Tuesday, September 16, 2014

OPENING NIGHT!!

Here comes the 2014-15 Masterworks season, opening up this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 with Music of Torke , Hindemith and Brahms! Bright Blue Music by Michael Torke (pronounced TOR-key) leads off the show. Colorful and intricate, perky and amiable best describe this synesthetically conceived work. It lopes along like a quick-ish Mahler ländler with some tricky antiphonal passages. Torke's work was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra, led by David Alan Miller. Some of you who have been here a while may recall that Mr. Miller was a candidate for Music Director of the KSO when Maestro Richman was hired. Interesting bit of circularity, that.

Finishing the first half of the concert will be a work akin to the Kodaly Hary Janos Suite that was performed on last season's opening concert: Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (I know that title is a mouthful; let's just call it Symphonic Metamorphosis). In fact, back in the days of wine and vinyl, the Kodaly was often backed with the Hindemith on a single lp. So if you liked the Kodaly, you shall surely like the Hindemith. Whereas Kodaly took his inspiration from Hungarian folk tunes, Hindemith drew on his own unique musical language and some early Weber opera dances to create a very engaging and exciting work. Hindemith rearranged the traditional harmonic structure to make a new language which relied heavily on the interval of a fourth, as in jazz. The orchestra for this work requires all of the extra wind instruments and uses them well. The brass writing throughout (but especially just before the end) is simply thrilling. A musical theorist as well as a composer, Hindemith's textbook, Elementary Training for Musicians, gives countless music students fits in college Ear Training class. One blogger described this exhaustive compendium as “an all-purpose torture device for the masochistic musician.” In addition to sight-singing exercises from hell, there are protocols for every possible issue that could arise when printing music. I still refer to it to resolve logistical issues. The Metamorphosis cello part has Hindemith's trademark music font that takes me right back to that Ear Training class every time.


If Hindemith's re-imagining of the traditional harmonic system doesn't quite suit you, then move over, Rover, and let Brahms take over! Brahms' First Piano Concerto is the final work on the program, unusual for a concerto. This early work is symphonic in nature with the piano often contributing to an orchestral texture, rather than simply being “backed up” by the orchestra. It is full of Romantic passion and tenderness typical of what a 25-year-old is equipped with. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker will be our soloist. It's always nice to visit a concert soloist's blog, which you can do here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Weekend (Links)

In this final weekend before the KSO's Masterworks series get revved up, there are a few events going on to capture your musical attention.

Tomorrow night (that's Sept. 12, if you have a calendar) at 8:00, there will be a collaboration between UT's Music Department, The Confucius Institutes of both UT and MTSU, and the Confucius Classroom at King's Academy, in a production called Where East Meets West: An Evening of Opera and Song. Chinese opera is an ancient art, with programmed works dating back as many as 15 centuries. This production will take place in the beautiful Powell Recital Hall at UT's Haslam Music Building, and it's FREE.

Post-show victuals will definitely be more enjoyable with the accompaniment of music produced by three cellos. Starting at 10:00, at the Jig and Reel in the Old City where there is NO COVER CHARGE, Beatles cover band Norwegian Wood's Cello Trio edition will perform until 1:00 a.m. Players are Alexia Pantanizopoulos, Georgia Sinko, and yours truly. We will be playing some mind-blowing arrangements of Beatles and related tunes, tangos, light classics-- and of course, some jigs and reels.

The very next day at 2, the Oak Ridge Community Orchestra's first concert under its new Music Director and Conductor will happen on Saturday, Sept. 13 at First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge. When I tell you WHO this new Maestro is, you may be surprised-- or, then again, if you're aware of his many talents, you may not be. It's none other than the KSO's own Concertmaster, Gabe Lefkowitz! Gabe will lead this respected group through music of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Khachaturian. A press release for this FREE event can be found here.

I am not finished performing this weekend in the wee hours of Saturday morning. After a short snooze, my OTHER band, Kukuly sand the Gypsy Fuego, will performing at Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House, 3725 Maryville Pike. Our set for this“Smokin' Day Festival” starts at 5:00 and goes for an hour. This acoustic trio will delve into Western Swing, Samba, Tango, and Gypsy Jazz. The music is FREE, but a wristband that grants you all you care to eat can be had for $20.

That's it! Just one more week before opening night! Stay tuned for more about that...



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Remembering Árpád Jóo

The world has lost a fine Maestro. On July 4th of this year, former KSO music director Árpád Jóo (pronounced “Yo”) passed away from a heart attack in Singapore. His hiring at age 25 in 1973 made him the orchestra's fourth principal conductor, and its youngest ever-- in fact, at that time he was the youngest ever Music Director/Conductor of a metropolitan orcestra in US history.  Entering the Kodály School of Music at the tender age of 6, he was taken under the wing of Zoltán Kodály himself, and the two shared a long friendship up until the Kodály's death in 1967. A fine pianist before his conducting career, he was awarded first prize in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Boston at age 20.

