Monday, July 18, 2016

Sure-Fire Pops Series

The News Sentinel Pops series for the 2016-17 KSO season offers a range of attractions that appeal to Baby Boomers, Celtic music fans, and kids at heart. Two of our guest acts have been with us before, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Natalie MacMaster. The other four acts are Pet Sounds (a tribute to the Beach Boys), Mary Wilson from the Supremes, Windborne Music's tribute to Journey, and a showing of The Wizard of Oz with orchestral soundtrack accompaniment.

First off, on FRIDAY, October 7 at the Tennessee Theatre, 8:00, the Beach Boys trendsetting album Pet Sounds will be reproduced in its entirety, with giant hits Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, and God Only Knows topping the bill. On the second half will be a collection of the Boys' earlier hits, which scarcely need an introduction. Then on January 7, we're off to see- and play- the Wizard, which is just as good the 15th time you saw it as the first. I have a recent fond memory from this past March of watching this with my mother, who saw it first-run when she was 12. I sure hope the charts for it are available way early, because (typical of films of the Technicolor Age) the score is chock full of notes and details. (This show and all that follow will be on Saturday nights at the Civic Auditorium at 8. I have learned my lesson from two years in a row of misstating both the night and venue of the season's first Pops production, which will be on a Friday at the Tennessee Theatre).

Mary Wilson is a 60's survivor with a long list of humanitarian cred, and she will be bringing the Supremes catalog to the Civic on February 4. If this is going to be anything like last season's Fifth Dimension concert, you can expect to get up and dance. The question remains whether Ms Wilson will summon me to dance the way Florence LaRue did during the Fifth Dimension's show. Just in case, I had better get to work on some of those dance moves.

Next up on our Pops journey will be... Journey! Windborne Music has done it again, this time with Steve Perry and the gang's monster hits like Wheel in the Sky, Any Way You Want It, Lights, and two perennial wedding and karaoke favorites, Open Arms and Don't Stop Believin'. I personally hope they delve into Steve Perry's solo catalog, with songs like Oh, Sherrie and Foolish Heart. This will happen on March 11.

Natalie MacMaster will bring back her rollicking, dancing, fiddling extravaganza to us on April 8. (It isn't Saint Patrick's Day, but it IS National Zoo Lovers' Day)! Her stage persona is high-energy and her technique is jaw-dropping. Our Pops finale will be an encore appearance by Blood Sweat and Tears on May 6. While David Clayton Thomas is no longer with the group, the band has, over the decades, continued the tradition of tight coalition that made their eponymous 2nd album one of the most beloved discs ever. With songs like Spinning Wheel and You Made Me So Very Happy, it is one of my go-to albums when I need to hear something tight and tasty.


Tickets go on sale in August! Make plans now! http://www.knoxvillesymphony.com/events/pops/


Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Faces and Old Traditions on the Fourth

World's Fair Park, South Lawn! Tomorrow! The weather-guessers are in agreement that the likelihood of rain will be very low, and all Americans are agreement that this will be the most well-deserved Independence Day celebration ever. Our new Maestro Aram Demirjian will be at the helm, leading the KSO through heroic and traditional patriotic fare in his premiere as Music Director on the FREE 32nd annual Pilot/Flying J Independence Day concert.

The position of Music Director comes with a variety of opportunities to provide emotional leadership to a community through music, and just such an opportunity has arisen with the recent passing of Pat Summitt. One of his first duties will be honoring the legendary UT women's basketball coach with a moment of silence and a visual tribute (in conjunction with WBIR-TV Channel 10) that will play while the orchestra performs Rocky Top. There is no better venue than this great stage for Aram to get his baptism into Big Orange Country.

The larger civic celebration known as Festival on the Fourth will be a bigger-than-ever party, with special touches (such as the base of the Sunsphere being illuminated with red, white and blue lights in honor of Knoxville's 225th anniversary) and a variety of entertainment options throughout the day. Earlier in the day on the South Lawn, Americana band Kelsey's Woods will be performing at 4:15, and pop/rock cover band Fourkast will perform at 6:15. The KSO's performance,will start at 8, while the fuse of the fireworks display will be lit at 9:35.


