A Night to Remember: NYE with Melinda Doolittle and Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Celebrating its 90th anniversary in the 2021–22 season, the Charlotte Symphony is committed to uplifting, entertaining, and educating the diverse communities of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and beyond through exceptional musical experiences. View a list of all upcoming events online at charlottesymphony.org

For many, New Year’s Eve has been a time to reflect on the year behind and embrace what is to come. This season, you can join the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra for a New Year’s Eve performance that does both.

American Idol finalist and R&B songstress Melinda Doolittle will headline CSO’s first New Year’s Eve concert since the start of the pandemic, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 31, at Belk Theater.

Christopher James Lees, the show’s conductor, says Doolittle has a voice that “makes time stop.”

“You just listen to her, and immediately you’re drawn into this world, and everything else just ceases to exist,” he said. “You just exist in this beautiful moment that she creates.”

The performance will be a beautiful transition from one year to the next, Lees said.

“Especially after the last couple of years, marking the passage of time in a celebratory way is really important.” he said

Christopher James Lees of Charlotte Symphony. Photo by Chris Lee, 10/18/18.

The show will feature a blend of classical music and classic soul, with an all-star setlist that includes the music of Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight & The Pips and more.

Before Covid intervened, Doolittle and CSO had been set to do a similar New Year’s Eve performance in 2020. Since then, CSO’s artistic staff has tried to keep the show’s essence intact, but with a few modification.

“In every possible version of it, Melinda’s singing, and it’s amazing,” Lees said. “It’s just a question of what the orchestra is doing in and around her as the centerpiece.”

Typically, a CSO New Years Eve concert is followed by an onstage party, where members of the audience are joined by professional dancers. Because of Covid, the onstage party has been scrapped this year. In the absence of that event, concertgoers will get two drink tickets to enjoy any beverage, including champagne, plus a takeaway box of tasty snacks.

Lees said CSO is committed to performing various types of music and collaborating with diverse artists.

“Symphonically, there are certain traditions that you play on New Year’s Eve, including Johann Strauss, some Leroy Anderson, operatic overtures, as well as Auld Lang Syne which is your typical New Year’s Eve tune,” he said. “And then with Melinda, it was a question of what are some of the songs that will really resonate with our Charlotte audience? What are some songs that she can sing here in the Southeast that will make the audience feel at home and feel like they’re coming alive?”

Before her trek on American Idol, Doolittle performed alongside some of the biggest names in gospel, including Kirk Franklin, Bebe & Cece Winans, among others. Lees said one of the criteria in deciding the setlist was selecting songs that fit Doolittle’s expansive vocal power and range. 

The evening’s performance, Lees said, will be sprinkled with short interludes called “Symphonic Chocolates,” composed by Maxime Goulet, a Canadian musician who also writes soundtracks for video games.

Lees said the compositions will serve as palette cleansers in between the rich pieces that anchor the New Year’s Eve show.

“…We’re doing three of the four movements, and each piece has a different character,” he said. “And what we’ve done is, we’ve sort of sprinkled them across the evening.”

After nearly two years of pandemic, Lees said he hopes the performance will be cathartic for all who attend.

“They may come into the hall needing catharsis and release after a really tough year, and we have music that will help get those emotions out of their bodies,” he said. “If we have people coming in who are just ready to party and celebrate and dance and feel moved and be so glad 2021 is over, we have music for that. If we have people that are sort of torn in between, if their experience in the concert hall will validate and uplift all parts of them, we have music for that. So by the time we leave together, we’re all changed and refreshed and reinvigorated for whatever 2022 has in store.”

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