Thursday, February 16, 2017

BRILLIANT FIREBIRD, AND A PAGE TURNING

The KSO's Masterworks series rolls on this week with a feisty Glinka overture, Beethoven's first piano concerto, a dance suite by groundbreaking composer Florence Price, and Stravinsky's vivid Firebird Suite. Guest maestra Mei-Ann Chen will direct, accompanying piano soloist Lise de la Salle in the Beethoven. It will be one of the last chances to catch Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz on the Masterworks stage, as he soon concludes his tenure with the KSO this spring, before he devotes his energy to his Concertmasterly duties solely with the Louisville Orchestra.

Ms Chen's energy on the podium is abundant, and she had some great analogies to make the orchestra go beyond the notes and play the music. She recently concluded her tenure as Music Director of the Memphis Symphony and currently leads the Chicago Sinfonietta, in addition to guest appearances worldwide. She is also a champion of the music of Florence Price, whose Dances in the Canebrakes we are performing this Thursday and Friday.

Florence Price was an early 20th-century African-American composer who was born in Arkansas and educated in Boston at the New England Conservatory, and in Chicago, where she studied composition with Leo Sowerby, among others. Her music may remind you of that of William Grant Still, whose African-American Symphony was performed on the Tennessee Theatre stage in November. That is not merely a coincidence, as both he and Ms Price both grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Dances in the Canebrakes was orchestrated by Still from Price's piano suite. It has an easy-going, Southern manner, and frankly, I can't get it out of my head right now.

That would be a good way to describe the effects that the rest of the program should have as well. Glinka's classic Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla is the epitome of punchiness, with its great tunes and breakneck pace. Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 probably holds that tune in your head you've been trying to identify for the last two weeks. The Firebird Suite is one of the “Big 3” Stravinsky ballet scores; be ready for THE most startling fortissimo wake-up chord in history, which starts Kashchei's Dance after the lush Rondes des princesses has pacified you.

That's Thursday and Friday, February 16 and 17 at the Tennessee Theatre, 7:30!


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We knew the day would come, when our esteemed concertmaster would attain to and achieve higher ground, and that day has arrived, as you have read recently. In August, Gabe Lefkowitz was selected to be concertmaster for the Louisville Orchestra, after holding that position with us here in Knoxville since 2010. This season he has been splitting his time with both groups; how is that even possible?!


The Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends Concertmaster Series brought a needed new chamber music twist to the KSO's programming, with a humble beginning at Remedy Coffee in the Old City, and graduating to its current home at the Knoxville Museum of Art. I always asked myself, how on earth did he learn so much music so well at such an early age? Add to that performances of concertos by Mozart, Korngold, and (next month!) Brahms, carry the Paganini, and that equals a large sum of music. It was not merely “chops and charts,” however, that won everyone over. Gabe is well-read in music and out of it, and leads an active, robust lifestyle that most men his age just wish for. Tumbling, tennis and triathlon are just the “leisure-time” activities of his that start with a “T.” None of this would matter, though, if he wasn't a thoroughly nice guy with a huge heart, and that's the part about him that I will miss the most. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

KSO Concertmaster News

The KSO Seeks its Next Concertmaster – Two Auditions this Spring!


With the departure of KSO Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz at the end of the current season, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is now in the process of searching for a new Concertmaster. Much like the search several years ago, two finalists will be invited to perform as a guest concertmaster on a Moxley Carmichael Masterworks program with the Orchestra in March and April 2017 led by Music Director Aram Demirjian, as well as present a solo recital with piano accompaniment.

Each recital will be held at 8:00 p.m. at the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the main campus of Pellissippi State Community College located off Hardin Valley Road. A map of the campus and parking areas can be found below. Recitals will take place on the following dates:



Recitals will last approximately one hour and include a question-and-answer session, allowing patrons to get to know our finalists. These recitals are free to attend, and no tickets are required. Mark your calendars for the following concerts at the Tennessee Theatre where the finalists will perform as guest concertmasters:




William Shaub


Born in 1992 in Canton, Ohio, William Shaub was a recipient of the Louis Persinger Scholarship as a student at the Juilliard School, where he studied with Cho-Liang Lin and Masao Kawasaki and received the bachelor's and master's degrees in five years. Shaub performed his concerto debut with the Canton Symphony Orchestra at age 12 and has since performed as a soloist and in recitals throughout the United States. He made his recital debut in New York as one of ten "Exceptional Young Artists" at the Starling-DeLay Symposium at Juilliard and he is the winner of an inaugural Zarin Mehta Fellowship with the New York Philharmonic Global Academy.  Shaub has served as concertmaster of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, the Music Academy of the West Festival Orchestra, the Juilliard Orchestra, and Rice University’s Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra. During his time at Juilliard, he led the conductorless Juilliard Chamber Orchestra at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. He performs on a violin made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, from 1865.

