Sunday, March 1, 2015

Thawing Out at the Bijou

Just in time to welcome the (hopefully less snowy!) month of March, it's Copland's Appalachian Spring with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Go! Contemporary Dance Works at the Bijou. We sorely missed performing with them at the Very Young People's Concerts which were canceled last week, but here comes another chance today at 2:30.

I have to eat my words here. Driving home from a Dvorak Bass Quintet rehearsal on Wednesday night, with snow and cars swirling around me, it became clear that the next morning's show was most certainly not going to go on. I THOUGHT THIS WAS THE SOUTH!! Sorry, just venting. I hope everyone got the word about the cancellation, and furthermore, I hope everyone got to make a snow angel! The snow was the show that day.

For the Copland, we will be performing the 13-player version of the Suite, which debuted in 1972. The 1944 original, complete ballet was scored for 13, but the Suite version that everyone knows was only ever scored for a full (or at least chamber) orchestra until '72. It's been interesting to see how the music gets redistributed through the orchestra, for instance, the piano gets a shot at the wicked fast violin and viola scales at the end. They tell me the dancers are wonderful; the costumes alone are breathtaking. What little choreography I can see (when I'm not too concerned with what's on the music stand) is gorgeous.

The first half of the concert will be composed by Grieg, Honegger (pronounced “Own-a-gare”), and Webern (pronounced “VAY-burn”). The Grieg will be an old string orchestra favorite, the Holberg Suite. An early Webern work is also for strings alone, Langsamer Satz. It reminds me of Mahler; I can't think of which symphony, but there is definitely very similar thematic and harmonic allusion. The Principal woodwind Quintet will join the strings for Honneger's work, Pastorale d'été. A mood piece, it's kind of a musical version of Georges Seurat's La Grande Jatte.


Rain is in the forecast and it's probably not a good day for a sortie to “Le Cove de Cade” or other such outdoor destinations, so why not come hear- and see- spring unfold before your very ears and eyes?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Shows By Kids, Shows For Kids

Tonight at 4:30 and 7:00 at the Tennessee Theatre, The Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras will be presenting their FREE winter concerts. The hidden significance of this news is its scope: one single concert is no longer sufficient to contain all of the ensembles' audiences, let alone its repertoire. Credit goes to Youth Orchestras Manager Kathy Hart, who has been mentoring youth through violin instruction and orchestra leadership in Knoxville for longer than she or I would care to say... She was Artistic Administrator for the KSO for some time, also, escorting guest artists around town, so she is at home with big stars AND Knoxville's musical youth. Save some of the credit, of course, for THE KIDS THEMSELVES, whose interest in classical music warrants five different ensembles. The 4:30 show will showcase the Preludium, led by Erin Archer, the Philharmonia, under Nina Missildine, Miss Kathy's Sinfonia, and Dr. Wesley Baldwin's Youth Chamber Orchestra.

The 7:00 show will be the Youth Symphony on its own, with James Fellenbaum directing a performance of concerto competition winners and Alexander Borodin's excitable 2nd Symphony in its entirety. That is a rarity in and of itself, the group having played an entire full-scale work only twice before, but what's even rarer is the fact that both concerto winners are playing works by Kabalevsky! Cellist Jerry Zhou will play a movement of Mr. Kabalevsky's 1st Cello Concerto, and eighth-grader Autumn Arsenault will perform a movement of the 3rd Piano Concerto. (Yes, I said EIGHTH GRADER).


The KSO's adult contingent will be playing its Very Young People's Concerts this coming week! Picardy Penguin's back in town with a special performance of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The guest artist for Maestro Richman's first Gala Concert back in ought-three was Martin Short. A hit from his show was a semi-serious rendition of Short narrating this work. I don't think Mr. Short will be narrating the show this time, but we'll find out in a few hours, as the rehearsal for this show is right before the Youth Orchestras concerts. We will also perform Mozart's Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee. I tell you what, I'd give anything to see weather warm enough for bees to be flying around. Of the three performances of this concert, there is only one with tickets still available, the Thursday, Feb. 26th show at 11:00 at the Tennessee Theatre. Other shows are that same morning at 9:30, and Tuesday the 24th at 9:30 at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beautiful, Warm Dvorak

My last post stated, “the show must go on,” and so it shall! The sidewalks are relatively clear, the heat in the Tennessee Theatre works, and we're looking forward to performing Antonin Dvorak's cantata Stabat Mater, tonight and Friday night at 7:30. We, meaning the Knoxville Symphony AND the Knoxville Choral Society.


