Thursday, September 30, 2010


This is my last post as blogger for the KSO. I've enjoyed writing about music and the symphony and I hope you've enjoyed reading. Keep an eye on this blog for a new mystery blogger....

Mitzi Hall, a horn player who often plays with us, posted this clip on facebook. It made me laugh - I hope you enjoy it too!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Deals and Steals

When I talk to people who aren't regular concert attenders, the things I hear over and over again are, "We used to be go to the symphony all the time, but we just can't afford it now." and, "I'd love to come to a concert, but it's simply not in my budget right now." I empathize because, once you pay for a sitter and the ticket it starts to really add up.

This season, though, there are some great deals that make attending concerts a whole lot more affordable for families.

I have mentioned the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville's Penny Performance initiative before on this blog. I was excited to see more students at our Masterworks concert last week. This is a wonderful program and I strongly urge you to take advantage of it. A full list of events can be found on the Penny Performance website. This week alone there are four events including a concert by the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, an artist demonstration, a performance by the Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble, and an open dress rehearsal for the Knoxville Opera's production of Madame Butterfly.

The other deal I wanted to tell you about is the KSO's Family Concert subscription packages. The package includes three concerts: our two family concerts at the Tennessee Theater in October (next Sunday, in fact!) and February, and our Clayton Holiday Concert in December. The pricing for this series includes one adult ticket and one child ticket for each concert. The packages range from $41 to $59. This works out to $6.83 to $9.83 per person, per concert! That is less than a ticket to see a movie! My family plans to subscribe to this series. As a musician, I get a discount on ticket prices, but I think this deal even beats my discount!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tchaikovsky Gala

I looked at the calendar today and am shocked that it is already the end of September. Things have been so hectic with rehearsals and performances that the days have started to run together. Although we finished performances of Amadeus on Sunday, this week has been just as busy. On Tuesday the KSO went "home" to the Tennessee Theater to begin rehearsals for the opening concert of our 75th anniversary season.

It's been a wonderful week. It's nice to be back in our own space. At the first rehearsal it was interesting to note the difference in acoustics compared to the stage at the Clarence Brown Theatre. The sound in the hall at the Tennessee is something that always takes me by surprise at the first rehearsal back from break, but it was even more pronounced this time. I'm also happy to be sitting in a traditional arrangement again with the winds and brass behind the strings.

This week has also been exciting because we had two guests attending rehearsals. Rudy Ennis is a long time champion of the symphony. Although he now lives in Texas, he still writes all our program notes. Also, Doc Severinsen is in town visiting our principal trumpet player Cathy Leach and stopped in to listen to a few rehearsals.

Tonight and tomorrow night the KSO will present our opening gala concert. The concert is an all Tchaikovsky program and features violinist Dylana Jenson performing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Ms. Jenson is a superb violinist, and she has also been great to work with. It's strange - the Tchaikovsky violin concerto is a cornerstone of the violin literature, but I think this is the first time in my ten years with the KSO that we have performed the piece.

The other pieces on the program are the 1812 Overture, Coronation March, and Capriccio Italien. It is a brass heavy concert and they are sounding awesome! More information about this concert can be found here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

There It Was...

Last night was the final performance of Amadeus. It was an amazing experience and I'm so glad I was involved. I have a few final observations about the production.

* The people at the Clarence Brown Theatre are wonderful - any problems that we had (and there were very few!) were dealt with immediately and thoroughly. It was a pleasure to work in their space; I hope we have an opportunity to collaborate with them again soon.

* Last night there was a reception after the performance. After seeing the actors in period dress and wigs for two weeks, it was really odd to see them in jeans and flip flops.

* The most difficult thing about the show was watching Mozart self-destruct every single night. During the scene where Salieri asks Mozart for forgiveness I could only bring myself to fully pay attention a few times. It was too intense for me to watch night after night. I can completely understand why Constanze took off for the spa in Bonn - and I was ready to go with her.

* This was an incredible way to kick off the KSO's 75th anniversary season. I expect people will be talking about this production for years.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Amadeus Observations

* After seeing the show 8 times, the orchestra is still laughing at the jokes.

* The schedule is just as difficult as I thought it would be. My hand hasn't been a problem, but I am not used to sitting still for that long! Not sure how you prepare for that. Andy, our principal cellist, suggested perhaps taking a job as a bus driver in the off season.

* Several people in the orchestra have plotted to swipe some Nipples of Venus candy off the stage. Sadly, most are inedible props.

* One of my favorite parts is during the Abduction from the Seraglio scene. Mozart is conducting by jumping up and down and back and forth while waving his arms in circles. THAT is some serious energy coming from a conductor!

* I predict the phrases "Ta very much" and "There it is" will be a part of our collective vocabulary for a very long time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Antonio Salieri

Subject: Antonio Salieri

Born: August 18th, 1750

Died: May 7th, 1825

Known for: Hmmm... This is tricky, because Salieri is known for very little aside from the rumor that he poisoned Mozart. In his time he was a very popular composer and enjoyed a high degree of success. These days his music is seldom performed. For our production of Amadeus, some of the music was impossible to find and ultimately needed to be transcribed and arranged from a recording.

Contribution to music: Salieri taught composition to several pupils including Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt.

Did he poison Mozart? Highly unlikely. The two composers were in competition for the same posts, but they were friendly.

