Friday, December 23, 2016

Last Minute Music Gifts

Yes, it's already Christmas Eve Eve, but there is still one shopping day left to give the gift of live music! Let's look at what is on January's horizon.

2017 will start with a trip to the Land of Oz! The movie that eased the pain of the Great Depression and has moved-- and frightened-- every generation since, will be shown with the accompaniment of the KSO. You've heard all of those great themes; Miss Gulch on her bike, the “If I Only Had A” variations, and the Winkies' marching chant; why not watch it with a live orchestra? When I think about the TV sets (and the “sound systems” they possessed) on which I've watched Dorothy and co., I can't imagine what that music is SUPPOSED to sound like. Well, we won't have to imagine any more, come January 7, 2017 when will Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will lead us “Over the Rainbow” at the Civic Auditorium at 8:00.

An abrupt turn for the intimate will occur the next week, when on Jan 11 and 12 Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends will appear at the Knoxville Museum of Art with highly collaborative program. Featured will be Vivaldi's “Spring” from the Four Seasons, Bach's Concerto for Oboe and Violin with principal oboist Claire Chenette, and Mozart's Clarinet Quintet with principal clarinetist Gary Sperl. I will be playing the Mozart for the second time in my life. My first time was also with Gary Sperl, at the 1985 Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston. Gabe was... how old then? ANYway, we'll be in the Great Room at 7 p.m. both nights.

The KSO's long-time involvement with the Night with the Arts Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration will continue on January 16 at the Tennessee Theatre at 6 p.m. The Carpetbag Theatre will offer a drama production, and Aaron Staple will direct the Celebration Singers in what is sure to be a moving tribute. There is no admission charge to this concert, but promising to take a loved one to attend this show would be a sweet gesture.

Just a week later, the Masterworks series will continue with guest conductor Andrew Grams and violinist Bella Hristova on January 19 and 20 at the Tennessee Theatre. Sibelius' timeless Violin Concerto has been teamed up with two Czech masterpieces; Sarka from Bedrich Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Homeland) and Dvorak's Symphony No. 6. The Dvorak is every bit the equal of the three vaunted symphonies of his that follow, and the Smetana is a wild ride, sort of like… ummmm…. Czech Liszt.

The Principal String Quartet will take the Bijou stage on January 29 at 2:30 for two grand works, Tchaikovsky's Quartet No. 1 in D, and Beethoven's third “Razumovsky” Quartet. Tchaikovsky's opus 10 contains the lovely Andante cantabile, which is often extracted to be played with string orchestra. The Beethoven is a particularly choice work with a torrid fugal finale that you will need to buckle your seatbelts for.

Here's hoping your holidays are restful and sweet, and that 2017 finds you at a Knoxville Symphony show.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A World of Joy

It's time for another Q Series episode! This Wednesday at noon, the Principal String Quartet and Principal Woodwind Quintet will bring a blend of well-seasoned classics and Christmas cheer to the table, to complement the delicious food provided by the host Square Room's kitchen. The Principal strings will preview our January 29th Bijou Theatre concert with a movement each from the Beethoven op. 59, No. 3 and Tchaikovsky D minor quartets. The Woodwinds will feature a suite from Bizet's Jeux d'enfants or “Children's Games.” (“Jeux” is pronounced to rhyme with “milieu,” and “d'enfants” becomes “dawnfawnce,” with the “n” sound merely hinted at, but not pronounced. I know, it doesn't sound anything like it looks-- darn those French with all of the silent letters in their words!)

There's a chance that as many as 3/5 of the wind quintet will be arriving at the concert on two wheels. Flutist Johanna Gruskin and oboist Claire Chenette log a lot of miles here and there, and clarinetist Gary Sperl is a renowned biker, but I daresay it is faster for him to walk to the Square Room from his residence.


Johanna and Claire

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December is the time of year when musicians are busier than mustard trying to ketchup. The coming week for the KSO, however, is Clayton week. This year's production is filled with bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, heaven and nature singing, Prancer and Vixen, and some snow and mistletoe. We shall take the road before us and sing a chorus or two, while visions of sugar plums dance in our heads. Maestro Demirjian's first Clayton Holiday Concerts will showcase GO! Contemporary Danceworks, the Powell High School Singers, mezzo-soprano Allison Deady, and the Knoxville Choral Society along with YOUR Knoxville Symphony. This weekend's concert times will be Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3. A certain North Pole resident is planning on appearing, with his usual elfin entourage and a sackful of delightfully irreverent humor.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Christmas Season Kick-off

The KSO's highly successful Classical Christmas concert, inaugurated last November, returns this coming Sunday at the Bijou Theatre at 2:30. I wouldn't be surprised if the concert was sold out; as of last Friday, there were only single seats available on the main floor. Our guests will be the Pellissippi State Variations vocal ensemble, and all will be led by new music director Aram Demirjian.

Works performed include Overture to a Merry Christmas (a mash-up of Mozart's Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and Joy to the World), Bizet's Farandole, selections from The Nutcracker, and music by Gustav Holst, as well as selections from the Messiah.

Handel's Messiah is the go-to work for showing off a chorus and an orchestra around the holidays. Okay, I admit it; we are show-offs, but we'll be tempering our show-offiness by only presenting the overture (Sinfonia) and the choruses And the Glory of the Lord and Hallelujah- (the entire work takes up 2-1/2 hours).

After taking a Messiah trivia quiz, I learned some interesting facts. Throughout his life, Handel refused to accept any money from the performances of Messiah. He refused because he felt that he did not deserve it. The oratorio's first performance was presented in Dublin on April 13, 1742. In order to increase the capacity of the concert hall, men were asked to leave their dress swords at home and women were asked to not wear farthingales (hoopskirts). Although the Dublin premier was very successful, the Messiah received a poor reception in London because of religious objections to the use of a sacred text in a theater. Our performance will be “co-ed,” but in Handel's day, the orchestra and chorus for Messiah were significantly smaller than those with which we are used to seeing it performed today. The chorus was only 20 singers and they were all male. Soprano and alto parts were sung by boys and castrati. Here are links to a couple of trivia quizzes...




