Random acts

Of note

She sings Sidhe songs The all-female vocal-and-percussion group Sidhe has announced plans to release their first full-length CD this spring. The album is currently untitled. For more information, e-mail the group at bluvida@msn.com.

Front-row reviews

Who: Rudy Roberson

Where: Soco Moon Tea House

When: Saturday, Nov. 9

“Why on earth is someone like Rudy Roberson playing a tea house in Waynesville?” I asked myself repeatedly throughout his performance. As a noted Broadway actor, Roberson seems a little out of place playing cover songs (and some originals) in a small cafe in such an out-of-the-way place.

In fact, he’s here as a ringer, a visiting performer for the Haywood Arts Repertory Theatre’s production of the Tony-winning musical Parade. And, as you might expect from someone who’s spent the majority of his life as a working performer in the highly competitive New York City acting world, Roberson boasts considerable musical skills backed by a truly charismatic stage presence.

His set was primarily composed of piano-and-guitar covers of well-known songs — Don McLean’s “American Pie,” for instance, and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” — as well as relatively obscure works like Harry Chapin’s “A Better Place to Be.”

Roberson also included a few originals in his lineup, including “Their Home,” written for his parents. When he unabashedly cut loose, as he did a handful of times during this relatively polite concert, his innate performing prowess, filtered through his years of professional stage training, yielded a uniformly satisfying show.

Behind the music

Who: The Asheville Symphony presents Russian Nights, featuring the works of Borodin, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky

Where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

When: Saturday, Nov. 16

An hour before the Asheville Symphony takes the stage, preparing themselves in the ancient Thomas Wolfe Auditorium’s green room, I keep wondering how they can possibly look so calm.

The crowd is expected to be large, perhaps as many as 2,000 well-dressed patrons — yet the musicians talk jovially, trying to relax as much as one can in formal attire. They are warm people, openly friendly and only moderately curious about why a reporter and a photographer are wandering around in their prep room. Their smiles are genuine.

Maybe an hour earlier, Steven Hageman, the symphony’s executive director, had guided us on a tour of the facilities, pointing out how the company is trying to make do with the slowly deteriorating auditorium. Thomas Wolfe is an old theater with an old theater’s problems. The walls are unpainted in places. There’s no lighting other than the requisite “on” and “off.” The green room is bare bones, which makes a poor impression on visiting artists. Worse yet, when it rains, the old wooden roof leaks, drenching performers.

“What do you do then?” I asked.

“You move over,” Hageman explained nonchalantly.

When I think “symphony,” I think tuxedos, tickets far beyond my wallet’s reach and blue-haired arts patrons in clothes that cost more than my car. The actual music is often the last thing I associate with the experience.

For years, symphonies nationwide have been facing a problem with that same image, which is exactly what’s been keeping potential younger patrons like myself away in droves. The world of live classical music is slowly losing a war of attrition.

They are fighting back, though, in their own way. After the performance, at a small reception for contributors, musicians and, by extension, the press, I speak with Robert Hart Baker, the symphony’s music director and conductor. He tells me it’s only been in the last few years that he’s begun to talk directly the audience.

“When I was in school [for conducting], we were told never to address the audience,” Baker explained. “The music was supposed to speak for itself.” But that approach failed to connect with general audiences, and Baker became part of a new wave of American conductors who chose to ignore the old ways and tell the audience the stories behind the strings.

Baker’s talks, which help humanize this rarefied form of music, have become one of the most popular aspects of Asheville Symphony performances; his input makes the classical-music learning curve considerably less steep.

For instance:

Mentioning the near-riot sparked by the 1913 production of The Rite of Spring (which references a pagan sacrifice), the conductor said of that work’s creator: “Stravinksy was the Eminem of his time.”


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