So, what DID kill Mozart? The current thinking is that Mozart died from kidney failure brought on by complications from strep.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Amadeus Observations

* The costumes are stunning. I still have wig envy, but they can keep their hip bustles.

* The stage setup is amazing. I had a very hard time picturing how it was going to work until we were actually on the stage. I thought being in the middle of the orchestra was exciting, but being in the middle of the orchestra in the middle of a play is something else entirely.

* I have never seen someone give birth so gracefully, with their clothes on, and on stage, too.

* I have sat here for a good ten minutes trying to come up with a way to describe the acting to you. Mozart is Mozart, Salieri is Salieri, Constanze is Constanze... The people playing the parts have disappeared. I know this is what good acting does, but I have played in orchestras for many shows and I have never been drawn in to the characters as much as I have in Amadeus. There were times in the dress rehearsal where I almost forgot where I was - the fear of missing a musical cue was the only thing that kept me with one foot in the present.

* This is a rare production of Amadeus because of the live music. Most productions use a recording. Live music is better, if I do say so myself.....

* I love the music. Not too much of a shocker because it's MOZART (and a little bit of Salieri). The funny thing about Mozart's music is that he wrote so many great pieces of music that its easy (for me, anyway) to forget about pieces that I love. I've been listening to a lot of Mozart at home lately, which is unusual for me because I generally get so saturated with whatever we're rehearsing that I like to listen to something different at home. I think I could listen to Mozart for weeks and not get tired of it.

* This is definitely going to be a production that is talked about for many, many years.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Tuesday we had our first Amadeus rehearsal.

Oh my. This is going to be even cooler than I expected.

It was just an orchestral rehearsal, so I can't give you much of a scoop yet. (Check back tomorrow - I think we rehearse with the cast tonight.) The music is incredible, but that is no surprise. I knew that the orchestra was going to be on stage, but I had a really hard time picturing how that was going to work. What I was picturing was basically a set up that is typically used when opera is presented in concert format- an orchestra on stage with the singers and actors in front. This is not at all how the stage is set up for Amadeus. The orchestra is in the middle of the stage. We are on various risers and are not sitting as we typically sit. The winds and brass are in front, the strings are on risers toward the back. We are slightly lower than the main stages that surround us, but it is not at all like an orchestra pit.

If I can get permission to take some pictures of the set I will post them here. Meanwhile, you can see renderings of some costumes, actual actors IN their costumes, and a short clip of Tuesday's rehearsal if you go to the KSO's facebook page.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Mozart was a child prodigy. He gave his first public concert very early and was composing music at an age when most children are just beginning to read. These days we have musical prodigies who excel at performing, but it is quite rare to find a child who is both an extraordinary performer and composer.

Emily Bear
is eight years old and has only been playing the piano for three years, yet she has a longer and more impressive biography than most adult musicians I know. She is a remarkable musician and has an impressive talent for composition, too. Watching her perform gives one a glimpse of what it must have been like for audiences watching Mozart as a child.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Opera and IBS

Opera can have some pretty bizarre plots. Giants, Bird-men, curses, and women masquerading as men masquerading as women all have a home on the opera stage. I recently read of an plot that, even for opera, is a stretch. A playwright in London has written his first opera, a 30 minute work entitled Intolerance. The opera is about one woman's quest to cure her irritable bowel syndrome. Hmmmm.

will not be a part of Knoxville Opera Company's 2010 - 2011 season. Sorry! Never fear, though, because you can quell your disappointment with productions of Madame Butterfly, Manon, and I Puritani. More information about KOC's upcoming season can be found on their website.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coming Soon!

The beginning of the season is rapidly approaching. In no particular order, here are some things I'm most looking forward to next season:


Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, our first Family Concert of the season which will feature the wonderful poetry of Jack Prelutzky.

October's all Gershwin Masterworks concert. Norman Krieger, Danisha Ballew, Michael Rodgers, great music --- bliss!

November's 75th Anniversary celebration concert. I'm particularly looking forward to this because I will be playing the viola that belonged to KSO founder Bertha Walburn Clark! (More on this later!)

The 24th Annual Clayton Holiday Concert


Beethoven 9!

All the concertmaster search happenings - the Masterworks rehearsals and performances and the recitals.

What are you looking forward to this coming season?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Penny Performances

As a performing artist and a mother, I strongly believe in and support arts education. I also have a first-hand understanding that, financially speaking, exposing children to live performances can be difficult. For our family, and I expect for many other families, the cost to see a live performance is often a little bit more than the budget will bear. Thanks to a new program, we will be able to enjoy live performances on a regular basis.

This year the Knoxville Symphony is one of 28 local arts groups to offer "Penny Performances." This is a new initiative by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Greater Knoxville. According to the Penny 4 Arts website, the purpose of this program is
"(To) give every child in Knox County, including home-schooled and private-schooled students, an opportunity to attend arts and culture events/activities at the maximum cost of ONE PENNY when accompanied by an adult during the 2010/2011 academic school year. The Penny Performances program meets the local arts community’s long-term goal of serving and educating East Tennessee's children."

I looked at the calendar of events currently scheduled for Penny Performances and I'm floored. There are so many performances listed, you could take your child to something different just about every single week from now through May. Symphony concerts, artist exhibits, dance performances, opera performances, plays... the variety is enormous. I'm looking forward to taking my daughter to many of these events and I'm also looking forward to seeing some young people in the audience at the symphony this season.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In The Black Again

2009 - 2010 was a rough season for orchestras around the country. Several closed their doors, many others were forced to made some serious cuts. Large organizations are not immune to the difficult economic climate: musicians in the Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, and Philadelphia Orchestra among others have all taken salary cuts in the past few years. Ending the season in the red has become the norm for groups that are managing to stay open. The New York Philharmonic ended the 08 - 09 season with a deficit of 4.6 million dollars and was predicting a similar shortfall for this past season.