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Blues, Bluegrass and Something Blue

Blues, Bluegrass and Something Blue

Maestro Aram Demirjian returns to the podium this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre for an an all-American program that draws on Appalachian themes for much of its content. Charles Ives' saucy Variations on “America” will open the program, followed by William Grant Still's African-American Symphony.  After intermission, a gem of a concerto for mandolin and orchestra, From the Blue Ridge will be played, with composer Jeff Midkiff performing the solo mandolin part.  The concert will conclude with Copland's beloved Appalachian Spring.

In 1891, Charles Ives was 17.  That a man so young could come up with such a concise and fresh debut as his Variations on “America” for organ proves that there was some seriously precocious talent at work here.  1891 is the year before Dvorak came to America, and while all of musical Europe was entrenched in mature romanticism, (Brahms had written all of his symphonies by 1885) Ives was dabbling with polytonality, or simultaneous use of unrelated keys.  The work lay fallow more than a half a century as an organ work before organist E. Power Biggs “discovered” it, and in 1962 American composer William Schuman orchestrated the work to its current form.  The theme that is the basis of the work is sometimes known as My Country 'Tis of Thee, but it is also the tune that served at one time or another in the 19th century as an anthem for Norway, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Russia, and of course England, where it is known as God Save the Queen.

William Grant Still is known as “the dean of African-American composers,” and his music possesses a truly “Southern” palette.  The African-American Symphony, from 1930, was at one time the most widely performed symphony by any American composer.  The first movement is particularly infused with the blues, and all four short movements utilize the pentatonic scale, which conforms to the shape and sound of only the black keys on the piano and their various incarnations.  The third movement, subtitled Humor, quotes Gershwin's I Got Rhythm.  Whether Still copped this from the Gershwin song, or the tune was actually arrived at unawares by both composers, is up for debate.  Passages in this movement also hint at George M. Cohan's You're a Grand Old Flag from 1904.

Next up will be From the Blue Ridge, one of the only works in existence that showcases the mandolin, outside of works by Vivaldi and (Prairie Home Companion host) Chris Thile.  Composer Jeff Midkiff is a Roanoke, VA native who participated in bluegrass escapades with such groups as The McPeak Brothers, the Lonesome River Band and Chicago's Bluegrass Express.  Amazingly enough, though, he has also had a career as a classical clarinetist, performing as a member of the Roanoke Symphony and the Naples (FL) Philharmonic.  Such an eclectic background could only lead to a desire to compose classical music, and this work shows some mad skills.  Suffice it to say that if you enjoy Mark O'Connor's Concerto for Fiddle, you are going to adore this work.




What can be said about Copland's Appalachian Spring?  It is one of the most oft-performed American orchestral works, and although the story behind the ballet is set in Pennsylvania, the subject could easily be the matrimonial proceedings of any young, rural couple in any of the states through which the Appalachian range passes, from Maine to Georgia.  Maestro Demirjian is very passionate about the work, and the passion shows as his ideas and interpretation diverge in a refreshing way from the boilerplate conception to which everyone is accustomed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Q Series, Take Me Away!

"The Q" is on again this Wednesday at noon at the Square Room downtown. Live chamber music is an unforgettable experience, and after what is sure to be an unforgettable Tuesday, this Q Series offering may prove to be breakfast for you. The menu will feature, in no particular order, music from France, Cuba, Hungary, and Louisville (KY).

The string course of the musical meal will again diverge from the usual quartet formation and consist of Ernö Dohnanyi's Serenade for string trio. In this case new papa Gordon Tsai will be on violin, Katie Gawne on viola, and yours truly on cello. Ernö Dohnanyi (1877-1960) was the teacher of Sir George Solti, and the grandfather of Christoph Dohnanyi, music director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1981-2002. He is also, imho, THE MOST underrated composer. One hurdle to his wider appeal might be the pronunciation of his name, which can be confounding without a little practice. Let's try it: dock-NON-ye. (The "ch" in "dock" is pronounced as in "loch"). His unique musical language hints at Berlioz, Faure and Brahms, but is flecked with the Romani elements of his native Hungary. This Serenade from 1902 and his Variations on a Nursery Theme for piano and orchestra are his most well-known works, but unfortunately, and unfairly, "well-known" isn't the best word. His plentiful chamber music dossier is just sitting there like a big piece of candy waitin' for a fly to land on it.

The centerpiece of the pristine 5-movement Serenade is its Scherzo, whose cockamamie, breakneck fugue subject in the violin calls to mind any number of cartoon characters falling down a hill. As if that wasn't exciting enough, the viola then layers on its version of the subject. When all three instruments are spilling their crazy melodic strands, Katie bar the door!




Katie barring the door


The Principal Woodwind Quintet will then serve up a smorgasbord of engaging, diverse works, with some doubling occurring. Doubling is when a wind player plays an additional instrument in his/her primary instrument's genre, mainly flute/piccolo and oboe/English horn, as is the case in the Suite: Portraits of Josephine composed by Imani Winds founder Valerie Coleman. This work portrays the life of renowned dancer and entertainer Josephine Baker, whose between-the-wars Paris career inspired Ernest Hemingway to describe her as “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Ravel's Piece en forme de Habañera will be the mellow appetizer, and Cuban jazz patriarch Paquito D'Rivera's captivating Wapango will be the tropical dessert. 


