Why This Matters: The City of Charlotte celebrates its 250th anniversary this year and the cultural community, including the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, is helping mark the occasion.
By Bernie Petit
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra plans to say “Happy birthday, Charlotte” with a song.
The symphony commissioned composer Nkeiru Okoye to create “Charlotte Mecklenburg,” a new orchestral work that celebrates Charlotte’s 250 years. The symphony will debut the 12-minute piece that puts Charlotte’s history to melody at its season opening concert Friday, Sept. 21. It will also explore ways to more broadly program the piece during its season, according to The Charlotte Observer.
“As we reflect on Charlotte today, in honor of this celebration of 250 years, we are embracing our wider community and looking ahead to our future,” said Charlotte Symphony President and CEO Mary Deissler. “We wanted to commission a work that would not only celebrate Charlotte today – in all its diversity – but express our hopes for the future.”
It was in that spirit that the CSO reached out to Okoye, a native New Yorker of African-American and Nigerian descent who creates music that stitches together diverse musical styles.
She developed her first opera, “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom,” in 2014 and has had her orchestral works performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and more.
A current John Duffy Institute for New Opera Fellow, Okoye’s orchestral showcase “Phillis Wheately” was commissioned by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra and recorded by the Moscow Symphony. She has garnered additional commendations from Meet the Composer, MetLife Creative Connections, Composer’s Collaborative, Inc., and the Walt Whitman Project.
As an outsider, Okoye provided a perspective of Charlotte unencumbered by deep-seated beliefs about what Charlotte is. This allowed her to offer a fresh take on the city informed by its history, the diversity it now enjoys and its strengths and challenges.
“They chose me because I have a unique set of skills,” Okoye told the Observer. “I’m a scholar, a composer, and I work with different cultures to tie them together. One of my strengths is a universal knowledge of music, (which gives me the) ability to be authentically inclusive and talk about history in a musical framework.”
The symphony’s commissioned orchestral work isn’t the only way the cultural community is helping Charlotte celebrate its 250th anniversary:
- ASC’s Culture Feast, which took place Sept. 7, and its annual Connect with Culture Days in January are, in part, celebrations of the Queen City.
- Levine Museum of the New South, with the recent arrival of historian Dr. Willie Griffin, is building a multifaceted project titled #HomeCLT, an “urban autobiography” that will explore the history and modern existence of neighborhoods in the city. This multimedia project will include an exhibit, pop-ups, and neighborhood walking tours, along with interactive mobile elements. Researchers are also gathering 250 oral histories from Charlotteans to mark the city’s 250th anniversary. It will host a CLT 250 Anniversary Party, with costumes and reenactments provided by Charlotte Museum of History, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30.
- Cultural festivals, from Festival in the Park (Sep. 21-23) and Festival Latinoamericano (Sept. 29) to the Hola Charlotte Festival (Oct. 6), will commemorate the city’s 250th.
- To mark the official anniversary of the city’s founding 250 years ago, join your fellow Charlotteans at citywide celebrations as part of Charlotte Takes the Cake Day (Dec. 3). The celebration will span the Square plus local libraries and schools.
- The yearlong CLT250 celebration will crescendo with Charlotte Shout (May 2019), a citywide art, music, food, film and innovation festival that promises to become a unique, defining and celebratory event for the city that we all love.
For more information about Charlotte’s 250th anniversary, visit CLT250.com.