Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Do Not Dally, Come See Our May Finale

The Masterworks season finale concerts are always a memorable event, and this year is no exception.  There will be a variety of “looks” to the repertoire on these concerts, and it will mark the first appearance of a Keytar in our midst.  Each half of the concert will feature a 21st-century work followed by a standard repertoire classic. Opening will be Mason Bates' 2011 composition Mothership, a purely fun work which sees the orchestra sallying forth into the realm of electronica. The keytar is a small electronic keyboard instrument that is slung around the neck like a guitar, hence the name: KEYboard-guiTAR.  Christina Horn, from Knoxville band Hudson K, will supply the keytar wizardry and Jorge Variego will jam on bass clarinet in the improvisatory Bates work.  Strauss' tone poem Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks will close the first half.  After intermission, we shall present music from the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can composed by movie music luminary John Williams. Entitled Escapades, it is essentially a saxophone concerto featuring saxophone soloist Timothy McAllister, backed up by KSO principal bassist Steve Benne and vibraphonist Clark Harrell. The concert (and the season) will conclude with Beethoven's beloved Symphony No. 5.


Let me clear the air about the Strausses.  There were a bunch.  The one generally known as “The Waltz King” is Johann Strauss Jr., he of “Blue Danube” and Die Fledermaus fame.  His father, Johann Sr., is most remembered for his Radetzky March, which we performed on our most recent Bijou and Maryville Park concerts.  Hey, let's not forget Josef Strauss, Junior's brother, who blessed us with the Pizzicato Polka!  And there was, of course, Levi Strauss, a blues composer.  But no, none of these Viennese kindred; our Strauss du jour will be Richard, an early 20th-century German composer who took up where Wagner and Brahms left off.  His Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks has a cartoon-like, slapstick pace, genius orchestration, and a very prominent e-flat (soprano) clarinet part. Here is just one page from the Strauss score.


Some of my earliest musical memories are of a scratchy LP on our hi-fi, playing Beethoven's 5th.  As I recall, the first movement was far too scratched to play, so I skipped ahead to the second movement. I only remember being able to hear the loud parts of the third movement, and the finale is all loud, so as a punky little 4-year-old, I certainly remembered that.  Fast forward 50-something years, and with a dozen or more performances of the work under my belt, I am still amazed at how the second movement Andante con moto can be so rich and so pure at the same time.  A theme and three variations are presented by the cellos and violas; the one set of excerpts that has been on virtually every orchestra audition I've taken in the past 35 years.  (I wasn't thinking about that at age 4, trust me).  The extended coda patiently and gracefully winds down and even morphs into the centuries-old European theme La Folia.

These concerts will happen Thursday and Friday, May 18 and 19 at 7:30, at the Tennessee Theatre. Hope to see you there!

Tickets are going fast, so secure them online here or call 865-291-3310.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Three Cheers for Blood Sweat and Tears!

On Saturday, May 6, the KSO will host iconic jazz/rock band Blood Sweat and Tears at the Civic Auditorium. This will be a repeat appearance by BS&T, who performed with us in 1999.


The late '60s saw two bands emerging as powerful forces in a “rock big band” genre that they alone created: Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Their successes soon inspired formation of similar bands such as Tower of Power, Cold Blood, and the Average White Band. Bands touring today such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and St. Paul and the Broken Bones owe a debt of inspiration to this groove outpouring. The difference was that while Chicago enjoyed a long span of hits, (each one seemingly cheesier than the last), they didn't have a number one hit until 1976. On the other hand BS&T's second, eponymous LP, released in late 1968, won a Grammy for Album of the Year, no mean feat considering they were up against the Beatles' last recorded album (Abbey Road), and Crosby, Stills and Nash's first. And if I may, BS&T's eponymous LP (actually their second) refuses to sound dated, whereas the political and “flower power” complexion of some tunes on the first few Chicago albums often has me reaching for the “skip” button on the remote.

