Thursday, October 29, 2009

Listen, If You Dare!

I am not a fan of scary movies. They, well, scare me. Actually, I don't mind watching scary movies as long as I can watch them on mute while reading the closed captions. When I turn the sound on my stomach starts to knot up. It's the mood music that does me in every time. A lot of times we don't really notice the background music in film but it's always there manipulating our emotions. The only film I know of that didn't use any music is Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, which has it's own very eerie background noise.

I do like to listen to scary music on occasion, though, when I'm not watching a movie, so in preparation for Halloween I thought I'd put together a list of my favorite spooky pieces.

Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, (especially March to the Scaffold.)
Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod (This was the theme to Hitchcock's television show.)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
Psycho: A Suite for Strings by Bernard Herrmann
Black Angels for String Quartet by George Crumb
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bela Bartok (this music was in Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining.)
Requiem in D Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (especially the Dies Irae)
Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi (especially the Dies Irae)

Monday, October 26, 2009


This week the KSO is performing a series of concerts for area school children. Young People's Concerts, or, YPC's for short, have a very special place in my heart. I love kids and I love teaching kids about music. Before they attend a YPC, most of the students have been working with a docent and have had some symphony musicians visit their classroom. The kids learn about the repertoire in advance. There are CD's for the music teachers to play for the students and sample lesson plans. The symphony members visit the class to give the kids an up-close preview of what they will hear at the concert. Before I came to Knoxville I had performed in numerous young people's concerts in other cities. I think that of all the places I've played, Knoxville has the best educational concerts. The KSO's education department and our area music teachers do a fantastic job preparing the students for the concert. The students are familiar with the music they will hear and are eagerly anticipating their favorites. They participate and are engaged. They know the basics of audience etiquette and are a joy to play for.

Aside from the kids, I love YPC's because people in the orchestra let their hair down. Not to say that the playing is sloppy, it's just that it's hard to be completely serious when you're wearing a fake mustache. Or listening to Principal Trombonist Sam Chen "talk" to long-deceased Richard Wagner on his cell phone. Or when you're keeping one eye on your music and the other on the real live donkey and praying that when it gets scared and runs off-stage it decides to run AWAY from you. People smile during YPC's. We laugh. We wear costumes that we would never be caught dead in otherwise. We dance the macarena and the can-can. And it's all in the name of education. How can you beat that?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October Masterworks

Tonight and tomorrow night are the KSO's October Masterworks Concerts. I wish I could let you in on the backstage scoop for this concert, but really, I don't know what's been happening. I've been out sick all week with a little virus that is sweeping the country. I can tell you that this concert series is a tour de force for the orchestra. There is no soloist, but like our opening concert in September, these pieces feature a lot of different players and sections in the orchestra. Petrushka in particular is a showcase for KSO pianist Carol Zinavage. From the chatter I've seen on Facebook, everyone is excited about the concert and has been working extra-hard. (Surely there must be a law against practicing the piccolo before 9am?) Good luck to all, I'm sure it will be a wonderful concert!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unfamiliar Works

This weeks Masterworks concert features three pieces that may be unfamiliar to listeners. Actually, the works are unfamiliar to many of the musicians as well. When I'm faced with an unfamiliar piece, I like to learn about it and listen to it. With the internet this is a lot easier to do now than it was 10 years ago!

Each of the pieces tells a story, and the program notes just happen to be on the KSO website.

The notes on Richman's An Overture to Blanche can be found here, the notes on Dvorak's The Golden Spinning Wheel are here, and the program notes on Stravinsky's Petrushka are here.

Also, you can listen to the podcast, which is located right under our sponsor for this concert, The Trust Company.

As I've mentioned before, the Knox County Public Library is a great source of classical music recordings. YouTube also has recordings of The Golden Spinning Wheel (here is part two and part three) and Petrushka (here are parts two, three, and four.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Race for the Cure

For better or worse, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra functions like one enormous extended family. People care about each other and pull together to celebrate the good times, but where this makeshift family excels is helping in times of crisis. Because of the great camaraderie amongst the players, when something terrible happens to one the impact ripples through the whole group. People come together and help each other out. This summer the symphony was dealt two blows in a very short period of time. Former KSO violinist Cate Myer died from a recurrence of breast cancer and violinist Lynn Rogers-Carl died from ovarian cancer that spread. Both women were in the prime of their life and both were mothers.

It's not fair.

There are a lot of statistics associated with breast cancer. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer... 200,000 cases will be diagnosed this year... 40,000 of those 200,000 will die... Every THREE minutes someone is diagnosed... And every 13 minutes someone loses the battle...