What about Knoxville? Well, Knoxville is a pretty extraordinary place (but you already knew that...).

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra ended the 2009-2010 season IN THE BLACK!!!!!! That is an amazing achievement in itself, but it also marks the fourth consecutive season we've managed to end with a surplus!

So, how did this happen? The short answer is that it was possible with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work. Everyone in the organization - management and musician alike - has worked their tail off to make this work. In particular, KSO Director of Development Judith Folz deserves a prize for the work she's done. Every time I see Judith she has a big smile on her face, which is amazing to me because her job has been incredibly difficult the past few years. Thank you, Judith!

We at the KSO also owe a thank you to you, the patrons of the orchestra. By coming to concerts and making donations however large or small, you have helped keep us in the black. We are your symphony, Knoxville.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


As I mentioned before, I've been using my time off this summer to rehab from a hand injury I suffered last February. Until now this has meant taking it easy playing-wise. I've played this summer but not nearly as much as I do during the season. I even took three weeks completely off from playing. I can't remember the last time I took that long of a break. I'm sure it was more than 10 years ago. It was refreshing.

I recently received the symphony schedule for next season. I started to panic a little bit when I looked over the month of September. This September the KSO schedule is crazier than any I have been around for. Don't get me wrong - it's great to be busy! I'm nervous because right now my hand is working really well. I'm pain free and I want to keep it that way. Going back to a rigorous schedule like we have in September could be disastrous without careful preparation.

To get ready for the upcoming season, I've switched back to the viola (from violin) and have started to systematically increase the length of my practice sessions. It's similar to a couch to 5K approach. Right now I'm playing for a little over an hour a day. By the time the season starts I should be back to playing roughly four hours a day - two in the morning and two in the afternoon. On days that we have two rehearsals (aka a double) this is approximately what is required of us.

In my quest to come back strong and healthy, I have found the work of Janet Horvath invaluable. She is the Associate Principal Cellist of the Minnesota Orchestra. She has written a book for musicians called Playing (Less) Hurt and has an extremely informative website. I encourage anyone with even a twinge of playing-related pain to investigate her site.

Monday, August 2, 2010


One of the events I'm most looking forward to next season is the KSO's collaboration with The Clarence Brown Theatre. We kick off the season together with a run of Amadeus. I don't have a whole lot of details on the show yet, but I can tell you two things: the musicians will be on stage and we will not be wearing wigs. I asked about the wigs. I really love stage props. I carried a fake moustache and kazoo around in my viola case for several years after a Young Person's Concert just waiting for another opportunity to use them. I'm a little bit disappointed that we won't be in costume, but it is still going to be an unforgettable production. Without exception it is the event that every single musician mentioned when I asked what people were anticipating about this upcoming season.

Tickets for Amadeus went on sale today. The show will run from September 8th through September 19th. More information can be found on the KSO website.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Classical Musicians Treated like Rock Stars

If you haven't heard what Maestro Richman is doing with his summer, check this out: Star Wars in Concert. If you click on the "Listen to the Story" link you can hear Lucas talk to NPR's Allison Keyes on All Things Considered.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Christmas in July

I have a fair collection of holiday-themed recordings. I rarely listen to them at the traditional time of year, though. As a musician I am immersed in that particular genre from Thanksgiving through the New Year. No, I save my holiday music for July and August when the mere thought of stepping outside makes one start sweating. Listening to Bing Crosby croon about a White Christmas is a temporary reprieve, if only psychological, from the triple digit temperatures outside.

I freely admit that breaking out the carols in July is an unusual strategy for beating the heat. If it's a little too far out there for you, there are several other pieces of music centered around winter that might better fit the bill.

* Symphony #1 in g minor ("Winter Dreams") by Tchaikovsky
* Winter Bonfire op. 122 by Prokofiev
* Concerto in f minor, op. 8 no.4 (L'Invierno) by Vivaldi
* Cuatro estaciónes porteñas (The Four Seasons), tango cycle Winter in Buenos Aires (Invierno porteño) by Piazzolla
* Wintereisse by Schubert

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mobius Canon

If there was any doubt that Bach was a genius...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Plans

Alan Sherrod of the Metro Pulse has been doing a wonderful series on the summer plans of several KSO musicians. He has posted blogs featuring oboist Ayca Yayman, cellist Stacy Miller, violinist John Fox, KnoXville BrassworkX Company, and Maestro Richman. I hope there are more to come because I'm enjoying the series very much.

I didn't respond to Sherrod's request for summer plans because mine are less than riveting. (But I'll tell you about them anyway!) I'm spending the summer rehabbing my hand. I fell last February and injured the pinky on my left hand. My doctor advised that I take four weeks completely off from playing. I compromised. I took two weeks off. Almost. My quartet was in the midst of rehearsals for our chamber concert and I just couldn't bring myself to take more time off than that.

Injury is not uncommon among musicians. Actually, at least among string players, I know more people that are injured, have been injured, or at least have played in pain than people who have not. Sometimes this is due to technique, sometimes it is due to anatomy, sometimes it is due to an inability to walk on flat land -ahem-, but mostly it is due to what we demand our bodies do on a daily basis. Playing an instrument presents a serious and often underestimated stress to the body.

