Thursday, April 14, 2016

Putting a Little English On It

The Knoxville Symphony's final Music Director candidate, Steven Jarvi, will take the stage with us Thursday (today) and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre at 7:30.  Adam Schoenberg's suite Finding Rothko will open, cellist Susie Yang will solo in Dvorak's monumental Cello Concerto, and Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations closes the program.


Finding Rothko is a quartet of vignettes depicting composer Adam Schoenberg's (pronounced SHOWN-berg) reaction to four of American expressionist artist Mark Rothko's works.  Composed 10 years ago, the work does not describe the paintings per se, as did last month's Pictures at an Exhibition.  The appeal of Rothko's “color field” paintings does not translate well to the computer screen, since an average canvas of his might be 6 feet square.  The composition has some captivating tone clusters, stunning percussion colors, AND… you get to see keyboardist Carol Zinavage use her ELBOWS.  This is in no way a “bleep-bloop” modern work, though; there are some beautiful harmonies and timbres.  In a sense it is valid to say that the Schoenberg is not the only American work on the program, since Dvorak's concerto was written in New York while the composer was Director of the National Conservatory.  There isn't really much about the work that is American, though; rather, it is pure Dvorak, pure cello, pure virtuosity.


The concert ends in jolly good British fashion with the Enigma Variations.  Elgar, the premier British Romantic composer, characterizes himself and 13 of his friends with charming and memorable accuracy.  People over 45 or so may recall the oboe melody in Variation III from an insurance company commercial in the 80's.  Does anyone remember what company?  In Variation XIII, listen for the hushed tympani roll, suggesting the engine of an ocean liner-- the composer calls for a penny to be placed on the tympani for that extra industrial timbre.  And, be sure to bask in the luscious beauty of Variation IX, Nimrod.  In a season of repertoire filled with beautiful moments, I guarantee this is the one that will transport the most people the furthest.

1 comment:

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