Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chamber Orchestra and Chorale

Thanksgiving’s feeding frenzy has slowed to a crawl, the traffic at the mall is speeding up to a crawl, and now it’s time to concentrate on the music of the season. The KSO’s November edition of the Chamber Classics series has the Knoxville Chamber Chorale joining the Chamber Orchestra for a program of light Christmas favorites. The KSO’s use of the Bijou for a concert of seasonal music is the first of its kind, and the response has been such that I must say, both proudly and regretfully, that the show is sold out!

The first half of the show boasts some essential chamber orchestra works, including Mozart’s German Dance No. 3 (the “Sleighride” portion is translated from the German “Schlittenfahrt”), Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves, Corelli’s timeless “Christmas” Concerto, and Les Patineurs, “The Skaters’ Waltz,” by Emil Waldteufel. Of these, only the Vaughan Williams has any obvious melodic link to a present-day Christmas melody (What Child Is This?), but the rest of the works have attained elite status through their titles and their utter charm. Corelli’s Concerto VIII, Fatto per la notte di natale is a Baroque concerto grosso masterpiece on a par with Bach’s Brandenburgs. It’s not a “concerto” in the sense of having in-your-face virtuosity, it’s just that in the Baroque period, a multi-movement work was apt to be called a concerto if an orchestra was involved. Among Corelli’s strengths are his beautifully clean melodies and his use of “suspensions:” the alternately dissonant and consonant hanging violin weave that is so deliciously suspenseful. It is also remarkable how he makes minor-key music sound so joyful.

The Chorale will join us on the second half, with some beautiful John Rutter carol arrangements, Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Handel’s For Unto Us a Child Is Born. The Chorale will shine a cappella with the zany Jingle Bells Fantasy and an arrangement of Away in a Manger that is sure to melt your face. Hope to see you there, 2:30 at the Bijou, Sunday, November 29. (TODAY!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Present and Future

A week when there are scheduled both KSO Youth Orchestra and Masterworks concerts is a great opportunity to witness Classical Music's present and its future.  This week has given us the future first, with Youth Orchestra concerts having taken place at the Tennessee Theatre on Monday, Nov. 16, and the Masterworks at the same venue on Thursday (tomorrow) and Friday at 7:30.

The all-Russian Masterworks concerts this week feature Rodion Schchedrin's “Naughty Limericks” (Concerto No. 1 for Orchestra), Tchaikovsky's timeless Piano Concerto in B♭, and Rachmaninov’s rarely heard Symphony No. 3.  Schchedrin, whose consonant-rich name is pronounced “Shed-rin,” has given us a zany whizbang of a work which musically depicts the type of folk poems called chastushki that were the underground poetry critical of the Bolshevik Revolution.  No type of sound was out-of-bounds for Schchedrin, including string players tapping bows on their stands, horn players spanking their mouthpieces, and all manner of prepared piano techniques.  Listen for the contrabassoon’s highly amusing part during a vamp, you won’t be able to keep from chuckling.

Pianist Stewart Goodyear will follow with an up-tempo performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. This and the Rachmaninov symphony that follow intermission are just brimmimng with Russian romantic content, and Music Director guest candidate Shizuo Kuwahara (who goes by “Z”) will bring it all together in style.  In the Rachmaninov, the second theme of the first movement and the solo violin melody that opens the second movement are tunes you may have heard on a record entitled "The World's 100 Most Beautiful Melodies," but a new beautiful tune is just around the corner in both works.


On a night when Donald Trump was causing a stir inside the Convention Center and protesters were stirring a cause outside of it, the KSYO kids were making music at the Tennessee.  The five ensembles got to play on the big stage, and in so doing captivated their audience.  What a wonderful room in which to hear music...

A proud moment for KSO bassist Dan Thompson, who helps out in the Youth Orchestras.  He got to sit right behind his son, Nicolas.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

The conductors of the five KSYO ensembles; l to r, Kathy Hart, James Fellenbaum, Nina Missildine Mikos, Gabe Lefkowitz and Erin Tipton Archer.

KSO Principal Horn Jefferey Whaley works weekly with the brass section of the Youth Orchestra proper.  Bravo, guys!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Let's Do the Q!

This Wednesday at noon, it will be time to make a date with the KSO's Q Series. Knoxville's newest classical venue, The Square Room, will be alive with music for the string and woodwind families. A box lunch is included in the $15 advanced purchase admission. Same-day tickets, if any, will be $20 at the door. This is a majorly affordable opportunity to see world-class chamber music come to life. Attendees should please be aware that there will be a Veterans Day parade on Gay St., which will go from 10:45 a.m. until almost showtime.