As with most legacy bands, there have been quite a few personnel changes over the years, to the point where there are no remaining original members performing with the band. This should not be of concern, as the “sourdough effect” of shared experiences between old members and new has kept the spirit of the original band alive. You don't go to a Yankees game expecting to see Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, one would hope, and in music, it's the same story.


Come on down to the Civic tomorrow night! What you'll hear will make you So Very Happy.


Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Tickets here.

To hear an interview with lead singer Bo Bice about the upcoming KSO concert on local station Classic Hits 93.1 with radio personality Frank Murphy, click here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Folklore and Myth

Our April Masterworks concert pair will be a treat for the ears, with classics by Chopin and Ravel, and lesser known works by Bizet and Osvaldo Golijov. Chopin's E Minor Piano Concerto will feature pianist Adam Golka, returning to Knoxville after his performance of Rachmaninov's 3rd Concerto in 2009.



Golijov is an Argentinian composer of Romanian descent who melds two seemingly disparate musical genres-- klezmer and tango-- into one unique style. His music has been championed by Yoyo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, and a chamber arrangement of this particular work can be found on the SRE's New Impossibilities CD. Two short movements from Bizet's underappreciated opera The Pearl Fishers will usher in the Golijov work in a seamless tableau.


Back in February of 2007, we performed the complete Daphnis and Chloe ballet score (from which this week's Suite is pulled) under the baton of Lucas Richman. It's a lengthy, quirky work, close to an hour long, but when we arrived at the familiar part, (where the 2nd Suite begins) there was such a chill going up my backbone-- like when you see a spectacular sight that you haven't seen since you were a child. This week, the chills will be instantaneous, as the 2nd Suite begins with Ravel's rich depiction of a sunrise over the isle of Lesbos, from where the story originates. Wind players labor for years over the gently bubbling riffs that open the Suite, and the surges of dynamic power recall Esther Williams' synchronized swimming film extravaganzas from the '40s and '50s. Stravinsky called it “one of the most beautiful products in all of French music,” and you, too will be amazed that something so vigorous could also be so beautiful.
   
Thursday & Friday performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Theatre; tickets here. Facebook event here.
                  
                      

Friday, April 7, 2017

APRIL JEWELS

It's April, and for some people that means only one thing-- golf's Masters Tournament, taking place down in Georgia right now. On Saturday, the 8th, KSO audiences will be treated to the work of a Fiddle Master-- Nova Scotian performer Natalie MacMaster! In addition to the electrifying fiddle work, Ms MacMaster can dance the jig and strathspey like nobody's business. You will be amazed at what a large catalog of songs stems from Canada's Cape Breton tradition, and by the ensemble's dazzling precision. That's Saturday night at 8 at the Civic Auditorium. Be aware that there will be a Knoxville Ice Bears game on the other side of the building, so maybe allowing a little extra time to park will be a good strategy.

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Is it already time for another Q Series concert?? Time flies when you're having fun, I guess. We are happy to provide you all with a smile-inducing smorgasbord of chamber music on Wednesday the 12th at the Square Room. The principal String Quartet is going to divide and conquer, with two duos filling out our half. Violinist Gordon Tsai and violist Katie Gawne will present the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, while violinist Edward Pulgar and I will render for your approval Ravel's 1922 Sonata for Violin and Cello. The Woodwind Quintet will close the show with Endre Szervánsky's Wind Quintet No. 1 from 1953.