 Vivek Jayaraman

Vivek Jayaraman (Vi-VAKE Ja-yah-RAH-mahn) is currently Concertmaster of the Canton Symphony Orchestra and a member of the Florida Orchestra in St. Petersburg, FL. As a Concertmaster, Vivek has performed regularly with the New World Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland, and the Shreveport Symphony. He recently completed an Artist Diploma in Concertmaster Studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music studying with Cleveland Orchestra Concertmaster, William Preucil. Additionally, Vivek has performed as a section musician with The Cleveland Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.  In addition to his studies at the Cleveland Institute, Vivek received a Bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music studying with Charles Castleman and a Master’s degree in Orchestral Performance from Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Glenn Dicterow, former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. Vivek plays a modern violin built in 2005 by Roger Graham Hargrave on generous loan from a dear friend.

authored by the KSO Communications Dept.



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bohemians in Paris

This weekend, the KSO will collaborating with the Knoxville Opera Company to produce Puccini's La Bohème, on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. This staple of the opera literature, written in 1896, hovers in the top three of the most frequently performed operas worldwide, and for good reason. It is the Puccini opus previous to his Tosca, which the KOC and KSO performed “progressive-dinner” style last spring. Puccini foreshadowed themes for Bohème in his embryonic Capriccio Sinfonico, performed on the October, 2016 Masterworks pairs. If you attended that concert, the themes should sound wicked familiar to you.

As a reaction to the rash of historical operas that dominated Italian opera in the late 19th and early 20th century, a new style of work called verismo opera became popular, seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the Scapigliatura or “disheveled” Italian poetry movement of the 1860s, and incorporating “slice-of-life” elements found in the writings of Zola, Maupassant and Ibsen. Other composers such as Giordano, Leoncavallo and Mascagni carried the torch of the verismo phenomenon, but Bohème put verismo- and Puccini- on the map to stay.

I have a long history with Bohème. In the crowd scene in Act II, there's a singing part for an extremely young child, the task of which fell to our son Richard in the KOC's February, 2003, production at age 7. So every time we get to rehearsal number 13 in Act II, I get this nervous feeling in my stomach as I recall the anxiety that came with the huge buildup to this spotlit moment, regardless of who is singing it.

Anyway, there shouldn't be any anxiety on the listener's part, as Puccini's score is chock-full of achingly beautiful phrases and grandly boisterous scenes, and the tragic ending doesn't mar the effect of some truly comical moments. Come on down to the Tennessee Theatre Friday at 7:30 or Sunday at 2:30 for a whirlwind trip to Paris!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Quintessential Quartets at UT's Recital Hall

Please join the Principal Quartet on Sunday, January 29, 2:30 as we present two highly celebrated works by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Note that we are in a new venue for this concert, the posh new Powell Recital Hall at the Haslam Music Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee. Parking for this concert should be readily available in Lot 23, or in meter spaces (meters will NOT be in effect) on Volunteer Boulevard.

Although not known primarily for his chamber music, Tchaikovsky nonetheless hit a home run with his op. 11 Quartet No. 1 in D, from 1871.  Buoyed by the success of his tone poem Romeo and Juliet, and encouraged by Russia's “Group of 5” composers, (Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky Rimsky-Korsakov, and especially, Balakirev), Tchaikovsky led the charge in creating a uniquely Russian musical language and aesthetic.  The centerpiece of the work is the Andante cantabile second movement, a work often excerpted and arranged for string orchestra.  Notice the use of mutes by the players in this movement to create a divinely serene atmosphere, and the “Amen cadence” at the end which holds further divine connotations.  (Whereas most music is based on cadences that travel from “V” to “I,” the Amen cadence progresses from “IV” to “I” after firmly establishing the “I” or tonic).  The transparent, open harmonies of the first movement and Scherzo led one early reviewer to dub the work “the Accordion.”  The nickname would have seemed derogatory if the accordion was not more reputable in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe.


Both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are “used to” having their works be concert closers, so a quandary arose when deciding concert order for this program.  It might seem “normal” to go from old to new, but in this case, we had to consider how each work ended.  No other Beethoven quartet ends with a fugue, and no other fugue by any composer PERIOD holds such excitement and madcap verve, except for MAYBE the finale of Mendelssohn's Octet.  If the Op. 18 quartets are the book of Genesis of Beethoven's quartet output, the Op. 59's are surely the Psalms.  All through the work, there are sudden outbursts of virtuosic playing that one cannot leave unattended in one's practice.  I was introduced to one particularly famous (or infamous) cello lick when I was 19, and have been working on it assiduously in the 20 years since.  (Little humor there. “Yeah! Very little!”)  The “dance movement” of this work is a minuet which leads into the fugal finale via a coda; a scherzo would have been too much given the fugue's intensity.

Fasten your seatbelts!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Czech Out Our January Concert!

Our busy January continues with Masterworks on Thursday and Friday, January 19 and 20, 7:30, with guest Maestro Andrew Grams leading the orchestra through a Smetana tone poem and Dvorak's 6th Symphony in D.  Our guest violin soloist will be Bella Hristova, performing Sibelius' jaw-dropping Violin Concerto. All three works were written between 1875 and 1903, but they couldn't be more different in content and scope.

