A short brag, some bluegrass music, some brass, and a moving Cold Mountain opera
by Rob Tiller
I’ve been trying to think of a way to share this without seeming to brag — and cannot. So I’ll just brag: I’ve been doing really well in my recent spin (stationary bike) classes at Flywheel. Their computers and software reveal how the spinners do relative to each other, which tends to make me try harder. And I’ve come in first in the class in three of the last four Friday 6:00 a.m. classes, and number two in the fourth. The average age of my fellow spinners was about half my own. My final score this Friday, 315, was not a record, but I was happy enough, and tired enough.
It was a good start to another active arts weekend in piedmont North Carolina. The annual IMBA bluegrass music festival took over downtown Raleigh, with pedestrians only on Fayetteville Street and connecting side streets, and several blocks worth of crafts and snacks pedlars. After work on Friday, we had some fine Mexican food at Centro, then strolled about, and listened to music at the free venues. For me, a little of the old-school, three-chord foot-stomping-type bluegrass music goes a long way. But we heard a couple of groups that used the traditional instruments but went well beyond that traditional model, and especially enjoyed them.
On Saturday evening we drove over to Durham, ate some great Italian food at Mothers and Sons, and went to the first concert of the season of the Duke Chamber Series. The performance was by the American Brass Quintet. They did a program of mostly sixteenth century and modern works (Hillborg, Tower, Ewazen), plus some music from nineteenth century Russia. These guys are good! Back in college days, I played with a brass quintet, with great enjoyment of the brass sounds and the repertoire. Hearing a chamber brass performance at this high level was a treat.
On Sunday afternoon we drove over to Chapel Hill for the N.C. Opera’s production of a new opera, Cold Mountain, with music by Jennifer Higdon and libretto by Gene Scheer. I’ve enjoyed Higdon’s music, but this was her first opera, and we didn’t know what to expect. On the whole, the production was a great success. It deftly created a universe, with quirky characters and settings, and the story was well told — highly dramatic but very human.
The sets, lighting, and costumes all were imaginative and well executed, and the singers and orchestra sounded great. At first I found the vocal writing a bit meandering, but in the second act it started to work for me. I found the climax very moving. The near sell out audience gave an enthusiastic standing ovation. It was cheering to see a large crowd come to a brand new opera with such enjoyment. There’s still hope for the future of opera.