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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Hi, It's been a while, how are you? A lot of water has passed under the bridge since my last post, it's just a dizzying pace at which we proceed. I will offer a glimpse of what's coming up this Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, but also a reflection on the last two weeks. 

My 200-something-year-old cello and I have been battling the forces of age and physics- and each other- to hammer out some sort of an agreement with the opening solo in Rossini's Overture to William Tell. One of the most famous solos in the literature, the cello starts with an e-minor arpeggio, (depicting a sunrise), and is soon joined by 4 more solo celli. But wait, here comes a B-7 arpeggio! All told, there are five arpeggios in the opening Andante. HOW MANY SUNS ARE GOING TO RISE!? WHAT PLANET ARE WE ON?! The last one ends on a note so high that only dogs can hear it. (I asked my dog Lucy if it's in tune, and she held out her paw, so I guess it was good). Directly, the violins start a wavering figure that signals a storm brewing, after which the English Horn plays a most amazing little idyllic solo that I'm pretty sure you will recognize from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The final “gallop” is famous for being the theme from The Lone Ranger, also known to some East Tennessee children as “the How.” (You know, “Hoooow Silver!!!!)”

Phew. After a visit to Mozart's Piano Concerto #25, (which we will rehearse Tuesday evening with Conrad Tao as soloist), guest maestro James Feddeck will lead us through a performance of the Symphony No. 3 of Felix Mendelssohn (the “Scottish”). My junior year in high school was quite forgettable, especially given that I received a D-minus in the most boring class I have ever taken, 18th-century British literature. The highlight of that course, though, came the day we watched a movie (yes, SUPER 8) about this very symphony. It contained dramatic views of the lochs and verdant moors found in the Scottish countryside, and the turbulent seas surrounding it. Mendelssohn's picturesque music grabbed my attention, and since then I have always looked forward to playing the work. 


Here's a look back at early March's doings and goings-on.

The Midtown Men were a kick! They made the scene and rocked the house this past Saturday night with a "boss" revue of 60's Pop. I sure never thought I would get to play Time of the Season by the Zombies! Here is their "selfie" with the Civic Auditorium audience...

Just a few days earlier, the KSO core strings joined forces with the Oak Ridge High School orchestra in a concert of music by Bach, Mozart, Holst, and Warlock. This shot is of the combined forces, their three ensembles (totaling more than 200 players!) and ours. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

March's Marvels

March is going to feature some old favorites and some new ground. Q Series, Masterworks and especially Pops (with the Midtown Men) are going to be mining the mother lode of our musical memories. At the other end of the month, Knoxville's indefinable avant-garde happening, the Big Ears Festival, will involve a bevy of our players for the first time.

Next in sight is the Jersey Boys cast performing boy-group and vocal ensemble hits from the 60s and 70s. The Turtles, the Zombies, the Mamas and the Papas, and especially the Four Seasons will all be well represented. That's next Saturday at 8 at the Civic Auditorium, aka the “Mike and Gloria Stivik Auditorium." (If you get this reference, then this is just the show for you).

On the 19th and 20th, The Masterworks Series will guest-host a maestro (James Feddeck) and a pianist (Conrad Tao) in a traditional concert of must-see standards. How standard, you say? Try Rossini's Overture to William Tell and Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony. The cello quintet that opens the Rossini is some of the most sublime music ever, the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25 refreshingly is NOT one of the “big 3” Mozart concerti, and Mendelssohn gives us his take on the land of Robert Burns, Arthur Conan Doyle, and- these creatures...

Another old Mendelssohn favorite, one which I have waited 34 years to perform since my first time, (Jimmy Carter was president, good grief!) is his String Quartet, op. 44, No. 1. Again, one of those works that needs a better title than just a bunch of numbers. I bet if I said this is the 450SL, 911S or TR4A of string quartets, you would know what I meant. This work will be among others presented at the Q Series on March 25th at noon at the Square Room on Market Square.

Finally, on the 29th of March, a very interesting re-imagining of Vivaldi's Four Seasons by German Composer Max Richter will happen. This will be a small part of the weekend-long Big Ears Festival that boasts the Kronos Quartet, Laurie Anderson, guitarist Bill Frisell, and composer Terry Riley, among many others, as guests. 

As if that wasn't enough, The Principal String Quartet and Principal Flutist Nick Johnson will join harpist Cindy Hicks will perform a recital of music for flute, harp and strings on Thursday, March 12 at 7:30 pm. at First Baptist Church downtown. This is a beautiful venue (as you can see below) for any kind of music, but especially harp music.

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.