The concert will start with Šárka from Bedrich Smetana's Má vlast “(My Homeland).” Although this is also Czech music, or more specifically Bohemian, it is an entirely different animal.  Smetana was a very successful opera composer, having achieved success early on in Gothenburg, Sweden, of all places.  The Czech legend of the female warrior behind Šárka is charming, rustic mythology at its best.  Listen for the incongruous low bassoon notes depicting the snoring of the warrior men.  The KSO last played Smetana's music in April of 2015, his Overture to The Bartered Bride, and the rhapsodic onslaught of notes continues where that work left off.

The Dvorak 6th which closes the concert is actually a three-in-one package deal.  Therein Dvorak happily clicks the “Brahms 2” and “Beethoven 8” filters on his mental search engine, and the synthesis of these two works with his own unique genius adds up to rich symphonic experience on a par with his “New World” Symphony.  The last four Dvorak symphonies are all timeless classics; it's important to acknowledge that Dvorak is about way more than just his 9th.  The second movement Adagio is pure orchestrating genius, succeeding where Brahms had sometimes failed at balancing heart and mind.  The “dance movement” of this symphony is a furiant; a Czech dance that alternates triple and 2/4 rhythms, sort of like “America” from West Side Story, only backwards- and 80 years earlier.  If you like Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, then step right up, because he is at the top of his game here.

No winter weather is in the forecast, so come on down to the Tennessee Theatre later this week!  Look out for the new traffic pattern on State Street, is it seems to be two-way north of the new stop sign on Union Avenue.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Big Band Music from the 18th Century

PHEW!  The sudden snow almost put the kibosh on our Wizard of Oz pops, but things are looking up weather-wise for Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends' penultimate concert at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Wednesday and Thursday, January 11 and 12, we will perform music of Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart in the Great Room, and I am pleased to say that the Thursday night concert is SOLD OUT!  (Limited tickets remain for Wednesday night).  Even the stage will be crowded, as this installment of GL&F boasts a much bigger band; the Vivaldi (“Spring,” from The Four Seasons) and the Bach (Concerto for Oboe and Violin) will feature a 10-piece orchestrina typical of the Baroque. Mozart's delightfully pure Clarinet Quintet will finish the concert.

After this weekend's bracing weather, it looks like we'll be getting a proper January Thaw.  Vivaldi's “Spring” has a lot of the musical devices of nature: the tweeting birds, the rivulets of melting snow, even a barking dog (the solo viola in the 2nd movement).  You can almost hear the sap running in the maple trees!  After the Vivaldi, Principal oboist Claire Chenette will join Gabe for one of Bach's “other double concertos.”  The contrasting timbres of the oboe and violin go together like peaches and cream in this highly conversational, delicately interwoven work.

Mozart's Clarinet Quintet is nestled neatly in the Mozart catalog between his famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and his social commentary opera Cosi fan tutte.  Principal clarinetist Gary Sperl will provide the woodwind flavor for this work.  I reiterate that I did perform the quintet with Gary in 1985 at a restaurant in Charleston, SC.  One of the treats of playing at the Spoleto Festival was the profusion of high end restaurants at which festival participants could perform chamber music in exchange for a meal, or rain check for one.  By the end of our stay in Charleston, some of us had a backlog of “meal tickets” to use in just a couple of days.  We were pretty well-fed by the time we got on the plane to Italy!  Ahh, to be young and working cheap.  ANYway, Gary pulled together a quintet and we deployed our forces at a place called Celia's; how he remembered the name of the place is beyond me.  Little did I know that I would be joining him in the KSO just a year later, let alone that I would be playing the Mozart with him 32 years later.

Special thanks to the law firm of Merchant and Gould for underwriting this series, and for the Knoxville Museum of Art for hosting us.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cellos and Trumpets and Horns, Oh My!

It's coming this Saturday night at 8! The world's most seen movie will be shown at the Civic Auditorium, with the accompaniment of a LIVE orchestra!

The art history class I took in college had a unit on motion pictures. My professor, Bernard Hanson, placed a lot of emphasis on how the score could make or break a movie's appeal by going way beyond merely filling silent frames. We covered some great classics; Citizen Kane, Alexander Nevsky, and Ben Hur, among others. The upcoming Pops concert, with the KSO under James Fellenbaum playing Herbert Stothart's Oscar-winning score to The Wizard of Oz, will present a very fine example of effective use of music to advance the plot.


The Wizard has been such a pervasive cultural icon in the 75 years since its release. I recently had the pleasure of watching the film with my mother, who saw it at age 12 when it first came out. Just trying to picture the collective "oohs and aahs" that surely occurred at that moment when Dorothy stepped out of the little house into Munchkinland, marking the birth of color film on the big screen. The movie has spawned (among other things) a rock band (Toto), an Elton John album (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), a donut-like treat (Munchkins), a song by America (The Tin Man), and a whole galaxy of internet memes. Here are some of my favorites...

OOPS



Speaking of rock bands named "Toto..."



Truth in advertising


This one reminds me of the joke from the 80s, when Ted Turner was "colorizing" a lot of classic b&w movies. It was said that he wanted to "colorize" the first 10 minutes of The Wizard of Oz...