Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy (and busy) New Year!!

We sometimes take off during the holidays. Last year’s trip to Florida is still on my mind. I mean, a year ago today I was swimming in the ocean! Previous years’ visits with in-laws in Minneapolis and my parents in New Hampshire were also fun and toughened me up for these nebbishy Tennessee winters. This year is a different story. I’ve got a stack of really sublime music to learn, and the music itself is the trip. With Chamber Orchestra, Concertmaster Series, Pops, Martin Luther King Concert and Tchaikovsky IV all in the space of three weeks, January is going to be a many-splendored thing.

On the second Sunday in January (the 11th at 2:30, Bijou Theatre), things get going with a bang, (and some tooting, too) as the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will present music of Mozart, Stamitz, and Richard Strauss. The Mozart is the Bassoon Concerto and the Stamitz is the Trumpet Concerto. In the Mozart, principal bassoonist Aaron Apaza will be doing the tooting, and in the Stamitz, principal trumpeter Chase Hawkins. (Actually, Stamitz may or may not be the composer of this work, but whoever wrote it knew what they were doing. They really gave a toot. Another possible candidate for authorship of this work is a Bavarian composer named Holzbogen. Shades of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author). ANYway... The show will close with Strauss’ passionate, quirky masterpiece for chamber orchestra, the Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Composed in 1918 to accompany an adaptation of Molière’s 1670 play of the same name, it is "Music for The Theatre," but not a “Theatre Piece.” Substantiating the title of this concert as “Orchestral Soloists,” this work presents a staggering array of solos itself with essentially no two people playing the same part. The final movement has a ginormous cello solo in it, and the polonaise-like 4th movement is all Gabe.

Speaking of Gabe, just a few days later it will be time for the concertmaster series January installment at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Violinist Gordon Tsai, violists Katy Gawne and Eunsoon Corliss, and cellists Ihsan kartal and I will join Gabe Lefkowitz to close the concert with Tchaikovsky's string sextet, Souvenir de Florence. This exciting work has some really neat compositional devices, and there are so many beautiful tunes I just don't know what to do with myself. Actually I do know, I suppose I should go and learn them. The first half of the concert also involves the five of us along with principal bassist Steve Benne playing on Vivaldi's Winter Concerto from the Four Seasons, and then Gabe will perform five movements from Prokofiev's Cinderella Ballet with pianist Kevin Class. This is all music that will make you leap to your feet at the end. Wednesday and Thursday, January 7 and 8, 2015 at 7:00 pm.

Stay tuned for the rest of January...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Two Things (Or Is It Three)?

I’ve had some time off to focus on a couple items that weren’t as time sensitive as the programs we were performing. You’ve probably noticed a couple new faces in the flute and trumpet sections. Joining us on principal flute this year is Nick Johnson. When he was telling me about his training and youth, I just couldn’t believe it, because it SO mirrored my own experiences. He spent his early years around Hartford, attending the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, and its Junior Division before that! He also knew Gabe Lefkowitz in the Boston area, where they both attended the Walnut Hill School in Natick. Most recently though, Nick had been living in California and studying with a major force in the flute world, former LA Philharmonic principal flutist Jim Walker.

Our second trumpet, DJ Creech, has had an entirely different sort of experience, getting his musical development solely in the South. From Dacula, Georgia (pronounced “Da-CUE-la” with an accent on the Q), he has received a Bachelor’s in Music from Georgia State, a Master’s from MTSU (where he knew an old bud of mine from the New Hampshire Music Festival, trombone professor David Loucky), and is currently pursuing a Doctorate at the University of Georgia. I think I got all that straight, the paper on which I wrote all his info down got put away in some cookbook yesterday, I’m afraid.


With Christmas now behind us, the New Year is at the gate waiting to board. It can be a somewhat dormant period for musicians, workwise. It’s a time for musicians who itemize to check off all of the end-of-year financial errands so that tax bills are a little easier to swallow. This includes buying strings, rosin, and replacing that mute you lost in the storm in the Alpine Symphony, getting bows rehaired and instruments adjusted, buying reeds and getting wind and brass instruments cleaned and maintained, tuning pianos, and purchasing music that you will be playing in the coming year. And, for many players, it is a time to give back.

Looking through the November Masterworks program, I counted seven KSO members that contributed to the Annual Fund at the $100-$249 level or higher. The program only lists contributors of $100 or more, but I betcha that at least 15 players gave up to that amount. We’d love to count you among our numbers. Our Executive Director, Rachel Ford, has a heartfelt message here which is worth taking a look at whether or not you make a donation. And now that it's after Christmas, it IS actually sort of time-sensitive

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Putting Some English on the Clayton Concerts

There’s a big old sleigh down at the Civic Auditorium, and the gifts it brings are many. The Go! Contemporary Danceworks, the Webb School’s Madrigal Singers, Church Street United Methodist Church’s Treble Choir, UT’s Herald Trumpets, and of course, the Knoxville Choral Society will all join the KSO in Lucas Richman’s final Clayton Holiday Concert. Such an assemblage of performers is gathering to bringest thou an Olde English Yuletide program for four shows, this Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 pm, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3.

Last year’s Celtic shows were a major success. By tapping the music of another of the British Isles this year, we can see the astonishing difference in the music and tradition of cultures that are just a few hundred miles apart.