When you say “Handel-Halvorsen,” every string player's eyes light up and you can tell you've struck a chord (lol). The Passacaglia starts with a theme written by Handel, then a deftly written series of variations on that theme follows, written by Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen. Why we don't just call this the Halvorsen “Variations on a Theme by Handel” is beyond me; it would save so much explanation. Both it and the Ravel that follows are virtuoso works that have tremendous effect. This is not the Ravel of the Mother Goose Suite and Bolero, but an entirely different animal. Look for two amusing tunes in it; the first in the wacky 2nd movement which, I believe, inspired the Armor Hot Dogs jingle from the mid-'60s, and in its last movement, one that predicts the J Geils Band's song Centerfold (you know, with the whistling outro... I think it's a strathspey...). Although the Szervánsky quintet is the most recently composed work on the program, you will find it's accessibility pleasantly surprising.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spring String Thing with Oboe Bling

Music of three centuries will be performed at the Bijou Theatre, Sunday April 2 at 2:30.  Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will direct a pleasing program of Chamber Classics standards, with principal oboist Claire Chenette soloing in Mozart's Oboe Concerto.  Respighi's soothing Ancient Airs and Dances and Tchaikovsky's robust Serenade for Strings round out the program.

Claire has been principal oboist with us since 2014, coming from Iowa via LA.  It came as a pleasant surprise to me that she had settled here in the summer of 2014 just a couple blocks from our house. The coincidences were only beginning to appear, though, as I soon learned that her father, Jonathan Chenette, was the acting president of Vassar College, where my younger son Richard is currently a senior!  When he was home on break, Richard was walking the dog and noticed a car with a Vassar sticker on it.  “That's Claire's car,” I told him.  Jonathan is a composer whose music has been performed by the KSO's Principal Woodwind Quintet.  He was formerly on the faculty of Grinnell College in Iowa.  There he was a fellow faculty member with Mark Dorr, who is also the personnel manager of the Des Moines Metro Opera where I (and several other present and past KSO members) have spent many summers.  The Dorrs and the Chenettes were good buddies when Claire was growing up in Grinnell.

Respighi's neo-Renaissance music has a timeless sound that belies its 1932 composition date, and differs greatly from the grandiose tone poems he is known for, such as “The Pines of Rome.”  Based on compositions by 16th- and 17th-century composers Besard, Roncalli, Garsi da Palma and some anonymous composers, this folio of airs and dances is unique among the three such suites in that it is the only one composed for strings only.  Tchaikovsky's Serenade is also (obviously) for strings only, so please join us for the KSO's Spring String Thing!  Just be advised that due to the Knoxville Marathon, Gay St. will be closed off to vehicles Sunday morning.  I'm not sure when it will reopen, but do look out for and respect those runners who are bringing up the rear.  As usual, there will be a shuttle bus to carry concertgoers from the State St. Garage to the Bijou, starting an hour before the concert and returning to the garage up to an hour afterwords.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends-- One More Time!

There's a Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends performance fast approaching at the Knoxville Museum of Art, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00.  It's your last chance to hear Gabe featured on the chamber music series that he initiated upon his arrival in Knoxville six years ago before he concludes his tenure as KSO Concertmaster at the end of the season. Another varied program awaits, with music of Dvorak, Gershwin, Sibelius and Chausson.  Pianist Kevin Class will be a co-soloist with Gabe in the Chausson Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet.

Note: Thursday's performance is sold out, but a few seats remain for Wednesday's performance, tickets here (or call 865-291-3310). Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Gershwin's Three Piano Preludes are jazzy and snazzy staples of the piano literature.  He had originally intended to put out 24 preludes, (one in each of the major and minor keys) like Rachmaninov had done, but the project was abandoned with only three Preludes making it to the publisher.  Gabe and Kevin will be performing Jascha Heifetz' arrangements of the Preludes for violin and piano.  The Sibelius work will be the Valse, originally composed for violin and piano, and Dvorak's ever-popular Humoresque No. 7 will fit neatly between the Gershwin and Sibelius offerings.  You may have heard the tune of the Humoresque as the setting of the warning posted in train restrooms; “Passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets while the train is standing in the station, I love you...”  It was a tune that musical humorist Victor Borge got a lot of mileage out of in his live performances-- I believe he did a bit about it in his appearance with the KSO in April of 1998.  In case you missed that, or even if you didn't, here is a clip of him performing it-- along with a lot of other of his patented silliness.

