Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013-2014 Masterworks Preview Part III

As you remember from our last episode, we had just celebrated Bach's birthday by performing all of his Brandenburg Concerti over two nights in March. When the smoke from all 329 of those candles clears, we will be left with just two months left in the season.

On April 24th and 25th, 2014, a trip to Scandinavia will be happening. We will musically travel to Denmark, where the Overture and Cockerel's Dance from Carl Nielsen's opera Maskarade originated. Pianist Andrew Staupe will perform the ever-popular Piano Concerto of Edvard Grieg, Norway's finest composer. We will close with Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, a lesser-known but rich entry from Finland's symphonic native son.

May's finale, on the 15th and 16th, holds music by Beethoven and Shostakovich. The Fidelio Overture of Beethoven starts things off, followed by his Piano Concerto No. 4, with soloist Spencer Myer at the keyboard. I don't know if I've ever told you this, but the Beethoven 4th is a “desert island” piece for me; of the five Beethoven piano concerti, I find it to be the most soulful and the most quirky, especially the responsorial middle movement. As infrequently as I have played it, I'm beginning to think of it as a “dessert island” piece.

The grand finale to the season will be Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. Yet again, a work that only has a number to identify it, but it oozes true Russian soul which permeates so much of Shostakovich's defiant music. A highlight of this first symphony after his denouncing the communist party is the second movement Scherzo, a powerful maelstrom of a work which is a “musical portrait of Josef Stalin.”

All shows start at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two Great Awards

There is news of high achievement and good fortune recently in KSO management. Our fearless Executive Director, Rachel Ford, was named one of six YWCA Tribute to Women Honorees. Such honorees are chosen from area businesswomen who are outstanding in their field and an inspiration to those around them, by an independent, out-of-town panel of judges. We knew all along the caliber of woman that we had running our show here at the KSO, but now there is undisputed proof and recognition of the quality work she has been doing here for several years. Way to go, Rachel!

A major part of that work is fundraising, and some major funds have recently risen. A grant by the Aslan Foundation to the tune of $1,000,000 has come our way, and will be used over a five-year period to establish the KSO's Woodwind Quintet as “core musicians,” to fund the Chamber Classics series, and to bolster ticket revenue for the Masterworks and Chamber Classics. For many years, the talk was that the Woodwind Quintet would become a core group of the KSO (just as there is a group of core strings), and now that day is finally here. The Aslan Foundation was founded in 1994 by Lindsay Young, for whom the downtown branch of the YMCA is named, and is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural beauty, assets and history of Knox County.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Added Chamber Music Concert

In a business where downsizing and even capsizing seem to be the rule rather than the exception, it is refreshing to know that the KSO has been compelled to add a concert to its schedule. The popular new Concertmaster Recital Series has spilled over to a fourth show. Although some call this the "Remedy Coffee concert series," because of the venue where the concerts are held, this added show will happen in the Great Hall of the Knoxville Museum of Art. There will be only one performance (instead of the customary pair), on May 1, 2014 at 7:00.

The concert will take place in conjunction with the KMA's installation of a massive work by glass sculptor Richard Jolley. The concert will include music by Sarasate, Rachmaninov and Dvorak. ("What!? No Philip Glass?" you may ask). Tickets will go on sale August 19 and will be $25.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Composers With Funny Names

As if Dvorak, Chopin and Puccini’s names didn’t already provide enough fodder for jokes, here are a few names that should tantalize your sense of humor.

 Arthur Frackenpohl (b.1924). I don’t know much about Mr. Frackenpohl, and neither does Wikipedia, but his Concertino for Tuba is a staple in the solo tuba literature. He is Professor Emeritus at SUNY, Potsdam, having studied with Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. The All Music website has a lot more information about his compositions, which are quite varied in their instrumentation.

Václav Nelhýbel’s (1919-1996, pronounced “Nellie-bell”) name caught my eye in junior high school, when our school orchestra delved into one of his many student orchestra compositions, imaginatively entitled Music for Orchestra. A Czech-American composer, his life’s work seems to be invested as much in the scholarly investigation of compositional techniques as in actual composition.

Claude Balbastre (1724-1799), keyboard composer from Dijon, France. I am not going to give a pronunciation hint here, the constraints of polite company dictate as much. Use your imagination. Balbastre's fame was so great that the archbishop of Paris had to forbid him to play at Saint Roch during some of the services, because the churches were overcrowded when Balbastre played.

Balbastre. Guess he played lute also.

Marcel Bitsch (1921-2011, pronounced “Beesh).” Another Frenchman, he composed for just about every wind instrument there is. His Études are so melodious that they are sometimes performed as concert-pieces, and they are often studied by instruments other than those for which they are written.

Otar Taktakishvili (1924-1989, pronounced “Tock-ta-quiche-vee-lee”) was a Georgian composer, best known outside Georgia for his Sonata for Flute and Piano. While still a student at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, he penned the official anthem of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. I hope I don’t need to mention that Tbilisi is not a suburb of Atlanta.

Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was arguably the most famous Polish composer after Chopin. His impromptu piano-duo concerts with fellow Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski in the Warsaw ghetto were undoubtedly welcome morsels of joy in that war-ravaged city. He had a very full musical life, about which Wikipedia provides a wealth of information that makes for fascinating reading. He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991.

Panufnik and Lutoslawski in 1990

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) was a Viennese contemporary and friend of both Haydn and Mozart, often playing quartets with them, and in those days considered an equally gifted composer. His concerti for viola and double bass are still standard repertoire pieces.