’s free residency concert at the Kogod Courtyard echoes the Symphony’s performances at nontraditional venues in North Carolina. Works by Sarah Kirkland Snider and Caroline Shaw are also included on that program, along with a work by Gabriel Kahane that NCS commissioned and premiered last season.
Snider’s Unremembered is a haunting song cycle based on a series of vignettes by lyricist and illustrator Nathaniel Bellows, drawn from his childhood in rural Massachusetts. “The piece meditates on the romance and innocence of childhood perception—and the bittersweet loss and gain that accompanies the shedding of that perspective as we age,” says Snider. Shaw’s By and By for string quartet and voice take lyrics from old gospel hymns and bluegrass songs and sets them in a darker, more contemplative sound. Kahane’s Hard Circus Road is based on the NCS’s long history of statewide travels, from the mountains to the coast of North Carolina.
NCS’s participation in the SHIFT festival will not only draw national attention to the Symphony, but also to North Carolina’s culture and heritage—which has defined the Symphony’s work and musical offerings since its founding in 1932. By embracing artists who know and love the state, we create and curate a collective understanding of the North Carolina communities that we serve.