Thursday, September 29, 2011

Real Music

It’s never a bad time to hear songs from the Great American Songbook.

For years, I have had 5 radio station presets on my car radio. WUTK, 90.3 “The Rock,” WUOT,91.9; WNCW, 88.7 Spindale, NC (near Asheville); WKTI, 1040am (for years they played “Great American Songbook” tunes, but are now classic country- which ain’t a bad thing either) and CFZM-AM 740, Toronto, which after dark can often be heard playing music from the Big Band era. The two AM stations feed my hunger for the music that my parents grew up with- Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown; from a time when houses were white and cars were black. It’s as if these stations broadcast this music in the 40's and it went out into space and is only now just returning to Earth.

It was there in my car, listening to the radio while ferrying our boys hither and yon that I was introduced to Michael Feinstein and his interpretations of tunes from the “Great American Songbook.” Feinstein is a pedigreed descendant of the Greatest Generation of American songwriters, having endeared himself to Ira Gershwin while cataloguing Ira’s giant record collection. (Gershwin’s next-door neighbor, Rosemary Clooney, performed one of her last concerts in Knoxville in 2001). This latter-day Oscar Levant will perform a revue of Frank Sinatra essentials at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium this Saturday, Oct. 1, at 8. Come see why this music, some of which was written to make people happy “for the duration,” has endured way beyond. Until you do, here are a couple of fine recordings to get you In the Mood. I really like the Helen Forrest/Artie Shaw vid because it loads instantly! (don't be intimidated by the Russian). And this luscious recording of (not-so-)Old Blue-Eyes will bring a tear to your eye. Especially if you were there.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

About Last Night... (and Last Weekend)... (and Tomorrow)...

Attendees of the Sept. 22 and 23 KSO Masterworks concerts were treated to an encore by piano soloist Alon Goldstein. Often a soloist just launches into something and we are left to guess what it is he/she has played. Mr. Goldstein, however, saved us all a lot of investigative work by announcing his encore, Alberto Ginastera's Danza del gaucho matrero “(Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy).” Here is a performance of the piece with the score on display- watch the notes whiz by!

On another note, it is with great pleasure that I can announce a marriage. Trumpet player Marc Simpson and his wife, violist Julie, have 5 children. Their oldest, Valerie, and Steve Foulk were married on Sept. 17th at Berean Baptist Church. When I first moved to Knoxville, Valerie was about three; boy, it’s amazing how old I feel for having typed that. But enough about me. CONGRATULATIONS!!

A couple of events are happening on Sunday the 25th that will interest classical music fans. At 4:00 the UT Symphony led by James Fellenbaum will perform Mahler’s Symphony #1 (speaking of monster symphonies, this one is subtitled the Titan).”at the James R. Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Memorial Building on campus. This concert is FREE.

Later on tomorrow night, violinists Sean Claire and Ilia Steinschneider will perform on the ORCMA Coffee Concert at 7:30 at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, at the corner of the Turnpike and Robertsville Road in “the Ridge.” Sean will be playing the Franck Violin Sonata and Ilia will perform the “F.A.E. Sonata,” a collaborative work made up of contributions from Brahms, Schumann and Schumann’s pupil, Albert Dietrich. Sean described it to me over the phone, but I was driving and what stuck in my mind was the “FAO Schwartz Sonata.” Thank God for the internet which set me straight on that subject. They will perform a Telemann duet to wrap things up. Not only is this concert also FREE but you will come away with coffee (decaf) and treats afterwards.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The storied repertoire of Beethoven will be represented well this week by the KSO- the Coriolan Overture, the Third Piano Concerto and the Eroica Symphony.

I personally have a relationship with each Beethoven piece I have ever performed. They are like Facebook friends, only more in tune. As a sophomore at Hartt College, the Coriolan Overture excerpt was on the orchestra’s audition. It is a note-y little gem with a lot of surprises. The doofuses at International Music Company published the excerpt book with some of the lines out of order and only people who went the extra mile and played off a REAL part placed high on the audition. I learned the value of score study through this experience.

Two years later, I found myself playing in the Hartford Symphony. (Bulletin: the preceding music director of the Hartford Symphony, Edward Cumming, will be leading an all-Mozart concert in January). Pianist Rudolf Serkin, age 80, was scheduled to play the Beethoven Third concerto with us, but the concert had to be postponed because Mr. Serkin had broken his hip. Luckily the recovery was fast and he was resilient enough not to be diminished by the experience. His Third was epic; the way the arpeggios after the first movement cadenza just seemed to waft from the piano will always stay with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of that concert was an exact duplicate of this week’s KSO repertoire. The KSO’s most recent performance of the first movement of this work featured our sons’ piano teacher, Mark Hussung, at Carson-Newman College in (I am totally guessing here) 2007. Our soloist this week, Alon Goldstein, can be seen on the KSO website playing Mozart; it is dynamic and sensitive.

To cap it all off is what is widely regarded as the first monster symphony, the Third (Eroica). As I mentioned before, this work also headlined the opening concerts of the 1988-89 season, and will soon be the first Beethoven Symphony that Maestro Richman has repeated. I have literally lost track of the number of times I have played the Eroica, but there is no losing track of the pathos, humor and majesty that Beethoven lavished on this work. There are some passages in Beethoven’s music that can only be described as Elysian; for me, it is the wind chorale deep into the finale after a grand fugue (poco andante between “E” and “F” if you have a score). Every time I get to this spot, I feel that if all of my life has come to this, then it has been a good life.

