Saturday, July 30, 2011

Time for a Summertime Dream

A recent MetroPulse article by Alan Sherrod decried the lack or severe dearth, anyway, of classical music performances in the Knoxville area, in fact in the entire state of Tennessee during the summer. I couldn’t agree with him more. Whether due to the stultifying heat, the lack of interest, whatever, outdoor classical music here in the summer is sadly limited to one giant blowout here on the 4th, and the occasional church performance. Fans of Americana, blues, rock, bluegrass and similar genres have a gaggle of opportunities to get their groove on in the area, but classical seems to get short shrift. The Sewanee Summer Music Festival is a prestigious organization that many KSO players’ students attend (violist Hillary Herndon is a faculty member), offering a mix of advanced student and faculty performances, but it is a 2 ½ hour-plus drive from here.

This summer other KSO members have traveled to California, Colorado, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts and Oregon to participate in established summer festivals. The cooler climate of these locales makes outdoor concerts an attractive entertainment option, instead of a sweaty slog.

Given the need for a cooler environment, few East Tennessee towns are qualified candidates for an appealing and profitable summer festival such as Tanglewood, Chatauqua, Crested Butte and Bear Valley. Other drawing cards include a picturesque natural setting, hopefully at a high altitude, plenty of restaurants and better-than-average lodging, easy access from Knoxville via interstates or major highways, historic interest, and plenty of parking. The presence of a college campus, with its lovely air conditioning and ready-made housing and other facilities for participants, is a plus.

I dream of a musical summer in East Tennessee. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the like are out of contention in my eyes, at least, due to the sheer volume of traffic and the unlikelihood of a classical festival being a “big fish” in that town’s small pond. I nominate the following towns for consideration for chamber or small symphonic festivals.

The KSO has played at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center for a couple years now. There are scads of lodging and dining choices, and the audience demographic would be quite varied.

The oldest town in Tennessee has much to offer. Jonesborough is used to hosting high-quality events that draw a national audience, such as the National Storytelling Festival in October. About a dozen bed and breakfasts and plentiful motels are nearby, with a good variety of restaurants. The altitude is the highest of my choices, making for cool outdoor concert conditions.

Tennessee’s second oldest town is also quaint and fairly well-endowed with restaurants and accommodations. It is just off the interstate, and the presence of Douglas Lake provides marine access.

Cumberland Gap:
Another quaint old town, it’s at virtually the same elevation as Knoxville despite being in the mountains. There are a few restaurants in the area, but not much within walking distance. Nearby Lincoln Memorial University would be a dandy place for indoor concerts.

Tellico Plains:
Not to be confused with Tellico Village, which is a few miles downstream, Tellico Plains is a well-kept secret that charms the pants of off me whenever I go hiking and camping in the nearby Cherokee National Forest/Indian Boundary Lake area. How this funky little hamlet has escaped development is beyond me. Like Cumberland Gap however, it is remote (about an hour from the nearest interstate), and despite its charm, basic needs for a festival are lacking, like a performance venue and upscale lodging and restaurants. A classical festival would put this town on the map for sure.

A small city, but not too small, Greeneville would be a good place for a summer concert series. The General Morgan Inn is an elegant old-school hotel that serves as a hangout for KSO musicians when we play concerts at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. (NPAC seats about 1200). Just a couple doors down is the Capitol Theatre, where we performed before the Niswonger was completed a few years ago. Nearby Tusculum College has yet another performing venue that the KSO has used.

It’s just a dream. But dreams can come true. Don’t wake me up just yet.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

New Kids in Town- and.... Your Kids on Stage! (Youth Orchestra Auditions)

This summer our new concertmaster is participating in the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians in Hancock, Maine. The Monteux School is an internationally acclaimed institution founded in 1943, with an impressive list of alumni including Lorin Maazel, David Zinman, Sir Neville Marriner and Erich Kunzel. According to Facebook, Gabe has conducted Siegfried’s Funeral March by Wagner and two movements from Prokofiev’s Cinderella. It’s awesome that our new concertmaster also brings some conducting skills to the table!

While Gary Sperl is off in Africa for the 2011-12 season, his seat will be occupied by Peter Cain, who was the winner of our May auditions for the one year principal clarinet vacancy. Peter did his undergrad at Vanderbilt, graduate studies at the Univ. of Minnesota, and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Cincinnati. He is spending his summer in Colorado at the Aspen Music Festival and we look forward to having him!

In August there will be auditions for associate concertmaster, core section violin and principal horn. The horn auditions will be over two days! Interested musicians can learn more about the auditions by clicking here.

The Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra has announced dates for auditions for placement in its 5 branches. The auditions will be held at West Valley Middle School on August 26th - 29th. For more information on that including repertoire specifics, click here. Be aware that what used to be called the Junior Philharmonia is now called the Preludium Orchestra.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ancient History: By the Numbers

As an addendum to “How I spent my Summer Vacation,” I returned from the Northeast on July 10th, which was my birthday. Not just any birthday this time, but the big FIVE-OH. I also have just concluded my 25th season with the KSO. Which means that out of the KSO’s 75 seasons, I have played a third of them. Even if you only have a GED you know that I was 25 when I signed on. A day will come in November when I will have lived exactly half of my life in Knoxville and half of it in New England. The question is begged, will I still be playing here when I am 75, in the KSO’s centennial season, having played half of their seasons?

1986 was a busy year for me, I was finishing up a Master’s Degree in music at UMass, Amherst. I met my wife Helen there and we played in a graduate quartet-in-residence. Helen had enrolled at New England Conservatory for the 86-87 school year, and we spent one very hot July day in Boston looking for a place for us to live. As a default, I had enrolled in a D.M.A. program at Boston University. I was antsy about living in Boston; the freelance racket was going to take a long time to crack. Between Thanksgiving of 1985 and August of ‘86 I took eight auditions; Louisville Orchestra (runner-up), Chicago Symphony (bomb), Spoleto Festival (got the job), Charlotte Symphony (finalist), Columbus Symphony (bomb) New Jersey Symphony (semi-finals), Boston Symphony sub list (one never knows how one does in Boston until the phone rings), and on a very hot August 19th, Knoxville.

After the audition I flew back to western Massachusetts and we were married on the following Saturday. (Yes, it is our 25th anniversary this year)!! We spent our honeymoon on Prince Edward Island, and soon after that Helen began her studies at NEC while I drove a moving van with all my junk down here, ditching the D.M.A. at BU and wondering how fate had acquired such a good curve ball.

So we lived apart for a semester, until Helen decided to capitalize on UT’s then-excellent Suzuki Pedagogy program. (Kathy Hart-Reilly, director of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Sinfonia ensemble, was a classmate). Helen eventually would secure a per-service position with the KSO. We drove a moving van with all HER junk and a car down here in a driving snowstorm, arriving on New Year’s Day of 1987.

Here are some pictures from my birthday party at Norris Dryer’s place in the old city.

Helen lights the candles...

making a wish

I always wanted a new Bluetooth! (something about the frosting made a lasting impression).
left to right: me, Eunsoon Corliss, Lindsay Crawford, Any Bermudez

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tomorrow, July 18th, the November 2010 Chamber Classics concert will be rebroadcast at 8:00 on WUOT, 91.9 fm. You may recall this was the re-creation of the KSO’s first-ever concert, given in 1936 at Church St. United Methodist Church. I am going to suggest that you crank up that giant stereo system you have, invite some friends over, and make these recipes that have been shared by KSO players.
Bassist Dan Thompson is a lucky man. He is married to clarinetist Erin Bray, who is an award-winning cook and a devotee of (among other things) all things barbecue. (You also may remember her name from years ago when she was an announcer on WUOT while a UT student).


My favorite summer asian bbq marinade:

5-10 cloves of garlic, peeled (depends on how much you like garlic)
2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and cut in half
1/2 of a yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/3 cup soy sauce (or more to taste)
juice & zest (grated) of one lime
1 cup of cola--not diet (or more to cover meat)

Place 1st four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor--process to a chunk-free paste. Remove contents to a large bowl or baking dish. Whisk in lime juice & cola.

This works supremely on pork butt, pork loin, chicken thighs or breasts.

For pork butts, marinate overnight in fridge. To cook, remove from marinade, wipe off excess (it can burn)--either in a 300 degree oven, uncovered for at least 3-4 hours, until meat reaches 190 degrees or grill--indirect heat for at least 5-7 hours, until meat reaches 190 degrees. I am sure you could do it in a slow cooker, but I have not tried it.

For pork loin, wipe off the marinade & either roast in a 325 degree oven until meat reaches 150 degrees or grill over indirect heat until meat reaches 150 degrees.

For chicken, marinate 2-6 hours, bake or grill as desired.

To serve: it works great over rice, but is even BETTER cut into chunks and served in lettuce wraps. It is RIDONKULOUS in lettuce wraps with sushi rice & the following sauce:

1 clove chopped garlic, smashed into a fine paste
1/4 cup chopped scallion
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Combine in a small bowl & whisk.