His career after Knoxville saw him guest-conducting around the world, and led him to positions with the Calgary Philharmonic, the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra in Madrid, and several orchestras in his native Budapest. Jóo's 1980 recordings (LPs) of the complete orchestral works of Bartok on the Sefel label were lauded by major critical media: Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, even Sports Illustrated. His recordings of complete orchestral works of Liszt and Kodály also have withstood the test of time, although sadly these don't seem to have been transferred to digital media.

The KSO will be dedicating the September Masterworks pair to Maestro Jóo, in recognition of accomplishments during his tenure in Knoxville. His passion, vision, and interpretation set the bar high for future music directors and players alike, and his establishment of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra program has proven to be an amazing gift to the community that still bears fruit today.


Here is a link to Árpád Jóo's biography page on the KSO website.

Hereis a link to a memorial article from the city he went to after Knoxville, in the Calgary Herald.

Here is a link to a video of Maestro Jóo leading the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra in a segment from Wagner's Die Walküre from 1989.

Friday, August 29, 2014

It's Quartet time in Tennessee!

It has started. The long-distance run that leads up to the KSO Principal Quartet's November 2 Concert at the Bijou. Our first rehearsal on three new (to us) works. Principal Violist Katie Gawne stated that it is amazing (and a relief!) that in spite of taking the summer, it was easy to slip back into the level and style of quartet playing that we have been tweaking and honing over the last two years. It's easy to play at a high level when there is give-and-take, respect, and care. It's great to be back!

The Beethoven Op. 132 and Shostakovich 8th Quartets are iconic, monumental works that challenge, and ultimately define, an ensemble's sound. Angelica is a classic-to-be written by Venezuelan native Efrain Amaya based on the Legends of Charlemagne. An added challenge is that soon after this repertoire was chosen and programmed, scheduling intricacies dictated that the concert would not be in its usual early April niche, but JUST AFTER HALLOWEEN. This adds up to a prep period that is five months shorter than usual.

The 8th Quartet of Shostakovich was borne on broken wings and broken dreams of freedom, written in three days almost a year to the day before I was born. He had just been diagnosed with ALS, and had recently reluctantly joined the Communist Party. This is a tragic work, there is no doubt, but really, what great Russian works aren't at least half-tragic? Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, Boris Godunov, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Ballet are gut-wrenching all the way, but even the Nutcracker and everything Rachmaninov wrote can bring you tears before leaving you with a smile on your face. Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussourgsky, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich; the progressive overlap of their lifetimes and musical palettes is startlingly obvious.

Whereas Shostakovich wrote music that is distinctly "Russian," Beethoven did not intentionally write "German Music." We as players and listeners often have trouble separating Beethoven The Man from his country, but to him it was just "music." He ran for the great Germanic relay race team of composers, taking the baton from Mozart and Haydn and handing it off to Brahms while Weber, Mendelssohn, and Schumann cheered them on. Beethoven's early works, informed by his predecessors, respected the templates and forms of the day, but you can tell the music is just bursting at its formal seams, like a chrysalis breeding the Romantic Era. We were always told that Beethoven was half-Classical and half-Romantic; some teachers even had the nerve to call him "transitional." Beethoven was a compositional period unto himself. He was... The Man.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014-15 Pops Line-Up

The KSO's Pops series for this coming season will be 150% percent bigger than it was last year! Six concerts instead of four, each one at 8:00 pm at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, and each one spotlighting a wildly different hue in the Pops spectrum. (Note that all are Saturday nights except the October 3 concert, which is a Friday).

Our first touring revue will be bringing some herbs-- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, to be specific. AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle put on an unbelievable show that will leave you Feelin' Groovy. (Interesting that one of the gentlemen is named Beedle; I'd always thought of Simon and Garfunkel as “America's Beatles”). So c'mon and take that Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine across the Bridge Over Troubled Water to the Civic Auditorium on FRIDAY, October 3, before she says Bye Bye, Love!

From the sublime to the... What's Up, Pops?! Bugs Bunny cartoons with a live orchestra? Sufferin' Succotash! I've heard that music a lot. I have kids and I WAS one; really still am one, as you can plainly see. It sounds really difficult, wish us luck! Anyone who ever was a kid should come to the Civic on Saturday, January 17, and get ready to see some new 3D short films of Tweety Bird and Wiley Coyote!

Broadway artists Melissa Errico and Stephen Buntrock will share romantic music from stage and screen on February 7. Les Mis, Phantom, West Side Story, you know you want it. You fellers out there, if you really love your girl, Wouldn't it Be Loverly to do something special like this for her a FULL WEEK before Valentine's Day? (And more than just chocolates from Walgreen's on the actual holiday, one would hope).

You've seen them on the Tonight Show, Letterman, and Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve, or maybe you were fortunate enough to catch the Broadway show The Jersey Boys. The Midtown Men will be Workin' Their Way Back to the “boy groups” of the 60's and 70's on March 14. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rascals, and of course Franki Valli and the Four Seasons will all be heard-- there's a mother lode of material there and it will be just the right Time of the Season to hear it all again.

