Monday, February 25, 2013

Picardy Penguin Week, Baroque Weekend

The KSO’s offerings for children have become two-pronged, with Young People’s Concerts for the schools in the fall, and these new VERY Young People’s (ages 5-7) Concerts sprinkled throughout the year. The star of the VYPCs is of course, Picardy Penguin, a lovable flightless bird who is, nonetheless, pretty fly. A virtual creation of Maestro Lucas Richman, Picardy will be delving into concepts of opposites and contrasts in music, with soprano Katy Wolfe Zahn and Maestro Richman assisting as co-delvers. Katy will be performing the Laughing Song from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, and narrating a totally charming version of The Tortoise and the Hare set to music by composer Daniel Dorff, with some very clever musical devices. (Check out the snoring hare and the incredibly low voice of the tortoise). Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai will perform Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro; we were treated to a preview of it at quartet rehearsal the other day, and he is in the zone! Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and the finale from Tcaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 will also be played. These concerts will be TOMORROW, Tuesday the 26th at the Tennessee Theatre at 9:30, and at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville on Wednesday morning, the 27th, also at 9:30.


This coming Sunday, at 2:30 at the Bijou, the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will offer an all-Baroque concert under the baton of Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz will be the soloist in Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E. Opening the show will be Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in F. Thanks to the magic of Youtube comments, I have learned that this is apparently the music playing in the original Karate Kid movie with Ralph Macchio when he is training in the ocean waves before the tournament.

Music of Handel will comprise the second half, with the Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 2 in F, and finally his Music for the Royal Fireworks. It’s interesting to note that although on the surface, this looks like a concert with three concerti on it, remember that a concerto grosso is not a solo work per se, nor is it a “really large and disgusting piece of music,” as the name might suggest. It is rather a “concerto” with “many soloists” (hence the grosso-ness of it). The Bach Brandenburg is in fact also a concerto grosso, it’s just that the Brandenburg concerto moniker has stuck with it since the works were rediscovered in 1849. Sadly, the Handel Concerti Grossi have only opus numbers (3 and 6, six concerti in each opus) to tell them apart; would that there were some more descriptive titles to distinguish them one from another. The concerti grossi are the only works by Handel to have opus numbers, by the way, save for the opus 1 Flute Sonatas. (Maybe he lost count)?

As with all of the Chamber Orchestra Concerts, a post-concert chat will follow the concert, this time with Gabe and Maestro Fellenbaum.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

New Tricks

This morning’s breakfast consists of a Carnival Turnover(ture) and some chai- Tchai-kovsky, to be exact. If we were playing any other Tchaikovsky symphony, these notes would not seem so elusive, this being my maiden voyage with the 3rd. And while, yes, I have learned the notes, there is still a ways to go until I can say comfortably that I have learned the music. Finding where all these notes fit in is only possible at the rehearsal, since I may be able to figure some things out from a YouTube video, but lo and behold, our orchestra has different reflexes than the one the screen. Different articulations, different tempi, different drag coefficient, different acoustical phenomena. These rehearsals then become highly intensive fact-finding missions.

I hate to gripe, but there is one annoying aspect to how certain cello parts are printed, specifically the Dvorak Carnival Overture. It seems to be confined to the music of Dvorak and Beethoven, although older editions of other composers may be printed this way. Here it is. Out of the blue, a passage will be printed in treble clef. But it’s printed in a range that even a violinist would find high!! We are expected to read it an octave lower. Okay, so I get that. But why then, is the next similar passage printed in tenor clef, (which is less unusual and looks something like the number 13)? The notes in tenor clef are in the same range as the one in treble clef! Perhaps these are passages which the publisher felt always sounded like crap and has given practice alerts? I know that a lot of instruments transpose, either by necessity (like the basses) or by accident (like when the singer can’t hit that high G because of allergies), but the lack of logic here stymies me.

The answer to these and other pressing questions shall be revealed in time for Thursday and Friday’s Masterworks concerts, 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. Until then, be aware that this is the Year of the Viola. The symbol for tenor clef and for alto clef (which is what violas generally read) are the same, it is their placement on the staff that differs. So while I may argue that this is tenor clef, the viola community would say that alto clef is viola-specific and hence they have commandeered it to suit their own needs and toot their own horns.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Music That's Good for the Heart

We’re playing a Valentine’s Day concert this weekend (Saturday, Feb. 16, 8:00, Tennessee Theatre- sorry about the mix-up!!!!), and although it won’t technically be Valentine’s day any more, those with a romantic bent will surely appreciate a weekend-night outing to celebrate this most "lovely" holiday. What’s more, attendees will receive complimentary Godiva chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne. (We are aware that many are calorie-conscious, so the caviar sliders and heart-shaped Nutella calzones idea was nixed in a production meeting). This concert will not have an intermission, allowing more time for our patrons to return home while the night is still young.

Hot on the heels of an engagement they both had in Las Vegas, vocalists Philip Drennen and Nicole Kaplan will grace our stage on works by (among others) Bernstein, Marvin Hamlisch and Dolly Parton. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz will solo on Kreisler’s Liebesfreud and Elgar’s Salut d’amour, and Lucas Richman will accompany Philip and Nicole at the piano in a Gershwin medley. Nicole was a guest artist on our John Williams pops concert a couple seasons ago.