While things are cooking, people are going to want drinks. English hornist Liz Telling found this recipe for an amazing, summery drink called an ad lib.

Ad lib:

Cocktail ice cubes for muddling and shaking
5-7 fresh cilantro leaves
2 ½ oz. vodka
1 oz. fresh lemon-lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
lollipop rim

Fill a tempered pint glass with ice and add the cilantro. Muddle until the ice is slushy and the cilantro is evenly distributed throughout the ice. Add ice to fill the glass. Add vodka, lemon-lime juice and simple syrup. Cap the glass with a stainless steel cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into a 10-oz. martini glass garnished with a lollipop rim.


Tomatoes and basil go together like Tristan und Isolde. Especially when they are fresh out of your garden, or- even better- someone else’s. Violinist Liz Farr shared this recipe with my wife and I many years ago. It is difficult to serve perfectly wedge-shaped servings of this but who cares what it looks like, it is majorly delicious.

Tomato-basil torte:

1 pie crust
1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella (6 oz.) – divided 1 c. and ½ c.
5 Roma or 4 medium tomatoes
½ - 3/8 c. flour – optional
1 c. loosely packed fresh basil
4+ cloves garlic
½ c. mayo
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 t. pepper (white pepper if you have it)

1) Preheat oven to 350. Prick the pie crust with a fork and pre-bake the pie crust for 15-20 minutes. As soon as it comes out of the oven, while still hot, sprinkle the ½ c. of the mozzarella to coat the bottom of the crust. Allow to cool on a rack.

2) Cut the tomatoes into wedges and drain on a paper towel. Alternatively, mix the tomatoes with ½ - 3/8 cup of flour. If the tomatoes are quite juicy, it’s best to both drain them AND mix in the flour. (The tomatoes can be prepared ahead of time.)

3) Pre-heat the oven to 350. Arrange the tomato wedges in a single crowded layer on the bottom of the pie shell.

4) Using a food processor , coarsely chop the fresh basil and the garlic cloves. Sprinkle over the tomatoes in the pie shell.

5) Combine the remaining 1 c. mozzarella, mayo, Parmesan, and pepper. Spread as evenly as possible over the tomatoes + basil/garlic in the pie shell, aiming to cover the top.

6) Bake the pie at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top shows golden and the tomato’s juices are bubbling.

Violist Katy Gawne says of this dessert that it is “so worth running the oven in July...”

Blueberry Kuchen:

1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter
1 Tablespoon vinegar


5 cups blueberries
2 Tablespoons flour
2/3 cup sugar

Combine 1 cup of flour, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture is the consistency of cornmeal. Sprinkle with the vinegar. Press into an 8 inch cake pan. Add 3 cups of blueberries. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of flour and 2/3 cup of sugar. Bake @ 400 for 45-60 minutes until the crust is brown and the filling bubbles. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 2 more cups of blueberries.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How I Spent my Summer Vacation, Part II

I said I attended a 4th of July concert by the Hartford Symphony and I meant it. I know a wide variety of people read this so I will say to some of you, Hartford, Conn., not Hartford Tenn. (Or Wis.!) Enough Lady Vol fans read this so that some must surely be acquainted with the city where the UConn Huskies play some of their games. (UConn’s campus is about an hour east in Storrs).

I attended the U of Hartford for undergrad; back then Hartt was one of the “13 best music schools in the country.” There were a lot of opportunities and it was a half-hour drive from my parents’ house. Notable graduates of Hartt include Dionne Warwick, Richie Havens, and conductors Neal Gittleman (Dayton Philharmonic and a guest conductor here in the spring of 1999) and Apo Hsu. At the beginning of my junior year (see Feb. 25th blog re the maestro there), I was one of two cellists to win auditions with the Hartford Symphony, the other being a classmate and good friend of mine, Eric Dahlin from Minnesota. My tenure with the HSO was only three seasons, but they were jam-packed with new tunes and I effectively tripled my repertoire beyond what we played in the Hartt College Orchestra.
I visited Eric, his wife and two sons in rural Simsbury the day after their concert. I was astonished that he seemed not to have changed a bit, but he (and everyone I saw from the orchestra that I knew back in the day) seemed taller!! It was scary.
Simsbury figured prominently that day, because it is also the home to my first real cello teacher and high school orchestra director, Josef Treggor, and I got to see him and his wife also! He retired from teaching in 2001. There was a grand party for him, a la “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Richard Dreyfuss, however, would not very aptly portray Joe. Think Jimmy Stewart meets Bill Murray with a beard.