This cantata, premiered in 1880, is Dvorak's first work on a religious theme. From the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), Dvorak's entry reads:  “English sympathy was entirely won by the Stabat Mater in 1883, and increased by the symphonies in D, D mi., and F, G, and E mi. (The American).” The entry goes on to describe the 9th symphony as “a pseudo-American symphony.” That is good company, considering Dvorak had major success only with the Serenade for Strings and a couple sheaves of Slavonic Dances to that point, in many more places than just England. This work is an example of a piece assigned a later opus number by some scoundrel publisher, in order to make the composer appear less accomplished. Its actual chronological point is around opus 40.

It is a very different sort of work from a composer we associate with secular music almost exclusively: expansive, patient, and inspiring but not morose, considering he had lost all three of his children in the three years previous to the work's premiere. His response was not to “take out his frustrations” on the music, but to hear a clear inner voice that instigated some beautifully crafted vocal lines and absorbing orchestration. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Shows Must Go On-- Extra-Curricular Activities (Updated)

Looks like snow.” Those words are daunting to arts management organizations dependent on last-minute sales to meet attendance quotas. The KSO has been lucky; in my 28 years here, in that no concerts have had to be cancelled due to snow or ice, and just a few shows have even had to contend with heavy weather. The Blizzard of '93 fell at a time when there wasn't much going on with the orchestra, so not much was affected, although I recall that the circus was in town then, and they were devastated. (I remember this because the following week we performed Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Civic Auditorium, with circus animal odors still fresh in the tunnel to the Auditorium stage). I seem to remember a low turnout due to weather at a mid-2000's concert featuring Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Attendees at former Knoxville Opera Company director Robert Lyall's return engagement (in February of 1996, with Dvorak's New World Symphony and Edgar Meyer performing his own Bass Concerto) were greeted with a skim coat of packed powder; THAT was an interesting drive home from work.

Gross weather doesn't usually give us performers pause when scheduling events in the relatively tame winter months here in Knoxville and so we go on faith that some will show up in their muffs and mukluks to see what we do. I am speaking of TONIGHT at 6:00 pm, when violinists Jeffrey Brannen and Ilia Steinschneider will present a concert in room 32 of the Alumni Memorial Building on the UT campus. They will delve into the rich lode that is the Bartok Violin Duos, then Jeff will perform Shostakovich's 2nd Violin Concerto. That is, his SECOND CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN, not his Concerto for Second Violin. Pianist Immanuelle Bizien will assist. Jeff lives in The Fort, so he can just walk there. But even if he lived far away, snow and ice would not stop him, because he is from Boston. Ilia is from Moscow. Need I say more?

UPDATE!!! Due to the weather and the closure of the UT campus, this recital has unfortunately been postponed.  : (

It's too soon to tell about the weather on March 9, but don't let much stop you from driving down to Maryville to see the Vivaldi Four Seasons solos performed by KSO violinists Ruth Bacon, Sean Claire, Rachel Loseke and Sara Matayoshi. (I guess this is the order of the seasons each of them is playing, that's how they appear on this link to the event). The concert will also contain music by Arturo Marquez and Sibelius, and will be under the direction of cellist, Maryville High School Orchestra director, and all-around great guy, Matt Wilkinson. That will be at 7:30 on the 9th at the Clayton Center on the MC campus.

Speaking of all-around great guys, pianist Kevin Class has given the chamber music scene a good shot in the arm by scheduling a pair of concerts in his ongoing series of Brahms piano chamber works, focusing this “spring” on the Piano Trios. Starting on February 23rd, Kevin will host Ruth Bacon and UT Professor of cello, Wesley Baldwin in the passionate B Major Trio, and violinist Rachel Loseke and hornist Gray Ferris for the Horn Trio. The cycle will be completed on March 30th when I will join Kevin and Sara Matayoshi in the op. 87 C Major Trio. This is a first for me. I've always admired the work from afar, but now its time has come. Then the moody C Minor Trio will be played by Kevin, Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and  Wesley Baldwin. Closing out the show will be the epic Clarinet Trio, with cellist Stacy Miller and UT Professor of clarinet, Victor Chavez. These concerts are both at the Powell Recital Hall on the UT campus and start at 8:00.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Take Me Away, Carmen...

This week we are immersed in opera. Not just any opera, but Bizet's Carmen with the Knoxville Opera Company. Sure, we've all heard the tunes, but there's a whole lot more to it than just excerpted snippets. Playing the entire opera is an odyssey, and what you don't hear on commercials is even better than what you do hear.

