Monday, May 25, 2015

The End of an Era

Hello!  Yes, it has been a while, and what a while it has been!  The close of Maestro Richman's tenure was fulfilling and fun.  The audiences for last Thursday and Friday's Masterworks concerts stood immediately upon his entrance in a very heartfelt and deserved tribute.  Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz's performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto rivaled any I had witnessed, and the orchestra as a unit shone throughout the Mahler and Ravel which wrapped things up.

I can't imagine any new Music Director coming to Knoxville and facing the culture shock that our city must surely present. One telling instance was at an early September outdoor concert, where he announced the artist for the Opening Gala concert.  “Martin Short!” he said, and there. was. nothing. in response from the audience.  It was still relatively soon after 9/11, and the orchestra had been having some deficits.  The idea that a Music Director whose experience was rooted on the West Coast, as opposed to Western Europe (to which the orchestra had for the previous three decades become accustomed) represented a major change of direction for the organization, and particularly the board.  In no time at all, though, Lucas drew a bead on the town.  His focus on American music and his awareness of diverse repertoire earned him the respect of both younger and older audiences. His seamless assimilation into and continuation of the tradition of the Clayton Holiday Concerts was impressive.  It must be said that compared to the town to which Lucas came in 2003, Knoxville is now culturally head and shoulders taller, and some of this is his doing.  The orchestra is deeper, more visible and more efficient.

Most importantly, though, the celebrations and parties really hit their marks! Lol. The first fete was on April 30th at the Emporium Building on Gay St., downstairs from the KSO offices.  County Mayor Tim Burchett made a proclamation and awarded the Maestro permanent citizenship in Knoxville, as well as the rank of “Colonel.”  In addition, after the Friday night Masterworks concert, Club LeConte was opened up to the players and other guests for one final goodbye gala.

                                      Some fun photo ops came along at both events, enjoy!


A major jewel in the crown of Maestro Richman's tenure was the Music and Wellness Program. Here is Lucas, with (from the left) violist Eunsoon Corliss, cellist Stacy Miller, violinists Sean Claire, Ilia Steinschneider and Sara Matayoshi.


Here is County Mayor Tim Burchett in a selfie-op with the Maestro, proclamation in hand.


Lots of people in this shot from the Emporium! Hard to pinpoint who is who, but sort of left-to-right, Ruth Bacon, Gabe Lefkowitz, Chase Hawkins, Rachel Loseke, Ikuko Koizumi, Sean Donovan, Stacy Miller, Eunsoon Corliss, Alice Stuart, Brad MacDougal, MAESTRO, Sean Claire, Sara Matayoshi, Cindy Hicks,Gordon Tsai, Aaron Apaza, Steve Benne, and Yan Peng.



 From the Club LeConte reception.  Again left-to-right-ish, Edward Pulgar, Sean Claire, Gabe Lefkowitz, Katy Gawne, Eunsoon Corliss, Julie Swenson, MAESTRO, Helen Bryenton, yours truly, Stacy Miller, Sara Ringer, Sara Matayoshi, Mary Pulgar, Claire Chenette (with the EYES), Bill Pierce, Elizabeth Farr, Jill Bartine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Rousing Farewell

Has it really been twelve seasons? The Knoxville Symphony under maestro Lucas Richman has been going on fast forward for many years now. It has found its way into the ears and hearts of people from many new realms locally and regionally, while still holding the interest of long-time supporters. Keeping an orchestra of our size afloat in post-9/11 America has proven treacherous for many sister organizations, but Lucas has worked in concert with at least three different Executive Directors to keep our ship aright, and for the last seven years, in the black. The Music and Wellness Program, the Very Young People's Concerts (featuring THE ONE-AND-ONLY PICARDY PENGUIN!!!) the Q Series, Story Time Concerts and other initiatives have all given the KSO a lot of cred. Both downtown Knoxville and the KSO have seen wholesale changes for the better in the last ten years or so that have created an even more liveable and vibrant city. Knoxville is no longer a stopover on the way to Asheville, Gatlinburg, or Chattanooga, as it was when I moved here in '86; it is a destination.

So with all the new points on the compass that the orchestra touches now, it sometimes gets overlooked how the orchestra has also improved its overall sound, through both the crafting of that sound, and the attracting- and retaining- of quality players. The music that Lucas has chosen for his farewell concert spotlights the versatility that the orchestra has come into. Three of the greatest symphonists ( Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler) and the greatest orchestrator (Ravel) will be uniquely brought together, this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Beethoven's overture to Goethe's play Egmont has three parts: a slow introduction which morphs into a tension-filled Allegro in f minor. Release comes with the Allegro con brio coda in f major, in some of Beethoven's most triumphant, pedal-to-the-metal writing. The stage is then set for concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz's solo appearance on the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. This work is famous for fooling listeners into applauding at the end of the first movement., which truly sounds like the end of something, but hang on... there are two more movements. The second movement Canzonetta is serene and contemplative, but is interrupted by the Allegro vivacissimo finale bursting through the door. I guarantee some audience members will literally jump out of their seats at the sound of the finale's downbeat.

