Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Springtime With Otello in Knoxville

It’s April so it must be Festival season! Dogwood Arts, Earthfest, Cinco de Mayo, Knoxville Brewfest, Kuumba Festival, Tulip Time at Crescent Bend, Rhythm and Blooms, Louie Bluie, International Biscuit Festival.... Knoxvillians don’t need much of an excuse to put on a good time. It’s almost like we have a “festival festival!”

While the Greek Festival is known as “Knoxville’s Delicious Weekend,” The Rossini Festival should take the name of “Knoxville’s Bellissimo Weekend.” A large tract of downtown is given over to entertainment, vendors, craftspeople and such. If you like people-watching, you can’t afford to miss this signature springtime event. While this spring’s weather has been topsy-turvy, we all have our fingers crossed that this weekend will be nice. And, unlike in Italy, you won’t be forced to take a nap from 1:00 to 3:30.

Verdi’s Otello will be the musical main dish of this year’s Rossini Festival. Late Verdi is very robust and savory; this score possesses a tonality and flow which abandon the traditional Italian formula and hand off the torch to Puccini by way of Wagner. Verdi, along with Mozart, Wagner and Britten, belongs on the “Mount Rushmore” of opera composers who really understood how to make the music drive the drama.  I, a lowly pit musician, can’t hope to assimilate the full brunt of this work of art. I am jealous of those who are able to experience an opera production. The principals in this offering–  Kassandra Dimopoulou as Desdemona and Michael Austin in the title role– are fabulous, and Verdi’s writing for the English horn alone is worth the price of admission.

This weekend– Friday April 27th at 8:00 and Sunday April 29th at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Post-mortem on Carnival

I am easily distracted, so when we performed the Carnival of the Animals last week, my mind drifted off to more contemporary (but by no means modern) images to accompany Saint-Saëns’ music. 

Introduction and March of the Lion

Hens and Roosters





Persons with Long Ears





Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April Classics

This Thursday and Friday’s Masterworks concerts feature three (out of four) works that go WAAAAAYY back for me. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and his Violin Concerto No. 3 all found me in the 70's. The youth orchestra I was in hosted Charles Nelson Reilly as the narrator in the Carnival. What a hoot! He played the cuckoo. When the little toy instrument refused to play, a percussion specialist pointed out that his finger was covering up the soundhole. “That’s the story of my life,” was Mr. Reilly’s reply. And my high school orchestra tackled the Schubert Unfinished, first period every day in 1977.

It was good to see Maestro Richman on the podium again, “(Hey who’s this guy with the beard?)” and to rehearse with David Kim in the Saint-Saëns Third. It’s a concerto you know you’ve heard or played; tunes from it have popped up in my mental iPod over the years. Mr. Kim is an absolute joy to work with, and the Guadagnini instrument on which he plays is wonderful.

To me, Schubert is one of the most enigmatic composers. Since he died so young, I mourn the loss of his later works. Lacking such, we can’t call the Unfinished Symphony a “harbinger of Schubert’s middle period.” What’s extant is some stupendously awesome music, but some fairly average things, too. (Some of the string quartets for example. Hey. Everyone is entitled to my opinion).

While the names Saint-Saëns and Schubert might not send chills up the spines of the average hipster, lawyer, or Vol fan, the tunes we are playing will. Saint-Saëns’ sense of humor is among the best in the business, and America’s first Chidren’s Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutzky, will serve up a new original narrative for the Carnival’s classic melodies.

Please join us Thursday and/or Friday at the Tennessee Theatre at 8 for some truly classic music.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April Odds and Ends

Since this is April, it must be dogwood season. Or at least it usually is. And dogwood season means the Dogwood Arts Festival! The DAF is the first big spring fling that Knoxville can truly call its own. A bodaceous assortment of arts, crafts and disciplines are brought together for most of April. The brochure is just a beginning for finding interesting performances; the best way to enjoy the DAF is just to venture downtown and take in the Market Square scene, which is what I did for a spell today. Boy, if I wasn’t so diabetic I would have been all over an Orange Julius, but that’s beside the point. Right there on the Market Square stage was trombonist Tom Lundberg (below) leading the Knoxville Jazz Youth Orchestra! On Gay St., a tuba quartet was tackling Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture, and later on Kathy Hart-Reilly’s Suzuki Hart-Strings were slated to appear.
Some of you old-timers will remember Lee Richey, an outstanding cellist who was hired at the same audition I was in 1986. He was a fan favorite and became principal cellist in 1990(?). He moved on in the 90's, but now he is in Las Vegas, playing shows AND, according to this month’s union paper, conducting! He is pictured on page 8 in front of a benefit concert orchestra. Those were the days....
While many people travel to Florida in the spring, not many who do so have tying the knot in mind. That is exactly what flutist Jill Allard and Mac Bartine did, though, on April 7th, in Melbourne Beach, FL. Congratulations are in order!!! We kidded her that she must have practiced her opera part (for Otello) an awful lot down there, because she sounded great in rehearsal today!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good Company

We here at the Blogger household are hosting my parents, George and Ruth Blogger, and my sister Jean Blogger. They drove down from New England last week, arriving on Good Friday.