I knew it would happen some day, and on April 11 it shall: a chance to play the music of Queen. Rock n' Roll for sure, but WAAAAAAYY more than three chords. Windborne's Music of Queen will Rock You!! I'm at a loss for song titles in this segment because, well, y'know... My favorite Queen songs are Bicycle Race, Party, Killer Queen, and Tie your Mother Down, to give you an idea of what to expect. Bohemian Rhapsody and I go all the way back to it's release in April of 1976, my freshman year in high school. My parents and I had gone to the Outer Banks for April vacation; it was in the upper 90's for 4 days straight, all the way up into Northern New England. I was on a towel with a transistor radio, waiting impatiently for WNBC to play it. The hottest ever Boston Marathon, called “The Run for the Hoses,” began at noon on APRIL 19, 1976 when the temperature was 100 degrees. That's hot.

Elvis Presley recorded hundreds of songs. There's no telling what Terry Mike Jeffrey will pull out of his Blue Suede Shoes on May 9, and That's All Right! By the time I was listening to pop music, Elvis was into things like Suspicious Minds, Burnin' Love, and Kentucky Rain. I kindly missed the boat on all of the earlier Elvis hubbub, I'm sort of a latent baby boomer. But I'm sure Love Me Tender was a slow dance at the prom for some of you...

Talk about something for everyone!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ivory in the Balance

A recent federal administrative action that has affected string players and string instrument collectors is the “Ivory Ban,” an effort by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to strengthen the Endangered Species Act by restricting and regulating border crossings of items containing ivory. The ultimate purpose of this effort, enacted in February and “soft-pedalled” in May, is to increase the crackdown on poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia. That, in and of itself is a righteous goal, but...

I don't usually have a political bee in my bonnet, and this is perhaps an unusual forum for such a topic, but already this edict has proven troublesome to touring orchestras and international artists entering the US. Already some unsuspecting string players have had bows confiscated (and, I assume, destroyed) by TSA agents because of a nickle-sized piece of ivory in the tips of their bows. This has been the preferred material for protecting the end of the bow stick for centuries, although more recent bow makers have switched to different materials since 1976. Occasionally there may also be ivory in the frog of the bow, or in the pegs of the instrument. Only ivory installed before February 26, 1976 is permitted to enter, and then only with valid CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) documentation. (February 26, 1976 is the date on which African elephants were placed on the endangered species list).

The CITES documentation is predictably complicated at seven pages long. The fact is that the majority of people can't tell real ivory from synthetic, let alone legal ivory from illegal. Hundreds of bows (which hardly ever have a date stamped on them) change owners daily, mostly without any papers, and if you ask any party involved in those exchanges, they would more than likely be unaware of the ivory content. You try out a bow, and if it feels right and does the things you want it to do, (and you can afford it), you buy it, whether it has papers or not. High-end bows ($30-50,000) are affected by this because replacing their ivory invalidates their authenticity and endangers their integrity. To be sure, we are not talking about factory-made equipment that comes with an owner's manual and a bar code.


String players are just one demographic who are affected by this ban. While it is doubtful they would show up at the gate, countless old pianos are out there with ivory keys-- including one in the White House, I have heard. Sax and trumpet keys may have ivory caps. Cue balls for billiard sets, pistol handles, to say nothing of primitive art and jewelry. I do truly care about the plight of the elephants. It's just that I am skeptical that criminalizing musicians (and others) and placing their equipment at the mercy and whim of some airport employee is going to do anything to stop even one poacher from acting-- or bring dead elephants back to life.

I have included a list of links for further information, as the matter is so complicated that I can only scratch the surface of what is going on with this issue here. 

The website www.violinist.com offers some general tips for travelling with instruments here .

This League of American Orchestras posting offers some more specific tips and links to the numerous websites that hone in on how to at least try to stay within the law.

President Obama's National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking (a pdf) can be found here.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service gives us here an overview of what can and cannot be done with ivory.

Here is the USFWS's guide to travelling internationally with a musical instrument, expanding its scope to endangered plant life such as pernambuco wood, from which the finest bows tend to be made. Good luck.

Here is an article from Time with links about the "soft-pedalling" of the original act.




Friday, August 8, 2014

P's and Q's

It's time to talk about our new Q-Series! Five Wednesday noons at the Square Room, starting September 24. Tickets will go on sale August 18th at $15.00 apiece. Any remaining tickets will be $20.00 the day of the show, so act quickly to take advantage of this great package deal! Your ticket includes a boxed lunch supplied by Cafe 4, one of downtown's classiest lunch spots. The soundtrack to your lunch hour will be provided by the KSO's Principal Woodwind Quintet and/or Principal String Quartet (repertoire TBA).

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Our violist and violinist husband-and-wife team, Louis Diez and Anileys Bermudez, are proud parents of Thomas Rafael Diez, born Monday, August 4 at 6:01 p.m.! Congratulations to them, and welcome, Thomas, to the One Big Happy Family that is the KSO!



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I couldn't pass up this meme which showed up on my Facebook feed, it is sort of nerdy, but at the same time, enlightening. Composers' penmanship is an interesting study. Some are painstakingly clear in spite of their famously abundant output, (Bach, Mendelssohn), while Beethoven's handwriting so messy it's a wonder anything can be determined from the manuscript. Here is a sampling of Treble Clefs from ten legendary composers. Top row: Bach, Haydn Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. Bottom row: Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel.