Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Tidbits

We at the Blogger household are having a fine Thanksgiving, hosting my in-laws, Mary and Tom Gover from Minneapolis. The last thing they expected to see in Knoxville was snow. With sons Thomas and Richard home for the short week, there is a lot of catching up to do. Yesterday was, as a matter of tradition, taken up with turkey roasting and total kitchen engagement. My contribution through the day was to fry some green tomatoes for breakfast, (yes, they were from our garden), bake a pecan pie, and prepare broccoli tonkatsu (broccoli with sautéd onion and pecan in applesauce and tamari). Everything came out great, especially the pie..... nom nom nom...

Facebook seems to have taken a detour down Quiz Street. I try to avoid such diversions, as I tend to not disconnect from them easily. As a measurement of musical nerdhood, this “checklist” quiz of composers you’ve heard covers a lot of the early-music ground, but many present-day composers are left off. Sure, I’ll grant that Leonin and Perotin are legitimate, important composers, but mon dieu, how could you not include John Williams? Georges Enescu? Emil Reznicek? Lee Hoiby? Furthermore, who is this Barbara Strozzi with her wardrobe malfunction? My score of 201 rated me at “kinda nerdy,” but I could think of at least a dozen composers which weren’t on the list, which would boost me up in to the “nerdissimo” category, by this website’s measure.

Below are some musical moments for which to be thankful.

Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, turned 110 on Wednesday. Her vitality and vigor in this video, as well as her story, is simply amazing to watch.

The Toccata from Charles Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5 in f for organ is one of the most grandiose and joyous musical compositions PERIOD. Someone with a lot of free time has committed to performing the piece on the electric guitar.

I picked up an LP at a junk store last week by “Mrs. Miller.” I had heard about her, but not been experienced. It led me to further research, and lo and behold, there is a video of she and Jimmy Durante singing one of Jimmy’s signature tunes...

What would Thanksgiving be without a 2-part “invention” by Red Green, the patron saint of handymen...

Happy Thanksgiving! And Happy Hannukah! From the whole KSO family.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Woodwind Quintet opens new series at Pellissippi State

Our new Q-Series makes its debut at 7:00 pm Thursday night at Pellissippi State! The KSO Woodwind Quintet will perform music of Bizet, Gunther Schuller, Dvorak and others at PSTCC’s Clayton Performing Arts Center in a FREE concert.

I know better than to expound upon a subject that I, a string player, really know very little about (woodwind quintet repertoire). I’m much more qualified to tell you what marvelous people our principal Quintet are. Flutist Ebonee Thomas and horn player Jeffery Whaley have only been on the scene for a couple years, and bassoonist Aaron Apaza only a couple months, but they have already improved Knoxville’s quality of life in beautiful ways. By comparison, I knew oboist Phyllis Secrist and clarinetist Gary Sperl before I moved here (Spoleto ‘85). They and I have been playing in the KSO for a combined 103 years. We have seen it all.

The works to be performed will be the Passacaille by French composer Adrien Barthe, Bizet’s suite Jeux d’enfants “(Child’s Play),” Paul Valjean’s 1955 Dance Suite, and Gunther Schuller’s Suite for Woodwind Quintet.  The concert will conclude with arrangements of three Gershwin piano preludes and Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet.

The Dvořák is, of course, a staple in the string quartet literature, as well as one of the earliest nods by a major composer to the United States. Those who know the score will be interested to hear who gets to do what.

American composer Gunther Schuller was a guest conductor for my undergrad orchestra at the Hartt School in Connecticut. We performed a large-scale work of his whose title I forget, but it was outrageously complex. The way he stored his baton in his hair was quite amusing, as was his music. I remember one day, it was a Wednesday.....

I drove an orange and white VW bus back then. (This was in Hartford, I know, but it was 1979, before the big basketball rivalry started). I needed to practice Mr. Schuller’s music; it was all over the cello, and still is, but I couldn’t find a practice room. Luckily my bus had the middle seat removed and I was able to shed some riffs in it. But in the meantime a storm had gathered, and right as rehearsal was supposed to start, sheets of rain and frequent cloud-to-ground lightening all around me caused me to choose between education and death. I stayed in the bus, and was a little late to rehearsal, but come to find out later that the Bradley Air Museum– and many area homes and businesses as close as  five miles away– were destroyed by what has been called “the 9th most destructive tornado in American history.” A link to some photos of the damage can be found here.

