South Charlotte

Union Symphony Orchestra sounding new tunes

The Union Symphony Orchestra is trumpeting a season of big changes as it looks to reach a broader audience.

The group has just hired its first full-time artistic director and conductor, Richard Rosenberg. It found a permanent home. And while many nonprofits are struggling in the economic downturn, the orchestra has nearly doubled its operating budget in the past two years.

"This is going to be a huge year for us. It already is," said orchestra board chairman David Nelms.

One big reason, Nelms said, is the hiring of Rosenberg, who should provide a steady supply of interesting, diverse programming.

Rosenberg's extensive background includes music directorships with the Corpus Christi Symphony in Texas, the Chamber Orchestra of California and the Hot Springs Music Festival in Arkansas. He has had several performances released on CDs by a major classical label, and produced CDs for jazz legend Dave Brubeck.

Rosenberg "has the ability to build our program into something Union County can be proud of," Nelms said. "We want to let the world know we are professional, are paid and do interesting and unique repertoire."

Rosenberg, 56, said he wants to expand the symphony and fill a niche with selections the audience might not necessarily hear in Charlotte.

He praised the Charlotte Symphony as a major player, while saying it offers "a lot more meat and potatoes. With the Union Symphony, I want to do music that is unfamiliar by familiar composers and from unfamiliar composers."

Choosing eclectic pieces could mean conducting a Brahms serenade instead of a symphony, or H.K. Gruber's "Frankenstein!!" a musical "pandemonium."

As part of his local debut in October, Rosenberg plans to conduct an overture by 19th-century New Orleans composer Edmund Dédé.

Rosenberg first fell in love with music while growing up in the Bronx and frequenting Broadway shows starring the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Zero Mostel and Zoe Caldwell.

He has worked or played with some of the titans of the music industry.

Rosenberg met Itzhak Perlman at the Aspen Music Festival in the mid-1970s, and in 1979, as a chamber music clerk in a store behind New York's Carnegie Hall, Rosenberg helped Leonard Bernstein's secretary. Rosenberg soon found himself taking a few lessons from the conductor, whom he described as helpful and nurturing.

And when he was with Brubeck, the jazz man recalled working with Louis Armstrong, then launched into an imitation of Armstrong doing a song of Brubeck's.

Rosenberg said wanted to come to Union County for several reasons. He fondly remembered the region from the late 1970s when he played with the Charlotte Symphony, and sees Monroe as a community on the rise. He said he likes the Union Symphony's commitment to education with its youth orchestra.

Rosenberg said he wants to reach out to the Hispanic and African-American communities to assure them he will create programming they will value as well.

Summing up, he said, he feels like he can make a difference.

"If people want to hear really off-the-beaten-path music," Rosenberg said, "the Union Symphony is where they will hear it."