That's Wednesday, November 9th at noon. Until at least then, may God bless America.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Winds

The Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will present a colorful concert of Latin-American music on Sunday, October 30 at the Bijou Theater at 2:30. We'll be featuring the music of Mexican composer Arturo Marquez (Danzon No. 4), Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Rivera (Fuga con Pajarillo), Aaron Copland (Three Latin-American Sketches), and Astor Piazzolla (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). The Piazzolla work will spotlight Principal 2nd Violinist Edward Pulgar as soloist. Edward is a seasoned performer and will definitely highlight the zestily-seasoned melodies of the Piazzolla "Seasons."

Perhaps you remember composer Hans Richter, and his “Vivaldi Recomposed,” which the KSO performed at the 2015 Big Ears Festival. Our project with him was a “realignment” of Vivaldi's own music, basically orchestrated “tape loops.” Piazzolla, on the other hand, has composed a thoroughly new piece, with just a few cleverly disguised quotes from Vivaldi's original. The work was originally composed in 1965-70 for violin, bass, electric guitar, piano and bandoneón, but was transcribed for solo violin and strings by Leonid Desyatnikov in 1996-98. I am very much reminded of Heitor Villa-Lobos' music with this piece-- the harmonic thickness and the rhythmic drive-- to the extent that I suspected that Piazzolla had studied with Villa-Lobos. Imagine my surprise to learn that while yes, he was born in Argentina, he moved as a 4-year-old with his parents in 1925 to (ready for this?) Greenwich Village! At age 9 he was studying music with a student of Rachmaninoff, and there's your Knoxville connection! The music sways between lush and explosive, but there will be moments where you will hear stringed instruments played in ways you have probably never imagined.

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Another new venture for the KSO involves the Principal Woodwind Quintet and one of Knoxville's “jazz hideouts,” the Red Piano Lounge. Called “Woodwinds After Work,” it is an opportunity to hear wind chamber music while sampling the fine tapas and cocktails on the menu. The inaugural WAW was last May, but the series continues next Tuesday, November 1 at 6:30. The Quintet will play three 20-minute sets and will mingle with concert-goers between sets.  It's a good opportunity to meet our new principal flutist, Johanna Gruskin, who comes to us from Duluth, Minn. via LA's Colburn School of music. Best of all, this performance is FREE, with food and drink available for purchase.  




Thursday, October 20, 2016

THIS IS COMEDY

This week's collaboration at the Tennessee Theatre with the Knoxville Opera Company on Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance brings us some well-needed silliness.  On the heels of the success of 2014's production of H.M.S. Pinafore, a “British Invasion” of an entirely other sort will “capture” the fancy of young and old alike.  Featured will be UT voice faculty member, bass-baritone Andrew Wentzel, who for 20 years now has been singing the National Anthem at UT football games.  He will be performing INDOORS this weekend...

I remember listening to Gilbert and Sullivan growing up, on LPs on our Sears SILVERTONE record player.  We didn't have room in the living room for one of those console or credenza stereo, but we did have the lovely, “portable” desktop machine pictured below.  It was strictly forbidden to put records on the little shelf on the right side.  Every once in a while, the lid would come down like a guillotine and slice that sucker in half like it was a graham cracker.



At first I was fascinated with the machinery, but by the time I was 6 or so, I started to become intrigued by the music itself.  I was taken by the verbal agility.  I understood what they were saying, but why were they saying it that way?!  I was left with the impression that, wow, England must be an awfully cheerful place if even the pirates were this happy!


Just as Wagner's name is intimately associated with the opera house in Bayreuth, Gilbert and Sullivan's heyday came to be because of a tight coalition of the composers (actually the music is by Arthur Sullivan and the libretto by W. S. Gilbert), the venue (the Savoy Theatre, thanks to which, their body of work has come to be known as the Savoy Operas), and the opera company (the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company).  I just wanted to make sure, so I looked it up-- it's pronounced DOILY Cart.



A cart full of Doilies


D'Oyly Carte

Anyway, my lame attempt at humor here can't hold a candle to the level of hijinks that will be achieved at the shows, this Friday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30. See you there!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Italian Masters

The KSO's Masterworks series will continue its musical travels across Europe this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, under the direction of James Fellenbaum. This week's focus will be the music of three Italian composers.  I'm being careful not to describe it as “Italian music” in an ethnic sense, since each of the three composers-- Vivaldi, Rossini and Puccini-- were active in such different eras, and bound by those eras' conventions.  The great Italian vocal tradition is the binding force in the repertoire, as all three wrote operas, with Puccini's and Rossini's fame, at opposite ends of the Romantic Era, relying almost exclusively on opera.

Rossini's Overture to Semiramide (“sem-ee-rom-a-day”) exhibits structural formula and transparent textures left over from the Classical period.  The concitato, or agitated style of rapidly repeated notes, took root with Monteverdi in the 1640s, lived on in the Vivaldi Four Seasons from 1723, and the Rossini from 1823.  Later in the Romantic period it was no longer uniquely Italian and was largely abandoned by the time the grand scale and vocal sweep of Puccini's music made the scene in 1884.

The Capriccio Sinfonico is Puccini's thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory, written at age 24 in 1883.  It includes material from three of his first four operas; Le villi (“The Fairies”), Edgar, and La bohème.  The Intermezzo that opens Act III of his third opera, Manon Lescaut, supplies the second work by Puccini on the concert.

The Four Seasons by Vivaldi is the solo work on this concert, with violinist Giora Schmidt as soloist.  (His first name is pronounced “Ghee-or-a,” with a hard “g” sound as in “guitar”).  It will be easy to notice Vivaldi's operatic tendencies in the Seasons, because of the highly picturesque portrayal of the four seasons as “characters-” it's program music at its finest and the stile concitato is everywhere.  Vivaldi employs major keys for the bulk of the Spring and Fall segments, expressing joy in the more temperate seasons, and minor keys for Summer and Winter, reflecting the harshness of the extremes of weather.  Listen carefully to the second movement of Spring, where the (muted) violas portray far-off barking dogs on a cold early spring night. The concerti will be separated, with Spring and Summer on the first half followed by the two Puccini works (split by an intermission), and ending with Fall and Winter.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Last Weekend and This Weekend

Knoxville turned 225 the other day-- no better excuse for another party in downtown Knoxville! The founding year of 1791 makes Knoxville older than Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, and lots of bigger and uglier towns. In fact, on that date it was declared “the capitol of the Southwest Territories,” and one of 17 state capitols. Georgia encompassed most of Mississippi and Alabama then, with the lower third of those states AND New Orleans AND everything west of the Mississippi River still under Spanish control. The exact date is October 3, 1791, just three months after the Treaty of the Holston.

