Monday, April 23, 2018

Time Flies...

How is it Monday already? I was going to write about the Unstaged concert wasn't I? Well, I only missed that deadline by a week. Oy, it must be April.

Quite a variety of things happen between the monthly Masterworks concerts. Yesterday saw the Chamber Orchestra make its annual trip to Southwest Virginia Community College in Cedar Bluff, VA. SWVCC's yearly Festival of the Arts focused on the heritage of the region's residents, and our concert's repertoire ran a wide gamut of styles, from well-known names like Mozart, Copland and Dvorak, to rarely heard composers like Hamish McCunn and Charles Strouse. Fiddler Arvel Bird shared a unique collection of tunes on both fiddle and Native flute, reflective of his Native American-Celtic heritage. Cedar Bluff is a long way from here, but the ride is unforgettably beautiful and we are always welcomed very warmly there.

Immediately on the horizon is the final Q Series production of the season, Wednesday at noon at the Square Room downtown. The program will have more integration of winds and strings than on any previous “Q” show. On a concert where the Principal String Quartet and the Principal Woodwind Quintet are featured, no piece for either group's specific instrumentation will be played. Principal Oboist Claire Chenette will perform Arachne for solo oboe, by Helen Grime. Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for Bassoon and Flute will follow, and a trio by Michael Haydn for Horn, Viola and Bass will take us up to the intermission. Concluding will be Carl Maria von Weber's effervescent Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, with Gary Sperl joining the Principal String Quartet. This is a tour de force for the clarinet, and the third movement Menuetto Cappriccio: Presto is guaranteed to bring a chuckle.

There are some Storytime concerts sprinkled in here and there, as well as performances at the Symphony League's Showhouse at the Tennessean Hotel downtown. Preparations are afoot for the Knoxville Opera Company's May 4 and 6 production of Aïda. Oh, and hey, don't let's forget about the Youth Orchestra Association's Spring concert coming up on April 29 at 7:00 at the Tennessee Theatre! We are everywhere.

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Last Sunday, “Unstaged: Flight” brought a kitchen sink of music both specifically and tangentially about flying. On a rainy night by the airport, 'shine from Old Forge distillery flowed freely and all present were wowed by the personal aircraft displayed by our host, Cirrus Aircraft.  

Now boarding.....


Our bass section, Yan Peng and Steve Benne

Unofficial KSO photographer Stacy Miller finally gets her OWN picture taken...

The finale was Michael Gandolfi's As Above. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April Schumann

I sit here in an advanced state of readiness for the three concerts in four days (and their six rehearsals-- these concerts don't just magically happen!) that shall take place this coming weekend, sandwiched around the Knoxville Opera Company's Rossini Festival. What are we looking at?

April's Masterworks concerts will be conducted by guest maestro Edwin Outwater this Thursday and Friday. Guest soloist for the Mozart D Minor Piano Concerto will be Fei-fei Dong. Featured in the final scene and end credits of the film Amadeus, this is probably THE most popular Mozart piano concerto- come on out and see why! The Mozart will follow Violent, Violent Sea, composed in 2011 by Missy Mazzoli. The large orchestra version of the Mazzoli work was premiered by the Albany Symphony under David Alan Miller, who was a finalist for music director of the KSO when Lucas Richman was hired. Marimba and vibraphone figure prominently in this roiling, turbulent work. Maestro Outwater led his home orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, in VVS's Canadian premiere in January of 2013.


Closing the program will be Robert Schumann's  Symphony No. 2, from 1846. When you think of symphonists, perhaps Schumann (pronounced "shoo-mon") isn't the first composer to come to mind, what with music by these dudes named Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky around. Taken as a whole, though, Schumann's four symphonies establish him as a distinct voice in a crowded field, unlike Brahms, whose symphonies try just a little too hard to be the second coming of Beethoven. I guarantee you, right at this moment 22 KSO violinists are up to their noses in the notes that make up the exciting 2nd movement scherzo (pronounced “scared so”). I have heard many violinists play this at auditions and frankly, my heart goes out to them. This is music that would aptly accompany a kayak trip down Class IV (or higher) rapids. 


That's Thursday and Friday nights, 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. Tickets here. More about Sunday's "Unstaged" performance in a bit...

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Flying on Instruments


The busy month of March is on its way out, and April's offerings include the final UnStaged performance of the season. This will take place on April 15 at 7:00 at the hangar (I am not making this up) of Cirrus Aircraft, off of Alcoa Highway near the airport. The repertoire for that concert is quite diverse in style and configuration, with a Bach Violin Partita and Varese's Densities for solo flute, all the way up to Respighi's The Birds. As before, drinks and food will be served. Yes, March was turbulent at times, with things seemingly going on a wing and a prayer. At other times, we were on cloud nine, flying high. I know what you're thinking, taxes are due right around the date of the “hangar concert.” Well, if you're the punctual type, you'll be done with your taxes and UnStaged will be a celebration. If not, well heck, file for an extension! Either way, pick yourself up at the airport with “UnStaged: Flight.”