I haven’t performed any of Mr. Schuller’s music since then, but with this memory, I am happy to leave such a performance to others this time around. I’m going to leave it to the WIND players...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mozart to the Rescue!

"Does it not seem as if Mozart's works become fresher and fresher the oftener we hear them?"
   ~ Robert Schumann

"In my dreams of Heaven, I always see the great Masters gathered in a huge hall in which they all reside. Only Mozart has his own suite."
   ~ Victor Borge

"Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it-that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed."
   ~ Albert Einstein

Take it from these authorities, Mozart is the standard by which all composers are judged. Profound simplicity, simple complexity. You don’t know this until you have heard other composers and how they fall short of, or laughably overshoot, Mozart’s example. The Knoxville Symphony will be playing his Overture to Idomeneo, Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, A Musical Joke, and Symphony No. 31, Paris on Thursday and Friday nights, November 14 and 15 at the Tennessee Theatre. Violinist Lara St. John will be the soloist for the Concerto.

In Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Mozart is written into the story as a part of the Magic Theater, a venue in which a saxophone player, Pablo, experiences the fantasies that exist in his mind. Mozart says to (the protagonist) Harry Haller, “Look, there’s Brahms. He is striving for redemption but it will take him all his time.... Too thickly orchestrated, too much material wasted.” [I know this will raise the hackles of some Brahms freaks].... “Thick instrumentation was in any case neither Brahms’ or Wagner’s failing. It was the fault of their time.”

Composers in Mozart’s day were governed by strict rules which governed phrase lengths, scoring, and keys into which they could venture, given any specific beginning key. A lot of the humor in the Musical Joke is subtle and derived from the abandonment of these rules. By the time neo-classical composers such as Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Casella were composing, it was understood that those rules would be routinely broken. The results were just as comic, but about 150 years too late. Mozart got the jump on them. There are some horn notes in the Minuet that will elicit belly-laughs, (hopefully not from the hornists themselves), as will the cadenza of the third movement Adagio cantabile, and the entire Presto finale. As for the closing three chords... Katy bar the door.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Catching our breath

Personally, I am finding it hard to put on the brakes this week after the last was so action-packed. Kiddie concerts and Chamber Orchestra, plus a whole lotta Halloween celebrations. It’s a good chance to catch my breath and notice what’s on my calendar and that of others in the group.

On a journey that has actually already started, one of our core quartets will be touring the Knox County Public Libraries on the “Dig Into Reading” tour. Violinists Rachel Loseke and Yin Wu, violist Bill Pierce and cellist Ildar Khuziakhmetov started Tuesday at the South Knoxville branch. They will hit Fountain City on Friday at 10:15, Karnes on Nov. 13 at 11 am, downtown Thursday the 14th at 11 am, and Murphy, Farragut, Burlington, Norwood, Powell, and Cedar Bluff the week of Nov. 18th.

The Saint John’s Cathedral Monday Noon Recital series is a fine Knoxville classical music institution that brings chamber and solo repertoire to a downtown audience. I have performed many times in this series, and not merely for the free (for performers) lunch that follows each concert! On November 18th, KSO board member Dr. Frank Gray will be teaming up at the piano with Emi Kagawa in a program of piano four-hands music. There will be music of Schubert, and Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. The concert is free of charge, but the lunch afterwards is $5 for guests. Ms Kagawa will be joining the KSO Principal Quartet in January for a show on the new "Q" Series, in Schumann’s Piano Quintet at American Piano Gallery in Turkey Creek.

The Fall Youth Orchestra concerts are less than a week away! The 40th season of KSYOA starts off on Monday Nov. 11 at 7:00 pm at the Tennessee Theatre. All five groups will perform, starting with the Preludium orchestra, directed by Erin Archer. Her cool sister Megan Tipton will be conducting one of the pieces. Katie Hutchinson’s Philharmonia will present selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Wired by Lauren Bernofsky. Kathy Hart-Reilly will lead her Sinfonia ensemble through music of Yukiko Nishimura, Beethoven and J.C. Bach. Wesley Baldwin’s Youth Chamber Orchestra will be focusing on music of Scandinavia, with Arvo Pärt and Carl Nielsen in the spotlight. The Youth Orchestra proper will close with a Suppé Overture (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, with cello solo by Daniel Hong), and the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s 3rd symphony. A big thank you goes out to UT-Battelle for their generous support.