Before there was a Knoxville Symphony, it seems classical music was largely imported. A major center for the performing arts was Staub's Theatre, which stood on the current site of the Plaza Tower, home of Club Leconte. There were also outdoor performances at Chilhowee Park on the east side of town. Here are a couple images of Staub's, built in 1872 and known subsequently as Lowe's and The Lyric Theatre before it was razed in the early 60s. Wow, just... wow. (Photo courtesy of Will Dunklin).




Although little is known of classical music's influence (if any) in Knoxville at the time, any music aficionado knows that 1791 is also the year of Mozart's death.  In a dual celebration of these occasions, the KSO Principal String Quartet included in their performance Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, from his final year, in Knoxville's Krutch Park this past Saturday morning.  Mild weather and receptive crowds heard us play other Mozart and a special set of variations on Happy Birthday which led into an awesome Bill Pierce arrangement of Rocky Top, and your weekend was off to a great start, WASN'T IT??  (By the way, I hear it is supposed to be pronounced KROOCH Park). Tympanist Michael Combs was in the audience, and shared a snapshot with me.



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On July 10, 1966, I turned 5. My family (my parents, 3 sisters and a brother, all older than me) had set off in a Chevy van from Connecticut to many Western points; Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon… 50 years ago. I remember some of it like it was yesterday. I also remember some of the tunes the radio played; Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago, Roger Miller's King of the Road, and some Beach Boys songs which captivated my musical siblings and I in a different way than any of the Boys' previous hits had. The Pet Sounds album that came out in May of that year has influenced everyone from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to 2017 Big Ears Festival headliners Wilco. The Tennessee Theatre is the perfect venue to hear Brian Wilson's creation come to life, with a surf music chaser this Friday at 7:30. Wouldn't It Be Nice to see y'all there?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Two fine additions to the KSO Board of Directors


The KSO Board of Directors voted at its annual meeting on September 8, 2016 to add two new board members: Mrs. Becky Paylor, community volunteer and past president of the Knoxville Symphony League, and Mr. David Colquitt, Chief of Staff at Pilot Flying J. Photos and biographies of the new board members are included below. The KSO Board of Directors is chaired by Cynthia Moxley.


KSO Board President Ms. Cynthia Moxley is half-way through her two-year term as board president and says these additions will strengthen the board as a whole. “We are fortunate to work with an outstanding staff and board of directors during this turning point in the organization as we introduce our new Music Director Aram Demirjian. The Board plays a crucial role in upholding the organization’s mission, and ensuring financial sustainability.”

"My love of music began with my paternal grandmother who was a voice teacher and brought the piano into our lives.  Then a new resurgence when deciding whether to allow our new home to be a Symphony League Showhouse in 2002. When we learned how much music education was being presented by the KSO in the school system, it was the deciding factor for my husband and me and the new “eyeopening” journey began.  The KSO is the cog in the wheel for all the arts in Knoxville.  Can you imagine living in a town with no orchestra? Neither can I, and that's why I am so pleased to help raise awareness and assets for the KSO."

Becky Paylor served as President of the Knoxville Symphony League during the 2014-15 season. She currently serves as Board Chairman for The Restoration House, a ministry for single moms and their children, and is a member of the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation Board. She is a Merit Board member of the Knoxville Symphony League, a board member for Fostering Hope and a Board member for New Life Gathering, the church plant of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church where she has been a member for 35 years.


"Music- in all its forms- has been a great source of joy for our family. I am excited, and honored, to do what I can to help ensure that the KSO continues to be a thriving organization for East Tennessee."



David Colquitt serves as Chief of Staff for Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers in North America. Prior to his current role, David worked in operations for Pilot, serving as both a travel center general manager and a region manager. Prior to Pilot Flying J, David worked as an Associate for Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in its Houston, TX office. David has an AB in Politics from Princeton University and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law. David lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife, Annie, and 2-year-old son, Will. David currently serves on the board for the Cleveland Browns Foundation and is an active member of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Brahms and Schubert Usher in Concertmaster Series

Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends are back!  Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:00 at the Knoxville Museum of Art, a fine new Knoxville tradition will carry on without a comma.  Two works will be on the show; Brahms first Violin Sonata and Schubert's charming “Trout Quintet.”  The Trout quintet has an unusual instrumentation into which only 3 other serious composers (Dussek, Hummel and Vaughn Williams-- hmm, note to self...) have strayed.  The “combo” is bass (Steve Benne), viola (Katie Gawne), piano (Kevin Class), violin (Gabe Lefkowitz) and cello (yours truly).

Gabe and Kevin will be opening the program with Brahms' G Major Sonata op. 78.  Brahms waited a long time before writing a complete violin sonata, first penning three for piano and one for the cello. Hot on the heels of his Violin Concerto as this is, it's part of one of the most fruitful winning streaks of violin composition.  Part of THIS complete breakfast.  Kevin's been keeping busy, having just triumphed with the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 at the Bijou with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra on Sunday.