Ernest Chausson left us with only 39 opus-numbered works before his tragic death in 1899 (at age 44) in a bicycle accident.  He is remembered nowadays mainly for three works: his Symphony in B-flat, his Poème for violin and orchestra, and this Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, but all of his works are significant and unique.  The concerto is a work that showcases the piano and violin, but also presents many passages of genuine sextet chamber music, bridging the gap between chamber music and concertante literature.  His style is reminiscent of Franck (with whom he studied composition) and Tchaikovsky, but predictive of Faure, Ravel and Gershwin.  As with Gershwin, one can only imagine the potential riches lost due to an untimely death.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March Gladness

The focus of our March Masterworks concert shall be twofold: a send-off for our departing concertmaster, Gabe Lefkowitz, and a nod towards the cultural celebration that is St. Patrick's Day. Gabe will be closing the program out with Brahms' Violin Concerto, while the music of Peter Maxwell Davies and Percy Grainger bring on the Irish flavor. “Hidden treasures” by Dvorak and Sibelius will fill out the program.



I have somehow managed to have never performed music of Peter Maxwell Davies, an English composer who, sadly, passed since the work was programmed in November of 2015.  The work we are playing, his An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, is a colorful work with a clever subplot.  Themes of bagpipe-y, Celtic character are tossed around by various instruments in the orchestra- flute, clarinet, horn and trumpet- but a surprise entrance by a piper near the end serves to affirm the efforts of the instrumentalists to “sound Celtic.”  Well, I guess it's not so much of a surprise now, but it's an amusing work with a big violin (fiddle) solo that careens and careers as would a wedding fiddler who had had a wee bit too much Glenmorangie 18.  That solo will be handled by concertmaster candidate finalist William Shaub, who comes to us from Houston.  Here is a link to a very amusing video of a performance of the work, with an introduction by the composer himself.

Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso is a tone poem written in the period between his 6th symphony (which we performed just a couple months ago) and his 7th.  There are gorgeous little solo passages for flute and harp, and the bouncy, waltzy nature of the work recalls Dvorak's own Slavonic Dances and the gracious, sweeping waltzes of Tchaikovsky.  Also on the program is Sibelius' Spring Song, a decidedly serene work which is a departure from Sibelius' usual musical style, which ranges from stormy to mercurial.

Gabe Lefkowitz is working hard these days, amid a 30-day schedule that sees him performing two concertos in Knoxville and one in Ocala, FL, along with the usual array of concertmaster duties that the Louisville Orchestra dishes onto his plate.  His two “Knoxville concerti” will be the Chausson Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet at the KMA next week, and Brahms' Violin Concerto this week with the full orchestra.  The Brahms is one of the “Big Four” D-major violin concertos that dominate orchestra programming, the others being by Sibelius (played just last month!), Beethoven and Tchaikovsky (played by Gabe with us a couple years ago). 

My first broach with the Brahms came in college, when I played in the Hartford Symphony under the baton of Arthur Winograd.  Our soloist in that performance was none other than Itzhak Perlman in a gala concert opening the 1983-84 season.  It was just thrilling to share the stage with Perlman. Everyone agreed that it was fine Brahms, but that there was just a little something missing.  Turns out that a couple days after that concert, Perlman was admitted to a New York hospital with a kidney infection!  He'd had to cancel an engagement with the New York Philharmonic on account of his ailment.  I learned a lesson in dedication that day.  Gabe does not have a kidney infection, but his infectious enthusiasm for all things violin will be in evidence this Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre at 7:30. Tickets available at the door or online here.

PLEASE NOTE that there will be a St. Patrick's Day parade downtown on Friday starting at 7:00, and Regal Cinemas will be opening the new Beauty and the Beast film that night, so parking may be a real donnybrook if you don't allow a little extra time.