In her book Playing (Less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians, cellist-author Janet Horvath puts it this way:

Let me offer you a comparison. A highly proficient typist can type 60 words a minute. Typing 60 words a minute (with tendons sliding thousands of times per hour) translates roughly to five letters per second, fifteen letters per three seconds. Frank Wilson, admired neurologist and author of Tone Deaf and All Thumbs and The Hand, in a 1994 lecture at an American Symphony Orchestra League conference, calculated that musicians are able to execute 38 notes in 3 seconds. That's more than twice as much!

Once injured, musicians tend to be reluctant patients at best. In the words of one doctor, we are "worse than runners" in terms of following a treatment plan that includes rest. Freelancers don't want to be labeled as unreliable or unavailable. Musicians with steady gigs have commitments that they don't want to break even if their management is supportive of their taking time off. In my case the decision to come back to playing after two weeks was mine alone. I could have taken the four weeks off, but if I had, the chamber concert my quartet was slated to perform would have had to be drastically altered. To me it was an unacceptable choice.

I came back to playing after those two weeks off in March and finished the season. My injury is pretty slight in the scheme of things. My left pinky pops and if I use it too much it starts to ache. It also feels "stupid" to me - slower to respond and less accurate. I don't think you would notice it in the audience. I'm not even sure that my colleagues would notice a change in my playing. To a non-musician it would be a non-issue. To me it feels huge.

Which brings me back to my summer plans. I'm using the luxury of time off to get myself back in shape for the rigors of next season. For my hand this means switching to violin, which I do every summer, but this year instead of reviewing some beloved concerto I'm taking it easy with slow scales and etudes. I'm also working on strengthening my hand away from the instrument.

One good thing about this injury is that I have become a lot more aware of the stresses playing presents to the body. A number of musicians in the KSO swear by yoga for injury prevention so this week I start a yoga class. It won't be pretty, but I don't want to miss a single second of next season.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Carrot Clarinet

The zucchini from my garden is taking over my kitchen. I thought I was getting ahead of it until my husband harvested another 30+ pounds last night. In desperation I have started looking for alternative uses for our monster squash. I found instructions on how to make a zucchini flute, but it used the stalk of the zucchini, not the actual vegetable. I did find a great video featuring a carrot clarinet, though. I bet the same principles could be applied to zucchini. Gary? Mark? Ben? Any takers?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Lately I've been reading a book about Leon Theremin. He was the inventor of the Theremin, which was one of the very first electronic instruments. Theremin's work in electronic music paved the way for Robert Moog and the modern synthesizer.

Theremin is also known for his work in Russian espionage. While imprisoned in the Gulag he invented "The Thing," a listening device that was hidden in a plaque which, in 1945, was presented to the American ambassador to the Soviet Union as a gesture of friendship. "The Thing" was undetectable by x-ray, didn't require any electricity, and could run by itself for upwards of 50 years. The bugging device was discovered largely by accident after it had hung in the ambassador's office for eight years. The technology was extraordinarily advanced for the time and was a predecessor to today's RFID technology.

Here is Leon Theremin playing his musical invention, the Theremin. I was about to comment on its unusual looks, but then I started thinking about typical instruments. When you think about it, the violin is pretty funny looking too. I'm not completely clear on the science of how a Theremin works, but the right hand controls pitch and the left hand controls volume.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Subject: Gustav Mahler

Born: July 7, 1860

Died: May 18, 1911

Child prodigy? Yes. Mahler showed great promise as a musician from a very early age. He gave his first public performance as a pianist at age 10. His family encouraged his ability and interest in music.

Contribution to music: Mahler is the bridge between the Romantic period and the Second Viennese School. He expanded the bounds of what was acceptable in terms of form, timbre, harmony, length and orchestration.

Known for: His conducting! Mahler was one of the great conductors of his time, especially for opera. He spent 10 years as director of the Vienna Court Opera in addition to shorter stints with the New York Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Happy or neurotic?: Maybe not neurotic, but certainly depressed.

Strange fact: Mahler's 6th Symphony calls for a percussionist to strike a "Mahler Box." It's an incredible thing to hear live because it is so powerful that you can feel the sound throughout your body.


Don't forget - tonight WUOT will begin broadcasting the recordings of last season's KSO concerts. More information can be found here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why 1812?

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture is as traditional to the 4th of July as picnics and fireworks. This has always seemed very strange to me for several reasons. Tchaikovsky was Russian and while he did visit the United States, there is nothing stylistically American about this piece. It was written not for the American war of 1812, but to commemorate Russia's victory over Napoleon.

I did a little digging and found a Newsweek article about the origins of the practice of performing the 1812 Overture on the 4th of July. In short, we can blame the Boston Pops. In the mid 1970's, then conductor Arthur Fiedler was looking for a flashy piece to draw an audience to the Boston Pops' July 4th concert. With canons, church bells and a virtuosic score for the orchestra, the 1812 Overture fit the bill. The crowd went wild over the piece and so it was decided to repeat the performance the next year, and then the next, and the next. Now, several years later, the piece has become synonymous with the 4th of July and American patriotism.

Over the years there have been several small movements to try squelch this tradition. This year a facebook group was formed to try to influence orchestras to remove the piece from their 4th of July programs. With membership numbering only in the double digits, they haven't garnered much support. I find the whole thing a bit silly. Hot dogs originated in Germany, fireworks in China. Why not listen to Russian music on the 4th of July?

