Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The music of Hector Berlioz, Modest Mussorgsky and Paul Dukas will provide us with the perfect Halloween wake-up call this Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. Guest maestro Sameer Patel has been a gracious and concise presence on the podium, very much attuned to the overall impact that this dynamic music is designed to create.

I love the music of Modest Mussorgsky. His use of unusual combinations of instrument timbres (such as gong with bass clarinet, or trombone with high tympani) produce truly exotic orchestral colors. His music also has its own unique, harmonic language that is half-Gothic and half-peasant. The program for A Night on Bald Mountain is truly diabolical in nature, but ends with a glimmer of peace.

Paul Dukas’ The Sorceror’s Apprentice is GOING to leave a smile on your face, I guarantee. Not to take anything away from the Fantasia connection, but this work has the ultimate contrabassoon solo. It’s fall-down-on-your-face funny and MUST be heard in person. You’ll also notice, near the end, the source of a John Williams theme from a galactic warfare movie from about 40 years ago. And if that isn’t enough, Dukas has a Knoxville connection– he was a composition teacher of the KSO’s third music director, David Van Vactor.

If Mussorgsky set the tone for the evening with diabolical subject matter, Hector Berlioz ups the ante in Symphonie Fantastique. Berlioz wasn’t being vain in entitling his work with a superlative (the French usage of the word fantastique suggests “fanciful” or “outrageous”), but he had every right to “toot his own horn” if he wished; it really happens to be a fantastic piece of music. Symbolic of his own experience with a love beyond reach, the symphony is a marvel of orchestration– and an emotional smorgasbord. If you remember, last month’s Bright Blue Music by Michael Torke showed how music could evoke colors when heard. Berlioz has written a piece which seeks to evoke the object of his affection. A recurring theme, called an idée fixe (rhymes with “Ebay freaks”) represents the woman (Irish actress Harriet Smithson). There are instruments offstage; the 1st oboe and orchestra bells will both spend some time in the wings, typical of the Romantic Era aesthetic wherein the artform is bursting at the seams of its physical confinement to the stage.

You will be happy to know that South Central St., down the hill behind the Tennessee Theatre, has reopened (with a slightly modified traffic pattern), allowing access to on-street parking if you are wishing to avoid the congestion of the State Street Parking Garage.

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