Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Much More than Beethoven and Bruch

What a pretty sight! Snow is making an appearance, leaving no doubt that there will be a real winter this year. After our balmy December, it was beginning to look like winter was taking a sabbatical. My Oak Ridge students will get an extension for their assignments this week. I'm going to hammer out a few lines here, then go make a snow angel or two.

Our January Masterworks concert repertoire brings a variety of approaches to orchestral writing to the Tennessee Theatre this Thursday and Friday night at 7:30. The four works to be performed team up for an intriguing journey back through time, starting in 1995 with John Adams' clever Lollapalooza and finishing up with Beethoven's exquisite 7th Symphony. (My favorite Beethoven symphony!) In between, violinist Philippe Quint will solo on the Bruch Concerto (my favorite violin concerto!), and we will get a taste of the music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's early folkloric phase in his 1951 Romanian Concerto.

Our guest maestro this month is Aram Demirjian, who is currently Associate Conductor with the Kansas City Symphony. His youthful energy, concise remarks and bold programming make this month's MW concerts a happy challenge. It came as a blessed relief to hear him say that all the notes whizzing by in the last movement of the Ligeti were to be thought of as an effect. It's always nice to hear what new things a conductor has to say about a standard like the Beethoven, while still letting the composer's genius shine through. Additionally, a lot is revealed about a conductor when (s)he leads a concerto or other work with a soloist. When a conductor is described as a “sensitive accompanist,” it has nothing to do with their skills as a pianist! A maestro who can keep the orchestra's playing on track despite unknown quantities of rubato on the part of a soloist, and often in a sight-unseen situation, makes the orchestra musician's job in concerto playing much easier and calmer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chamber Music at the KMA

The chamber music keeps flowing this week, (Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the Knoxville Museum of Art), with Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends taking the “stage” at KMA's Great Hall.  Gabe has some awesome tunes in store, and I'm thrilled to be on board for the closing work on the program, Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat.  It's a work from Dvorak's very bountiful compositional period directly before the luscious 8th Symphony and the "Dumky" Trio, on the eve of his storied sojourn in America.  I have been wanting to play this piece for DECADES. 

The other works on the program, which I will enjoy listening to, are the Debussy Sonata No. 3 in G for Violin and Piano of 1917, a delightful, stream-of-consciousness work painted from an impressionistic palette.  The notorious Caprice No. 24 by Paganini will also be on the first half, a work which is literally the basis for Rachmaninov's timeless Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  This theme and 11 variations will leave you dazzled.

Pianist Kevin Class will collaborate with Gabe on the Debussy, another in a long string of productions on which he and Gabe have partnered.  Violist Katy Gawne and I will join those two to present the Dvorak.  Kevin continues to “go hard in the paint,” with the final installment of his presentation of the complete piano chamber music of Brahms on February 15 at UT's Powell Recital Hall.  Katy and I will reunite with former KSO Associate Concertmaster and current UT Professor of Violin Miro Hristov, joining Kevin on Brahms' Piano Quartet in A Major (another work I have been waiting DECADES to play).  The Piano Quintet of Brahms will close out that concert and that series. Joining him will be KSO cellist Stacy Miller, violinists Sara Matayoshi and Ruth Bacon, and violist Hillary Herndon.  As if that weren't enough, Kevin has another cycle going on, the complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart!  The first two servings in that series (which will undoubtedly span at least a couple years, as there are 17 of them) will take place January 27 and March 3.  This link is the program for a previous Brahms recital, but scroll down to see the multitude of performances in which he is involved, either at the keyboard or on the podium.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chamber Music Zone Ahead

It's a new year with lots of beautiful music to play and lots of mysteries to solve. Four more guest conductor candidates (condidates? candiductors?) will bring challenging and diverse repertoire with them to be savored by performers and concert-goers alike. Then in May, the mechanisms of decision will crank to life, and we'll just have to wait and see…

2016 begins with a spate of chamber music. (Actually, it began with the Vols destroying Northwestern, but there's already plenty of press about that elsewhere). ANYWAY, this weekend's Chamber Classics concert features the Principal String Quartet performing three gems of the quartet literature, and Gabe Lefkowitz' Concertmaster Series will include Dvorak's fabulous Piano Quartet. Winter FINALLY seems to have arrived, so come on down to one of our warm downtown venues to hear these terrific works.

This Sunday at 2:30, the Principal String Quartet will play Schubert's Quartettsatz, Prokofiev's 2nd Quartet, and Brahms' 3rd Quartet in B-flat. Quartettsatz” (the last syllable is pronounced “zots”) simply means “quartet movement;” in the chamber music realm, this work is comparable to his “Unfinished Symphony.” It seems to be a piece to which Schubert could add no more. It is a darkly animated work, with the mood of his own song, Der Erlkรถnig echoing about. The Prokofiev piece that follows has melodies based on Kabardino-Balkar folk melodies from the North Caucasus. It's Prokofiev at his quirky best; considering that the premiere was delayed by a Nazi air raid, the specter of World War II is not as blatantly palpable as in the works of Shostakovich from the period. The first movement is march-like, but not martial; the second movement sandwiches two deeply lyrical passages around a perky waltz; and the finale is driven by lots of motor rhythms and features a formidable cello cadenza.

Brahms' final quartet op. 67 is nothing like his previous two, which is no surprise, given that the earlier two share an opus number (51). Its first movement Vivace's B-flat tonality and 6/8 meter are reminiscent of that of the Mozart “Hunt” Quartet that we performed at the Square Room in November. The third movement Agitato is a sublime tour de force for the viola; some violists believe it should be considered standard solo repertoire for the viola. A closing Theme and Variations halts seemingly in mid-sentence to revert to the theme of the first movement. The unusual twists and turns in all three of the works to be presented are a joy to bring off, and Gordon, Edward, Katie and I have had a blast getting to know them.