Throughout the “Trout” there are aquatic themes; the fish jumping in the opening piano lick, the slowly ascending bubbles in the rising string chords in the Andante second movement, and the sinuous, arcing phrase that the cello and violin trade in the Finale.  The variation movement's theme is shared with that of a Schubert song, Die Forelle, a strange but beautiful little ditty about a “happy wanderer” who bonds with a trout by a brook, but suffers emotional duress when a nearby angler casts his line.  The variations are ingeniously conceived, giving all of the instruments a moment in the sun.  It's only at the coda that the leaping 6-note accompanying figure that dominates the song shows up.  The ultimate irony is that the figure follows the contour of BOTH the arc of the jumping trout AND the fishhook.  Oh, and by the way, Gabe and I both agree that a passage from the slow variation was fashioned by Paul McCartney into a phrase in Hey Jude.  Although not a short work, each of the five movements is diverse, concise and satisfying.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Q Series Keeps the Music Coming

Traffic isn't a thing someone usually wants to see on their way to work.  But walking up the hill behind the Tennessee Theatre last week on the way to the opening KSO Masterworks concert, I was very pleased to see a long line of cars behind the theatre on State Street.  Music Director Aram Demirjian's debut caused a stir, and the traffic didn't lie: a much bigger house than usual saw Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky come to life on opening night. This bodes well for the “Aram Era” here in Knoxville!  With all due respect and sympathy to the folks PATIENTLY waiting at the stop sign, I hope to encounter more such traffic at future Thursday and Friday night shows.

Chamber music is the next focus, with a Q Series concert happening tomorrow, Wednesday the 21st.  Reserve a seat (and a lunch!) for “opening noon” at the Square Room on Market Square!  The Principal Woodwind Quintet will present Gabriel Fauré's Dolly Suite and Alexander Zemlinsky's Humoresque.  Fauré didn't customarily give programmatic titles to individual movements, but here are six vignettes inspired by Hélène Bardac, aka Dolly, the young daughter of his mistress.  (Sorry to disappoint those who thought it might be a dedicated to a certain Sevier County native).  The movements are Berceuse, Mi-a-ou, Le jardin de Dolly, Kitty-valse, Tendresse, and Le pas espagnol.  A couple of the movements' titles are cryptic, leading us to believe that the movements are about cats.  The truth is that Mi-a-ou serves to immortalize how toddler Dolly was (mis)pronouncing her older brother Raoul's name, and Kitty-valse is actually a musical portrait of the family dog, which for reasons unbeknownst was named “Ketty.”


The Principal String Quartet (minus one) will open the show with Beethoven's early String Trio in G Major, op. 9, no. 1.  Here is a rare chance to hear one of Beethoven's early forays into the string chamber music territory.  (He wrote all five of his string trios before he published any string quartets).  Why the minus one?  Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai has been given the afternoon off for a very beautiful reason; he and Meghan Ware are, as of September 14, the proud parents of Olivia Ellen Tsai!  All are doing well.

  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Music Educator Profile: Tracy Ward, Music Specialist

In honor of Arts Education week, local music educator Tracy Ward has shared with us how she became involved in making music and sharing her passion with students for almost three decades.

 It is not difficult to explain the impact arts education has had on my life. Arts education IS my life! 
I had a lot of support and encouragement from my parents, who were artists in their own right, although they were not musicians. I began taking piano lessons in third grade, and Dad would mute his football games just to listen to me practice. I’m sure I thought I would become a concert pianist. Then a family friend suggested to my parents that I might enjoy attending the Sewanee Summer Music Center. Sewanee changed everything for me! I had never really been around an orchestra, and instead of spending as much time in the practice room as I should have, I sat and listened to orchestra rehearsals, absorbing the wisdom of conductors like Hugh Wolf, Amerigo Marino, Henri Temianka, and Karel Husa. I developed a real passion for orchestral music and also for chamber music. We were expected to learn and perform a new chamber work with a new group of people every week, and the give and take of performing with other musicians became much more interesting to me than performing by myself ever was.

I did not become a great pianist, but that’s okay. I have spent 28 years sharing my love of music with my elementary-age students. My school choir even sang with the Knoxville Symphony in a performance of Carmina Burana. More recently, the musical pieces of my life have come together in a delightful way: I help to create the teacher’s guide for the Young People’s Concerts that the Knoxville Symphony presents every year. I hope my students grow to love the orchestra as much as I do.

My arts education is continuous, though, because I never want to stop learning! I have recently earned my Kodaly Certification, and I am learning to play the dulcimer. My husband (a wonderful baritone) and I have decided that we want to begin doing recitals of art songs together, so I’m sure you’ll understand if I excuse myself now. I need to go practice...



Tracy Ward is a Music Specialist who works with elementary school students ages K-5th grade at Sequoyah Elementary. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Ed. from UT-Knoxville, full Kodaly Certification from UT-Chattanooga, and Orff Level I Certification from Belmont University.  She continues sharing her passion for music by singing in the choir of St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September Song

It's that time of year again when the kids are back in school, walnuts are falling onto the tin roof of my neighbor's garage at all hours, and the KSO is playing the annual Concert in the Park at Ijams Nature Center. This Sunday, Sept. 11 at 5:30, Ijams opens its gates for a benefit for the Center, with Aram Demirjian making his Ijams debut! Special guests for this year's event will be local keyboard rocker Ben Maney, and Electric Darling vocalist Yasameen Hoffman-Shahin. I've had a blast sharing the stage with Yaz and Ben at various times in the recent past in Knoxville's jazz scene, and now they'll have us as the most awesome back-up band. We'll sandwich works by Elgar, Holst, Copland and Rossini around three of Ben's songs, arranged by the righteous Warren Clark.

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New maestro Aram Demirjian will conduct his first Masterworks concert as such next Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. Two monumental Russian works will make up the program, but to call this an “all-Russian” program is to discount the universality of each work's appeal.