The Principal Woodwind Quintet will start the show with Anton Reicha's Quintet for Winds, Op. 88, No. 2. Reicha (pronounced to rhyme with “like a”) was a contemporary and lifelong friend of Beethoven, and well-known for his teaching and his treatises on composition. Among his composition students were Franck, Liszt, and Berlioz. Some of the concepts in his treatises were way ahead of their time, forecasting techniques that would not be widely used until the 20th century, such as polytonality and the use of quarter-tones. (Imagine notes existing BETWEEN the piano keys, which are ordered by half-tones or half-steps). While his theoretical work was so advanced as to be considered heretical in its time, he had the sense not to employ these techniques in his own compositions. Reicha was to the woodwind quintet repertoire what Haydn and Mozart were to the string quartet repertoire.

The Principal String Quartet will conclude the concert with Mozart's String Quartet in B♭, K. 458, “The Hunt.” The third of six quartets dedicated to his friend Franz Josef Haydn, “The Hunt” is full of jolly, equestrian swagger, excepting the Adagio third movement, which is lush and tender. Note that the subtitle of the work did not originate with Mozart, but was assigned by a group of quartet-playing hunters after they decided that the tempo of the 6/8 first movement perfectly matched their horses’ canter. (I don’t know if this is true, but hey, it sounds reasonable).

Come on out and see us!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Classical Cornucopia

That cool, rainy weather seems to always come when we are playing our Young People's Concerts, and here it is again!  Yea, though skies may be gray, the music will be very colorful as the KSO presents “Picture This” Wednesday through Friday at 9:30 AM at the Civic Auditorium.  There will also be 10:45 AM shows Wednesday and Thursday.  These concerts, under the direction of James Fellenbaum, will feature the Go! Contemporary Dance Works, cartoonist Charlie Daniel, and a singalong called The Color of Music. Selections will include Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, and Mussorgsky/Ravel's Pictures at an Exhibition.  They will be accompanied by slides of artwork related to the music by students from area elementary schools.  Please note that the 9:30 Wednesday and Thursday shows are SOLD OUT.


People celebrate Halloween in many different ways and to many different degrees.  Or not!  I haven't decided what to "be" for Halloween, sometimes I get inspired at the last minute.  But for every person who wins the Best Costume prize or gets the most candy, there's someone else who gets their house papered or breaks up at a party.  As for the people who'll be out papering, and that hose beast ex, the 2:30 start of Sunday afternoon's Chamber Classics concert at the Bijou will likely come too early in the morning for them, EVEN WITH THE TIME CHANGE.  It is their loss, as they will miss falling back with Wagner's exquisite Siegfried Idyll, and three of Mozart's finest instrumental works: the String Serenade Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the C-minor Wind Octet aka Serenade K. 388 (384a), and Symphony No. 35, the “Haffner.”  There is no way to mask the fact that this concert, again under the direction of Maestro Fellenbaum, will be one beautiful afternoon.

Eine Kleine is as monumental a work as there is, yet it will serve to prelude the touching Idyll which Wagner first had performed for his wife's birthday (coincidentally Christmas morning), in 1870.  It's as small a dose of Wagner as one can take to feel the genius and strength in his music.  The second half will start with the Wind Serenade, throughout which Mozart creates an organ-like texture.  In the wings, the string players will be champing at the bit to play the “Haffner” Symphony, excerpts from which are a frequent sight on audition lists.  Especially for the cello.  Especially the Presto last movement. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Colorful Europa!!

It's time to put the finishing touches on the music for Thursday and Friday night's KSO Masterworks concerts at the Tennessee Theatre, at 7:30. “A Tour of Europe” could be a name for the musical journey on which guest maestro Marcelo Lehninger will be taking all of us. There will be stops in Leningrad, Capri, Bucharest, and Rome. All in all, this will be a vivid and vivacious KSO concert to launch our Music Director candidate search.

The show is so jam-packed with content that we will be opening it with a piece which is almost always programmed as a concert's finale. Shostakovich was merely 19 when he wrote his first symphony in 1924-25, but the work is a concise, punchy masterpiece; Dmitri at his cutest. In an unusual twist, there is a very prominent piano part, recalling Stravinsky's Petrouchka ballet from a decade earlier. The writing for solo wind instruments is astoundingly adept, and many of the solos are found on repertoire lists for orchestra auditions.

Continuing on to Romania (via France), concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz will then solo in Ravel's Tzigane, yet another in Gabe's seemingly bottomless bin of solo works. (Tzigane is pronounced to sort of rhyme with the Southern pronunciation of the word “pecan,” and is translated as the adjective “gypsy”). There are no actual roma melodies in the score, rather, the title refers to the general exoticism and virtuosity of the romani musical style.

After a brief intermission, during which Gabe will be handing out autographed tennis balls, (JUST KIDDING!) our journey continues to the Mediterranean Sea. There will be stops in Capri and Andalusia, which will be “seen” filtered through the aqua-colored glasses of Claude Debussy. These two piano Preludes, (La puerto del vino and Les collines d'Anacapri) were orchestrated by Colin Matthews just 9 years ago. Written in 1910, (the only works on the concert not written in 1924), they are prime examples of Debussy's iconic Impressionism. 

