Charlotte loves promoting itself as a “world-class city.” At times, the boast is hyperbolic. But not when it comes to top artistic talent.
To wit, Maestro Christopher Warren-Green of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (and the London Chamber Orchestra!) will soon conduct the music at a wedding you may have heard about.
When Prince Harry weds Meghan Markle, Warren-Green will be at the helm of an orchestra comprised of musicians from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia.
Charlotte’s sports heroes (Cam Newton and Michael Jordan, et al) get spotted and photographed everywhere they go. So does actress Angie Harmon. (She’s a Charlottean, too.) But there are A-list celebrities in the QC you may not recognize.
For instance, The Kennedy Center honoree Patricia McBride and her husband, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, were at the helm of what was N.C. Dance Theater (now Charlotte Ballet) for years. McBride, who had a number of roles created just for her by the legendary George Ballanchine, danced with the New York City Ballet for 30 years. Bonnefoux, 75, was a star with the Paris Opera Ballet by the time he was 21. And you could run into them any time at Walgreen’s! (Not really. I don’t claim to know where they procure their prescription drugs.)
Best-selling authors Kathy Reichs and Webb Hubbell also call Charlotte home. (Both of them write thrillers.) Here are a few others who help prove the point that the Queen City is not just world-class in sports – but also in arts and letters.
Power Couple: Jen and Gavin Edwards
First sign they were a power couple: Their 2002 wedding was featured in The New York Times. (They have one of my favorite first-date stories ever.)
On Charlotte’s arts scene: “I’ve been really impressed by the artistic energy bubbling up from the artists in residence at the Goodyear and the McColl. It’s a pleasure to find world-class artists and writers in my backyard: people like de’Angelo Dia, Dustin Harbin, Taylor Williams, Lee Herrera and Jeff Jackson. This August, Penguin will be publishing an adult-creativity book I edited called The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses. It’s got 110 contributors – and I’m delighted that number includes a dozen talented people from the Charlotte area.”
On relocating from L.A.: “I was just happy to be back in the Eastern time zone. The whole time we lived in Los Angeles, I felt like I was three hours behind the action.”
What he’d miss most if he left Charlotte: “The Four Mile Creek Greenway, the Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy and Bang Bang Burgers.”
Greatest achievement: “Mine? If you don’t count the time I entered a demolition derby for a magazine article, then I’d probably point to my 2016 book, The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joey, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing. If you mean the greatest artistic achievement I’ve witnessed in Charlotte, then I’d nominate Javier de Frutos’s work with the Charlotte Ballet and the Pet Shop Boys on The Most Incredible Thing.”
Dr. Jennifer Sudul Edwards, curator, The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
Before she was named curator at the Bechtler, she worked in the nonprofit world in New York and L.A. She’s a leading expert on Niki de Saint Phalle, who created the whimsical “Firebird” sculpture that’s become one of Charlotte’s defining images. (In fact, Edwards’ Ph.D. dissertation was on de Saint Phalle.)
She’s not just well-versed in visual art. She knows a lot about pop culture, music and film. She speaks French and reads German and Italian.
Edwards is a true citizen of the world, but she’s gotten involved locally: She serves on the board of Goodyear Arts and is a docent at the Carolina Raptor Center.
On Charlotte’s arts scene: “The word I’ve used for the past three years is ‘burgeoning.’ Charlotte’s creative community is bursting at the seams and finding ways to organize and express itself at a grassroots level – but I think the institutions and major funding resources are still trying to figure out how to be effective cultural leaders. Once that happens, the city’s creative movement will come to maturity.”
On moving to Charlotte: “I still can’t get over this country’s lack of public transportation. I’ve been adjusting to that since I left New York City for Los Angeles 11 years ago. I feel the lack even more in Charlotte. The light rail is great, but it’s got a long way to go before it services all of the city. My biggest issue is train versus car travel. It should be more convenient to take Amtrak to Raleigh, Atlanta, D.C., Richmond. If we could connect our cultural hubs physically as well as virtually, creativity would really explode in the Southeast.”
What she’d miss most if she left Charlotte: “The people, for sure. I love my community – the artists, my colleagues, the collectors, the patrons, my board members. Charlotte has a remarkable curiosity and openness to creativity and art. You just have to get it in front of people and they will engage.”
Greatest achievement: “Personally, it would be the current Bechtler Museum exhibition, Wrestling the Angel. I am so proud of the exhibition because it addresses … how artists grapple with the question of religion and spirituality …
“The Bechtler’s marketing director, Sharon Holm, worked to have Friendship Missionary Baptist Church perform at the opening, and their singing in front of reproductions of Alfred Manessier stained glass windows and all the work upstairs and the artists surrounding me – it was possibly my favorite moment in any museum; certainly, my proudest.”
Christopher Warren-Green, music director, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
Why he’s a star: He’s the go-to conductor for Great Britain’s royal family.
On Charlotte’s arts scene: “Charlotte is a vibrant, growing community with many opportunities and a lot of potential – which is one of the big reasons I chose to come here.”
On relocating to Charlotte: “I travel a lot, and I spend much of my time in London, but in Charlotte, people are very friendly and welcoming, and their focus is on what’s possible for our city, not what’s always been done in the past. That’s refreshing.”
What he’d miss most if he left Charlotte: “… our musicians and our great, supportive audiences. We get standing ovations at nearly every performance. People stop me on the street to tell me how much they love our orchestra and all that we’re doing in the wider community. There’s a real sense of appreciation for the experiences we bring to Charlotte, and I’d miss that.”
Greatest achievement: “My children.”
Note: We are sure Warren-Green’s children are remarkable, yet we feel compelled to name our favorite of his achievements. He conducted the music at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding at Westminster Abbey. Classical music isn’t typically covered by People magazine, but the celebrity mag interviewed Warren-Green in advance of the nuptials.
Hope Muir, artistic director, Charlotte Ballet
McBride and Bonnefoux have international reputations. So does their successor, Hope Muir. The Toronto native was a founding member of the London Festival Ballet School. She’s had an international career, having worked at the English National Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The National Ballet of Canada, Scottish Ballet and in Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Company.
She was featured recently in The New York Times – for work she did right here in Charlotte. (Check out the byline; the story is by Gavin Edwards.)
On Charlotte’s arts scene: “I’ve only been in Charlotte for a year, yet I have seen and experienced a vibrant and fertile arts community. There are deep roots throughout the arts in this city, which makes it possible to envision an even more successful and collaborative future for Charlotte Ballet.”
On relocating to Charlotte: “As a performing artist, touring and relocating are part of the lifestyle. Interestingly, this big move to Charlotte felt a bit like coming home, as I was born in Canada and spent part of my performing career in Chicago.”
What she’d miss most if she left Charlotte: “Though I have only been here a short time, I have come to love my Charlotte Ballet family and the community that embraces this wonderful organization.
Greatest achievement: “The sum of my career. There are too many amazing experiences to name just one!”
Photos courtesy of Charlotte Symphony, Gavin Edwards, and Jennifer Sudul Edwards.