Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013-2014 Masterworks Preview Part II

After an undoubtedly well-deserved Christmas break, the KSO Masterworks series will fire back up again on January 16th and 17th  with a crowd-pleasing program of music by Mozart, Tchaikovski and Johann Strauss. Guest conductor Sean Newhouse will sandwich Strauss’ Overture to Die Fledermaus and the Emperor Waltzes around Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and Tchaikovski’s Suite from  Sleeping Beauty. The piano soloist for the Mozart will be Louis Schwizgebel.

February’s offerings, on the 20th and 21st, will be our choral concerts, with Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service topping the bill. This musical celebration of the Jewish Saturday morning service was written in, and inspired by, the Alps of Bloch’s native Switzerland on the eve of World War II, in a musical language somewhere between Moussorgsky and Vaughan Williams. Preceding the Bloch will be Richard Yardumian’s Veni, Sancte Spiritus and Paul Hovhaness’ 2nd Symphony, Mysterious Mountain. Although all three of these works were written in a 25-year span of the mid-20th century, there is a common thread of ethereal, gothic beauty which will transcend their composers’ relative obscurity and warm up cold February nights.

What better way to ring in Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday than to bring ALL SIX of his Brandenburg Concerti to the Tennessee Theatre stage! Over a 2-night period, March 20th (# 4, 3, and 1) and his actual birthday, the 21st (# 2, 6 and 5), the KSO will participate in a special Baroque edition of March Madness. Each Brandenburg Concerto has its own special orchestration and soloist configuration, and compositionally they are the quintessential Concerti Grossi which were so often imitated but never equalled. The famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and the Partita No. 2 and Chaconne, both orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, will launch the concert both nights.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In Memory of a Former Leader

I was on Facebook yesterday, scrolling through the day’s postings, when I noticed an item about a cyclist who had suffered a fatal heart attack in the middle of a bicycle race, in the first leg of the 3-day Courage Classic near Vail, CO. I thought to myself, “what a shame,” but as more and more musicians that I knew to be local “shared” this story, it became clear that this was not only someone I knew, but someone who meant a lot to the Knoxville Symphony.

William “Rick” Lester was the KSO’s General Manager in the mid-90's, following Connie Harrison’s and preceding Mark Hanson’s tenure. As a part-time GM, splitting his time among the KSO and several other consultancies, he turned around a financially foundering KSO with bottom-line-based strategies that weren’t always popular due to their austerity. The rapidly evolving music scene in Knoxville and the rising tide of alternative music sources (the internet) demanded new methods for selling the KSO’s product, and Rick was not afraid to make bold changes. His conservative leadership was one link in the chain that has kept the KSO in business while many other orchestras faltered or went completely under.

Here is a link to the story on the (Colorado Springs) Gazette’s online obituaries. For a more in-depth look at KSO events under Lester’s watch, here is a link to a 1997 Weekly Wire online newsletter. It is unfortunate that some will focus on the way he died, losing track of the true tragedy of his passing. We in Knoxville remember and mourn, and are thankful for his work here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sit or Stand?

It invariably comes up when I am talking to a concert-goer, the question of why the cellists do not stand up while playing the Star-Spangled Banner. Although I have never been accused of being an anarchist because of this, I am sure some people must wonder if the cellists as a team are protesting something.

It varies from orchestra to orchestra, but from a very unscientific poll I took on Facebook (I have about 150 friends who play orchestral instruments), the consensus is that the cellos sit to play, as this is the way that the instrument should be played. Some opined that it is respectful to the flag to perform in the most technically correct way possible, in order to serve the music to the utmost. In some orchestras NOBODY stands, since if one section must sit, then all should. No one in this poll admitted that the cellists stood up for the Banner, and no one believed that we should.

I have been known to play standing up. When I played in-school concerts, we often featured something called the “Fugue Game.” We would perform a Mozart fugue, from the “Easy Mozart” quartet book, and a quarter of the kids in the room would be assigned to each quartet member. When your player played the fugue subject (theme), (s)he would stand up. The game was to count the number of times your player would stand up, and although it was mayhem sometimes, it was always a lot of fun. Sometimes we would throw them a curveball and stand up and stretch during a rest, then we would have to warn them that we had to stand up AND PLAY. Since this was all in fun, sacrificing a little technical correctness was "good for the game," but the Star-Spangled Banner is not child’s play.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Blog About Blogs

It’s been a couple of years since I linked to some other bloggers, yet I am no more savvy about the blogosphere than when I started doing this. Tonight, somehow, I am sharing a few more and although they aren’t specifically symphonic music-related, they are interesting and amazing enough that they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Violist Julie Goodale and I met while playing in the Lake George Opera Festival orchestra in 1995. The orchestra was comprised of players from many states, but mostly free-lancers from Boston, Philly and New York, which is where Julie is from. For several summers in a row she would regale us with tales of treks on the highest peaks in the world, and of marathon runs. I wasn’t aware early on that she was a breast cancer survivor, but when I learned that, my mind just boggled. Her website, Life-Cise, and her blog, Fitness for Survivors, give profound insight into the world of someone who is not merely a survivor but a fitness pacesetter who makes the average “fitness nut” look like a couch potato.

