Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Russians Are Coming!

It happens to be an all-Russian concert this Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre, but the more important thing to know is that regardless of their country of origin, three really vital works are being played. The “Rose Adagio” from Tchaikovsky's score to the Sleeping Beauty ballet, Rachmaninov's “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade combine for a powerful musical experience, with an interesting twist.

Tchaikovsky only wrote music for three ballets, yet they are all beloved standards. His musical language is distinctly Russian, although he was clearly marching to a different drummer than his contemporaries, whom I will discuss below. Make an aural note of some of the harmonic progressions in the Adagio; you'll be hearing them again in Scheherezade. This ballet was premiered in 1890, a year before Tchaikovsky conducted the inaugural performance at Carnegie Hall.
There always seems to be a lot of hubbub about Rachmaninov's visit to Knoxville, but the truth is that he lived in the US from 1918 until the end, attaining citizenship in LA just days before his death in 1943. This quarter-century saw him compose only six works, among them the Symphonic Dances which opened our season in September, and this week's Rhapsody. Pianist Tanya Gabrielian brings a confident panache to this brilliantly conceived take on Paganini's already bodacious achievement.



Rimsky-Korsakov is the third Russian composer on these concerts to spend time in the US. I kid you not, young Nikolai was a Russian Navy cadet, and put to sea during our Civil War. Ports of call featured Washington, Baltimore and New York, including a junket to Niagara Falls. His decision to enlist was swayed by tales told by his older brother, a naval explorer and navigator 22 years his senior. This is when ships were made of wood and had sails, and there were few guarantees at sea. Rimsky still managed in his free time to write a Symphony, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1865 under the baton of Mily Balakirev. The success of this work led him to resign his naval commission and take his place among the “Mighty Handful” of Russian composers, along with Mussorgsky, Borodin, César Cui and Balakirev. This fivesome was determined to blaze the path of the Russian classical tradition as established by Glinka. Of these five, Rimsky-Korsakov has proven to be the dominant force, having written both figuratively and literally an influential book on orchestration. Mussorgsky's opera Boris Gudonov as orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov's is a thing of beauty, don't pass up a chance to hear that.



With the composer's naval experience in mind, it's no surprise that the outer movements of Scheherezade have nautical titles. Even beyond that, the third movement is a barcarolle with a Sicilienne rhythm; the cello part even quotes “Blow the Man Down.” Every instrument on stage has a moment-- or several-- in the sun, particularly the Concertmaster. William Shaub is doing an amazing job with them. Get ready for time to stand still when there is just a violin and a harp playing, although the spine-tingling moments are many, regardless of who is playing. Rimsky-Korsakov achieves an exotic palette of orchestral colors and an impeccable sense of drama that will bring a smile to your face.

Performances are Thursday, Feb. 15 and Friday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Theatre (doors open at 6:15). Pre-concert chats with guest artist Tanya Gabrielian and Maestro Aram Demirjian begin at 6:30 p.m. Tickets available here or at the door.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018-19 Season Lineup: Symphony reinvigorated

The line-up for the KSO’s 2018-2019 Classical Season has been announced!


The KSO Moxley Carmichael Masterworks Series includes eight pairs of concerts, all held at the Tennessee Theatre on Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m., six of which are conducted by Music Director Aram Demirjian


Masterworks Series highlights include:

Sept. 20-21, 2018
Brahms Symphony No. 1 and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring pianist Joyce Yang, conducted by Aram Demirjian

Oct. 18-19, 2018
Beethoven Egmont Overture, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto featuring Robyn Bollinger, Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, conducted by Aram Demirjian

April 11-12, 2019
Conducted by Aram Demirjian, featuring the Knoxville Choral Society, choirs from Webb School of Knoxville, Farragut High School

Chamber concerts consist of five concerts on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 PM.  Four concerts will occur at the Bijou Theatre and one performance will take place in the Powell Recital Hall in the University of Tennessee’s Natalie L. Haslam Music Center.


