Thursday, February 4, 2016

Youth Orchestra Winter Concerts plus "Some Enchanted Evening"

The KSO Youth Orchestras will be presenting their winter 2016 concerts on February 14-15. The Preludium, Philharmonia, Sinfonia and Youth Chamber Orchestra will be featured on Sunday the 14th (what a unique way to spend Valentine's Day!) at 3:00 at the Tennessee Theatre. The Youth Orchestra proper will give its Concerto Concert the next night at 7:00, also at the Tennessee Theatre. This year's winners are harpist Kari Novilla, playing the Allegro Moderato from Gliere's Concerto in E-flat for Harp and Orchestra, and saxophonist Spencer McDonald performing Tableaux de Provence, by Paule Maurice. These soloists were chosen from a very competitive field, and fellow finalists Henry Shen, Melody Guo, Isabelle Lee, Lyric Rivera, and Daniel Choo all have no reason to be remorseful with their fine, polished performances. Also on the concerto program will be Tchaikovsky's dramatic Marche Slav, and selections from Bizet's Carmen Suites. These concerts both have free admission. Here are a couple “action shots” of our soloists.

Spencer McDonald

Kari Novilla


That same weekend, the Knoxville Symphony will spotlight the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein on the eve of Valentine's Day. I Could Write a Book about the stature of “R&H's” contributions to the canon of musical theater repertoire, but I have Confidence that you will be Whistling a Happy Tune when you leave the Civic Auditorium at 8:00 on Saturday, Feb. 13. Is a Puzzlement why someone would want to miss this Grand Night for Singing, on which will host Broadway notables Alli Mauzey, Gary Mauer and William Michals. The Carson Newman University A Capella Choir will also add The Sweetest Sounds to our production; I Cain't Say No to such blending of voices; it's one of My Favorite Things! Don't you dare miss what is sure to be Some Enchanted Evening. 

So Long! Farewell!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Much More than Beethoven and Bruch

What a pretty sight! Snow is making an appearance, leaving no doubt that there will be a real winter this year. After our balmy December, it was beginning to look like winter was taking a sabbatical. My Oak Ridge students will get an extension for their assignments this week. I'm going to hammer out a few lines here, then go make a snow angel or two.

Our January Masterworks concert repertoire brings a variety of approaches to orchestral writing to the Tennessee Theatre this Thursday and Friday night at 7:30. The four works to be performed team up for an intriguing journey back through time, starting in 1995 with John Adams' clever Lollapalooza and finishing up with Beethoven's exquisite 7th Symphony. (My favorite Beethoven symphony!) In between, violinist Philippe Quint will solo on the Bruch Concerto (my favorite violin concerto!), and we will get a taste of the music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's early folkloric phase in his 1951 Romanian Concerto.

Our guest maestro this month is Aram Demirjian, who is currently Associate Conductor with the Kansas City Symphony. His youthful energy, concise remarks and bold programming make this month's MW concerts a happy challenge. It came as a blessed relief to hear him say that all the notes whizzing by in the last movement of the Ligeti were to be thought of as an effect. It's always nice to hear what new things a conductor has to say about a standard like the Beethoven, while still letting the composer's genius shine through. Additionally, a lot is revealed about a conductor when (s)he leads a concerto or other work with a soloist. When a conductor is described as a “sensitive accompanist,” it has nothing to do with their skills as a pianist! A maestro who can keep the orchestra's playing on track despite unknown quantities of rubato on the part of a soloist, and often in a sight-unseen situation, makes the orchestra musician's job in concerto playing much easier and calmer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chamber Music at the KMA

The chamber music keeps flowing this week, (Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the Knoxville Museum of Art), with Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends taking the “stage” at KMA's Great Hall.  Gabe has some awesome tunes in store, and I'm thrilled to be on board for the closing work on the program, Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat.  It's a work from Dvorak's very bountiful compositional period directly before the luscious 8th Symphony and the "Dumky" Trio, on the eve of his storied sojourn in America.  I have been wanting to play this piece for DECADES. 