It’s always a treat to hear a carol you’ve never heard before, and there are a few for me this year. One selection, Pastime with Good Company, is said to have been written by Henry VIII. Yea, verily, I am pleased to hear both it and ‘Tis the Time of Yuletide Glee, a madrigal by Thomas Morley (a Renaissance composer we studied in Music History class), whose work I had never heard live before. But, soft! Charles Dickens makes his presence felt a couple times, too, via the song I Like Life (from the 1970 film Scrooge) and Alan Menken’s God Bless Us Everyone from the 2004 TV film version of A Christmas Carol.

Although they are not technically “Olde English,” we shall also present music by Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst and John Rutter. Britten’s carol Hodie Christus natus est is set for treble voices and harp; it’s just magical. There’s a lot of magic going on there. Prithee, get thee hence to the Civic this weekend and make merry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Interview with a KSO member from the Days of Bertha Walburn Clark

Kathryn Moore, age 99, is the oldest living former member of the KSO. Under the direction of her teacher and KSO founder, Bertha Walburn Clark, she began lessons at age 8 and unofficially joined the orchestra at age 12. When she was 18 and just graduated from Central High School, Kathryn officially joined the KSO under Bertha's direction (around 1938).

Her total amount of time playing in the KSO was 49 years, under the leadership of at least four music directors. Kathryn's husband, General Hugh Moore passed away during World War II and she never remarried. During her career as an English professor at UT, she continued playing in the Knoxville Symphony. 

A few weeks ago, KSO Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz paid Kathryn a visit. He played several Bach selections for her enjoyment. She was incredulous at how talented he is at the young age of 27. She reflected on the last Concertmaster she played with, Bill Starr. She and Gabe compared their violins, though she admitted hers had not been played in 25 years or more. Gabe asked her permission to play a tune on it, despite its having a broken string, She couldn't believe it still worked, and that "the termites hadn't carried it away." It was a special visit for everyone involved. Here is a brief video of the encounter.

Thanks to Dan McGehee for arranging the visit, and to KSO Director of Communications Rachel Dellinger for taking the pictures and video, and for providing all the "facts and figures."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Weekends of Nutcracker Ballet

The Appalachian Ballet Company will once again (for the 41st year in a row!) dance Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker to the accompaniment of the KSO this weekend in Knoxville and next Saturday in Maryville. Knoxville shows will be THIS Saturday night at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, and Maryville’s shows will be at the Clayton Center at 2:00 and 8:00 NEXT Saturday. There are many new dancers and new choreographies in this year’s production.

The Nutcracker is a time-honored tradition worldwide, and its music is some of Tchaikovsky’s best, although he himself astoundingly was not particularly thrilled with it. Composed to be half of a double-bill with his one-act opera Iolanta, the ballet was not a work of which the composer felt proud, compared to the opera. History has certainly proven him wrong!

We don’t anticipate any technical issues or glitches with the ballet. Other companies have had their share of misfortunes, providing a litany of examples from which to learn. Matthew Carter, Ballet Master of Ballet Nebraska, shared a few on his bio for that company’s website...
Once, in Pennsylvania, the orchestra light blew a fuse during a live performance. I was inside an enormous Nutcracker head during the Battle scene. The orchestra stopped playing, but I didn’t know exactly what had happened at first, since hearing and vision are muffled inside those things! I thought maybe I’d gone deaf or something! I kept going. We completed the Battle scene in silence; the fuse was fixed before the Snow Queen’s entrance, and the dancers saved the day! 
I was also performing in a “cafetorium” (school auditorium/cafeteria) once in California. We had began our Snow pas de deux when M&M’s and french fries started falling on our heads! Apparently the janitor had put the lunch sweepings in the wrong container! It’s hard to remain glamorous in that sort of situation, but we did. 
In another production, I was the Prince sitting with Clara in the throne for Act II. There were little Pages who sat on the throne steps during Act II and departed after the Waltz of the Flowers. One little girl had forgotten to switch her position during the Act, so when she got up to leave her legs had fallen asleep and she couldn’t walk straight. She wobbled, grasped the back drop, and did other crazy movements before the Dew Drop Fairy came back out and helped her off the stage…
Larry Pech, Ballet Master of the San Francisco ballet, also speaks of a near-tragedy in a 1990 Nutcracker production there...
Pech beat lymphoma, but his principal dancer position at the San Francisco Ballet was not waiting for him when he returned. Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson had qualms about hiring a dancer with a compromised spine and instead offered him a job as principal character dancer – a position emphasizing acting and pantomime that is often reserved for a dancer or instructor in his or her 50s or older. Pech, however, was just 30. And a particularly disastrous experience in a 1990 Nutcracker show led him to believe he ought to seek more in life. 
Roughly a year after he'd danced the most challenging parts San Francisco Ballet had to offer, Pech found himself in a student matinee, portraying Herr Drosselmeyer, the magical godfather who presents Clara with the nutcracker. Rather than dancing, his most agile moves were reserved for piloting a golf cart decorated to resemble a massive swan, in which he ferried Clara and the young prince into the land of snow. But then, above the familiar refrains of Tchaikovsky's hypnotic score, Pech heard a series of terrifying cracks.  
He glanced upwards just in time to notice the "two-ton Christmas tree that served as the centerpiece of the set" come loose from its moorings and crash to the ground. The massive evergreen thudded to the stage just behind the golf cart; the resultant shockwaves sent the swan lurching forward and a gust of wind set the orchestra's scores swirling about the theatre. The curtain abruptly fell to the accompaniment of hundreds of mortified children in the audience wailing in horror. Right then and there, Pech made a career choice: "I'll be damned if I overcome cancer and get killed by a Christmas tree." 
He resigned from the ballet shortly thereafter.