The presence of the Egmont Overture and the Tchaikovsky concerto might make you think this will be a typical overture/concerto/symphony program, but that mold is long broke. On the second half of the program, contrasting moods continue to be order of the day, with the Adagio from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 (the only movement of that work completed by the composer), and Ravel's tone poem La Valse will be paired in a sort of Viennese synopsis. Ravel's work comments on the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by deconstructing that empire's dance-of-choice, the Waltz, whereas the Mahler is a snapshot of the transition from the First to the Second Viennese School of composition.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Maestro Richman's Final Bijou Concert

It must be May, because music is flying at me and out of me in all directions. Between last Sunday (Il trovatore) and this coming Sunday's Chamber Orchestra concert, I will have had six completely different performances of various genres. I am happy just to have brought the right music, the right instrument, and the right attire. Next week is much easier, only three different performances...

And now more about that Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert, 2:30 Sunday at the Bijou. Maestro Lucas Richman's Bijou Theatre farewell will be a concert of masterpieces from the chamber orchestra and wind band literature; Richard Strauss' Serenade in E-flat for 13 Winds, William Schuman's Symphony for Strings, and Brahms' Serenade No. 1 in D. On the surface the program appears to be all-German, but remember this is mid-20th-century American composer William Schuman, with one “N”, not Robert with two.

The Strauss Serenade holds a special place in my heart, because I don't have to play it! But seriously, if you take Mozart's Wind Serenades and kind of give them a small dose of complexity, you'll have an idea of what to expect here. It's an early work, nestled between the Cello Sonata and the momentous First Horn Concerto. It's always a rare treat to LISTEN to a piece of music at work, and our winds ROCK!

Next comes the William Schuman. Although his music has been more in the mainstream in the past, it has for some sad reason become less frequently heard. Known for his orchestration of Ives' Variations on “America” for organ, his Credendum: Article of Faith was performed here under Kirk Trevor in October of 1992, oddly enough coupled with ROBERT Schumann's 2nd Symphony. Wow, tough night for the violins. ANYway, the striking harmonies and excitable rhythms of this String Symphony should wipe away any doubt of Schuman's presence in the upper echelon of 20th-century American composers.


Brahms' op. 11 Serenade (like the Strauss, a youthful work) which closes the concert, is pure bliss. A symphony in all but its title, you can literally hear him develop as the work progresses. The first Scherzo forecasts the theme of his 2nd Piano Concerto's Scherzo in an eery way, but all six movements are drop-dead gorgeous and iconic. I played this work before I played any of the Brahms symphonies, heck, I thought they were all this good! Fusing together the separated camps of woodwinds and strings that performed on the first half of the concert is an ingenious programming touch that is typical of the classy details for which Maestro Richman will be missed. We hope YOU are not missed on Sunday afternoon, come on out!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let the Festivities Continue!!

Spring weather's firm foothold on us here in East Tennessee reminds us that the time has come for the Knoxville Opera Company's 14th annual Rossini Festival! The centerpiece collaboration between the KSO and the KOC this year is a work not by Rossini, but Verdi: Il trovatore (The Troubador). Curtain times are Friday night, April 24 at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon the 26th at 2:30, at the Tennessee Theatre, while the street fair will be Saturday between the performances. Verdi composed 30 operas and only the first (the rarely heard Oberto) and the last (Falstaff) are comedies. So while there is much triumphant music and some light moments in each of his works, the math works out that if you attend a Verdi production, most likely someone is going to die. (In the opera, I mean!) Act II starts with the celebrated “Anvil Chorus,” a tune which no one could mistake for anything but Verdi, but throughout there are beautifully composed tunes that illuminate the characters' feelings in a way that artfully transcends any language barriers. (There will be “operatitles,” but still, that's no excuse for not learning Italian in the two days you have until the curtain goes up Friday night).



The Rossini Festival itself is the third major arts and culture festival weekend in a row, recommending Knoxville for the title of “Festival City.” Two weekends ago it was the Rhythm and Blooms festival, and last weekend (and ongoing throughout April) it was the long-running Dogwood Arts Festival. Here is a link to the schedule for all of the 55 acts, and here is a link to the Opera Company's Festival website.



Next week sees the strings of the KSO traveling to Maryville to mix it up with the Maryville High School orchestra, April 28th at 7:00 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. (Note to KSO players: our call is at 6:00 PM). Beloved works by Bizet, Saint-Saëns, and Sibelius will be offered at this free concert. That is by no means all that is going on next week, but all that I have time for at this juncture.




Hope to see you downtown on Saturday!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Springing for the Classics

For our April Masterworks concerts this coming Thursday and Friday the 16th and 17th, we are privileged to have with us guest maestro Vladimir Kulenovic leading us through a program of Smetana, Rachmaninov and Beethoven. Vladimir is the Associate Conductor of the Utah Symphony, and Resident Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic. That is quite a commute! The repertoire on this concert pair approximately brackets the 19th century, with the Beethoven dating from 1808, the Rachmaninov from 1891 (but revised in 1917), and the Smetana from somewhere in between.

