As soon as the Asheville Symphony Orchestra’s March 21 concert was canceled, music director Darko Butorac looked for an opportunity to create a virtual orchestra performance. His first choice? Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell,” which Butorac calls “the perfect piece,” in that it’s “evocative of the the spirit of the mountains and has a nostalgic tinge that would resonate with the situation our community is facing.”
Over the course of the next three weeks, ASO musicians recorded the score by listening to a track laid down by concertmaster/violinist Jason Posnock and using a video of Butorac conducting for guidance. After the musicians had filmed themselves playing their respective parts, Butorac edited and synced the recordings, receiving a sound mixing and editing boost from principal trumpet player Mark Clodfelter.
Yearning for “more then just a collection of musicians in front of their phones,” Butorac decided to combine words, music and iconic images of Asheville into a multimedia piece. He initially consulted the works of Thomas Wolfe and Wilma Dykeman, but their prose didn’t match Butorac’s intended sentiment and the rhythmic structure of the music.
The conductor sought inspiration by driving around town in the hours after April 13’s crippling thunderstorms. Moved by “seeing our vibrant city being so still and quiet,” he took a series of photos in the early morning light and wrote the poem “The Heart of Asheville.” ASO board member Bill Gettys read and recorded Butorac’s words.
The work is augmented by aerial footage taken by John Warner of Warner Photography, and Butorac hopes that the video helps remind community members that Asheville is far more than merely the name of a city.
“Asheville is an idea,” he says. “Borne of the resilient and creative spirit of its citizens and a spirit of community that can help us weather any crisis.”