Joe was a cellist, and had what my parents would call an “artistic temperament,” a term which was lost on me until I acquired one. Growing up he was friends with Peter Tork from the Monkees, and when I first started lessons with him he had (in order) a 1965 Saab, a 1967 VW bus, then a 1969 MGB. He was married to my piano teacher, so I had piano and cello lessons on alternate weeks.

Musically he was ambitious and our high school orchestra (Newington, Conn.) rocked. While I was there we went to DC, Ottawa, and New York on trips for contests, but more importantly, we achieved high levels of artistry and the concept of a chamber orchestra was brought home to me. In 6th grade we were tackling Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, in 8th grade Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and Bach’s 6th Brandenburg Concerto, and through high school Beethoven’s 1st 3rd, 5th and 8th symphonies, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and Reformation Symphony, and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

Joe added a feather to his cap in the mid 70's, acquiring a marine biology degree. His love for oceanography took him to sea, and he eventually voyaged with Jacques Cousteau and spent a good deal of time at Woods Hole on Cape Cod. (Poor guy). He was instrumental (ouch) in protecting a small, but beautiful waterfall that was threatened by a road construction project in Newington. His second wife, Kumi, is a former classmate of mine and Eric’s at Hartt College. How’s that for ironic?

Monday, July 11, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 1.

Sometimes you just have to do it. Drive away and get back to where you once belonged, seeing a lot of people you haven’t seen in a great long time. I am not yet on the cutting edge of technology, but that is all on the up and up and soon I will be more forthcoming when on the road.

So I will honestly ‘fess up and say that I was not on hand for the 4th of July concert, although I did see the Hartford Symphony do a very similar concert on July 1st. There were interesting differences- their concert was out in a small town (Simsbury) but still drew about 7,000 people. They had a chorus accompanying the 1812 overture, but their fireworks display couldn’t hold a candle to Knoxville’s, and there were minimal fireworks during the overture. I had never attended a 4th of July concert like that; only performed them.

On this trip I stopped in Bethesda, MD at Potter Violin Shop for some badly needed bridge work and “body work.” My instrument, (allegedly) an anonymous English axe from around 1800, had been subject to 16 years of dings, divots and dimples since it was last massaged, and the bridge was warped in three different ways. Since it was a week in the shop, I continued on to New Hampshire, having not seen my parents since they each had had some fairly serious health issues this spring.

I trust the shop I go to because that is where I bought the instrument. The search for a new cello in 1995-96 was exhausting, taking me to Chicago, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, New York and DC. Like many who are on a budget, (which is, everybody?) I was often told that my price range was “in an awkward area.” I was enticed by cellos from an Ann Arbor luthier named David Burgess, and may still buy one. I borrowed 2 of his for a couple months, people liked them, but I really wanted an older instrument- one that knew the Dvorak and Haydn D Major concertos already. Norris Dryer very generously donated his car and his ears for a tour of shops in Philly and New York in December of 1995 (I think).

On a snowy, messy day we visited famous Moennig’s (which, unbelievably, went out of business last January), where I was allowed to play for an hour and a half and instantly fell in love with several $90,000 instruments. Nothing near my $25,000 limit was intriguing, here or at any of the other 5 shops we visited in the next 2 days, so although we had a blast, I came away empty-handed. It was on a trip to the DC area in February, in fact after a Philadelphia Orchestra audition I took, that I visited Potter’s. I had a solo coming up, (actually a duo) the David Ott Concerto for Two Cellos, with the previously-blogged Phil Hansen and the Chamber Orchestra in March. Only after four trips looking at cellos did I realize that I should explore the price range below the one I had set, and I struck paydirt with this old English cello. I took it home to try out; it never went back. Phil tried it and said, “you better buy it, because if you don’t, I will!”

Now that I think about it, “Olde English 800" as I have come to call it, was not perfect right away. The bridge was too low, set up for a more careful player than I. So the frog of my bow crashed the C-string bout several times during the Ott, and these have only now been repaired. Other “memories” have been erased also- the place where about five years ago I dropped a metronome my son Thomas was handing me (he had actually faked throwing it to me a moment before, then carefully handed it to me but I dropped it anyway- I'm such a klutz lol), the divot where I dropped a stage clamp on it after a recent Chamber Orchestra concert, several dimples where the bow came loose inside the case, and 16 years of edge deterioration. The result is a tighter, more focused sound and the return of that resplendent maiden I have come to know and love.