The other works on the program, which I will enjoy listening to, are the Debussy Sonata No. 3 in G for Violin and Piano of 1917, a delightful, stream-of-consciousness work painted from an impressionistic palette.  The notorious Caprice No. 24 by Paganini will also be on the first half, a work which is literally the basis for Rachmaninov's timeless Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  This theme and 11 variations will leave you dazzled.

Pianist Kevin Class will collaborate with Gabe on the Debussy, another in a long string of productions on which he and Gabe have partnered.  Violist Katy Gawne and I will join those two to present the Dvorak.  Kevin continues to “go hard in the paint,” with the final installment of his presentation of the complete piano chamber music of Brahms on February 15 at UT's Powell Recital Hall.  Katy and I will reunite with former KSO Associate Concertmaster and current UT Professor of Violin Miro Hristov, joining Kevin on Brahms' Piano Quartet in A Major (another work I have been waiting DECADES to play).  The Piano Quintet of Brahms will close out that concert and that series. Joining him will be KSO cellist Stacy Miller, violinists Sara Matayoshi and Ruth Bacon, and violist Hillary Herndon.  As if that weren't enough, Kevin has another cycle going on, the complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart!  The first two servings in that series (which will undoubtedly span at least a couple years, as there are 17 of them) will take place January 27 and March 3.  This link is the program for a previous Brahms recital, but scroll down to see the multitude of performances in which he is involved, either at the keyboard or on the podium.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chamber Music Zone Ahead

It's a new year with lots of beautiful music to play and lots of mysteries to solve. Four more guest conductor candidates (condidates? candiductors?) will bring challenging and diverse repertoire with them to be savored by performers and concert-goers alike. Then in May, the mechanisms of decision will crank to life, and we'll just have to wait and see…

2016 begins with a spate of chamber music. (Actually, it began with the Vols destroying Northwestern, but there's already plenty of press about that elsewhere). ANYWAY, this weekend's Chamber Classics concert features the Principal String Quartet performing three gems of the quartet literature, and Gabe Lefkowitz' Concertmaster Series will include Dvorak's fabulous Piano Quartet. Winter FINALLY seems to have arrived, so come on down to one of our warm downtown venues to hear these terrific works.

This Sunday at 2:30, the Principal String Quartet will play Schubert's Quartettsatz, Prokofiev's 2nd Quartet, and Brahms' 3rd Quartet in B-flat. Quartettsatz” (the last syllable is pronounced “zots”) simply means “quartet movement;” in the chamber music realm, this work is comparable to his “Unfinished Symphony.” It seems to be a piece to which Schubert could add no more. It is a darkly animated work, with the mood of his own song, Der Erlkรถnig echoing about. The Prokofiev piece that follows has melodies based on Kabardino-Balkar folk melodies from the North Caucasus. It's Prokofiev at his quirky best; considering that the premiere was delayed by a Nazi air raid, the specter of World War II is not as blatantly palpable as in the works of Shostakovich from the period. The first movement is march-like, but not martial; the second movement sandwiches two deeply lyrical passages around a perky waltz; and the finale is driven by lots of motor rhythms and features a formidable cello cadenza.

Brahms' final quartet op. 67 is nothing like his previous two, which is no surprise, given that the earlier two share an opus number (51). Its first movement Vivace's B-flat tonality and 6/8 meter are reminiscent of that of the Mozart “Hunt” Quartet that we performed at the Square Room in November. The third movement Agitato is a sublime tour de force for the viola; some violists believe it should be considered standard solo repertoire for the viola. A closing Theme and Variations halts seemingly in mid-sentence to revert to the theme of the first movement. The unusual twists and turns in all three of the works to be presented are a joy to bring off, and Gordon, Edward, Katie and I have had a blast getting to know them.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Riding the Wave of Christmas Spirit

What a Christmas it's been!  I feel sorry for all the “snowbirds” who made plans to go south from Knoxville to escape what is usually a pretty cold (but hardly ever snowy) place during the holidays.  I am seriously thinking of going swimming somewhere, but the rivers and lakes are probably mud-infused from all this rain-- three inches in two days!  I'm recalling a folkloric Yankee weather index called the IFTWA index-- If twa' snow, it would have been about three feet!

I still feel the “buzz” from last week's Clayton Holiday Concerts.  It was very fitting that the orchestra combine its classical forces with those of the bluegrass milieu.  The late Norris Dryer always referred to Knoxville as “the Premiere City of Appalachia,” so to wed these two very different types of music together for our holiday concert was a natural for this town.  Bluegrass master Paul Brewster and his classy act brought a demographic into the audience that wouldn't normally be into symphonic music. Kudos go to Maestro James Fellenbaum for tying the many forces together as if with a ribbon. Here's a shot of those "many forces."

If you attended one of these concerts, you saw the final performance of our horn section as it has been for the past few years.  Second horn player Jennifer Crake Roche has decided to bow out of the orchestra to focus more on her family and her realty career.  She has been a positive force in the orchestra from the get-go, and a vital part of our horn section.  Her solid playing and level-headed attitude will be sorely missed.  There was a get-together after the final Clayton concert last Sunday at the home of third horn Mark Harrell, and here is a farewell portrait of our horn section as such.

L-R: Jeffery Whaley, Jen Crake Roche, Sean Donovan, Mark Harrell.  Also in photo: LOTS of food.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Doings

Sorry for the reticence, folks. It’s the end of a semester, it’s Christmas, and I’m a musician.  It feels like December 1st was just one long day that ended Saturday at the end of the Nutcracker at Maryville’s Clayton Center for the Arts.  I have somehow managed to not schedule anything for a full 24 hours, and I’ll take a look back at what we can now call “early December,” but first let me say that the week ahead promises four Clayton Holiday Concerts!  Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3, at the Civic Auditorium.  This 29th annual offering will showcase music of Appalachia with special guest Paul Brewster, the guitar-playin’ “high lonesome” tenor in Ricky Skaggs legendary Kentucky Thunder, headlining.  Also contributing will be the Knoxville Choral Society, GO! Contemporary Dance Works and the Knoxville Banjo Orchestra (and well, duhh, Santa Claus!!) under the direction of Maestro James Fellenbaum.


Our Nutcracker ballet alliance with the Appalachian Ballet Company continued its 42-year tradition with performances Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Clayton Center at Maryville College, and last weekend at the Civic Auditorium.  It represented a turning point for the ABC, as dancer Mika Yoshida gave her farewell after a 32-year dancing career, this time as the Dew Drop Fairy in Waltz of the Flowers.  It was also announced that KSO bass trombonist Brad MacDougall (whose MacDougall Brothers Construction Co. is a supporter of the Ballet), finally took in a performance of the Nutcracker after twenty years of playing it in the orchestra pit!  It is amazing how close to the action we are in the pit, and yet how far.

There were some “runouts” in the past couple of weeks.  According to Johanna Fiedler, her father Arthur coined the term when the Boston Pops would literally “run out” to Worcester, Manchester, Portland, etc.  Our running took us to Lincoln Memorial University, Dandridge, and Athens, with Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz leading the orchestra and Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai soloing with Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons.  In Athens we performed in the afternoon for middle-schoolers on a day as warm as any day in April, then performed holiday music at the Athens City Middle School with renowned local guests Rusty Paterson, Mike Simmons and Tim Frazier, aka the Three Tenors of Athens.  There was some good R&R in the area during our down time, and the food offerings have shown steady improvement through the years of our travels there.

Speaking of food, the Q Series continues to bring in a capacity crowd at the Square Room on Market Square.  It is always gratifying when, as musicians, we compete with beautiful weather and win!  Outdoor tables all along Market square were full Tuesday.  It seems the past 8 or 9 days have been balmy, even during the Three Days of Rain.  The Principal String Quartet played a preview of our upcoming (January 10, 2:30) Chamber Classics concert of works by Schubert, Prokofiev and Brahms, and the Principal Woodwind Quintet performed a beautiful work by Paquito D’Rivera entitled  Aires Tropicales.  The next Q Series offering will be January 27.

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!)