Sergei Rachmaninoff's statue stands in World's Fair Park, a short walk from the Sunsphere and the Tennessee Amphitheater. I often ride by it on my bike, as it lay on a relatively hill-free route from my house in Parkridge to the Third Creek Greenway. The statue, by Victor Bokarev, could be much more visible; out in the sun, or even on an island in the small lake there. But no, it is tucked away in a shady corner of the park, and it is a fitting location for a tribute to a man who, despite a brilliant performing and composing career, had real issues dealing with the public. In a letter to the poet Marietta Shaginyan, he described his personality to be fraught with “criminal internal timidity.” Well, I assure you there is nothing timid about either his 3rd Piano Concerto, or the playing of our guest pianist, Orion Weiss, who played Rachmaninov's 2nd concerto with us in 2012.

Tchaikovsky, in an 1888 letter to the Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich, complained of some composers using remplissage, or the “padding” of the music with extraneous material, however melodious. He also stated: “I shall go to my grave without having produced anything with really perfect form.” Really, dude?? I have played the Nutcracker Ballet several times annually for the past 30 years, and I can't think of anything in that score that is not formally perfect. The same could be said for the Violin and Piano Concerti. Take his 5th Symphony, which we will perform next Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre. The 2nd movement, Andante cantabile, has the most gorgeous horn solo ever, and the triumphant finale, which quotes the first movement, will bring you to your feet. 


Come see what's new with the KSO for our 81st season!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How Times Have Changed

In the world of retail classical recordings, evolving technologies have spawned a rapidly changing business climate whose trends have been hard to predict. The onslaught of live streaming and online sources like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon have rendered brick-and-mortar stores rarities, because the actual thing you hold in your hand that has the music on it is no longer necessary for 90% of listenable music. One change for the worse is about to take place on October 1st when the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway closes its doors. Since 1991, lovers of music from all genres have been descending on the Exchange to feed their hungry ears. A West Knoxville location was also open from 1993-2008. The current issue of the KnoxvilleMercury has a lovely article about the Disc Exchange, with reminiscences by former and current employees.

Time was, buying NEW records (lps) of any kind was a pilgrimage. You could buy them at drug stores, at Sears, Target, or at a “record store,” but you had to GO AND GET IT. It was no mere keystroke and mouse-click. Once in possession, it was then up to you to make sure that it didn't warp or melt in your car. Growing up in Hartford, as in any medium to large city, there were a couple stores (long gone now) that had complete classical catalogs of all of the major and many of the minor labels on their shelves, arranged by catalog number. If they didn't have it, then those four dreaded words would be uttered by the salesman; “We can order it." At that point, it was customary for me to curse my procrastination, since I doubtless needed a title in just a day or two-- in time for someone's birthday or soon enough to learn something really quick.

And then there were the mail order “clubs,” like Columbia House, where you could get 13 albums for $1! (provided you bought a large number of records for a large sum of money per record over the next three years-- many consumers' first brush with debt entrapment). Their classical selection was limited to the most popular titles; you weren't going to find any Ysaye or Crumb. C House's recorded music branch went under in 2009, but there are rumblings that suggest they are going to try a comeback selling resurgent vinyl.

By 1990. the compact disc had totally supplanted the lp as the dominant recording media, with cassettes bringing up the rear but fading fast. On Knoxville's classical front, Disc Exchange had a classical listening room wherein you could try out recordings. They followed the example of Lynn's Disc and Dat, another record outlet in town which fell to the online axe in the 90s. Former KSO clarinetist Heidi Madson was an employee at Lynn's back then, and way before my time, a horn player with the KSO and "veritable vinyl junkie" named Charlie Morris worked there. Whether the store was named after the emerging, short-lived Digital Audio Tape (DAT) technology, or it was just trying to sound like Popeye and then that technology just happened to emerge, is up for discussion. The big record store chains, like Cats, Strawberries, and those places in the mall like f.y.e. had just a token representation of the classical realm.

The Disc Exchange's Rock and Pop selection is by now depleted to the point where I don't recognize ANY of the artists, and that classical-only listening room is now given over to new Pop and Indie vinyl issues. Their classical selection is still fairly strong, though, and I saw some of the 2016 Big Ears repertoire for sale there today. They have a wealth of used lps, the better to compete with McKay's Bookstore and Raven Records-- as well as most Goodwill stores-- in that niche.

So take a trip back through time and pay them a visit! Dig through some crates!  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Chamber Secrets Revealed

Well, they weren't really secrets, but let us ponder another branch of the KSO's musical tree, the Chamber Classics series. It will continue some old traditions and initiate a new one for 2016-17, with four concerts at the Bijou Theatre, and one at UT's Powell Recital Hall (January's Principal Quartet concert). All concerts will start at 2:30 pm.

On September 25, the 18th century will come to life with music of Mozart and Haydn. The impish Overture to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart will open the afternoon, and Haydn's final symphony, the London, will finish it. In between will fit Mozart's timeless Piano Concerto No. 21 in C with our buddy Kevin Class soloing. Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will be on the podium, as will he be for the October and April CC concerts while our new Maestro Aram Demirjian fulfills previous contracted engagements.

Since things Latin are on our minds during the Rio Olympics, it seems appropriate to bring music from other Americas to the Bijou stage. We shall do just that on October 30, performing music of Mexico (Arturo Marquez's Danzon No. 4), Venezuela (Aldemaro Romero's Fuga con Pajarillo), Argentina (Astor Piazzolla's “The Four Seasons of Argentina”) and Cuba, via the USA (Copland's Three Latin American Sketches).

A tradition that started last season and continues this year is a holiday concert with our new Music Director, Aram Demirjian making his Bijou debut! We'll be joined by Pellissippi State's Variations Choir on November 27 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) for a holiday concert that will start your season off right. A tradition that is starting THIS season is the Principal Quartet's appearance at the lush, newrecital hall on the UT campus; an appropriately intimate setting for such intimate music. Two superb works will make up this program, Tchaikovsky's Quartet No. 1 in D Major, and a gem from Beethoven's middle period, the Op. 59 No. 3 Quartet in C Major. The series will conclude on April 2, returning to the Bijou with Respighi's neo-renaissance Ancient Airs and Dances, Mozart's Oboe Concerto featuring principal oboist Claire Chenette, and Tchaikovsky's delicious Serenade for Strings.