Remember: 7:00 start to this first pair of concerts!!!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Three Things KSO Musicians Do Well (Besides the Obvious)

#1: Getting Around Town

KSO ensemble members log many miles playing in the Knox County schools and care facilities, and take pride in their knowledge of Knoxvilles’ sometimes vexing roads. I spent many Septembers playing in a quartet at every school there was, and some of them are pretty far-flung. New Hopewell, Gibbs and Corryton; all the way to Mount Olive, Karnes and Copper Ridge. Need an alternative route to just about anywhere in the 9-county area and beyond? Ask a core string player, but hey, give the new members just a few months to get their bearings. If you ask one of us old-timers, terms such as “where the Weigel’s used to be” will creep into our directions.

#2: Handling With Care

Every musician has an instrument in his hand that is worth anywhere from $500 to 6-½ or more figures. (No, the chime mallet is not worth $500. But the chimes? Forget it). It isn’t about the money that an instrument is worth, rather its value. Even a wedding band or a sweatshirt zipper can inflict harm on a string instrument. Harps and basses pose king-size challenges; just carrying a bass is a craft. Until we have children, we have instruments from which to learn a gentle touch.

#3: Being Quiet

This sort of derives from the previous skill. Silence is a really important part of music. Granted, tight ensemble playing is a fine trait in an orchestra, but each player knows that a rest means shut up. The ability to honor silence and count rests quietly is a sine qua non for all of us. Wind and percussion players have the added challenge of changing instruments; plenty of opportunities for sonic violation there. A chime mallet makes an interesting but perhaps unwelcome sound when dropped on a suspended cymbal, and horn parts have a distinct report when dropped. Rests are a welcome sight in a long show, but that doesn’t give a us license to open a bag of skittles or clip his nails. A musician can be counted on not to wake your kid up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Folks- and a Bulletin

The results are in! With all precincts reporting, votes have been tabulated, and four new violinists and one new Principal horn have been welcomed into the KSO fold. Two days of violin auditions generated two one-year core appointments, one permanent section core position and a new Associate Concertmaster.

Coming in January to the Associate Concertmaster Chair from the Cleveland area is Gordon Tsai. He has a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Oregon and a Master’s from the University of Nevada, Reno. In January he will be joining the KSO Principal String Quartet as first violinist and will sit with Gabe Lefkowitz on the front stand of firsts.

Our new full-time core violinist is Sara Matayoshi and she comes to us from the lively Boston freelance scene where she has played with the Juventas New Music Ensemble, the Atlantic Symphony and the Boston Philharmonic. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern U. and a G.P.D. from the Longy School in Boston.

Diane Zelickman will be with us for the 2011-2012 season in the First Violin section. She holds degrees from Indiana University and the University of Arizona, and spent the last season as a member of the Tucson Symphony. Ruth Bacon will join her in the firsts; she comes to us via the University of New Mexico and the Cleveland Institute- like Gordon, a disciple of William Preucil.

Our new Principal Hornist is Sevierville native Jeffrey Whaley. He currently is a faculty member at ETSU, and has been a member of symphony orchestras in Wichita and Omaha. He attended school at Tennessee Tech and Wichita State. He is currently Principal Hornist of a rival orchestra in Kingsport, the Symphony of the Mountains.


It is not too early for me to remind y'all that the September 22 and 23 concerts uniquely start at 7 PM, not the usual 8 pm. Hope to see you there!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Off and Running... to Ijams!

A concert tradition that started my first year here and has never had a rain-out keeps the ball rollin’. It is an important eco-musical event, bringing Beethoven, benevolent giving and bugs together in in a benefit concert for the most natural corner of Knoxville, Ijams Nature Center. Over the years, this concert has had some memorable performances by prominent Knoxville figures in guest roles. Here are a few that come to mind.

Pat Summitt led the KSO in an unforgettable rendition of The Tennessee Waltz in Sept. of ‘97. But before she gave a downbeat, she made a 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 “loser’s limp.” Senator Lamar Alexander made an appearance in the late 80's; he did a fine rendition of Please Release Me, among other things. Some time in the mid-90's, a local businessman (whose name I forget) brought his accordion AND his sense of humor, playfully dissing a colleague before launching with impressive zest into Lady o’ Spain. UT sports announcer Bob Kesling, a former student of KSO cellist Bruce Wilhite, rocked in Vivaldi’s Cello Sonata in E Minor back in the day at some point. In more recent years, David Keith and Bruce Pearl’s daughter Jacqui have soloed with us.

This year, Chista di Cicco will be our special guest and her unique vocal stylings will be augmented by fiddler Seth Hopper, an accomplice of hers in Knoxville’s swing ambassadors, Cristabel and the Jons. Yours truly will take a ride on “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” having taken many such rides before AND having busked with Mr. Hopper this summer on the Square.

For more details, call Ijams at 577-4717 ext. 117. Don't worry. The bugs are only attracted to our stand lights, and it should stop raining by then.