Chamber Classics Series highlights include:

Sept. 30, 2018
Hadyn’s Symphony No. 82, Boulogne’s Violin Concerto No. 2 featuring Gordon Tsai, Associate Concertmaster, Shaw's Entr’acte, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, “Paris.”

Nov. 25, 2018
This performance, conducted by James Fellenbaum, will feature some favorite holiday selections. This popular performance sold out the past three years, so patrons should be sure to secure their subscriptions early!

April 28, 2019
Take a journey with Aram Demirjian, conductor, across the landscape of the city. This concert includes Mozart Symphony No. 3(6 “Linz”), Gruber’s Manhattan Broadcasts, Copland’s Quiet City feat. Claire Chenette, KSO Principal Oboe (playing English Horn) and Phillip Chase Hawkins, KSO Principal Trumpet, and concludes with Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur la toit, (The Ox on the Roof).


Special Add-On Performance: Candide

                                            

In honor of Leonard Bernstein’s worldwide centennial celebration, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO) and the Clarence Brown Theatre (CBT) will collaborate on a full-scale production of Candide, an operetta by Leonard Bernstein based on the satire of Voltaire. This collaboration will be directed by Cal MacLean, CBT Producing Artistic Director and conducted by 
Aram Demirjian, KSO Music Director
Productions will take place at the Clarence Brown Theatre on the University of Tennessee campus from Aug. 29 – Sept. 18. Tickets are on sale now to KSO and CBT season ticketholders as an add-on to their subscriptions; individual tickets go on sale to the public in July 2018.

                                      

Tickets?
Season subscriptions are on sale now by contacting the KSO box office. Individual tickets, including Candide, will go on sale in summer 2018.

The full line up can be viewed here: 2018-19 Concert Calendar.


This post authored by the KSO Communications Dept.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Strads in the Bijou

A chamber orchestra concert experience like no other awaits those attending Sunday's KSO Chamber Classics concert at the Bijou at 2:30. It's a rare opportunity to hear two Stradivari violins collaborating on works with two soloists, in a wildly diverse program of string orchestra music. I'll talk about the music in a bit, but first, let's talk about the “fiddles...”

It's a well-known fact that Strads are the Rolls-Royce of the violin family. There are Ferraris and Corvettes, too, but the Stradivari mystique is enthralling. “The list” of about 1,000 includes instruments that were lost in plane crashes, several that have been stolen and are still missing after many years, and one that was destroyed in an Allied air raid on Berlin. All of them have names; sobriquets such as Francesca, ex-Wieniawski, Lady Blunt and Vesuvius. For our show, concertmaster William Shaub will be playing on the Solomon, and principal second violinist Edward Pulgar will be manning the ex-Stephens. The two works which feature them them exclusively will be Alfred Schnittke's Moz-art a la Haydn-- which must be seen to be believed, trust me!-- and Bach's transcendent Concerto for Two Violins, the “Bach Double.”

The 1960's don't leap to mind as a fertile time for string quartet composition, but it's hard to imagine a more powerful piece of music PERIOD than the Shostakovich 8th quartet, written in 1962. Its adaptability to larger ensembles such as ours only underscores the directness of its impact. The symbolism behind its content is a legendary, with the famous “knocks at the door” in the 4th movement Largo and the autobiographical code hidden in the opening phrase's note-names: D-S-C-H. I'll try to explain this as succinctly as possible; it is a little contrived unless you are privy to a couple of secrets. “D” is, obviously the note D. “S” is the European name for E-flat (literally “es”), “C” is C, and “H” is the European term for B, to distinguish it from B-flat, which they simply call “B.” Dmitri SCHostakovich, which is how he spelled his name. The notes would be “D- E-flat- C- B,” if you want to try it out on the piano. Got it? You just played the first four notes of the piece.