You can hear the KSO play Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture as well as many other festive pieces this Sunday at 8:00 as part of the cities Festival on the 4th in World's Fair Park.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Festival on the 4th

The 4th of July is just around the corner. As usual, the Knoxville Symphony will be performing a free concert in World's Fair Park. The concert will feature festive favorites such as the 1812 Overture, Stars and Stripes Forever and a musical salute to members and veterans of our armed forces. The concert will begin at 8:00, but the festivities in the park start at 2:00. More information on the concert can be found here, at the main KSO website. Information on the festival can be found here on the Knoxville City website.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jazz Recorder

This is a far cry from the recorder playing heard in elementary schools around the world... Amazing!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Igor Stravinsky

Subject: Igor Stravinsky

Born: June 17, 1882

Died: April 6, 1971

Known for: Being a jack of all styles. Stravinsky went through several distinct styles of composition including a period of neoclassicism and a period where he wrote serial music.

Child prodigy? Sort of. Stravinsky was passionate about music at an early age, and showed a lot of promise. His parents wanted him to be a lawyer.

Contribution to music: Rhythm! Stravinsky was a rhythmic revolutionary.

Happy or neurotic?: Mostly happy. Stravinsky had a wife, a lover, and lived in Russia, Switzerland, France, and the US.

Strange fact: Stravinsky's music was controversial on more than one occasion. The premier of the ballet The Firebird sparked a riot in the audience. When he was living in the US, he wrote a version of The National Anthem that contained some unconventional harmonies. After the first performance the parts were collected by the Boston Police Department to prevent further performance.

Upcoming performances: The Knoxville Symphony will perform Stravinsky's Suite from The Firebird on our 75th anniversary season May Masterworks concerts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We're #8

Forbes recently came out with a list of the top 10 places in the US to raise a family. Knoxville ranked #8! Of course, the study looked at things such as crime, education, cost of living, etc, to rank the cities on the list, but there are many, many other great family-related things about Knoxville. This summer my family is especially enjoying the extensive public library system, the summer parks and recreation programs, the Knoxville Museum of Art, the farmer's market, and the public fountains, among other things.

Another great thing about Knoxville is our extensive youth orchestra program. Did you know the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra is comprised of five orchestras of varying levels? That is only one less orchestra than the Chicago Youth Symphony system has in a city 16 times the size of Knoxville!

This week is the KYSO's summer string camp. All levels of string players have been working hard improving their orchestral playing this week. The final concert will take place on Friday (tomorrow) at 2:30 in the auditorium of Bearden High School.

It's too late to attend the camp, but if you know a child who would like to participate in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Youth Symphony program this fall, you can find more information here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Richard Strauss!

Subject: Richard Strauss

Born: June 11, 1864 in Munich

Died: September 8, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Known for: Tone Poems. Strauss was heavily influenced by Wagner. His tone poems are masterpieces of virtuosity for the symphony orchestra.

Also known for: Politics. Although he never joined the Nazi party, and, in fact, privately reviled the party, Strauss is linked with Hitler and Goebbel. The situation is far to complex to fully explore here, but it seems to have been an advantageous relationship for Strauss: his daughter-in-law was Jewish and he used his connections to keep her and his grandchildren safe.

Child prodigy? Strauss began composing at age 6.

Contribution to music: Strauss pushed the harmonic envelope. He used dissonance for dramatic purposes, famously with the "Elektra Chord," which is an E major chord and a C# major chord played simultaneously.

Happy or neurotic?: Happy, mostly.

Strange fact: Because of it's virtuosity, Strauss' tone poem Don Juan is on the audition list for just about every orchestral instrument and is often used by symphonies to weed out candidates in the first round.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Music for Microbes

The therapeutic benefits of music have long been recognized. The music of Mozart, in particular, has been singled out as a sort of wonder music that will make you smarter, make your unborn baby a genius, and generally create peace and harmony everywhere. Some claims are legit, some are bogus, and some are just plain strange.

This is so bizarre, I'm not even sure where to start.

A sewage treatment plant in Germany has discovered that playing Mozart helps sewage-digesting microbes perform their job faster. A lot faster. The plant estimates they will be able to save about 1000 euros per month by serenading their muck-munching microbes with Mozart. According to Anton Stucki, chief operator at the sewage treatment center in question, the theory is that the vibrations in the music "create a certain resonance that stimulates the microbes and helps them work better."

I would ask how they came up with this idea, but I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

This is a discovery with great potential, though. We all have microbes in our bodies that aid in digestion. Maybe a belly full of Mozart is a cure for all sorts of gastrointestinal woes? Sounds like a good research project to me....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mighty Musical Monday!!!

If you're looking for something to do today at noon, head over to the Tennessee Theatre. Today is the first Monday of the month, which means that it is Mighty Musical Monday. On Mighty Musical Monday, Dr. Bill Snyder, house organist at the Tennessee Theatre, performs a free concert on the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. Also featured this month will be WIVK's Colleen Adair.