I'm way out of college now, but I still can recall a certain grad school class at Umass where I was in way over my head: an opera survey class whose main textbook was written by music critic Joseph Kerman, entitled Opera as Drama. The premise of the book is that an opera's measure of success lay in how well the music is integrated with and contributes to the drama. Wanting a challenging elective, I signed up for the course, thinking “hey great, I'll learn a lot about opera!” I had no idea what kind of obstacle I had thrown in the path of receiving my Master's degree. In addition to the Kerman, there were cartloads of books in various languages and a listening list that was easily as long (remember, opera is a “real-time” art) as the entire spring semester of 1986. I just wanted to get out of there. I took FIVE auditions that spring! It was tooth-and-nail when grades came out, but I passed somehow.


It is nice- and easy- to see Kerman's premise in effect. Bizet's careful crafting of the melody to the characters' destinies has just as much to do with the work's success as does the sheer beauty of the melodies themselves. While it is thrilling to hear high c's and such in Italian (and other) opera, Carmen captures your heart largely without vocal pyrotechnics. A lot of Puccini, and the whole verismo movement seems to be derived from this work: textures, pacing and harmony. It's one of my favorite operas to play, and a work of art about which can truly be said, “there's a lot in it.” All this, wrapped up in “the French style,” can be YOURS this Friday (tomorrow) at 8:00 and Sunday matinee at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

In Love With Music, In Music with Love

It just wouldn't be Valentine's Day without a good dose of romantic hits from stage and screen. In fact, it isn't! It's actually a week before Valentine's Day, but Saturday night, Feb. 7th at 8:00, Broadway headliners Melissa Errico and Stephen Buntrock will join the KSO to present a treasure trove of movie and musical theater hits. I said it back in August, and I'll say it again here: your date will be really impressed when you are a full week early in beginning your Valentine's Day celebration. (Feb. 7th is actually Saint Colette's Day, according to the Franciscan calendar, and according to more than one source, it's both “Wave All Your Fingers At Your Neighbor Day” and “Ice Cream For Breakfast Day”).

And which hits, I hear you asking? Well, ok! The Guys and Dolls of the KSO will be Taking a Chance on The Music of the Night, and then a Wonderful Guy who's Got Rhythm is going to come out and pose the sad question, “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” Perhaps The Summer Knows. That's All He'll Ask of You, though, and next thing you know 76 Trombones will be Getting Married Today! Haha, not really, but I Dreamed a Dream that There Once Was a Man who let Luck Be his Lady. Poor guy, Anything You Can Do to help him would be appreciated.


Just to let you know, there is an Ice Bears game next door at the Coliseum at the same time as our show, so allow a little extra time for parking.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2015-16 Repertoire and Conductors Announced!

Whew, it's been quite a January. After briefly catching our breath, we'll be launching forthwith into preparations for Carmen and a romantic Broadway revue. In the meantime, the much-anticipated 2015-16 season has been announced, with an eclectic array of Music Director candidates. The “middle six” of the eight Masterworks concerts shall combine dynamic repertoire with diverse podium presences for a season that promises something for everyone, every time. All of the candidates will be conducting Masterworks concerts, as opposed to the previous (2003-2004 season) search, when two candidates led Masterworks and two led Chamber Classics shows. This avoids the resulting “apples to oranges” situation, wherein some players (and audience members) were not involved with the smaller chamber productions.

Especially in times of Music Director searches, we players become more in touch with a term called “guest conductor repertoire.” This is basically familiar, exciting works that a guest conductor can lead without having to completely redesign the orchestra's playing- repertoire that “plays itself.” Perfect examples of this are the Beethoven 7th Symphony and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I guess it could even be said that Strauss' Don Juan and Holst's Planets have crept into that category, as well.

Anyway, we LOVE doing this stuff. Beyond that, there will be world-class soloists providing us with a chance to encounter the conducting candidates' accompanying skills. Here is where a leader needs to know how to follow. The concerto repertoire for the season is not by any means far-flung, but each of the works has its own specific ensemble protocol. This alone should be a draw for the season, with solo repertoire such as violin concerti by Bruch and Barber, and piano concerti by Tchaikovsky and Mozart.


So log on to the KSO website, hover on “Tickets & Calendar,” and under “Categories,” a link to ALL of next seasons offerings will appear. Or just click here if you are already on the KSO website and want to see JUST the music director candidates' programs.