There will also be music of Jessie Montgomery, her Starburst, and Osvaldo Golijov's memorial to Astor Piazzola, Muertes del Angel (Death of the angel) from The Last Round. Maestro Demirjian has put together a very eclectic concert, with two works-- the Bach and Shostakovich-- that should be on everyone's “must-hear” list. Although written 240 years apart, they will affect your ears and soul in astoundingly similar ways...

Monday, January 29, 2018

But Still, Schubert Rota Lot of Music!

Our jam-packed January will end this coming Wednesday with a Q Series program at The Square Room on Market Square at noon. The Principal Woodwind Quintet will be performing Nino Rota's Piccola Offerta Musicale and William Grant Still's Miniatures for woodwind quintet. The Principal String Quartet will close with Franz Schubert's Op. 29 quartet in A Major.


You may not of heard of Nino Rota, but I guarantee you have heard his music. He scored more than 150 films from the '30s to the '70s, including The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, and most of Fellini's films. In light of our recent spate of performances of John Williams movie scores, this performance of Piccola Offerta is a way of acknowledging in a timely way that Williams isn't the only Ferrari in the garage. Fellini himself gushed with praise for Rota's skill, saying:
The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway and don't even have to hesitate, was Nino Rota — between us, immediately, a complete, total, harmony... He had a geometric imagination, a musical approach worthy of celestial spheres. He thus had no need to see images from my movies.

William Grant Still's music has enjoyed an uptick in popularity in recent years, with the KSO playing several of his works in recent seasons, including The American Scene, Afro-American Symphony, and Can'tcha Line 'em. The jazzy, bluesy tinge of his music has been a welcome addition to the rather limited output of George Gershwin in that style. Like Rota, he has had a hand in the film music industry, arranging music for films such as Pennies from Heaven and Lost Horizon.


Back in 1797, January 31 was known as “Mrs. Schubert's due date.” So it seems appropriate that we celebrate the birthday of the “King of Song” by performing one of his most beloved string quartets, the Rosamunde. This is a work that is unfairly in the shadow of his Death and the Maiden quartet, perhaps only because it is not as rowdy as DATM. The “Rosamunde” title stems from the theme of the second movement Andante, which is borrowed from his incidental music to Helmina von Chézy's play. I'm going to blurt this right now, a string quartet can not make a more beautiful statement than with this work in general, and this movement in particular. The rhythm of the melody is clearly inspired by the second movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony, with its elegant procession of gently unfolding harmonies. The first three movements are in A minor, but there is very little of the angst associated with a minor key. Just in case, though, Schubert wrote the romp of a finale in A major. The fact that I have not performed this work until now is proof that good things happen in old age!

Hope to see you at this well-balanced program!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mad About Harry

Harry's Back!


There was quite a palpable buzz after the inaugural installment of the Harry Potter series movies with live orchestra this past October. (And I'm not talking about those low bassoon notes!) The story of Harry's second year at Hogwarts will be conveyed tomorrow night at 7:30 at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, with a Sunday matinee at 1:30. Tickets via ticketmaster here.


Nearly as engaging as the Harry Potter series of books is the “rags-to-riches” story of their author, J. K. Rowling. She described her life in the midst of her work on the series to be “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” The creative process involved is also something to be celebrated. To think that the idea for a series of seven books averaging 585 pages each came fully formed to her while delayed (four hours on a 2-1/2-hour trip!) on a train platform in 1990 is every bit as fantastic as the novels' subject matter. Also notable is the fact that the ending of the entire series was one of the first things she wrote. Whether she knew just how many children she would be motivating to read is unknown, but her taking action on the inspiration and her persistent vision for the project in the face of obvious adversity can be held up as exemplary to young creative types.

John Williams' colorful score propels the movie with motivic content and magical orchestral effects. People that analyze such things have worn out many swivel chairs looking for parallels between Williams' scores and Richard Wagner's output, but the score, as usual, remains a marvel to anyone who appreciates effective use of music in movies.


Accompanying a film requires strict attention to syncing with on-screen action. In typical movie-score fashion, the individual parts are brimming with notes, so I had better get a move on to become familiar with mine. One cannot simply wave a wand at them and hope to assimilate them.



Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 15, 2018

January Jubilee

This week is already upon us, it seems. After last week's Chamber Classics concert and the Indiana Jones production, there are at least three concerts to look forward to. At the Tennessee Theatre TONIGHT will be the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert at 6:00 pm. Aaron Staple and alto Doris Talley will grace the stage once again for a stirring offering under the direction of Maestro Demirjian. The Carpetbag Theatre under the direction of Linda Parris-Bailey will perform- Black Atticus and Rhea Sunshine (pictured below) are featured. You may remember Rhea's dynamic poetry at the inaugural KSO Unstaged event at The Standard in November. The concert is free, as is parking at the State Street Parking Garage. So, with an eye to post-concert victuals, take advantage of your free spot (and the early show time) to make it Not Just Another Monday Night.



That same parking spot, or one just like it, would serve you well this coming Thursday or Friday when we shall offer a treasure of a symphony, Dvorak's 8th. I don't know where to start to describe the effect of this, the final work by Dvorak to be published before his move to America in 1892. One very important thing to note is that the cellos are heavily featured, bearing as they do the themes of the outer movements. (Not that I'm biased or anything...) Dvorak's musical palette was about to take on American affectations, but this Symphony is ground-breaking even in advance of that. The delicious dissonances that pepper the work are stock-in-trade for present-day pop composers and songwriting teams (cough cough The Beatles). The waltzy third movement is just one big, giant face-melting opportunity; look for two appearances of the “chord of life” just before a fermata in the trio section of that movement. The work as a whole is performed just once for every two or three times that Dvorak's “New World” is played, and in my book, that is just wrong.


Also on the program will be works of Brahms, Smetana, Adam Schoenberg and Queen, in partnership with Project Trio. This ensemble of flute, cello and bass brings a new vitality to the genre of soloing ensembles, and who can resist a work that is entitled Bohemian Rhapsody for Solo Viola and Symphonic Orchestra? Thursday and Friday night's concerts start at 7:30. 

Stay warm, y'all!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Midwinter Night's Theme

Okay, my fingers have thawed out enough to type a bit here.

2018 will start with a bang! January's schedule promises to create its own body heat with SEVEN different programs. Just over the horizon lay the Chamber Classics concert, a gathering of lively friends which will take place Sunday, January 7 at 2:30 at the beautiful Powell Recital Hall on the UT campus. The Principal Woodwind Quintet will begin with Samuel Barber's hearty Summer Music, Barber's only chamber work for winds. Principal flutist Hannah Hammel will then join the Principal String Quartet for music of Arthur Foote; his Scherzo and Night Piece from 1923. Foote was a member of the “Second New England School,” a Boston-centric squad of composers which included Amy Beach and Edward MacDowell, and his music is strongly reminiscent of Puccini and Debussy.

The closing work will be Beethoven's op. 20 Septet in E-flat. A septet is a rarely found array of forces, and instrumentation is not standardized. Only Ludwig Spohr, Saint-Saens and Stravinsky have attempted that combo with any success (and I use the term “success” loosely). Beethoven's band is clarinet, horn, bassoon, bass, and string quartet. He somehow managed to find the time between composing his first SIX quartets (op. 18) and his First Symphony (op. 21) to squeeze out this gem. Its six short movements identify it as a Serenade, reminiscent of his own op. 8 string trio and of many such works by Mozart. Tickets here.

The chamber music will continue to shine on Wednesday and Thursday nights, January 10 and 11 with the Concertmaster and Friends at the KMA. These 7:00 p.m. shows will feature music by Kendall Briggs, Mozart and J.S. Bach in a program of duets, with Katy Gawne, viola and Gordon Tsai and Zofia Glashauser, violins. Tickets here or $25 general admission at the door.



Wow, that's just the first 11 days of the year. We aim to start your year off right, and the hits just keep coming. HAPPY NEW YEAR, Y'ALL!