Wow, what a life-affirming week we had with Carmina. As predicted, two very full houses took in a great production, and the tunes are still in yourall's heads, amiright? Things aren't slowing down any, as this week brings William Shaub and Friends to KMA on Wednesday and Thursday, and Big Ears painting the town red all weekend!
Last summer, Concertmaster William Shaub and I were discussing repertoire for his series, and he mentioned an All-American concert to close out this year. He had sonatas by Ives and Copland, and needed a “closer.” I wasn't sure where to turn, until I remembered that Antonin Dvorak wrote his fantastic, op. 97 Viola Quintet while living in Iowa! Between it and the “American” QUARtet, the Quintet is in some ways the more “American” of the two; a link between the earlier folk songs of Stephen Foster with the “wild West” sounds of Copland, Roy Harris and Randall Thompson. Dvorak's smooth synthesis of the pentatonic, African-American tonal language with his own Bohemian inflection is a joy to hear.
The last Knoxville performance of the Dvorak for which I can account, after what I am going to call due diligence, was in 1988 at the OLD Knoxville Museum of Art. This was in the building that now houses the Knoxville Chocolate Co. (next to the current KMA). It's a shame the work has been neglected for lo these many years, considering its provenance, and considering how many times the other American-bred works get performed. That 1988 performance was one of the first Knoxville Symphony Chamber Players concerts. I am proud to have seen the KSO's Chamber Music presence grow to what it is today. Violists Katie Gawne and Eunsoon Corliss, Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai and I will be joining Will for the Dvorak, and pianist Kevin Class will collaborate on the Ives and Copland at 7:00 Wednesday and Thursday night. At the “new” KMA.
Sadly, neither the Men nor Lady Vols will be occupying our attention next weekend, but take heart; all the more time to spend at the Big Ears Festival, which takes place this coming Thursday through Sunday! The KSO's strings will be presenting a theatrical meditation conceived by bass-baritone Davóne Tines and composer Matthew Aucoin, Were You There, at the Bijou Theatre, Palm Sunday at 1:00. The piece, written last year, draws its texts from Negro spirituals, Walt Whitman, and Handel. It's a production of the American Modern Opera Company, co-directed by Zack Winokur and Aucoin. There may be some runners from the Knoxville Marathon still wending their way through the streets, so keep in mind that some streets may be closed on your usual route downtown, especially if you are brunching first.
While the Big Ears Festival is eclectic beyond compare, those seeking an experience that leans more traditionally classical can start with this performance. People have been asking what would be a good itinerary for a one-day pass that includes our Were You There. For my money, staying right at the Bijou for a performance by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei at 3:00 should be interesting to anyone regardless of their musical taste. Abigail's Americana are legendary, and pairing them with Wu Fei's mastery of the guzheng, a traditional Chinese zither, should mate East with West in a boldly unique way. Following that and a brief nosh (or two) at one of downtown Knoxville's many eateries, I recommend heading for St. John's Cathedral. There the St. John's Choir of Trebles and Adults will present Bob Chilcott's Saint John Passion in the Cathedral's rich acoustic.
Steve Reich's intricate Quartet will be performed by Nief Norf at 6:15 at the Tennessee Theatre. I am listening to this right now, and it's very engaging, But it's NOT a string quartet; think two pianos and two vibraphones. Then, with an incredible 15-minute turnover time (7:00 is what it says… your mileage may vary), by all means check out the Bang on a Can All Stars' 30th Birthday show. You'll find that their music shares common ground with the KSO's recent 21st-century programming.