Prior to UnStaged, there will be plenty to sing about with Pops and Masterworks.

                            

On Sat, April 7th at 8:00, Michael Cavanaugh's “Billy Joel and More” tour will land at the Civic Auditorium. Tickets and info here. On the Thursday and Friday before UnStaged, guest maestro Edwin Outwater will conduct Mozart's beloved D Minor Piano Concerto K. 466, featuring pianist Fei-Fei Dong. Finishing up will be Schumann's classic Symphony No. 2.

                              
Fei-Fei Dong will perform Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor on April 12-13, part of the KSO Moxley Carmichael Masterworks Series. 7:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Theatre.

I daresay that the Scherzo of this symphony is what most people will remember. The fiendishly difficult violin parts are staples of the audition repertoire and the piece is a textbook example of moto perpetuo. Overall, it's a lovely, rarely-done work whose time has come-- the KSO's last performance of the Schumann 2 was under the baton of Kirk Trevor in October of 1992! Maestro Outwater will be seeing quite a different orchestra from that of 26 years ago.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A treat for the ears: Mandolin Concerto to hit national airwaves

Coming to airwaves near you!

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will be featured on a broadcast of AMP's Performance Today radio show on Wednesday, April 4. To hear it, visit wuot.org and click "listen live" at 4 p.m. ET on Channel WUOT-2. This broadcast will be available online for 30 days following.

On Wednesday, April 4, Performance Today will feature WUOT-FM's Afternoon Host, Garrett McQueen, as guest host. Garrett will feature the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's performance of Jeff Midkiff's Concerto for Mandolin and Orchestra, "From the Blue Ridge," a 20-minute piece inspired by mountain music traditionally heard in this region.
 

American Public Media's Performance Today is the nation's most popular classical music radio program. This two-hour program:
- is broadcast on nearly 300 public radio stations across the country each week, including WUOT 91.9 FM on Sunday evenings 
- reaches approximately 1.4 million listeners each week
- features live concert recordings that can't be heard anywhere else
- is based at the AMP Studios in St. Paul, MN but is frequently on the road with special programs broadcast from festivals and public radio stations across the country.

About the performance: Concerto for Mandolin & Orchestra

- Composed by Jeff Midkiff
- Conducted by Aram Demirjian, featuring Jeff Midkiff on solo mandolin
- Premiered in 2011, this piece was performed by the KSO in November 2016
- Recorded at the Tennessee Theatre, part of the KSO Moxley Carmichael Masterworks Series
- This broadcast is made possible by the support of Visit Knoxville (www.visitknoxville.org)

Thank you to the generous support of Visit Knoxville for making this broadcast possible. Thanks to WUOT-FM 91.9 Afternoon Host Garrett McQueen, who is also the KSO's Second Bassoon.





Here is a link to WUOT.org (click "listen live")


About the Concerto

Mandolin Concerto "From the Blue Ridge" (2011)

Jeff Midkiff was born in Roanoke, VA in 1963. The first performance of the Mandolin Concerto, "From the Blue Ridge," took place at the Roanoke Performing Arts Theater, Oct. 3, 2011, with the composer as soloist, and David Stewart Wiley conducting the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. In addition to solo mandolin, the Concerto is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.

My love for playing the mandolin, and a lifetime of doing so, began to take on new meaning and motivation after decades of performing also as a clarinetist. I felt a deep-seated desire to bring my favorite instrument in line with orchestral experience. I truly enjoy the color, language, and structure of the symphony orchestra, and many years as a clarinetist made me familiar with it. At the same time, I enjoyed a highly improvisational approach to the mandolin that was uniquely my own. I had struggled to keep the two -- orchestra and mandolin -- a safe distance apart. I knew I could say something with the mandolin on an orchestral scale. Deep down, I wanted to bring my most natural companion to the orchestra -- two seemingly different worlds together.