The concert closes with Respighi's Pines of Rome, four short vignettes which are long on picturesque orchestral colors. I tried to find pictures of the locations depicted by the titles of each of the works, to give you a feel for what to expect, but found that any more, most of the trees there are not pines! Plus it was impossible to find a picture of children playing in the Villa Borghese; it seems they no longer allow kids in there! So hopefully I have visually captured the general mood of each of the movements. The outer movements of this piece promise some of the loudest playing I have ever heard from an orchestra.

I. The Pines of the Villa Borghese

II. Pines Near a Catacomb

III. The Pines at Gianicolo

IV. The Pines of the Appian Way

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Extremes of October

The middle of October for the KSO brings repertoire that highlights the extremes in scope of musical performance.  Opening tomorrow, (October 9th at 8:00; Sunday, October 11th at 2:30, Tennessee Theatre) the Knoxville Opera Company's first production of the year will be Arrigo Boito's crowning achievement, Mefistofele.  Unless you are an opera aficionado, you've probably never heard of Boito.  His musical output amounts to this opera, another opera entitled Nerone which, in spite of 38 years of work, remained unfinished, and an unpublished symphony in A minor.  This meager oeuvre is augmented by his valuable contributions as a librettist, having written libretti for Ponchielli's La gioconda (under the anagrammatic pseudonym “Tobia Gorrio”), and Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Otello, and Falstaff.  Boito's collaboration with Verdi led to a very close friendship between the two; Boito was at Verdi's bedside when he died.  Mefistofele is, of course, based on Goethe's Faust, and out of the many operas to be derived from that work, Boito's is considered to be the most faithful to the spirit of the play.

Such dramatic subject matter deserves a sumptuous production.  While the pit is usually the orchestra's domain, scenery will be rising therefrom instead, and the orchestra will be onstage behind a scrim.  The orchestra is not confined solely to the stage, though; brass will be stationed backstage and even in the balcony.  Highlights often excerpted from Mefistofele are the Prologue, the Epilogue, and two tenor arias.  Although the KOC website states correctly that the opera was premiered in 1868, the premiere was considered a failure, owing to dislike of its avant-garde (for its time) musical style, its sprawling length, and the cast's inability to bring off the many complexities of the score.  Revisions over the next dozen years slimmed down the production by one third, and largely due to Wagner's success, the opera-going public had grown to tolerate Boito's quirky musical language.  The final version produced in Milan in 1881 has remained popular to this day, but note that the KOC's performance is a Tennessee premiere!  Check out this YouTube“video,” from the Victrola era, of legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing the aria Ave Signore!


On the other end of the spectrum of musical dimension, the Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends series will have its opener at the Knoxville Museum of Art next Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00.  This series has really blossomed in its new, more spacious home at the KMA, and while it is now easier to snare tickets for these, they are going fast.  Pianist Kevin Class and I will join Gabe for the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D Minor.  Violin giant Fritz Kreisler's Variations on a Theme by Corelli starts the concert, and Beethoven's legendary Kreutzer Sonata closes it.  Although Leo Tolstoy's novella of the same name is morbid and somewhat ribald, (the Russian government censored the novella just days after its publication, and Theodore Roosevelt called Tolstoy a “sexual moral pervert”), Beethoven's 9th violin sonata is nothing but chamber music joy, pure and intimate.  And speaking of pure, intimate joy, here is a vintage recording, an actual video from the 40's, of Jascha Heifetz, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and pianist Anton Rubinstein performing the first movement of the Mendelssohn trio.

Kreutzer and Kreisler might understandably be confused for one another, so here is a little explanation.  Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831, pronounced “Kroy-tser”) is one of the “Big 3” founders of the French school of violin playing.  His 42 Etudes is considered to be one of the most important violin pedagogy books ever written. (Jack Benny could often be heard playing Etude #1 in some of his comedy routines).  In spite of the dedication of the sonata to Kreutzer, he never performed it, claiming it was unplayable and incomprehensible.  Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962, pronounced like “Chrysler”) was also a giant of the violin world, although his compositional legacy is a multitude of short, tasteful encore pieces for violin.  Liebeslied (Love's Sorrow) and Liebesfreud (Love's Joy) are a matched pair of such pieces often performed together.  So remember, Kreisler may have been alive during your lifetime, but Kreutzer definitely was not.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's Time to Get Funky...

It's time to get funky with the KSO. Our first Pops concert of the season is Classical Night Fever, with, you guessed it, we'll be "Stayin' Alive," as we head to the "Car Wash" and end at the "Y.M.C.A." We will groove back into the 1970's with classic TV medleys and more. The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, October 2 at the Tennessee Theatre.

The Orchestra, conducted by James Fellenbaum, will be joined by Motor Booty Affair, a 4-piece funk band who came to groove.

They welcome you to come dressed in the style of the hip and groovy 1970's with bell bottom jeans and platform shoes. Get your photo made with John Travolta from the Saturday Night Fever era. Classical Night Fever, indeed!

Tickets can be purchased on or at the door and range from $20 - $60. What a funktastic way to get our KSO Pops Season off to a groovy start!