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Zimmermann dislikes the
aura of bing a conductor
By JEFF GROVE
Cerhardt Zimmermann sounded very sure of himself
during a telephone interview the day before he was to con
duct a North Carolina Symphony concert in Chapel Hill.
But then, he had a right to. At the age of 36, he is the ar
tistic director and principal conductor of a high-quality
professional orchestra the only one between Washing
ton, D C. and Atlanta. This came despite a decidely unsen
sational background. After all. Van Wert, Ohio isn't New
York City, and Bowling Green State University is hardly the
Eastman School of Music.
Perhaps this training formed Zimmermann's opinion of
the conductor's being more a part of the orchestra than its
leash-tugging leader. "I've always despised the arrogant at
titude of conductors," Zimmermann said in a June inter
view with The News and Observer in Raleigh. Now he clari
fies that by saying, "I guess I mean that I dislike the aura of
being a conductor."
It is not unusual, then, that Zimmermann is willing to
share the podium with other conductors. "I think it's good
that guest conductors are brought in," he said. "It gives the
audience a little diversity, and it allows me to program
works that I'm not particularly attracted to conduct"
What does he like to conduct? His first love is German
music. "The best way to build an orchestra is Jhrough the
Germanic repertoire," he said. Two-thirds of the works to
be performed in Chapel Hill by the Symphony this season
are by German composers or composers leaning toward a
Germanic style. "In the future," Zimmermann said, "I'd like
to add the big Mahler symphonies, and, of course, Bruckner
and the Strauss tone poems."
When the absence of British music in this year's reper
toire was pointed out, Zimmermann said, "Well, we're do-"
ing the Britten War Requiem this season, but not in Chapel
Hill. I would like to do some works by Elgar, and some of
the Vaughan Williams symphonies, which are quite beauti
ful. I'm also thinking of some things by Tippett He's a very
Other than that, Zimmermann said, future seasons will
be much like this year's season.
Though public taste is always a concern in planning an
orchestra's repertoire, it is even more crucial for the f inan
- daily troubled N.C. Symphony. Zimmermann said of his
role in helping the orchestra achieve financial stability,
"The only thing I can really give the people is a first-class
orchestra, one that is exciting in performance, and through
that you open up the doors to a wider financial base."
Zimmermann distinguishes two movements in today's
trend to popularize classical music. He conducts pops con
certs, which feature light classical favorites, but he said he
doesn't do the "Fifth of Beethoven" or "Hooked on Clas-
Photo courtesy of the North Caroline Symphony
Artistic Director and Conductor
Weekend, September 23, 1982
sics" they aren't his style. The pops concerts represent
Zimmermann's attempt "to get people turned on to the
symphony in general."
The Carolina Union will sponsor one of these concerts
Sunday at 4 p.m. in Forest Theatre. Zimmermann programed
the concert to be especially appealing to area audiences.
"The Saint-Saens (Princess Jaune Overture) is one of those
gems that you discover gathering dust in a music library
and has no business being buried. Then we're doing Rach
maninoff (Caprice Bohemien), which should be a great
crowd pleaser. There's a sing-along and the medley from
The Sound of Music, which speak for themselves."
Zimmermann wants to persuade people whose musical
experience is limited to pop music to try classical music.
"As with any acquired taste, one concert won't do it just
as reading one Shakespeare play won't make you love all
Shakespeare. I would advise that you try to come to
several concerts and get rid of any preconceived notions.
If s like trying a new food you just have to jump in with
Jeff Grove is assistant arts editor of The Daily Tar Heel.
Half a century old
By JEFF GROVE
The North Carolina Symphony is a stylish operation.
Two occurrences from last Wednesday's concert in Memorial
Hall serve as examples. As seems to-be traditional, the audience
applauded concertmaster Paul Gorski when he came onstage to
tune the orchestra. Then, when it came time to open the concert
with "The Star-Spangled Banner' all of the orchestra members
who could stand while playing did so.
Style was in order for the concert The Symphony had re
turned to its birthplace to celebrate its first half-century of exis
tence. On May 14, 1932, 48 musicians sat on the stage of Hill Hall
Auditorium in front of conductor Lamar Stringfield. They were a
varied group. Some were professionals while others were ama
teurs. Some were still in high school, and others were already
well-established in their careers.
Getting into the group was no easy job. "The musicians were
chosen from among the best in the state," said William Mitchell,
who played the trombone in that original group. Mitchell was
present at the 1 982 concert, along with 1 2 other members of the
original N.C. Symphony.
"I roomed with a fellow who was the mayor of Wilson, so of
course he was a good bit older than me," Mithchell said, point
ing out the diversity of the group.