Kimberly Simpkins is a KSO violinist who left town a few years ago, but has returned to pursue a degree at UT. The ins and outs of her life in music and parenthood are detailed in her blog, Mining for Diamonds.

An event that is probably not unique to Knoxville happens every June 7th, rain or shine (rain this year). It’s the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash, and this year I had the pleasure of performing on the Market Square stage with Norwegian Wood, a Beatles cover band. Sharing the stage with me were Ayca Yayman, (KSO second oboist), cellist Alexia Pantanizopolis, accordionist Tres Dogherty “(Tres Dog)”and violinist Seth Hopper. It was challenging, to do Dylan’s music, because his tunes often are more spoken than sung, sort of a folk-sprechstimme. Not great for an instrumental band, but we found some tunes that worked. A song that would definitely not have worked was Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. Someone has co-opted that song title and named their blog after it, Stuck Inside of Knoxville with the Urban Blues Again. Anything that happens in downtown Knoxville, and I mean anything, is recounted in this every-other-day blog that has won the MetroPulse Best of Knoxville 2013 award for local blogs. Some very timely documentation of the burgeoning downtown Knoxville scene can be found here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013-2014 season preview part 1

As summer finally dries out, I anticipate the 2013-14 season like a gardener anticipates the arrival of seeds that he has just ordered from a catalog. It will be my 27th season with the KSO. In dog years, it would be my 182nd. As is the case perennially, there is something on every concert that especially tickles my fancy, whether it be a work I am experiencing for the first time, something I haven’t played in years, or something I wish I could play every year.

In September, we are offering the Beethoven Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano with the Eroica Trio as guests. Those who have been here for a while will remember their appearance with us in the 1995-96 season (I think). It was a wonderful performance, although unfortunately what many remember is the fact that the pianist broke a heel as she walked on stage. Sigh. Those September 19 and 20 concerts will close with Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite. Kodály’s name is a departure for some to pronounce, (simply put, it’s “co-die”) but his music is “to-die” for; infinitely accessible gypsy-tinged impressionism. Háry János is his best-known orchestral work and features the cimbalom (pictured below), an eastern European hammered dulcimer that will be right out front on stage.

On October 17 and 18 we will hear Lucas Richman’s spanking-new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth with pianist Jeffrey Biegel (pronounced “beagle”). The work will be bookended by three staples of the 20th century American literature: Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal, Ferde Grofé’s Mississippi Suite, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris. I cannot say enough about the Barber overture; it is clever, bubbly and beautiful, but I will warn you that the Adagio for Strings it ain’t. The Grofé work was one of my first exposures to classical music; I eagerly await the revelation of what I was missing because my parents’ LP had so many skips in it.

In November, when it will undoubtedly be rainy again, we will welcome Lara St. John back to our stage to bring the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D to life. This sunny all-Mozart show will also feature the Overture to Idomeneo (“Ee-doe-men-A-O”), A Musical Joke, and the Symphony No. 31 (Paris). This pair of Masterworks will occur on November 14 and 15. All shows are at the Tennessee Theatre and start at 7:30.

Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

100 Percent Chance of the Spirit of 1776

I had the good fortune of performing at this year’s Rossini Festival, which happened on a rainy day in downtown Knoxville. The rain wasn’t the source of the good fortune, of course, rather it was witnessing the spirit of those who braved the wet to see our performance. Aside from the extension cord plug (for the PA system) falling into a puddle and shorting out after every other song, the performance really went well. Advice I was given to always keep a towel in my gig bag paid off. At another Rossini Festival, 2009, I believe, one of my bands played just prior to Keith Brown’s UT Jazz group. The jazzers had to cancel their show because there was a TORNADO WARNING. Rain has also accompanied the KSO on some of our outdoor concerts in Maryville and Morristown, but it did not deter very many people from attending.

I’m not even sure what will happen if it rains so hard that we can’t play. I remember, about 4 years ago, in the middle of the concert on the 4th, a big ol’ storm rolled in and we had to evacuate to the Knoxville Convention Center for about an hour while the storm passed. But when the clouds and rain cleared, there was a fine fireworks display and the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture brought the house down, so to speak.

People pay hundreds of dollars to attend Bonnaroo and hear toxically loud music in the rain and mud. (And I bet they didn’t even play Rocky Top)! The smart money (which is to say, NO money- it’s a free concert) is on the KSO’s 29th annual Independence Day concert, starting at 8:00 at the World’s Fair Park South Lawn. Soprano (and KSO Director of Education and Community Partnerships) will sing music of Irving Berlin, Alfred Reed and Marvin Hamlisch, and several marches will raise the spirit. And trust me, hearing Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s Pioneer Dances will be the most pleasant musical surprise you have had in a while.

Bring an umbrella. And a raincoat. Because it did more than rain at Valley Forge.