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Carolina Performing Arts suspends fall performances, launches virtual concert series


Leslie Andrea Williams in a January 2020 performance of Martha Graham’s "Chronicle". Photo courtesy of Melissa Sherwood.

Carolina Performing Arts announced last Monday that it would be canceling in-person performances for its fall season. Instead, the organization is launching nontraditional programs to engage its audience. 

In a June 29 announcement, Carolina Performing Arts said the decision to cancel in-person programming was made out of concern for safety of patrons, staff and artists. The statement added that CPA is looking into safe practices for a possible return of such events by the spring.

Carolina Performing Arts' nontraditional programs began this summer with the Compose Carolina virtual performance series, a six-week virtual concert series produced in collaboration with UNC's music department.

The series features three recent alumni and three current students in the music department’s composition area of study. Each created a piece based off of the theme of the series: "looking forward.” 

Each episode features a recording of a performance of the piece, as well as a moderated conversation between the composer and one of the three main faculty in the music department’s composition area about the creative process of the piece and how each composer interpreted the theme. 

The most recent episode, which aired last Thursday, featured Noah Balamucki, who graduated from UNC in 2018 and is currently enrolled in the screen scoring master’s program at New York University, along with co-composer Fadi Khoury. 

Balamucki said that he and Khoury interpreted the theme to mean looking to a sci-fi future, taking inspiration from books and films they loved as children, such as “Escape from New York” and “Star Trek.”

“Fadi approached the idea from a darker, more '80s synth landscape, like in 'Escape to New York,' and for my part I focused on the music of Star Trek films, which I loved growing up and are very hopeful and adventurous and optimistic,“ Balamucki said. “It was very cathartic to look at those futures and also have a little nostalgia trip to the past into these stories we loved growing up."

Balamucki said that he and Khoury used an online program to modify Khoury's guitar playing and to synthesize the music they had come up with to sound like a live orchestra. 

“Its not a conventional live performance, but there were a lot of live performance and improvisatory acts that went into creating the score,” he said. 

David Green, a current UNC student whose episode airs on July 17, took a different approach to his composition than Balamucki, both in style and recording method. 

Green said he interpreted “looking forward” to the future of the United States and the world, especially on the fronts of improvement of issues such as oppression, disease, racism and violence, and tried to embody this in his piece, which is a duet for piano and cello. 

“It's questioning, dark and even violent in places, juxtaposed with a primary motif built on an ascending Lydian scale that to my subjective ear is the musical personification of optimism. However, more important to my compositional process is how the piece 'looks forward' structurally,” Green said. “Each theme and motif I explore is derived from the introductory material preceding the entrance of the first theme.” 

Catharine Zachary, the communications coordinator for the UNC Department of Music, said the effects of the pandemic have given the music program an opportunity to engage in a collaboration unlike anything it has previously participated in. 

“It’s been really great to see how many people have been tuning in to hear the works by these young composers, and also to hear what they have to say — not just to hear the music, but also to get the behind the scenes of, 'What does it mean to write this piece of music?'” Zachary said. “What does it mean to take this theme and run with it musically, what does it mean to try and do that with two people who are at opposite ends of the country?”

The series also features UNC alumni Eliana Fishbeyn and Christian Cail, as well as current students Alex McKeveny and James Larkins. Performances can be streamed on Carolina Performing Arts’s website.

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