Unlike today's Symphony members, the players in the first
concert were not paid. "We hoped that someday the orchestra
members would be paid; but we were willing to do it just for the
excitement" Mitchell saicfc He said that musicians' salaries in
1932 started at $15 per week, with the best players netting $18.50
per weekBut volunteer status did not decrease the commitment
of the musicians to the group, Mitchell added.
French horn player Raymond Brietz Jr. was probably more ex
cited than Mitchell by the first concert He met his wife during
"It was exciting enough for me to come from Charlotte to
Chapel Hill. But then on the first night of rehearsals I met Ray
mond, so that sort of increased the excitement" Mrs. Brietz said.
After their marriage, the Brietzes stayed involved in music
he in the Greensboro public schools, and she in their church.
Since Brietz was so involved in music in the schools, he espe
cially admires today's Symphony for its free concerts offered to
public school audiences. "The only way you're going to train
cultural arts performers is to start early," he said.
The school performances are one indicator of how much the
N.C. Symphony has developed in 50 years. Robert Phay, presi
dent of the Chapel Hill-Orange County chapter of the North
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Carolina Symphony Society, explained that the concerts are not
really free. Someone has to pay the musicians.
"The evening concerts (in the Chapel Hill subscription series)
help fund the daytime concerts to educate school children,"
Phay said. "So people who go to our regular concerts are helping
us out in that way."
"The Symphony today is a precision
an original Symphony member
Today the Symphony consists of 66 players, a staff of three
conductors, and a flock of office workers who make their home
in Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium. All season ticket holders are
members of the North Carolina Symphony Society. Local chap
ters of the Society make arrangements for concerts in their areas
and take charge of selling season and individual tickets.
With each concert costing an individual chapter $8,000,
breaking even might seem a problem. But even high ticket prices
$8 for the general public have not kept people away. The
first Chapel Hill concert this season was actually oversold, and
people were turned away when the box office ran out of tickets.
The audience is there. It isn't however, what you might ex
pect There is the usual quota of little blue-haired old ladies who
drag unwilling husbands in to see and to be seen, but these are in
the minority. Plenty of students were present for the recent 50th
anniversary concert And why not? Student ticket prices have
been held down to $2.50, courtesy of the Carolina Union.
, Pops concerts also demonstrate widening appeal of classical
music. The Union sponsors one such concert in Chapel Hill each
year in the fall semester. This year's concert takes place Sunday
at 4 p.m. in Forest Theatre. The atmosphere is far from highbrow.
People arrive early with picnic meals. Dress ranges from three
piece suits to sweat suits. People are there to share in the musi
cal experience, not to be seen and to be recognized on the so
From a volunteer group which finished its first season with a
bank balance of $28.14, the North Carolina Symphony has
grown into a complex professional organization with a budget of
over $2 million. .
The Symphony survived the Depression first on Federal Emer
gency Relief Administration grants, then on the Work Projects
Administration's use of the Symphony to employ out-of-work
players and music teachers. Dr. Benjamin Swalin took over as
conductor in 1939 and increased the orchestra's exposure as an
educational group. When Swalin retired in 1971, John Gosling
succeeded him and led the Symphony to a position among the
nation's major orchestras.
At the Sept. 15 concert, William Mitchell said that he could
not compare the performances by the original group with those
offered by today's Symphony. "The Symphony today is a preci
sion instrument" he said.
At the close of the concert, the Symphony's present artistic di
rector and principal conductor, Cerhardt Zimmermann, offered
thoughts for the past and the future.
"We would like to play three encores for you'he said. "The
first we dedicate to all the former Symphony musicians. The sec
ond is dedicated to Dr. and Mrs. Swalin for their years of service
to the Symphony. The third. . . is for the next 50 years."
The North Carolina Symphony has already performed one
concert in Chapel Hill this fall. Four more are scheduled for the
remainder of the academic year.
This Sunday, Cerhardt Zimmermann will conduct a free pops
concert at 4 p.m. in Forest Theatre. The program will feature
Saint-Saens' Princess Jaune Overture, Rachmaninoffs Caprice
Bohemien, Herold's Zampa Overture, a medley of songs from
The Sound of Music, and Sousa's Liberty Bell March.
"We hoped that someday the or
chestra members would be paid, but
we were willing to do it just for the
an original Symphony member
Zimmermann will conduct again for an all-Beef hoven concert
at 8 p.m. Oct 20 in Memorial Hall. Soloist Richard Luby will per
form in the Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, and the
(Durham Civic Choral Society will be heard in the Symphony No.
9 in D Minor.
January 14 will bring another 8 p.m. Memorial Hall concert,
ithis one with a program of music by North Carolina composers.
Robert Suderberg will conduct his Concerto: Night Voyage after
Baudelaire for Chamber Orchestra and Soprano. UNC music pro
cessor Roger Hannay then takes over the podium for his Sym
phony No. 5 ("American Classic"). To conclude the program,
sers, will dirt
dents is $2.3