Passing the Baton

Orchestra jumps genres with the “HSO Presents” concert series

Jazzed for a new series: The Hot Club of Asheville
(clockwise from left: Sean Mabe, Andrew Platt, Drayton Aldridge, Stephen Karla).
Photo by Paul Stebner

In an effort to expand its cultural reach in Western North Carolina, the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra has launched the “HSO Presents” concert series. Surveying musical forms well outside the classical idiom, the schedule of live performances showcases traditional folk and roots styles, presenting them in a variety of locations beyond the concert hall.

“We’ve been promoting orchestral music for 48 years in the community,” notes Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra’s Director of Marketing and Special Events Paul . Conroy. “This year, we decided to broaden our musical footprint [with] bluegrass, Texas swing, jazz, and even a combo of mountain music and orchestra string quartet.” 

Despite the detour, it was important that the selected styles fit in with classical. As presented, each genre is educational and historic, and it feeds listeners’ musical curiosity. “And those are all the things we’ve been doing all along with classical music,” notes Conroy.

Shows are scheduled in places like Triskelion Brewery (hosting a three-band trip through jazz history this month) and the Bo Thomas Auditorium in Flat Rock (for dates in spring 2020). “We think that broadening our appeal to different genres will bring in a bigger audience,” Conroy says. “And we’ll be able to feed that entertainment buzz that’s needed out there.”

In their own ways, the forms featured in the series are just as anchored in history as classical. Conroy mentions the October 26 jazz showcase featuring the Conor Law Trio, The Hot Club of Asheville, and Queen Bee & the Honeylovers. “It’s music from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s,” he says. “It’s very pure: What’s being presented is exactly what you would [have seen and heard] 90 years ago.”

Gypsy Jazz, as it came to be called, was born out of the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1930s Paris, notes guitarist Stephen Karla of the Hot Club of Asheville. Made famous by Romani-French guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stéphane Grappelli, the genre “incorporated gypsy, bal musette [dancehall], and jazz styles, along with classical elements,” says Karla. In addition to the original Gypsy Jazz repertoire, the Asheville group performs the pieces of classical composers admired by Reinhardt: Ravel, Debussy, and Grieg.

The bluegrass-focused show — next April in Flat Rock — will be headlined by the internationally known Kruger Brothers. “When we approached them, they said, ‘Bring your string quartet, and we’ll do it together,’” Conroy says. “We immediately felt we had a good connection. We’re not only reaching out to a new audience, but we’re crossing over with our classical audience.”

That crossover approach is a creative one, but it also speaks to the realities of today’s musical marketplace. “If you look at classical music in the 21st century, it has an aging audience,” Conroy acknowledges. “A lot of symphony organizations around the country are closing their shops and not doing concerts anymore.” He says that by expanding their musical menu to embrace other styles, HSO can bridge the gap. “We’re hoping that this series will blend with the core audience we have now.”

But the orchestra isn’t leaving that audience behind. Also on the “HSO Presents” docket are a number of classically focused concerts that combine the traditional and the modern. “Each one has a theme,” Conroy says. September’s “American Icons” presented music from the Great American Songbook, works by acclaimed 20th-century composers George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and more. 

An October 12 concert at Blue Ridge Community College’s concert hall — held two weeks before the Triskelion Brewery show — will center around music from Vienna, Austria. A December program will feature holiday music, and March 28th’s “Once Upon a Time” will showcase music associated with classic storytelling: Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Suite,” as well as selections from Beauty and the Beast and Berlioz’s “Symphony Fantastique.” 

The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra’s season closer will be a musical salute to the joys of food and drink. “The possibilities are endless there,” says Conroy. “Especially with us being in a such a foodie area.” The program will feature Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” along with other culinary- and gastronomically-themed classics. 

He believes that such musical variety is unique. “Asheville is so rich with great venues,” he concedes. “But if you come down the mountain a little bit, there’s not much else like what we’re putting on. So we hope to turn some heads.”

“Hendersonville Symphony Presents” features The Hot Club of Asheville on Saturday, Oct. 26, with The Connor Law Trio and Queen Bee & The Honeylovers, on the patio stage at Triskelion Brewery (340 7th Ave. East, Hendersonville, triskelionbrewing.com). The series continues in the spring with shows that include The Kruger Brothers with the HSO String Quartet (April 18, 2020, at Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium). The concerts are additions to the Symphony’s regular series; this month it’s “The City of Music” with a spotlight on Vienna, happening October 12, 7:30pm, at the Blue Ridge Community College Conference Hall. For more information and a full event schedule, see hendersonvillesymphony.org.

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