CHAPEL HILL - The telephone connection Thursday morning kept stuttering out, so Grant Llewellyn asked for a moment while he switched to another phone.
There were a few moments of silence, aside from what sounded like a distant radio or TV. Then a click, and Llewellyn was back on the line.
"Hello, how's that?" he said. "Ah, much better."
It was perhaps not surprising that the connection was a little shaky; Llewellyn, music director of the North Carolina Symphony, was speaking from a very long way away, from his home country of Wales.
He's back this week, though, and he's bringing a bit of his native land with him.
Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony, along with Grammy-winning vocalist Rhiannon Giddens Laffan of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, will perform a free concert traversing the musical globe Friday night on the Green at Southern Village, and Llewellyn said he would "indulge myself by including on the program a little dance by one of my countrymen, William Mathias."
The concert, dubbed "Around the World in Eighty Minutes," will open with a piece by the symphony's own bass trombonist, Terry Mizesko, of Elizabeth City, and then will travel from west to east, featuring selections from Ireland, France, Austria, Russia, India, Brazil and elsewhere.
"We go around the world musically," Llewellyn said. "We want to give people a taste of some of the music from many different cultures."'A very big deal'
The concert will be the 12th annual performance in Southern Village by the North Carolina Symphony, but the first conducted by Llewellyn, who became music director in 2004.
This show, in addition to offering a free performance by one of the state's premier cultural groups, will give attendees a chance to help victims of April's tornados.
The symphony has partnered with the Triangle Chapter of the American Red Cross to accept onsite donations for tornado victims.
If past concerts are any indication, there should be a lot of folks on hand.
"The symphony's performance is a very big deal for our businesses and our homeowners," said Beverly Carr, markting and events coordinator at Southern Village. "It's our biggest and best-attended event of the year. We've had crowds of over 3,000. We'll have people on the green and on sidewalks, rooftops, balconies. I've seen people bring blankets and chairs to stake out their spot before they go to work in the morning."The show goes on
The symphony's string of annual shows at Southern Village almost came to an end last year. Budget constraints left the symphony unable to foot its usual portion of the $18,000 bill associated with putting on the concert (Harrington Bank and the Southern Village merchants association traditionally have put up $10,000, and the symphony subsidizes the rest).
When word got out that the show might not go on, businesses, merchants and individuals rushed to the rescue; in just 72 hours people donated more than $5,000.
"We appealed to the public, and in the end we raised about $8,000," Car said. "That pointed out how important our relationship with the symphony is to the people here."
The symphony is slowly but steadily improving its financial situation, and in April hired a new president and CEO, Sandi McDonald, to help steer that recovery.
"As with the entire economy, things are moving in the right direction," Llewellyn said. "It's still a challenge to be creative and productive, but we're thrilled that the legislature continues to recognize the importance of our work, and we feel as through we've turned the corner. We're beginning a new chapter."
Friday's concert will span the vast range musically as well as geographically, including country dances, Broadway musicals and big band works by composers as diverse as Johann Strauss and Antonin Dvorak to Rodgers and Hart.
Llewellyn said the symphony's performance of one piece, by the Russian composer Victor Paranjoti, might be the first time anyone has ever heard it.
"It's something I stumbled across when I was a student at the Royal College of Music in London," he said. "So far as I can tell, it's never been performed. This may well be its American, if not world, premiere."Music for the people
The free concert continues a tradition as old as the North Carolina Symphony itself.
It was founded in the 1930s with the mission of taking music to the people of the state, and it has continued to do that throughout its existence, with perhaps the nation's extensive schedule of performances in schools and smaller community venues.
"If you lose contact with your audience, you're dead in the water," Llewellyn said. "We endeavor to serve the entire state. We spend a lot of time on the road. We probably play more concerts in schools and smaller venues than any other orchestra in the nation. That's one of the things we're most proud of."