Wednesday, November 12, 2014


This Thursday and Friday nights it’s the supersized KSO in a blockbuster concert with guest soprano Emily Birsan, at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Verdi knew how soprani could sound. It is just thrilling to hear his sequence Ah, fors’è lui/Sempre libera  from La traviata from somewhere besides the orchestra pit! So THAT’S how it sounds!? Add to that Puccini’s Oh, mia babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi, Caro nome from Rigoletto, and an orchestral arrangement of Schubert’s “Shepherd on the Rock” courtesy of Karl Reineke, and your dreams of virtuoso soprano singing will come true. Gary Sperl will add a beautiful clarinet obligato to the Schubert, bringing a chamber music classic to a new life on a large stage. Ms. Birsan has a powerful but sweet accuracy to her singing that is breathtaking.

The second half of the program will be a thrilling sonic adventure, the KSO’s first ever performance of Richard Strauss’ final tone poem, “An Alpine Symphony.” Maestro Richman had another Strauss “first” for the KSO with Aus Italien in April of 2004, on the way to a complete cycle of the must-see Strauss tone poems. I am honored to play this work, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the members of the KSO. It features a gi-normous orchestra including a host of brass which the stage can scarcely hold, a wind machine, a heckelphone, tenor tubas, (or “tenah tubers,” as they say in Maine...) AND plenty of cowbells. The script is one hike through the mountains, dawn to dusk. The title “Alpine Symphony” needs not refer exclusively to the Alps– the Smokies, Tetons, Urals, or Andes could easily be called to mind.

This is not the Strauss of the Blue Danube or Die Fledermaus, contemporary with Verdi; that was Johann. Richard Strauss came somewhat later and is unrelated, working around the time of Puccini. A master orchestrator, Richard (pronounced “REE-card”) regales us with musical depictions of waterfalls, pastures, dead-end trails, brambles, and the most intense musical downpour you shall ever experience. While practicing some of these difficult “waterfall” and “cloudburst” passages, I am reminded of what Strauss himself said about them: “when you’re falling down a flight of stairs, you’re bound to miss a couple steps.” If you like brass, you don’t want to miss this, but more importantly, it’s just a FUN piece to play and hear played.

John Muir said it best: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Come climbing with the KSO!

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