It wasn't as though Christopher Warren-Green was unknown. He first guest-conducted the Charlotte Symphony in 2005. He came back in January 2009 for tryout concerts as a potential music director. After winning the job, he led a pair of celebratory concerts last February, before Christof Perick's final few weeks as the chief.
So maybe it was fitting that Warren-Green didn't deliver an oration Friday night, when he directed his first concert since finally taking over. He got right to the point, thanking Charlotte for welcoming him to town and thanking the audience for coming to hear him and the orchestra.
"Without you," he said, "we are nothing."
After a few words about concerts to come, Warren-Green went back to letting the music - by his British countryman Edward Elgar - do the talking.
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He'll have plenty of time to put whatever stamp on the orchestra he thinks is right. But he took at least one step with it Friday.
Perick had helped the orchestra learn to play quietly but securely. Warren-Green went on from there - tapering off the sound to a whisper and beyond. And the orchestra managed it.
Elgar's soulfulness and introspection were what brought it out of them.
It wasn't that Warren-Green forced the mood onto the music. In Elgar's "Cockaigne" - a portrait of busy London, which had that as a sort of nickname - Warren-Green and the orchestra supplied generous helpings of bustling energy and brassy swagger.
The orchestra was just as vivid in the "Enigma Variations," a set of character sketches of Elgar's friends. The music's lilt, rowdiness and warmth came through - even though the orchestra hit a bump or two when Elgar made a quick change of mood.
But Warren-Green brought out a poetic streak in every work on the program. When "Cockaigne" turned lyrical - supposedly depicting two sweethearts escaping the city crowds - Warren-Green set bustle aside and made the music tender and unhurried. At the start of the "Enigma," which Elgar reportedly said represented the loneliness of the artist at work, Warren-Green gave each phrase a bit of a sigh.
In Elgar's Cello Concerto, Warren-Green molded the orchestra around the urgency, delicacy and fire of soloist Alisa Weilerstein.
She made the grand gestures at the opening and close ring out commandingly. But she was most telling when Elgar turned inward. In her hands, the cello was as delicate and personal as a violin - but with a depth that only the cello can provide.