Come out and see us! And fly that flag high!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Passing of a True Leader

The world has lost a true leader with the death of Pat Summitt, former Lady Vols basketball coach and the winningest coach in any college sport, period. She was the face of collegiate women's basketball for more than 40 years as a player, Olympian, and coach. Her accomplishments earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and status as one of the most beloved public figures in Tennessee history. There is some common ground between the UT Women's basketball program and the Knoxville Symphony.

As part of a strong tradition of hosting celebrity guest conductors at the annual Ijams Nature Center concerts, Ms. Summitt led the KSO in an unforgettable rendition of The Tennessee Waltz in Sept. of ‘97. Before she gave the downbeat, however, she made an amusing “substitution.” She called out then-principal flutist Rob Cronin and instructed second flutist Jennifer Regan to take over first flute, claiming that Rob was suffering from a condition she called “loser’s limp.” During the ensuing performance, Pat looked at Larisa Bairomova and I on the front stand of cellos, and with arms waving, asked “How am I doing?” but the look on her face clearly indicated “WHAT am I doing?” I thank the day that I decided to become a musician, for it led me to that point where I would be sharing the stage with such a strong leader.

My wife and I would later be in contact with Ms. Summitt at AYSO soccer and Knox Youth Sports basketball games, where she graciously shared her knowledge of athletics and competition. She was the most amazing “soccer mom” you could ever wish to meet. Our son Thomas played with (and alas, against) her son Tyler in various venues across the county. I was just tickled pink one day when she approached me postgame with a box of Krispy Kremes. The smile on her face was just as radiant and real as her infamous “game face” stare was menacing. It was fulfilling to be acquainted with that side of her.


Memorial gifts may be made to The Pat Summitt Foundation by visiting www.patsummitt.org/donate .


The stare...


...and the smile of success


Thursday, June 23, 2016

String Camp Gets In Gear

It's not spring any more, but it is string season with the KSO Youth Orchestras' String Camp! More than 200 violinists, violists, cellists and bassists are descending upon Hardin Valley Academy's Music Department to build toward a final concert Friday, June 24 at 2:30. I am privileged to be a part of it this year, and my work with the kids in the cello sections has been sheer joy. They are not merely a talented bunch, (and it's a big bunch!) but inquisitive and courteous as well.

Four ensembles are derived from the total student body: the Prelude, Overture, Intermezzo and Finale. Conductors of these groups and combinations thereof are Erin Archer, Kathy Hart, Wesley Baldwin, Nina Missildine Mikos and James Fellenbaum. An overriding theme of the camp's repertoire is music of the movies, with selections from Starwars, The Avengers, The Sound of Music, and others being offered.

I have included some fine photographs of the proceedings at camp by Faithful Photography. Enjoy! Better yet, come on out tomorrow to see our talented musicians make sweet summer music.




Dan Thompson leads a contingent of bassists


Sarah Ringer with a passel of violinists


Yours truly demonstrating a pizzicato moment


Erin Archer leading the Prelude Orchestra


What it's all about.




Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Conductor Announcement!

The news is out! The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra has named Aram Demirjian as its 8th Music Director, after an exhaustive search stretching back to October of 2014. Holding a master's in conducting from New England Conservatory, he will be making a jump from his post at the Kansas City Symphony where, among other things, he initiated a weeknight concert series entitled “Classics Uncorked,” akin to our “Scotch and Strings” and “Beer and Beethoven” endeavors. His youthful enthusiasm and genuine personality were hits with the selection committee. There is a subtle circularity to Aram's appointment here. One of his mentors, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Spano, can claim as his first music teacher Bernice Dryer, the mother of the recently deceased KSO violinist Norris Dryer.

From the musicians' standpoint, the wide range of the candidates' conducting styles and the spectrum of repertoire they've chosen have forged the orchestra into a formidable performing unit. (Cue Dwight Schrute from The Office giving that speech- “WE ARE WARRIORS!!”) We eagerly await the repertoire choices Maestro Demirjian (pronounced “de-MURR-gin”) makes to complement the solo repertoire which was chosen last November.


It has been a long journey with many high points. We can't wait to see what the Maestro has in store for us!


Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Road to Tanzania

As the KSO's 80th season winds down, it's an opportunity to take a look at what some members of our orchestra will be doing this summer.  There is one more concert, and it's tonight at 7:30 at Maryville's Theatre in the Park.  You guessed it, it's an outdoor concert, but the rain should be ending any minute now.  Resident Conductor Jim Fellenbaum will lead us in a fun, family-friendly show that is a repeat of our Market Square concert (which actually happened at the Bijou).  After that, it looks like HEAVY PARTYING as we await the announcement (annunciation?) of the selection of our new Music Director.


As happened in a previous summer, principal clarinetist Gary Sperl will be flying across the pond to teach with the Daraja Music Initiative in Moshi, Tanzania.  Actually, his previous stint there was for an entire school year, (during which Peter Cain was our principal clarinetist), but rest assured, he will be back in the fall for the new MD's first season.  He will be joined by violist Hillary Herndon and violinist Rachel Loseke this summer in this VOLUNTEER teaching mission.  Gary's project there started a while back and is also known as Clarinets for Conservation.  In addition to the obvious music education value, C4C seeks to educate about the plight of the mpingo tree, which is unique to Tanzania and from which comes the wood used to make clarinets.  Last summer Hillary started a sister project called Daraja Strings, which involved some of her UT students.  Rachel is very excited about the trip, and has set up a Gofundme account to help defray costs.  Hillary also has set up a fundraising mechanism through UT called Volstarter, which can be accessed byclicking here.  We wish them the best of luck this summer!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Grand (Opera) Finale

The KSO's May Masterworks concert pair offers a grand opportunity for grand opera music.  The centerpiece of the concerts will be The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure, which is music from the four operas making up Wagner's Ring cycle, arranged by Henk de Vlieger.  The lighter side of this music was presented in January, 2015 as part of our “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” Pops concert, along with footage of Bugs and Elmer as Siegfried and Brunhilde.  While there won't be any singing on our concert, there will be a massive orchestra featuring a rarely heard instrument that was invented just for these operas: the Wagner Tuba.  (And please remember, his name is pronounced “VOG-ner”). The Wagner tuba is an instrument that is doubled by French horn players.  I can't find the words to describe the difference between a French horn's sound and a Wagner tuba's sound, but the difference is real, and worth coming out to experience.  One unusual thing about this concert is the presence of not one but TWO pieces of music that have offstage brass.  At two different points in the Wagner, principal horn Jeffery Whaley will step off the stage and play the vaunted Siegfried horn calls that every horn player loves.


Our Wagner Tuba Quartet, from left: Sean Donovan, Mark Harrell, Mitzi Hall, Katie Johnson.


A better look at the Wagner tuba (right) compared to French horn (left).


The concert will open with Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, one of four overtures Beethoven composed for various productions of his opera Fidelio.  More like a movement of a symphony than an overture per se, this work features principal trumpet Chase Hawkins rendering two fanfares from different parts of the house.  There is also a demonically difficult violin lick shortly after the fanfares, you can't miss it.  The work is considered the best of the four overtures Beethoven composed for Fidelio, but it has been criticized for overwhelming the music which follows it in the opera-- in essence, for being TOO good.

Between the Beethoven and the Wagner comes a work which is decidedly not from 19th-century Germany.  American composer Christopher Theofanidis (rhymes with “free this”) has written a three-movement suite based on Australian aboriginal creation myths.  Theofanidis' musical language is reminiscent of Adam Schoenberg, whose Finding Rothko we performed last month, and of Gian Carlo Menotti.  I find it remarkable that the four horns that lead off the work seem louder than the 11 (or so) horns that populate the Wagner orchestra.

A special tribute will be offered after the Beethoven. Keyboardist Carol Zinavage, who is resigning at the end of the season, will be honored for her 31 years of playing with the orchestra.  When I was new in town, she and I became fast friends, and soon began a long string of (roughly) annual recital collaborations.  We discovered that our musical interests had a lot of overlap, especially concerning Rock n' Roll, and it was so heartening to know another person who “gets” my sense of humor.  We'll miss ya, Carol!