Thursday, October 20, 2016


This week's collaboration at the Tennessee Theatre with the Knoxville Opera Company on Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance brings us some well-needed silliness.  On the heels of the success of 2014's production of H.M.S. Pinafore, a “British Invasion” of an entirely other sort will “capture” the fancy of young and old alike.  Featured will be UT voice faculty member, bass-baritone Andrew Wentzel, who for 20 years now has been singing the National Anthem at UT football games.  He will be performing INDOORS this weekend...

I remember listening to Gilbert and Sullivan growing up, on LPs on our Sears SILVERTONE record player.  We didn't have room in the living room for one of those console or credenza stereo, but we did have the lovely, “portable” desktop machine pictured below.  It was strictly forbidden to put records on the little shelf on the right side.  Every once in a while, the lid would come down like a guillotine and slice that sucker in half like it was a graham cracker.

At first I was fascinated with the machinery, but by the time I was 6 or so, I started to become intrigued by the music itself.  I was taken by the verbal agility.  I understood what they were saying, but why were they saying it that way?!  I was left with the impression that, wow, England must be an awfully cheerful place if even the pirates were this happy!

Just as Wagner's name is intimately associated with the opera house in Bayreuth, Gilbert and Sullivan's heyday came to be because of a tight coalition of the composers (actually the music is by Arthur Sullivan and the libretto by W. S. Gilbert), the venue (the Savoy Theatre, thanks to which, their body of work has come to be known as the Savoy Operas), and the opera company (the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company).  I just wanted to make sure, so I looked it up-- it's pronounced DOILY Cart.

A cart full of Doilies

D'Oyly Carte

Anyway, my lame attempt at humor here can't hold a candle to the level of hijinks that will be achieved at the shows, this Friday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30. See you there!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Italian Masters

The KSO's Masterworks series will continue its musical travels across Europe this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, under the direction of James Fellenbaum. This week's focus will be the music of three Italian composers.  I'm being careful not to describe it as “Italian music” in an ethnic sense, since each of the three composers-- Vivaldi, Rossini and Puccini-- were active in such different eras, and bound by those eras' conventions.  The great Italian vocal tradition is the binding force in the repertoire, as all three wrote operas, with Puccini's and Rossini's fame, at opposite ends of the Romantic Era, relying almost exclusively on opera.

Rossini's Overture to Semiramide (“sem-ee-rom-a-day”) exhibits structural formula and transparent textures left over from the Classical period.  The concitato, or agitated style of rapidly repeated notes, took root with Monteverdi in the 1640s, lived on in the Vivaldi Four Seasons from 1723, and the Rossini from 1823.  Later in the Romantic period it was no longer uniquely Italian and was largely abandoned by the time the grand scale and vocal sweep of Puccini's music made the scene in 1884.

The Capriccio Sinfonico is Puccini's thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory, written at age 24 in 1883.  It includes material from three of his first four operas; Le villi (“The Fairies”), Edgar, and La bohème.  The Intermezzo that opens Act III of his third opera, Manon Lescaut, supplies the second work by Puccini on the concert.

The Four Seasons by Vivaldi is the solo work on this concert, with violinist Giora Schmidt as soloist.  (His first name is pronounced “Ghee-or-a,” with a hard “g” sound as in “guitar”).  It will be easy to notice Vivaldi's operatic tendencies in the Seasons, because of the highly picturesque portrayal of the four seasons as “characters-” it's program music at its finest and the stile concitato is everywhere.  Vivaldi employs major keys for the bulk of the Spring and Fall segments, expressing joy in the more temperate seasons, and minor keys for Summer and Winter, reflecting the harshness of the extremes of weather.  Listen carefully to the second movement of Spring, where the (muted) violas portray far-off barking dogs on a cold early spring night. The concerti will be separated, with Spring and Summer on the first half followed by the two Puccini works (split by an intermission), and ending with Fall and Winter.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Last Weekend and This Weekend

Knoxville turned 225 the other day-- no better excuse for another party in downtown Knoxville! The founding year of 1791 makes Knoxville older than Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, and lots of bigger and uglier towns. In fact, on that date it was declared “the capitol of the Southwest Territories,” and one of 17 state capitols. Georgia encompassed most of Mississippi and Alabama then, with the lower third of those states AND New Orleans AND everything west of the Mississippi River still under Spanish control. The exact date is October 3, 1791, just three months after the Treaty of the Holston.

Before there was a Knoxville Symphony, it seems classical music was largely imported. A major center for the performing arts was Staub's Theatre, which stood on the current site of the Plaza Tower, home of Club Leconte. There were also outdoor performances at Chilhowee Park on the east side of town. Here are a couple images of Staub's, built in 1872 and known subsequently as Lowe's and The Lyric Theatre before it was razed in the early 60s. Wow, just... wow. (Photo courtesy of Will Dunklin).

Although little is known of classical music's influence (if any) in Knoxville at the time, any music aficionado knows that 1791 is also the year of Mozart's death.  In a dual celebration of these occasions, the KSO Principal String Quartet included in their performance Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, from his final year, in Knoxville's Krutch Park this past Saturday morning.  Mild weather and receptive crowds heard us play other Mozart and a special set of variations on Happy Birthday which led into an awesome Bill Pierce arrangement of Rocky Top, and your weekend was off to a great start, WASN'T IT??  (By the way, I hear it is supposed to be pronounced KROOCH Park). Tympanist Michael Combs was in the audience, and shared a snapshot with me.


On July 10, 1966, I turned 5. My family (my parents, 3 sisters and a brother, all older than me) had set off in a Chevy van from Connecticut to many Western points; Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon… 50 years ago. I remember some of it like it was yesterday. I also remember some of the tunes the radio played; Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago, Roger Miller's King of the Road, and some Beach Boys songs which captivated my musical siblings and I in a different way than any of the Boys' previous hits had. The Pet Sounds album that came out in May of that year has influenced everyone from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to 2017 Big Ears Festival headliners Wilco. The Tennessee Theatre is the perfect venue to hear Brian Wilson's creation come to life, with a surf music chaser this Friday at 7:30. Wouldn't It Be Nice to see y'all there?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Two fine additions to the KSO Board of Directors

The KSO Board of Directors voted at its annual meeting on September 8, 2016 to add two new board members: Mrs. Becky Paylor, community volunteer and past president of the Knoxville Symphony League, and Mr. David Colquitt, Chief of Staff at Pilot Flying J. Photos and biographies of the new board members are included below. The KSO Board of Directors is chaired by Cynthia Moxley.

KSO Board President Ms. Cynthia Moxley is half-way through her two-year term as board president and says these additions will strengthen the board as a whole. “We are fortunate to work with an outstanding staff and board of directors during this turning point in the organization as we introduce our new Music Director Aram Demirjian. The Board plays a crucial role in upholding the organization’s mission, and ensuring financial sustainability.”

"My love of music began with my paternal grandmother who was a voice teacher and brought the piano into our lives.  Then a new resurgence when deciding whether to allow our new home to be a Symphony League Showhouse in 2002. When we learned how much music education was being presented by the KSO in the school system, it was the deciding factor for my husband and me and the new “eyeopening” journey began.  The KSO is the cog in the wheel for all the arts in Knoxville.  Can you imagine living in a town with no orchestra? Neither can I, and that's why I am so pleased to help raise awareness and assets for the KSO."

Becky Paylor served as President of the Knoxville Symphony League during the 2014-15 season. She currently serves as Board Chairman for The Restoration House, a ministry for single moms and their children, and is a member of the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation Board. She is a Merit Board member of the Knoxville Symphony League, a board member for Fostering Hope and a Board member for New Life Gathering, the church plant of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church where she has been a member for 35 years.

"Music- in all its forms- has been a great source of joy for our family. I am excited, and honored, to do what I can to help ensure that the KSO continues to be a thriving organization for East Tennessee."

David Colquitt serves as Chief of Staff for Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers in North America. Prior to his current role, David worked in operations for Pilot, serving as both a travel center general manager and a region manager. Prior to Pilot Flying J, David worked as an Associate for Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in its Houston, TX office. David has an AB in Politics from Princeton University and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law. David lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife, Annie, and 2-year-old son, Will. David currently serves on the board for the Cleveland Browns Foundation and is an active member of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Brahms and Schubert Usher in Concertmaster Series

Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends are back!  Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:00 at the Knoxville Museum of Art, a fine new Knoxville tradition will carry on without a comma.  Two works will be on the show; Brahms first Violin Sonata and Schubert's charming “Trout Quintet.”  The Trout quintet has an unusual instrumentation into which only 3 other serious composers (Dussek, Hummel and Vaughn Williams-- hmm, note to self...) have strayed.  The “combo” is bass (Steve Benne), viola (Katie Gawne), piano (Kevin Class), violin (Gabe Lefkowitz) and cello (yours truly).

Gabe and Kevin will be opening the program with Brahms' G Major Sonata op. 78.  Brahms waited a long time before writing a complete violin sonata, first penning three for piano and one for the cello. Hot on the heels of his Violin Concerto as this is, it's part of one of the most fruitful winning streaks of violin composition.  Part of THIS complete breakfast.  Kevin's been keeping busy, having just triumphed with the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 at the Bijou with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra on Sunday.

Throughout the “Trout” there are aquatic themes; the fish jumping in the opening piano lick, the slowly ascending bubbles in the rising string chords in the Andante second movement, and the sinuous, arcing phrase that the cello and violin trade in the Finale.  The variation movement's theme is shared with that of a Schubert song, Die Forelle, a strange but beautiful little ditty about a “happy wanderer” who bonds with a trout by a brook, but suffers emotional duress when a nearby angler casts his line.  The variations are ingeniously conceived, giving all of the instruments a moment in the sun.  It's only at the coda that the leaping 6-note accompanying figure that dominates the song shows up.  The ultimate irony is that the figure follows the contour of BOTH the arc of the jumping trout AND the fishhook.  Oh, and by the way, Gabe and I both agree that a passage from the slow variation was fashioned by Paul McCartney into a phrase in Hey Jude.  Although not a short work, each of the five movements is diverse, concise and satisfying.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Q Series Keeps the Music Coming

Traffic isn't a thing someone usually wants to see on their way to work.  But walking up the hill behind the Tennessee Theatre last week on the way to the opening KSO Masterworks concert, I was very pleased to see a long line of cars behind the theatre on State Street.  Music Director Aram Demirjian's debut caused a stir, and the traffic didn't lie: a much bigger house than usual saw Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky come to life on opening night. This bodes well for the “Aram Era” here in Knoxville!  With all due respect and sympathy to the folks PATIENTLY waiting at the stop sign, I hope to encounter more such traffic at future Thursday and Friday night shows.

Chamber music is the next focus, with a Q Series concert happening tomorrow, Wednesday the 21st.  Reserve a seat (and a lunch!) for “opening noon” at the Square Room on Market Square!  The Principal Woodwind Quintet will present Gabriel Fauré's Dolly Suite and Alexander Zemlinsky's Humoresque.  Fauré didn't customarily give programmatic titles to individual movements, but here are six vignettes inspired by Hélène Bardac, aka Dolly, the young daughter of his mistress.  (Sorry to disappoint those who thought it might be a dedicated to a certain Sevier County native).  The movements are Berceuse, Mi-a-ou, Le jardin de Dolly, Kitty-valse, Tendresse, and Le pas espagnol.  A couple of the movements' titles are cryptic, leading us to believe that the movements are about cats.  The truth is that Mi-a-ou serves to immortalize how toddler Dolly was (mis)pronouncing her older brother Raoul's name, and Kitty-valse is actually a musical portrait of the family dog, which for reasons unbeknownst was named “Ketty.”

The Principal String Quartet (minus one) will open the show with Beethoven's early String Trio in G Major, op. 9, no. 1.  Here is a rare chance to hear one of Beethoven's early forays into the string chamber music territory.  (He wrote all five of his string trios before he published any string quartets).  Why the minus one?  Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai has been given the afternoon off for a very beautiful reason; he and Meghan Ware are, as of September 14, the proud parents of Olivia Ellen Tsai!  All are doing well.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Music Educator Profile: Tracy Ward, Music Specialist

In honor of Arts Education week, local music educator Tracy Ward has shared with us how she became involved in making music and sharing her passion with students for almost three decades.

 It is not difficult to explain the impact arts education has had on my life. Arts education IS my life! 
I had a lot of support and encouragement from my parents, who were artists in their own right, although they were not musicians. I began taking piano lessons in third grade, and Dad would mute his football games just to listen to me practice. I’m sure I thought I would become a concert pianist. Then a family friend suggested to my parents that I might enjoy attending the Sewanee Summer Music Center. Sewanee changed everything for me! I had never really been around an orchestra, and instead of spending as much time in the practice room as I should have, I sat and listened to orchestra rehearsals, absorbing the wisdom of conductors like Hugh Wolf, Amerigo Marino, Henri Temianka, and Karel Husa. I developed a real passion for orchestral music and also for chamber music. We were expected to learn and perform a new chamber work with a new group of people every week, and the give and take of performing with other musicians became much more interesting to me than performing by myself ever was.

I did not become a great pianist, but that’s okay. I have spent 28 years sharing my love of music with my elementary-age students. My school choir even sang with the Knoxville Symphony in a performance of Carmina Burana. More recently, the musical pieces of my life have come together in a delightful way: I help to create the teacher’s guide for the Young People’s Concerts that the Knoxville Symphony presents every year. I hope my students grow to love the orchestra as much as I do.

My arts education is continuous, though, because I never want to stop learning! I have recently earned my Kodaly Certification, and I am learning to play the dulcimer. My husband (a wonderful baritone) and I have decided that we want to begin doing recitals of art songs together, so I’m sure you’ll understand if I excuse myself now. I need to go practice...

Tracy Ward is a Music Specialist who works with elementary school students ages K-5th grade at Sequoyah Elementary. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Ed. from UT-Knoxville, full Kodaly Certification from UT-Chattanooga, and Orff Level I Certification from Belmont University.  She continues sharing her passion for music by singing in the choir of St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.