Crossing the Divide

Fiddle and banjo put local flavor in annual orchestral concert

Fiddler Julian Pinelli
Photo by Kaitlyn Raitz

For many decades now, the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra has staged annual concerts around a holiday theme. The pandemic caused the cancellation of last year’s event, but this December, HSO proudly returns with “An Appalachian Christmas,” an evening of music featuring the traditional sounds of the region, and including three guest stars. In conversation with Bold Life, conductor Eric Scheider shares his plans for the December 11 show.

The HSO has a long tradition with its December concerts, usually called “A Carolina Christmas.” How will the 2021 event be different from past concerts?

This program is probably more local than those programs were. “A Carolina Christmas” has been an eclectic blend of really wonderful holiday music from around the world. But for this program, I’m focusing on the history and the breadth of the music specific to Western North Carolina. We’re going to look at the history and the influences of American jazz, and the use of American traditional music in orchestral music.

Singer Amanda Horton

Who are some of the composers whose music will be presented in the program?

We’re going to be doing the “Overture” to the Nutcracker Suite. It was arranged by Danny Strayhorn, who was a member of Duke Ellington’s ensemble. It’s a really wonderful piece, influenced by Aaron Copland. Then we’re going to be diving right into some folk music by [composers including] James Taylor and Stephen Foster.

Talk about the guest performers …

We have three: a fantastic fiddler and songwriter, Julian Pinelli, [who] grew up in Western North Carolina and actually played in the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra when he was a budding violinist. He just won the [International Bluegrass Music Association’s] Momentum Award; his career is really blossoming this year.

We also have Graham Sharp [of Steep Canyon Rangers] on the banjo. He’s an incredible songwriter for them, and he also writes music for his own side project. We’ll be doing some of the music that Julian has written, some of the music that Graham has written, along with some other traditional and folk music for the holidays. 

We also have a really fine, fine classical [soprano] singer named Amanda Horton. She’ll be singing some of this music with us, and she will also lead the audience in some singalongs.

Banjo player Graham Sharp joins the Orchestra this season.

What challenges does the HSO face when working with non-orchestral musicians in a program like this?

Working with a big orchestra is a very different type of logistical challenge than you would have in a 4-6 piece combo. But both Julian and Graham have worked extensively with orchestras, and we’re very fortunate to work with these musicians who are experienced in crossing the divide. 

Probably the biggest logistical challenge is for the arrangers. We’re creating a dozen new arrangements for this performance. It’s a tremendously exciting opportunity for us to do new arrangements of beloved music, but it is also certainly an investment of time and resources for the symphony to be able to present that music for an audience. And we’re thrilled about that!

The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra presents “An Appalachian Christmas” — conducted by Eric Scheider and featuring Graham Sharp, Julian Pinelli, and Amanda Horton — on Saturday, Dec. 11, 7:30pm, in Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College (180 West Campus Drive, Flat Rock). Tickets range from $12-$45. For more information, call 828-697-5884 or see hendersonvillesymphony.org. 

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