Sunday, September 27, 2009

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra

For a musician, playing an instrument is like breathing. Not meaning that it's effortless, but that to play means to live. Even in retirement it is rare for a musician to completely give up playing unless they are forced to stop for physical reasons. Playing is an emotional outlet, a way to connect with people that transcends language. The ways to express one's self through music are numerous and most musicians don't limit themselves to a single genre. I've mentioned before that many KSO musicians moonlight in other groups. Tonight the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is giving a concert in the Bijou Theater. About half the musicians who will be on the stage also play in the KSO. Of course, the numbers are somewhat skewed because the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is using strings for this concert. I will be playing, along with several colleagues from the KSO string section. It's rare for string players to get to play along with a jazz orchestra and we're all excited to have the opportunity. The soloist for tonight's concert is vocalist Deborah Brown. Her voice is pure and her sound is absolutely effortless. I think I could listen to her all day. I have also been awed by KSO clarinetist Mark Tucker (playing saxophone) and trombonist Tom Lundberg. The mere thought of improvising makes me break into a cold sweat. I much prefer the security of notes on a page. They make it sound easy.

This is going to be an awesome concert. (I know I always say that, but it's true!) If you plan to buy a ticket at the door I advise you to get there early because Knoxville Jazz Orchestra concerts are quite popular and often sell out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Top 10 Reasons...

Not to Miss the Knoxville Symphony's Opening Concerts :

10. The concerts have a special 7:00 start time, so there is plenty of time to see people and socialize afterward.

9. You will hear at least one piece you have never heard before. I guarantee it. The American Scene: The South by William Grant Still has never been recorded and is rarely performed. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear this great piece of music!

8. Maestro Richman has been after John Williams to make his music to The Reivers available for YEARS. Williams finally agreed when Maestro Richman told him he wanted to put the piece on this year's opening concert. That makes Lucas the only person other than John Williams himself to conduct this score in concert. Very exciting. (Maestro Richman interviewed John Williams for one of this concert's podcasts!)

7. Speaking of The Reivers, Bill Williams is the narrator for the piece and, as usual, does a fantastic job. His story-telling is not to be missed.

6. Have you ever heard a car horn in the middle of a symphony concert? How about a piano that has been loaded down with coat hangers on the strings? You will if you come to the concert....

5. We have some new faces on stage as well as some old friends in new places. Ellen Connors joined the symphony as principal bassoon, Calvin Smith is now sitting principal horn, Miro Hristov is back sitting associate concertmaster and Edward Pulgar is principal second violin.

4. There's a lot of people on stage and several opportunities to hear instruments that don't usually have the spotlight. There is a tuba solo in The Reivers, and there is a euphonium solo in Pictures (Bydlo, which is my absolute favorite moment in the whole piece.). Saxophone is not an instrument that is typically heard in a symphony, but Moussorgsky wrote an extensive solo for it in the second movement of Pictures.

3. We're playing a piece written about Knoxville with a local soloist! Soprano Jami Rogers has been tremendous this week in rehearsal of Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915.

2. The KSO brass section is on fire this week. They always sound good, but this week especially they've taken my breath away. Principal Trumpet Cathy Leach, Principal Trombone Sam Chen, Principal Horn Calvin Smith and Principal Tuba Sande MacMorran all have substantial solos this concert and they all sound amazing.

1. It's going to be a great concert!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Like Riding a Bike

Last night was the first time this season the whole orchestra rehearsed together. The first rehearsal with the entire orchestra always feels a bit foreign. We were, as we are a good deal of the time, on the stage of the Tennessee Theater. Even before we started to play, I noticed the acoustics of the hall. Has it always been that resonant? Even verbal instructions seemed to reverberate more than I remembered from last May. You could almost see the final note of our run-through of Pictures bouncing around the empty seats in the house.

I had also forgotten the sheer force of the orchestra. In loud passages you can feel the music with your entire body. Vibrations from lower instruments can be felt across the stage. There is also the sense of being swept along with the group.

At the beginning of the rehearsal it felt like everyone was remembering where they fit into the group. Even though it's awkward at first, I'm always surprised at how fast we all fall back into it. When we first started rehearsing last night I was overwhelmed by the sound. It was difficult to pick out and pay attention to the individual parts I needed to listen to in order to make my part fit in. I also noticed my bow arm was sore because I was playing too loud in order to hear myself. After the first twenty minutes of rehearsal I regained my equilibrium. From what I heard, the rest of the group had too. People were joking and happy. It was a great start to the season.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

KSO at Borders

Friday night marks another opportunity to see musicians from the KSO performing in the community. At 7:00 pm, a string quartet from the symphony will be performing at Morrell Rd. Borders. This is a free concert and will preview some of the things that are coming up this season. While you are at Borders, why not check out some music-related books? Here are a few of my favorites:

For Adults:
The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection : The 350 Essential Works by Ted Libbey
Memoirs by Georg Solti
This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sachs
Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony by Arnold Steinhardt
The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Body and Soul by Frank Conroy
Piano - The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand by James Barron
Edly's Music Theory for Practical People by Ed Roseman

For Children:
Mole Music by David McPhail
The Music Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler and Jared Lee
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! by Lloyd Moss and Marjorie Priceman
The Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub and Karen Hanke
I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello by Barbara S. Garriel and John O'Brien
Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes and Karmen Thompson
The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont
Tubby the Tuba by Paul Tripp and Henry Cole
The Remarkable Farkle McBride by John Lithgow and C. F. Payne

Monday, September 14, 2009


Last night the KSO played at Ijams Nature Center for the 24th annual Symphony in the Park fundraiser. It was a beautiful evening.