A few months ago I caught my first Mighty Musical Monday concert. It was great fun to see the Tennessee Theatre from the audience and also to see and hear the Mighty Wurlitzer being played so beautifully. These concerts are free. Concessions are sold as well as $5 brown bag lunches from The Lunch Box. The doors open at 11:30 and the concert begins at noon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

DIY Music Theory

A friend shared this website with me awhile back and it is too good not to pass on here. If you have ever wanted to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how music is put together, this is a site you ought to explore. It covers all aspects of music theory from the basics of how to read music to aurally identifying French, German, and Italian augmented 6th chords. You can also have fun playing with the sections on melodic and harmonic dictation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Elgar!

Subject: Sir Edward Elgar

Born: June 2, 1857 in Broadheath, Worcester

Died: February 23, 1934 of intestinal cancer

Known for: beautiful melodies, music that can change from expansive to introspective as quickly as a cloud coming over the sun.

Child prodigy? Not particularly. Elgar studied music as a child. He was a fine violinist and made a living teaching music, but he did not receive widespread public acclaim as a composer until he was in his forties.

Contribution to music: Elgar was the first composer to understand the importance of audio recording, which was just emerging as a new technology. He recorded most of his works first on wax discs and later using electric microphones.

Happy or neurotic?: Happy. Elgar was happily married and had one child. When his wife Alice died in 1920 Elgar was devastated. At that point his productivity in composing slowed to a trickle with many works originating from sketches he had written earlier in his life.

Strange fact: Elgar had numerous hobbies including bicycling, soccer, and chemistry.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wrapping up and Looking Forward

I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the 2009 - 2010 season is over. There were some great moments this past year. Last week I had the opportunity to ask several colleagues what the highlight of this season was for them and what they are most looking forward to next season.

Highlights from this season:

* Petrouchka. Nearly everyone mentioned Petrouchka. Maestro Richman even named Petrouchka as one of his season highlights.

* Mozart Requiem also received numerous mentions.

Those were the two biggies. Other things that stuck out for individuals were:

Our performances of John Williams' The Reivers, Der Rosenkavalier, soloists Adam Golka, Rachel Lee, and Benjamin Hochman, Barber of Seville with KOC, Midsummer Night's Dream with CBT, and Cirque de la Symphonie (weren't they INCREDIBLE?!?!)

The biggest excitement about next season can be summed up in one word: Amadeus. Everyone mentioned Amadeus from musicians to audience members to Maestro Richman.

Close behind is the search for our next concertmaster. Similar to our Music Director search several years ago, three finalists will have an opportunity to come for a week to rehearse and perform with the orchestra throughout next season. The concerts we have programmed for the search all have big juicy solos for the concertmaster: Ein Heldenleben, Scheherezade, and Tchaikovsky's Suite from Swan Lake. Additionally, each candidate will give a recital the Monday of their residence with the orchestra.

Those are the two biggies in terms of buzz, but next season is packed with so many wonderful things that everyone I pressed beyond those two events all named different things: Firebird, Janacek Sinfonietta, Chris Botti, Midori, Prokofiev 5, Beethoven 9, Mozart 39, Les Preludes, the Gershwin concert, the John Williams concert... Violinist Lisa Muci put it best: "'s going to be one of those years when it's almost impossible not to buy all of the full subscriptions, because Maestro Richman has programmed so many exciting things..."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Festival of Reading

Congrats to the Knox County Public Library on another successful Festival of Reading. Every year I wonder how they can possibly top last years festival and every year it just gets better and better.

My daughter and I were able to catch the KSO story time performance at the festival. These performances are always fun, but this one was particularly exciting because it was the premiere performance of a children's book written in honor of our upcoming 75th anniversary season. Better Than Cookies, As Good As Cake was written by KSO cellist Stacy Miller. It is about a group of friends who get together to form a string quartet. Children are introduced to string instruments, the string quartet, and there is a lot of counting incorporated into the book. This may very well be the only book about a string quartet aimed at young children.

Jennifer Barnett, KSO director of education and community partnership and soprano supreme was the narrator for the story time performance.

Lucie and Ikuko play a duet.

Saturday was also a special day because two members of the quartet celebrated their birthday. Happy Birthday Bill and Stacy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Last night's dress rehearsal for the final Masterwork's concerts of the season was a true dress rehearsal. We donned our concert black or tuxedos a day early for the benefit of around 40 visual artists who attended the rehearsal. As we played they took pictures, sketched, and listened to the rehearsal. All this was in preparation for the orchestra's 75th season. Area artists have been invited to submit works of art depicting the orchestra. Artwork that is chosen will be displayed at a special exhibit beginning in October.

Fans of fine art won't have to wait until October, though, because tonight and tomorrow at the KSO's final concerts of the season local artist Mike C. Berry will be unveiling his depiction of the symphony - a work that was commissioned by the KSO to kick off the 75th anniversary season. Mike Berry has made his career depicting local landscape and life. He was voted "Best Visual Artist of East Tennessee" in a 2009 Knoxville News Sentinel reader's poll. Recently he was hired by ABC news to be a courtroom artist during the US vs Kernell federal trial here in Knoxville. He also has a blog, Postcards from Knoxville, where he posts a new postcard sized painting daily. Mike's paintings are stunning. I can't wait to see his painting of the orchestra.

A limited edition of 500 giclée prints of the work will be on sale during the concerts’ intermission and throughout the season. Print prices range from $100 to $250.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Final Countdown

This is the final week of the Knoxville Symphony's 2009 - 2010 season. For me this year has flown by. It seems like we just started the season! There is a lot packed into this week.