The first movement begins with the mandolin on swirling sixteenth notes, setting the stage with excitement and anticipation. The commission for the piece came to me in November when the falling leaves drew this opening scene. Indeed, the Blue Ridge's beauty and importance would form the piece. The middle of the first movement moves to major tonality with woodwinds in a waltz-like dance before a return to the opening theme.
The lyrical second movement draws on more typical and familiar bluegrass melodies. Having grown up in Roanoke, moved away and returned, I wanted the concerto to echo the emotions associated with home, and with going home. To get there, I looked no further than the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Roanoke Valley. "Wildwood Flower" by The Carter Family and Bill Monroe's "Roanoke" are the thematic inspiration.
The third movement is an upbeat, exciting, spontaneous and dynamic affair. It draws strongly upon jazz and bluegrass themes in a series of ideas in a "controlled jam session" -- one idea smoothly leading to another. Every section of the orchestra has a role to play with the particularly expanded use of percussion setting up the different groves."
-- Jeff Midkiff, www.jeffmidkiff.com



This post authored by the KSO Communications Dept.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dvorak's Best Chamber Work-- and Big Ears

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.
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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.



Friday, March 9, 2018

You Say Carmina....

Now that it's March, there are many directions that this blog post could go. Disney Pops, next week's Carmina Burana, Concertmaster Series, Big Ears…. Ultimately, my cello and my body will go to all of them, but in researching this post, it's nice to dig into the details of each production a little bit.

Actually, there is one direction that the cello and I shan't be going, and that KSO event is in fact already underway. Our top-tier Youth Orchestra is presently in Atlanta, competing in its first-ever competition. Just last night, the group had an outing to a performance by the Atlanta Symphony, which performed works by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Strauss. It was a chance for Director of Youth Orchestras Kathy Hart to reunite with an old KSO friend, Rob Cronin. Now Associate Principal Flute with the ASO, Rob was Principal Flute in the KSO for most of the '90s. And here they are!

update: the KSYO took home FIRST PLACE!


....and a group photo...




Back here at home, it is time for a Tale as Old as Time in the form of our latest Pops production. Soundtracks from such Disney favorites as Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules and The Lion King will feature the KSO accompanying film clips and guest singers. This concert will be at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, Saturday, March 10 at 8:00.

Our March Masterworks concert pair will follow swiftly on the heels of the Pops, and this is one you won't want to miss. The last time we performed Carl Orff's Carmina Burana was in April of 2007, and it SOLD OUT! So let that be a warning to you. It's no wonder. Orff's score has become a crowd favorite, running the gamut from tender, lush harmonies to powerfully primitive rhythms. The Knoxville Choral Society and guest vocal soloists will be the raconteurs bringing to life Orff's "Tales as Old as Time." Also on the program will be the rarely heard “Blumine” movement from Mahler's first symphony, and a suite from Kurt Weill's “Three-Penny Opera.” These concerts-- March 15 and 16 at the Tennessee Theatre, 7:30-- will prove that it is possible to do an all-German concert that doesn't include music by any of the “Three Bs;” Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. So… you say “Carmina,” I say “Burana;” let's Carl the whole thing Orff....


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Marching Forth

Maestro Aram Demirjian will lead the KSO Chamber Orchestra in a euphonious program of chamber orchestra gems on March 4 at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre. So “March forth” and check out some of these standards. The table will be set by J.S. Bach's beloved Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; a fascinating, intricate work which you have heard if you have seen Die Hard, Hannibal, Moll Flanders or Romy and Michele's High School Reunion- or, no doubt, if you have attended a wedding where strings were playing. Actually, fascinating and interesting are words that well describe (in different ways) all of the works on the concert. Following the Bach will be Stravinsky's Neo-classical Concerto in E-flat Dumbarton Oaks, Christopher Theofanidis' Muse, and Mozart's crowning symphonic achievement, the “Jupiter” Symphony (No. 41). This concert will be special to me as it will take place on the 35th anniversary of my senior recital at the Hartt School. Wow, do I feel old...

While Sunday's concert is the main event for the KSO this weekend, there are a couple other events that are worth mentioning. One is tomorrow night's concert at Bearden High School, where the students will be joined by the KSO strings to present John Rutter's Suite for Strings, Jean Sibelius' Andante festivo and Joshua Reznicow's Darkened Shadows. That 7:00 performance will begin with a collaboration between the Bearden High and Bearden Middle School orchestras, sort of a “side-by-side junior” event.


Finally, KSO Principal Flutist Hannah Hammel will be presenting a recital at UT's Powell Recital Hall on Sunday at 8:00 (following the KSCO concert). She'll be accompanied by pianist David Mamedov, and UT's professor of flute, Shelley Binder. Music of Poulenc, Bach and Doppler will be performed, with a transcription of the Franck Violin Sonata as a closer. This sonata has also been arranged for tuba, cello, viola and alto sax with piano, and amazingly, organ with choir. After hearing Concertmaster William Schaub's performance of the Franck on his Concertmaster Series recital debut in October, it will be interesting to hear the Franck in a very different setting.