Jean lives in Maine and is a nurse at a rehab facility near Portland. She also plays bassoon in some Portland-area ensembles, and sings with an a capella group there called Renaissance Voices. I was always in awe of her musical talent growing up; she received a Music Education degree from Western Connecticut State University, and could sing harmony on any Joni Mitchell song. Her bassoon case had a multi-colored design (a la Peter Max) painted on it which I thought was the bomb.

Back in the day, my parents were not “backstage parents;” neither of them were musicians per se, and I wasn't exactly a prodigy. My dad was a public school teacher and “played the phonograph.” My mom sang in the church choir and had some piano skills. She was also a devoted listener to WTIC-FM, which was a commercial classical station. (Yes, there used to be such a thing!) The public schools in Newington, CT were well-endowed with music facilities and faculty, and several of us kids took private lessons. My dad would take me to the Hartford Symphony’s dress rehearsals whenever there was a cello or piano soloist. This is how at an early age I was able to see the likes of Leonard Rose and Andre Watts play. They would take me to concerts also, and even though all I could think about was how bad my feet itched and how asleep I wanted to be, it would never fail that my mom would wake me up with a nudge, saying, “Watch his hands!”

Unfortunately the KSO has no concerts for the duration of their visit, although Jean did get to see my band play on Friday night at the Bistro at the Bijou. It’s sort of a blessing in disguise, for I am more available while they are here (except for when I have students). Mom put together an awesome ham dinner for Easter, and Dad helped explain to me what was going on at the Masters. We will be sorry to see them leave later this week.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week, the Sun Sets on Sundown, and Babies Make Five!

This has been a week off for KSO people, but holy week is an opportunity for extra playing. While some years there’s nothing, my Easter gigs have run the gamut of styles this year, from a Rock n’ Roll church in Sevierville to somber Episcopalian services. Something about a Maundy Thursday service with dimming lights, solo Bach and a howling thunderstorm outside will really resonate to someone who is seeking to experience the mystery of faith.

Something that will probably make you happy is the news that the Sundown in the City concert series, which has been a Thursday night fixture on Market Square in the spring and snarled traffic at some of our Thursday night Masterworks concerts, is no more. I have mixed feelings about this. While yes, the traffic, crowds and parking were abominable, it shouts “failure” at the city of Knoxville’s inability to handle multiple cultural events in a single night. What started out as a cool way to start the weekend with world-renowned acts playing free concerts on Market Square became an unmanageable monster with a few (or maybe more than a few) irresponsible folks ruining it for others. The shows I attended were all fun, (Little Feat, Erick Baker, Umphree’s McGee, Bela Fleck, more) and I found it amusing to see just how crazy Knoxville could get. But apparently many others did not share my amusement.

Speaking of Erick Baker, you may remember that one of our youth ensemble directors, Erin Archer, was a part of Erick’s band, playing viola. She was the director of the Preludium orchestra, the youngest contingent of the KSYO program. Well, she stepped aside from that post because she was pregnant with triplets, and on March 18th, Christopher, Megan and Samantha arrived, and now babies make five for Erin and hubby Carey Archer!! You can follow their experiences raising triplets at

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mozart, Alvarez and Chausson: Spring Strings and Piano

Our dress rehearsal for Sunday’s Chamber Classics concert was interrupted by the loudest hail I have ever heard. I had come home from the morning’s rehearsal, and while driving back to the Bijou I noticed a fairly sinister looking cloud to the west. We were having trouble getting the piano to be heard clearly at the rehearsal. It turned out that it just needed to be further downstage, but for about 15 minutes we were under siege and wondering what our cars were going to look like at the end of the day. In the end it was all just a bunch of noise; the hailstones were many, but nothing larger than a nickel.

Second violinist Edward found Javier Alvarez’ Metro Chabacano, in his memory bank of modern works for string quartet. The term is synonymous with a subway stop in Mexico City, and the word chabacano is a slang word for apricot. While the relentless motor rhythm of this piece suggests a train, there are some sounds in the first violin melody that are decidedly avian. Note: any pages falling off of stands are meant to. Please resist the urge to rush on stage and help.

Mozart’s String Quartet K. 428 starts with a very slinky motif that is just 3 tones short of being a twelve-tone row. In unison. It has been the subject of much debate in quartet rehearsals. Now that these notes have been installed, we think we have at least a ballpark estimate of where E♭ is. It’s a great key; something about having an open string as the third of the chord is very warming. The Andante con moto has a rich texture more like Brahms, and the Minuet’s theme features another animal-call; this time I think it’s the donkey. The closing Allegro vivace will feature first violinist Gordon “Go-go” Tsai raining down notes like, umm, hail. Katy bar the door!

Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet will be the second half of the show. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowicz and pianist Emi Kagawa add a splendid chamber music chemistry to the quartet to present a rarely-heard work reminiscent of Tchaikovsky and Franck, but predictive of Ravel and Gershwin. It could easily be called Sonata or even Symphony. Call it what you want, but this kind of music sounds SO much better live! Don’t go by Billboard’s rating when it comes to classical music. (Amazon had this rated at #99,549th on their list of requested “songs”).

We would like to thank American Piano Gallery out at Turkey Creek for generously letting us use their space for rehearsals. Also, people should be aware that the Knoxville Marathon will still be happening during Sunday’s concert, so yield to tired runners if you please.