On Sunday evening my quartet played for the Lucas Richman Society. Before the concert there was a dinner. To be honest, meeting new people and mingling makes me nervous. Also, I am very intimidated by place settings that contain multiple forks and glasses. I don't attend formal events often and when I do I usually manage to spill something down my shirt or drop a buttered roll on the shoe of the person next to me. I'm glad that I attended the dinner on Sunday, though, because I had a wonderful time talking to the people at my table. It is a group who are just as passionate about the symphony and music as the musicians on the stage. And I didn't spill, drop, or break anything the entire evening.

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, the symphony began rehearsing for our final Masterworks concert of the year. I had forgotten how powerful the Pines of Rome is. HUGE amounts of sound coming from the stage as well as additional brass players in the balcony. Being in the middle of all that sound is an awesome experience. It is so tremendous you can feel it in your core. Tonight we will rehearse Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto with Rachel Lee. Prokofiev 2 is one of my favorite violin concertos and I'm looking forward to hearing Rachel's interpretation. Also on the schedule for tonight is Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, which contains one of the highest incidental solos for viola in the orchestral repertoire.

Masterworks takes up most of this week, culminating in concerts on Thursday and Friday. Saturday is the final performance of the season, though. On Saturday a string quartet from the symphony will be performing two story time concerts at the Children's Festival of Reading. If you've never attended, this is a fun event that is not to be missed. The festival kicks off the Knox County Public Library's summer reading program. It takes place at World's Fair Park this Saturday from 10 until 3. There are all sorts of things for kids to see and do including crafts, inflatable bouncy things, a magician, and, of course, KSO story time performances. A quartet from the symphony will be giving two performances in the morning. KSO story times are always nicely paced and interactive.

More information about the Masterworks concerts and Festival of Reading performances can be found on the main KSO website.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Circus is Coming!!!!

One of the best things about playing in the symphony is that I have to attend all the concerts. The programs we perform are hugely varied from small ensemble chamber music to full-scale symphonies to shows with world-renowned pops artists. Most of the time I feel like I have the best seat in the house - in the Tennessee Theater I probably have the best view of our pianist soloists of anyone in the entire house.

This week, though, I am insanely jealous of the audience. On Saturday we are performing a show entitled Cirque de la Symphonie. Acrobats, jugglers, contortionists and aerialists will be performing choreographed routines to live music. I'm really looking forward to the show but this is one where I wish I could be in the audience instead of on stage playing. Our playlist is hit after hit: Dvorak Slavonic Dances, Saint-Saens Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah, Dance of the Swans from Swan Lake, Les Toreadors from Carmen, Bolero, etc, etc, etc. This concert is going to be a fun one to play, which is my consolation for not being able to watch the performers the whole time. The KSO has a preview video of the show in it's main webpage and there are many others available on youtube. The musician buzz about this concert has been huge. Friends in other symphonies who have played the show say it is one of the best pops concerts they have ever performed.

If you would like to attend this concert, I highly recommend calling to reserve tickets ASAP. As of yesterday there were only 50 seats left.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne

Vocal giant Lena Horne passed away last night at the age of 92. May she rest in peace.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Final Chamber Classics Concert

As usual, the end of the season has snuck up on me. Weren't we just celebrating the holidays with the Clayton Concerts?! The KSO will perform it's final Chamber Classics Concert of the season this Sunday at the Bijou Theatre. This concert is a special one because there are a few things happening that are out of the ordinary.

* This is the last time Mark Zelmanovich will appear with the orchestra as a soloist while he is the concertmaster of the KSO. Mark will be performing Tchaikovsky's Meditation.

* Also on the program is the Concerto Grosso by Paul Ben-Haim. This is a piece that is not often performed, and if there even is a recording available, it has proved difficult to locate. This Sunday may be a once in a lifetime chance to hear this work. It is a neat piece: it's not terribly often that a work for a smaller orchestra not only calls for contrabassoon, but also gives the instrument an important solo. (Listen for Cora near the beginning of the Chaconne.)

* Have you ever attended a concert where the conductor simply left while the orchestra continued to play? It might just happen this Sunday....

Monday, May 3, 2010

KSYO Concert Tonight!

Tonight is the final Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra concert of the season. The kids and KSYO staff have been working very hard all year. The Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra is a pretty incredible program. The program has five orchestras ranging in level from elementary age students who have never played in an orchestra before to high school students performing major symphonic repertoire. Kids as young as early elementary school age can participate. Many cities have a youth orchestra but there are not many cities the size of Knoxville that have as an extensive program as we do.

Tonight's performance is free and will be at the Tennessee Theater at 7:00. Doors will open at 6:30. All the ensembles will perform. The performance by the Youth Symphony will feature the winners of this year's concerto competition: Kenneth Trotter and Libby Weitnauer playing Holst's Concerto for Two Violins (Kenneth and Libby study with two KSO violinists: Miro Hristov and John Michael Fox), and Katherine Zhang (student of David Brunell) who will perform the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in A. Congratulations to Kenneth, Libby, and Katherine, and also to the runners-up of this year's competition: violinist Melody Falconnier and pianist Larry Shen.

Friday, April 30, 2010

KSO on the Road

This weekend the KSO will depart from our usual venues in downtown Knoxville and hit the road. Tonight we're heading to the Greater Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend and on Sunday we will be performing in Richlands, Virginia. Both concerts feature a mixture of pops and light classical music. The program we will play in Virginia is unusual in that it features several pieces of Chinese music, including the first performance of the Yellow River Piano Concerto by a Chinese pianist with an American orchestra.