Bedrich Smetana was a Czech composer who lived and worked roughly 20 years earlier than his more celebrated countryman, Dvorak, and the first Czech opera composer of substance. The Bartered Bride (admittedly a highly mockable title), from 1866, is the only one of his eight operas still performed on an international scale. The composer's name is apparently being pronounced incorrectly, as it is widely pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. One source has his name pronounced to rhyme with “piranha.” There is no small amount of gypsy flavor in Smetana's music, and the Bartered Bride Overture is a wild ride from stem to stern. There are actually two different fugues in the work, a fast, perpetual motion deal at the beginning, and a more choppy, syncopated one in the middle. I'm going to be frank here; there are a lot of notes in this piece! In my auditioning heyday, the appearance of this work's excerpts on a repertoire list was a signal for me to steer clear of that audition. So many opportunities (about 12 per second) to sound like a squeaky Greyhound Bus seat! Here's where the beauty of playing in an orchestra, where there is safety in numbers, is evident.

Finnish pianist Antti Siirala will join us for the Rachmaninov First Piano Concerto. There may still be some alive who heard Rachmaninov's final performance right here in Knoxville in 1943, but through the magic of Youtube, we can now hear (but unfortunately, not see) Rachmaninov performing this concerto.


Finally, we get to Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, #6. This is not to be confused with the Pastoral Symphony from Handel's Messiah, which all too often serves as nap music in performances of that oratorio. I am just amazed at how beautiful Beethoven's music is, considering what a complete mess his manuscripts look like, as you can see below. Hard to make out heads or tails from what he left us!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

Now that spring is surely here to stay, it's no longer necessary to worry about whether concerts will be canceled-- due to snow, at least. I do remember a couple of snowy Easters from the past, but those were up north in Connecticut, where no weather is considered unusual. We will now concentrate our hopes for dry weather for our evening outdoor concerts on Knoxville's Market Square May 7th, and in Maryville's Theatre in the Park May21st. Although our Ijams Nature Center concert in September has NEVER been rained out in 28 years, springtime weather can be much touchier. Last season's Maryville concert saw both audience and orchestra members bravely ignoring the elements until a big honkin' downpour put an end to it. There is a rain date for the Maryville show, (the next night), but mark my words, WE WON'T NEED IT.

People don't usually think of Easter music the way they do about Christmas music, but in general it is a much more staid style. Haydn's Seven Last Words from the Cross is a very appropriate choice, with several different arrangements available. Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture is a bit more grandiose. Rachmaninov's Vespers, written on the eve of Rachmaninov's departure from Russia, is THE most beautiful a capella choir writing ever. Collections of music for this holiday (here is one) often include Dvorak's Stabat Mater, which was performed here in February. I feel lucky to have been introduced to this work.

Easter. And Queen. There's not a lot of overlap there, I am specializing in awkward segues today. From the 70s to the 90s Queen specialized in smooth segues (like the ones in Bohemian Rhapsody, the third largest-selling single in British history), creating a body of work that isn't served well by either the “prog-rock” or the “classical rock” label. Their sonic palette was gigantic, and their harmonies were cartoon-like in their complexity and precision. All of this is to say that THEY WERE REALLY COOL. Who am I fooling, you know what I'm talking about. Like Elvis Costello said, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This “Night at the Races” will be THIS SATURDAY April 11th at the Civic Auditorium at 8:00. The production, The Music of Queen! is the creation of Windborne Music, an entity which has in their stable of productions geared towards symphonic audiences not just Queen, but in addition the music of Whitney Houston, U2, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and Pink Floyd. Their schedule is full, with each of these shows criss-crossing the continent.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

We Have the Technology...

There have been a whole lot of notes flying by my eyes in the past couple of weeks, but one somewhat extra-musical thing has happened in the KSO system that is quite noteworthy. For the third year in a row, the KSO has received a Getty Education & Community Investment Grant from the League of American Orchestras. This grant has enabled the KSO to purchase tablets for reading music. The future of music reading has arrived, and the KSO's Music and Wellness program reaps the benefits of this new technology. A task that used to involve setting up a stand, arranging music in the correct order (sometimes with huge, bulky notebooks and new books which reFUSE to lie flat and stay open) and searching for opportunities to turn pages, is now cut down to a single device which can store hours of music. Here is a shot of violinists Sean Claire and Sara Matayoshi, violist Eunsoon Corliss, and cellist Stacy Miller (and their tablets!) in action.



This weekend's Big Ears Festival collaboration with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble will bring the music of Max Richter to the Tennessee Theatre on Sunday, March 29 at 8:00. Mr. Richter is known for his score to the HBO series The Leftovers, excerpts from which will be performed along with his reworking of the Vivaldi Four Seasons. Phrases and motives are looped and stacked, giving Vivaldi's virtuoso concerti a techno-minimalist feel.


Just in time for warm weather's return, the orchestra will be taking a week off. I'd say we've earned it. While the KSO proper won't be performing this week, some members will be busy this coming Monday, the 30th with pianist Kevin Class as he wraps up his complete cycle of the Brahms Piano Trios. The concert is in the sumptuous new Powell Recital Hall at the UT Music Department. Details on the works can be found on my Feb. 16th post.