Cathy Leach, Principal Trumpet, warming up before the concert:
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Jill Allard, flute:
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John Michael Fox, violin:
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The KSO viola section (minus yours truly). Jen Bloch, Bill Pierce, and Eunsoon Corliss:
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A somewhat rare picture of me, courtesy of Eunsoon...
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First violinists Lisa Muci, Sean Claire, and Yin Wu:
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Timpanist Mike Combs with cellist Ihsan Kartal:
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Ijams is a beautiful place.
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Mark Tucker, our wonderful stagehand Paul, Maestro Richman, and Jennifer Barnett waiting for the concert to begin. Percussionist Clark Harrell is in the foreground looking suspicious of my picture taking...
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It was a great night and I think we're all looking forward to the 25th anniversary concert next fall!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Play Ball!

The KSO's 2009-2010 season began on Monday! It's exciting to be back. Everyone looks well-rested and ready to start the season. Our first Masterworks concerts in the Tennessee Theater are on September 24th and 25th, but in the meantime, the KSO will be out and about in the community.

Tonight at 7:30 the symphony will perform at the Maryville Greenbelt Amphitheatre. This concert is always quite popular. Our audience in Maryville is passionate about classical music. In the past we have played in thunderstorms and still had a large audience braving the elements under umbrellas. The greenbelt is a beautiful park. The concert atmosphere is relaxed with many people bringing along picnic dinners. This is a good concert to bring children to because there is plenty of space to walk around away from other concert-goers if they start to fidget. There is also a play area nearby. You would be wise to bring chairs or a large blanket. This concert is free.

Saturday at 6:00 the Knoxville Symphony Brass Quintet will perform at The Cove at Concord Park. The KSO's small ensembles allow individual musicians to really shine. The KSO Brass Quintet is not heard in the community as much as the string quartets from the KSO, so take advantage of this somewhat rare opportunity to hear some great brass music. This concert is also free.

On Sunday the KSO will present the 24th annual Symphony in the Park at Ijams Nature Center. Featured soloists will be opera singers Andrew Wentzel and Karen Nickell. The concert is only part of the festivities on Sunday. The evening also includes a silent auction and a catered dinner. For more information, click here.

I hope to see you at one of these concerts this weekend, but if you cannot attend remember that WUOT is broadcasting performances from last season every Thursday beginning at 8:00.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Finish Strong

This year was a difficult year. Too many businesses closed their doors and way too many people found themselves without work. Like everyone else, arts organizations across the country were hit hard. Many groups were forced to shorten their season, cut salaries or staff, and a few completely folded. It has been an incredibly stress-filled year for everyone involved in the arts, which makes what happened in Knoxville even more stunning.

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra finished the 2008-2009 season in the black.

Finishing in the black is not the easiest thing for any orchestra to do under normal economic conditions. Finishing in the black under the economic conditions of 2008-09 is a monumental accomplishment. Everyone in the organization worked incredibly hard on and off the stage to make it happen. Everyone who donated made a difference, too, whether they donated ten dollars or ten thousand dollars. We all deserve a pat on the back. But, the 2008-09 season has ended, and while we ended strong, the 2009-2010 season is starting this week and we need your support. There is no such thing as a small donation. Every dollar helps keep us on the stage where we belong.

Lets make the 2009-2010 season even better than 2008-09. If you would like to donate online here is the link.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Local Musician Portrait Series

I always cringe a bit when I walk into a restaurant and see musical instruments hanging on the walls. To me instruments are meant to be played. Still, I appreciate their beauty as objects. Shiny brass instruments with their maze of tubing, the contrast of wood and metal of the woodwinds, stringed instruments polished to the point you can see your reflection: musical instruments are beautiful and intriguing to look at. They also make great subject matter for visual art.

Brian Wagner, a local artist, has been an artist-in-residence with the Art and Cultural Alliance here in Knoxville for the past six months. During his time as artist-in-residence he worked on a project called the Local Musician Portrait Series. He photographed local musicians using a photo booth and then transferred the images onto canvas. Several musicians from the Knoxville Symphony volunteered to be photographed for this project. I have seen a few of his portraits online and they are stunning. I can't wait to experience the full effect of his large prints in person. Wagner's show will open this Friday in conjunction with First Friday. The show will be at the Balcony Gallery in the Emporium Building and will run through the month after which it will move to various places throughout Knoxville.