Speaking of Godiva, keyboardist Carol Zinavage had the distinct thrill of riding one of the horses from the recent Knoxville Opera production of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Here she is, post-rehearsal, outside the opera office on Depot St. astride Callie, basically because she can be. The other horse was named Marley.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Going West

It’s been fun this week to reacquaint myself with an opera that I performed 28 years ago with the Spoleto Festival. Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) opened my eyes to opera in a permanent way in the summer of 1985.

What we are talking about here, people, is the world’s first “spaghetti western.” Puccini’s score has “movie music” written all over it, but if you are envisioning an Aaron Copland-style score or something like Roy Harris’ “Great American Symphony,” you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Fanciulla predates all of that by at least 20 years. (The News-Sentinel’s write-up of the opera states that it was written in 1938; the actual publishing date and Metropolitan Opera debut year is 1910). Full of whole-tone harmonies, parallel intervals (shame on him!) and tantalizing dissonance, Fanciulla is the product of a composer who is well aware of the music of Debussy and early Schoenberg. KOC director Brian Saleski called it “the greatest opera that Ravel never wrote.” There are several other composers I can think of who might have fit into that sentence- yet they all had their heydays after 1910.

I know what you’re thinking, “music that breaks new ground hurts my ears!” But we’re not talking Charles Ives or Anton Webern here. It is unmistakably the Puccini that you’ve come to know and love. Close your eyes in parts of Act II and you will swear you are listening to Madame Butterfly (another Puccini opera with ties to the USA, the opera immediately preceding Fanciulla). Attendees would do well to also hear Manuel de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat Suite #2 that we will be performing in March under guest conductor Kelly Corcoran. The harmonic devices and tempo changes in the Falla are startlingly similar. Janacek’s Sinfonietta, Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony and Gershwin’s music for piano and orchestra all owe a tip of the hat to this Puccini product. I swear there is even a part that reminds me of Touch Me by the Doors.

The shows will be at the Tennessee Theatre this Friday at 8, and Sunday afternoon at 2:30. Watching handsome guys in cowboy outfits (some of them on horseback), singing handsome music is a fine way to spend a February Sunday afternoon.

This photo shows the 1910 debuting cast, including Enrico Caruso (with noose around his neck) and Emmy Destinn as Minnie.

Monday, February 4, 2013

February on Campus

Violinist Anileys Bermudez has won the UT Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition! A graduate student of former Associate Concertmaster of the KSO, Miro Hristov, she will be performing the finale from Prokofiev’s Concerto #1 for Violin on the concerto concert under the direction of Maestro James Fellenbaum, on March 17th at 4:00 at the Alumni Memorial Building (A.M.B.) on campus.

And now, for something completely different, a bevy of bassoonists will descend on the UT campus on Tuesday, Feb. 12. The date is Charles Darwin’s birthday, and the event is a performance of a work entitled Music for Earthworms by Dan Welcher. Mr. Welcher is professor of composition at the Univ. of Texas at Austin (the OTHER UT!!) and was formerly principal bassoonist with the Louisville Orchestra. KSO bassoonist Darrel Hale, former principal bassoonist Keith MacClelland, and blast from the KSO past Jim Lotz will be joined by several more bassoonists for this unusual program celebrating survival of the fittest, at 7:15 pm in the University Center Auditorium.

The third weekend in February brings the 15th annual Tennessee Cello Workshop, at UT, thanks to the hard work and perseverance of UT’s cello professor, Wesley Baldwin. Several guest faculty will be on hand, as well as representatives from different luthiers in the region. A capstone of the workshop will be a performance on Friday the 15th at 8:00 in the Cox Auditorium by the UT Symphony of David Ott’s Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra. This beautiful work was last heard in this town on Feb. 24, 1996, with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Sande MacMorran. I remember these details so well because I was one of the soloists, along with former principal cellist Phil Hansen. (Phil is now principal cellist with the Calgary Philharmonic). This workshop is a perennial hit celebrating the fairest of all of the orchestral instruments. (No, I’m not biased...)

The last day of the TCW coincides with the 70th anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninov’s final live performance, which took place in the SAME BUILDING as Ms Bermudez’ Prokofiev concerto and the Ott 2-Cello Concerto will occur. To commemorate this somewhat tragic yet uniquely Knoxvillian milestone, an all-Rachmaninov piano recital by Evgheny Brakhman will take place at 8 p.m. “Rachmaninov Remembered” is a joint production of the UT Music Dept. and the Evelyn Miller Young Pianist Series.

Yes, February is the shortest month, but it is long on performances at UT. On Friday Feb. 22 at 6:00, violist Hillary Herndon will give a recital at the Performance Hall 32 in the A.M.B. Hot on the heels of that (and in the same room) will be soprano Natalee McReynolds’ graduate recital. Since the 4th of July, Natalee has performed umpteen times with the KSO, including her fine portrayal of Johanna in Sweeney Todd, and spotlight appearances at the Clayton Holiday concerts. As this is a Friday KSO Masterworks night, consider attending the Thursday night KSO concert which will featured music of Dvorak, Tchaikovski and Sarasate. Then you will have our permission to attend the recital doubleheader.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that all of the events mentioned in this post are FREE.