Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beethoven and Boccherini at the Bijou

This season’s first concert of the Chamber Classics series is just around the corner! This Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre, we will be presenting Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B♭, sandwiched by two works of Beethoven: his Overture to Coriolanus and the 4th Symphony, under the direction of Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum. Our guest soloist for the Boccherini will be UT’s esteemed professor of cello, Dr. Wesley Baldwin.

Boccherini’s B♭ Concerto is arguably the most approachable of the “Big 9" concerti for the cello (others were written by Haydn [2], Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Tchaikovsky [Rococo Variations], Dvorak, and Elgar), but still nowhere near “easy.” Boccherini was Italian-born, but spent the last 44 of his 62 years in Spain, qualifying him as an honorary Spanish composer. The work, written some time between 1765 and 1774 (honestly, that’s the closest anyone has come to pinpointing a date), underwent a transformation at the hands of the German cellist Friedrich Grützmacher in 1895. This transformation borrowed parts of Boccherini’s other cello concerti in the outer movements and the entire slow movement of another. Grützmacher also composed cadenzas for all three movements, Boccherini having left none. Would Boccherini be pleased with what Grützmacher did? P’raps, p’raps not, but most cellists find that the Grützmacher “renovations” make the concerto much more palatable; “normalized,” if you will, given that Boccherini had a penchant for odd-length phrases and for repeating figures one or maybe two times too many.

Beethoven’s 4th has long been in the shadow of the odd-numbered symphonies that surround it. The Eroica (3rd) is the first “monster symphony” (dwarfing even the longest Mozart symphony, the Jupiter), and as for the 5th, well, welcome to the Romantic Era. The 4th has more in common with Beethoven’s first two symphonies than with the 3rd or 5th, and for good reason: the dedicatee, Count Franz von Oppersdorff of Silesia, had heard a performance of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony (which is nothing like the 3rd ), and commissioned a similarly “Classical” work. The premier happened in March of 1807; also on the program were the 4th Piano Concerto, which was heard on this past May’s Masterworks concert, and the Overture to Coriolanus which opens Sunday’s concert.

Speaking of Coriolanus, this is Beethoven’s darkest overture because it is the only one that stays in a minor key for its entirety. (The Egmont Overture starts in f minor but ends in F Major). It has some notoriety for having some especially difficult passages for the cellos. Matters are not helped by the fact that the Orchestra Excerpt Book for cello has some of the lines in the wrong order. At the risk of being called nerdy, I have included a couple photos of the affected passage. I guess it was a sort of backhanded way of making students dig deeper into the work, a way to separate the men from the boys, if you will, but most people just think it was sloppy editing. A classic case of WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?


                                (Excerpt book) The whole-notes should lead into the half-notes


                                                                 (Real Part) Like this!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Beginnings

May is the month when “Commencement” ceremonies are held, January is the month that starts the calendar year, but September is the month when the KSO opens up its season, and when all of its different classical series hit the ground running. Our Masterworks series started with a bang this past Thursday and Friday, the Q Series will begin afresh in its new venue this coming Wednesday at noon, and the Chamber Classics series comes to life at the Bijou Theatre this coming Sunday at 2:30.

Sharp eyes at the Tennessee Theatre Masterworks concerts last week may have missed a familiar face in the woodwinds. Principal oboist Phylis Secrist has chosen to take a year's leave for '14-'15. Good golly, I'd want to take a year off too, if I had been performing with the KSO for parts of FIVE decades. : ) Playing principal oboe with us last week (and for the rest of this season) is Claire Chenette, from Iowa via LA. Actually, it's a little more complicated than that, as she did her undergrad work at Oberlin. Claire is now a Master's candidate at California Institute of the Arts, which all the cool kids (as well as I myself, now) call CalArts. In LA, Claire somehow finds time to devote to a new music ensemble called Wild Up, and a folk band called Three Thirds.


Claire's Knoxville chamber music debut will come Wednesday, Sept. 24 at noon at the Square Room, in this season's first Q Series concert. In fact, it will be the Square Room's debut as well. Joining her will be the rest of the Principal Woodwind Quintet-- Jeffrey Whaley, horn; Ebonee Thomas, flute; Aaron Apaza, bassoon, and Gary Sperl, clarinet. They will perform Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and a suite pulled from Bizet's Carmen. Sounds pretty suite, if you ask me! The Principal String Quartet will then bring Tango Moderato and Tango Chromatique by Michael McLean, and the exciting final two movements of Beethoven's String Quartet op. 132. Concerts in this series include a scrumptious boxed lunch from Café 4 and are $15 in advance, $20 on the day of the show. So it's pretty simple-- buy your ticket today (subject to availability) and it's $15, buy it tomorrow and it's $20. Hmmmm....

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!