Tickets for all of these shows have JUST gone on sale, so hurry on down to your phone or computer! View the KSO concert calendar here.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Glossary of Terms

Any non-musician who has hung out with a group of musicians talking has probably experienced a crisis of cognition when confronted with musical parlance. They will be dumbfounded to learn that (for example) “oh, that hairpin before the railroad tracks takes me by surprise every time!” is NOT referring to that musician's commute to work. I've selected a few words to define which have been repurposed for musical use without, apparently, the permission of the general population.

1) recap

This word has many good uses in the English language, from describing a summary of a story to describing auto tires that have been rejuvenated. In music, it is an abbreviation of the word “recapitulation,” an unwieldy word which denotes the return of the original theme of a piece after that theme's development. Most musical movements composed between 1650 and say, 1910 are formatted on an “ABA” form, e.g., A =exposition, B=development, and A=recapitulation. The recap will usually only have the same material as the exposition for a short while before more development takes place, which leads to the next word-

2) coda

The coda is literally, from the translation of the Latin “cauda,” the tail-end of a piece of music. It is the point where the music begins to either intensify to an ecstatic conclusion, often speeding up, or wind down to a peaceful settlement in anticipation of following movements. A musician who “had trouble in the coda” therefore has not been involved in an accident in Bismarck, they have merely discovered that there were more notes than they were aware of in a piece that was longer than they thought. If you are still confused, just remember that the final studio album by Led Zeppelin is entitled Coda.

3) hairpin

Leave it to those clever musicians to come up with a word from the Walgreen's Hair Care aisle to describe the shape of a musical direction. A volume swell in the music can be indicated by the words “crescendo” and “diminuendo,” (or “decrescendo”), but inasmuch as a picture speaks a thousand words, the use of sideways “vees” to indicate this swell is much more obvious when reading the music. The widest part of the hairpin is the loudest. Note the similarity...

hairpins, in red
a red hairpin

Obviously, for a very lengthy increase or decrease lasting for multiple lines of print, these “wedge” notations are not practical, and the actual words “crescendo” and “diminuendo” are used with a series of hyphens to indicate their duration. While we're on the subject of crescendos….

4) crescendo

A crescendo (pronounced “creche-endo”) is the PROCESS by which the music gets louder. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've seen in print something like the following:

                                               The crowd noise had reached a crescendo.

I could buy that phrase's author a new dictionary. Arrggh. Friends, a crescendo is not something you reach. It is a way of reaching something. Not an end, but a means to an end. The crowd noise may be increasing, but when it gets to its loudest point, please call it a fortissimo, or a cacophony, but not a crescendo!

5) railroad tracks

Again, musicians are very good at “calling 'em the way they see 'em.” When a composer wants an unexpected pause in the music, they write two short, vertical parallel lines at the top of the staff to indicate it. The technical name is caesura, or if you're a classicist, cǽsura. In any case, the directions are to stop at the railroad tracks, like any normal human being would. This is not a long pause, roughly just one or two seconds, so there's not time to rosin your bow or fix your crooked tie. It's a way that composers stop the flow of the music to fool the audience-- and sometimes the performers!-- for dramatic effect. Often overlooked due to its small size, an oft-used piece of sheet music will have many additional, thickly-penciled markings to warn players of oncoming silence, and a crisp, new part soon will.

caesura after the first note

6) sitz

This is a many-splendored word. The most splendid meaning denotes the tub you sit in at the Y after a workout. It is pronounced “zits,” like the comic strip, or the bane of an adolescent's existence. In music, however, the word is an abbreviation of the German word sitzprobe, a word which at first glance evokes any number of scary thoughts. It is used to define the first rehearsal of an opera or musical where the cast and the orchestra are brought together for the first time. It is usually no soak in a warm tub, as the musical flow is still unfamiliar to many. The cast of such a production are, as a rule, seated in chairs, hence the term “sitz.”

7) staccato

Okay, one more pet peeve. "Staccato clapping" is a term that many sports writers and broadcasters use to describe the rhythmic clapping that fans do when they "want some action" in a game. Musically speaking, staccato describes notes that are detached from one another- short notes that aren't connected to other notes. The opposite of staccato is legato, notes that are smoothly slurred, or at least having uninterrupted sound. Clapping is by nature something that can only be done in a staccato manner- have you ever succeeded in clapping smoothly? I didn't think so. I hereby deem "staccato clapping" to be redundant.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sure-Fire Pops Series

The News Sentinel Pops series for the 2016-17 KSO season offers a range of attractions that appeal to Baby Boomers, Celtic music fans, and kids at heart. Two of our guest acts have been with us before, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Natalie MacMaster. The other four acts are Pet Sounds (a tribute to the Beach Boys), Mary Wilson from the Supremes, Windborne Music's tribute to Journey, and a showing of The Wizard of Oz with orchestral soundtrack accompaniment.

First off, on FRIDAY, October 7 at the Tennessee Theatre, 8:00, the Beach Boys trendsetting album Pet Sounds will be reproduced in its entirety, with giant hits Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, and God Only Knows topping the bill. On the second half will be a collection of the Boys' earlier hits, which scarcely need an introduction. Then on January 7, we're off to see- and play- the Wizard, which is just as good the 15th time you saw it as the first. I have a recent fond memory from this past March of watching this with my mother, who saw it first-run when she was 12. I sure hope the charts for it are available way early, because (typical of films of the Technicolor Age) the score is chock full of notes and details. (This show and all that follow will be on Saturday nights at the Civic Auditorium at 8. I have learned my lesson from two years in a row of misstating both the night and venue of the season's first Pops production, which will be on a Friday at the Tennessee Theatre).