But these are simply numbers. A number can shock but a number can't express how it feels not to have your mom there to walk you down the aisle, or how much you miss your best friend, or your shock at hearing the diagnosis. Numbers don't cut it. Breast cancer affects friends, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers... Take a minute to count how many people you know who have had breast cancer or who have been affected by breast cancer. I was shocked by how many I know.

The KSO has put together a team for this year's Race for the Cure in honor and memory of Cate Myer and Lynn Rogers-Carl. We would be honored to include you in our "family." Come cheer for our runners on race day, and make a donation to help us help others.

Monday, October 12, 2009


In one week we will begin rehearsals for our next Masterworks concert. I'm geeky in that I truly love 99% of all the music we play. Even pieces that I'm not enamored with on first reading usually grow on me throughout the rehearsal process. This concert, though, I have been anticipating since the '09-'10 season was announced last year. I love Petrushka. It's in my top 20 of favorite orchestral works and it's certainly my favorite piece by Stravinsky to play. I like Petrushka so much that I'm even looking forward to practicing it, and, as you know, practicing is not my favorite activity.

So why is Petrushka so great? Well, the music was actually written for the ballet, so it's programmatic. You can visualize the story when you hear the music. Petrushka is the story of three puppets who have been brought to life by magic. There is a love triangle, fighting, a death, and, ultimately Petrushka himself becomes an angry ghost. How can you NOT like a story like that?! The music itself brings the story to life. We can hear Petrushka, the bustling market square, the beautiful ballerina, and the slow but powerful Moore.

I will say that the first time I played Petrushka it was not one of my favorites. I liked it but I didn't think it was that special. It was one of those pieces that grew on me after getting to know it better. Now, obviously, I love it. This is a piece that becomes more enjoyable the more times you listen to it. Actually, I think this is true of all classical music. Listening to music is not like going to a movie. Knowing the ending already won't diminish your enjoyment of subsequent listenings. In fact, the opposite is true. Take holiday concerts, for example. Part of the reason why everyone loves them is because most of the music is very familiar. Wouldn't it make sense to heighten your enjoyment of other concerts by becoming familiar with the music in advance? The Knox County Public Library has recordings of Petrushka as well as a book analyzing the score (if you really want to get into it...). YouTube has many excerpts of Petrushka available including several performances by ballet companies. Prepare! Come! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mozart 40?!

I've watched this clip several times and each time come away with more questions. How (and WHY!) did this musician come up with the idea to play tuned wine bottles while roller blading? How long did it take to figure out how to tune each bottle so precisely? How long did he have to practice to keep from knocking all the bottles over like dominoes? And, did he drink all that wine himself or did he have some help?

What do you think?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reaching Out

On the Knoxville Symphony's main web page, a calendar at the right of the screen gives you links to information about public performances in a given month. If you looked right now, you would notice that the next highlighted date is October 16th (a FREE performance at the Morrell Rd. Borders!). October 16th is nearly two weeks away, so is the orchestra on fall break?

The answer is a resounding no. Actually, the next two weeks are packed with performances, 22 in all! The KSO is dedicated to bringing music into the community. In fact, 80% of our performances every season take place OUTSIDE our Pops, Masterworks, and Chamber Classics subscription series. Musicians play in area hospitals as part of our award-winning Music and Wellness program and they also bring classical music into area schools and libraries. These performances use small groups of instrumentalists in quartets, duos, and even playing solo.

These performances don't show up on the regular calendar because, as a rule, they aren't open to the general public. (Although, if you happened to be in a hospital lobby during a Music and Wellness performance you would be welcome to sit and listen.) Despite this, these concerts are, in my opinion, some of the most important performances the KSO gives. The sick and worried are comforted. Children who have never seen a stringed instrument in person get to hear one live and ask the musicians questions about music and their life as a musician. It's important work.

If you know of a place that you think the KSO could be reaching in the community you can contact Jennifer Barnett, KSO's Director of Education and Community Partnerships.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The month of September marked the passing of two giants in the classical music world. Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel passed away on September 1st after a brief battle with cancer. A musician to the very end, Kunzel conducted his final concert with the Cincinnati Pops exactly one month before he died.

Pianist Alicia de Laroccha died this past week in Spain at the age of 86. She was most famous for her interpretation of Spanish music, but her repertoire was vast.

Neither death received as much attention as the recent deaths of several celebrities, but they both impacted the classical music world at least as much as Michael Jackson did the world of pop.