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.


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!