Mary Wilson is a 60's survivor with a long list of humanitarian cred, and she will be bringing the Supremes catalog to the Civic on February 4. If this is going to be anything like last season's Fifth Dimension concert, you can expect to get up and dance. The question remains whether Ms Wilson will summon me to dance the way Florence LaRue did during the Fifth Dimension's show. Just in case, I had better get to work on some of those dance moves.

Next up on our Pops journey will be... Journey! Windborne Music has done it again, this time with Steve Perry and the gang's monster hits like Wheel in the Sky, Any Way You Want It, Lights, and two perennial wedding and karaoke favorites, Open Arms and Don't Stop Believin'. I personally hope they delve into Steve Perry's solo catalog, with songs like Oh, Sherrie and Foolish Heart. This will happen on March 11.

Natalie MacMaster will bring back her rollicking, dancing, fiddling extravaganza to us on April 8. (It isn't Saint Patrick's Day, but it IS National Zoo Lovers' Day)! Her stage persona is high-energy and her technique is jaw-dropping. Our Pops finale will be an encore appearance by Blood Sweat and Tears on May 6. While David Clayton Thomas is no longer with the group, the band has, over the decades, continued the tradition of tight coalition that made their eponymous 2nd album one of the most beloved discs ever. With songs like Spinning Wheel and You Made Me So Very Happy, it is one of my go-to albums when I need to hear something tight and tasty.


Tickets go on sale in August! Make plans now! http://www.knoxvillesymphony.com/events/pops/


Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Faces and Old Traditions on the Fourth

World's Fair Park, South Lawn! Tomorrow! The weather-guessers are in agreement that the likelihood of rain will be very low, and all Americans are agreement that this will be the most well-deserved Independence Day celebration ever. Our new Maestro Aram Demirjian will be at the helm, leading the KSO through heroic and traditional patriotic fare in his premiere as Music Director on the FREE 32nd annual Pilot/Flying J Independence Day concert.

The position of Music Director comes with a variety of opportunities to provide emotional leadership to a community through music, and just such an opportunity has arisen with the recent passing of Pat Summitt. One of his first duties will be honoring the legendary UT women's basketball coach with a moment of silence and a visual tribute (in conjunction with WBIR-TV Channel 10) that will play while the orchestra performs Rocky Top. There is no better venue than this great stage for Aram to get his baptism into Big Orange Country.

The larger civic celebration known as Festival on the Fourth will be a bigger-than-ever party, with special touches (such as the base of the Sunsphere being illuminated with red, white and blue lights in honor of Knoxville's 225th anniversary) and a variety of entertainment options throughout the day. Earlier in the day on the South Lawn, Americana band Kelsey's Woods will be performing at 4:15, and pop/rock cover band Fourkast will perform at 6:15. The KSO's performance,will start at 8, while the fuse of the fireworks display will be lit at 9:35.


Come out and see us! And fly that flag high!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Passing of a True Leader

The world has lost a true leader with the death of Pat Summitt, former Lady Vols basketball coach and the winningest coach in any college sport, period. She was the face of collegiate women's basketball for more than 40 years as a player, Olympian, and coach. Her accomplishments earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and status as one of the most beloved public figures in Tennessee history. There is some common ground between the UT Women's basketball program and the Knoxville Symphony.

As part of a strong tradition of hosting celebrity guest conductors at the annual Ijams Nature Center concerts, Ms. Summitt led the KSO in an unforgettable rendition of The Tennessee Waltz in Sept. of ‘97. Before she gave the downbeat, however, she made an amusing “substitution.” She called out then-principal flutist Rob Cronin and instructed second flutist Jennifer Regan to take over first flute, claiming that Rob was suffering from a condition she called “loser’s limp.” During the ensuing performance, Pat looked at Larisa Bairomova and I on the front stand of cellos, and with arms waving, asked “How am I doing?” but the look on her face clearly indicated “WHAT am I doing?” I thank the day that I decided to become a musician, for it led me to that point where I would be sharing the stage with such a strong leader.

My wife and I would later be in contact with Ms. Summitt at AYSO soccer and Knox Youth Sports basketball games, where she graciously shared her knowledge of athletics and competition. She was the most amazing “soccer mom” you could ever wish to meet. Our son Thomas played with (and alas, against) her son Tyler in various venues across the county. I was just tickled pink one day when she approached me postgame with a box of Krispy Kremes. The smile on her face was just as radiant and real as her infamous “game face” stare was menacing. It was fulfilling to be acquainted with that side of her.


Memorial gifts may be made to The Pat Summitt Foundation by visiting www.patsummitt.org/donate .


The stare...


...and the smile of success


Thursday, June 23, 2016

String Camp Gets In Gear

It's not spring any more, but it is string season with the KSO Youth Orchestras' String Camp! More than 200 violinists, violists, cellists and bassists are descending upon Hardin Valley Academy's Music Department to build toward a final concert Friday, June 24 at 2:30. I am privileged to be a part of it this year, and my work with the kids in the cello sections has been sheer joy. They are not merely a talented bunch, (and it's a big bunch!) but inquisitive and courteous as well.

Four ensembles are derived from the total student body: the Prelude, Overture, Intermezzo and Finale. Conductors of these groups and combinations thereof are Erin Archer, Kathy Hart, Wesley Baldwin, Nina Missildine Mikos and James Fellenbaum. An overriding theme of the camp's repertoire is music of the movies, with selections from Starwars, The Avengers, The Sound of Music, and others being offered.

I have included some fine photographs of the proceedings at camp by Faithful Photography. Enjoy! Better yet, come on out tomorrow to see our talented musicians make sweet summer music.




Dan Thompson leads a contingent of bassists


Sarah Ringer with a passel of violinists


Yours truly demonstrating a pizzicato moment


Erin Archer leading the Prelude Orchestra


What it's all about.