We rehearsed for both concerts yesterday. The Chinese pieces are in Chinese. Of course, the notes are the same in any language, but the titles and written musical instructions are all in Chinese. Jim asked us to pull out the Yellow River Concerto and the orchestra gave him a collective blank stare. He had to describe the first few measures to make sure that we all pulled out the same piece. German was my old nemesis. I am always schnelling when I ought to be langsaming and vice versa. Compared to Chinese, though, I'm positively fluent in German. Its a good thing that my stand partner Eunsoon can read a bit of Chinese. Or at least pretend to read Chinese to play a good joke on me: "Really? It says to hold the bow in your teeth there?!"

Tonight's concert at the Greater Smoky Mountains Heritage Center features two soloists from the orchestra. Principal Trombonist Sam Chen will play an arrangement of Gershwin's Someone to Watch Over Me. I love Sam's interpretation of this piece. I could listen to him for hours and not get tired of it. Also featured will be principal clarinetist Gary Sperl performing the first movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto on a basset clarinet. The basset clarinet has a wider range than the typical clarinet which allows the player to perform passages in the octave that Mozart intended. It also has a different timbre. As usual, Gary sounds amazing.

Tonight's concert requires tickets. More information can be found here. Sunday's performance in Southwest Virginia is free. More information about that concert can be found here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Be a Composer

There is a piece written by Lucas that the KSO has performed several times entitled "Be a Conductor." The piece begins in common time, moves to three after awhile, and ends in common time. Before we play the piece the Maestro goes over the conducting patterns with the audience who then conducts from their seats as we play. This piece never fails to crack me up. Its not the musical content that tickles me, its the title itself. While there are many jokes to the contrary, being a conductor entails a lot more than simply mastering a few beat patterns.

Recently a friend showed me this super cool composition tool. It is designed in such a way that ANYONE can play with it and come up with a composition. Reading music is not a prerequisite, nor is having any particular musical ability. Like "Be a Conductor," there is a lot more to composition than highlighting boxes in a grid, but this gives a taste of what it is like to create music. Fair warning: once you start playing with this neat application it is very hard to leave it alone!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Barber of Seville

Tuesday and Wednesday nights were our dress rehearsals for the Knoxville Opera Company's production of The Barber of Seville. I was looking forward to the dress rehearsals because, as I said on Monday, it was already funny at the sitz rehearsals in the gym of the Jewish Community Center. The dress rehearsals did not disappoint. I can't see much from the pit, but what I could see was hysterical.

The cast of this production of Barber is phenomenal. I couldn't find their bios on the KOC website, but it seems to be a very young cast. The dynamic on stage is electric. They play off each other extremely well. While I always expect the singing in opera to be good, my expectations for the acting are usually less. That is not the case for this weekends Barber. The acting is on just as high a level as the singing. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some of the singers on the stage this weekend turn out to be the stars of tomorrow.

Anyone who suffers from the misconception that opera is stuffy and boring owes it to themselves to come see this production of Barber. It could easily make an opera lover out of a skeptic.

Monday, April 19, 2010


This week the KSO is in rehearsal for the Knoxville Opera Company's production of The Barber of Seville. I love opera. More specifically, I love comic opera. The plots are ridiculous and the music sublime.

The Barber of Seville is considered to be one of the greatest comic operas. From my slight experience with the work through our rehearsals so far, I can attest that this is a deserved reputation. There were times in rehearsal on Saturday when everyone dissolved into laughter. Understand that we were rehearsing in a gym, the cast was not in costume, nor were they performing their staging, and everything was being sung in Italian with no translation. I can't wait for the dress rehearsals at the Tennessee Theater later this week.

The cast for this production of Barber is phenomenal. The singing is great. The acting is exceptional. It's very exciting to be a part of this production.

The KOC performances of The Barber of Seville will take place this Friday, April 23 at 8:00 and Sunday, April 25 at 2:30. More information can be found at the Knoxville Opera Company's website.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Subject: Robert Schumann

Born: June 8, 1810

Died: July 29, 1856 in an asylum.

Known for: piano music. Schumann wrote in many genres, but his greatest works are written for the piano. He was a pianist of great potential until he ruined his hand with a homemade invention for strengthening his fingers. His wife, Clara, was one of the great piano virtuosos of the time.

Child prodigy? Not particularly. Schumann was self-taught as a child. He could play the piano and even began composing at age 7, but Schumann did not have his first formal music instruction until age 18.

Contribution to music: Form! Traditional musical form meant little to Schumann. He preferred the music to dictate the form rather than the other way around. This is a complete revolution from the Classical era. When Schumann did compose in traditional forms, such as in his symphonies, he felt constrained and had a hard time particularly with transitions.

Happy or neurotic?: Neurotic doesn't even begin to cover Schumann. He was clinically ill and is now widely thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder. In the last years of his life he began hallucinating. In 1852 he attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Rhine. He was placed in an asylum at his own request.

Strange fact: Schumann was a great music critic. Writing under the alter egos Florestan and Eusebius he introduced many of the finest musicians and composers of the time, including Chopin and Brahms.

Tonight the KSO will present Schumann's 4th Symphony. The Knoxville Choral Society will join us in the second half for Mozart's Requiem. The Requiem was written at the behest of an anonymous patron. While he was composing it, Mozart fell ill and became convinced that he was writing his own requiem. I didn't know the rest of this fascinating story until I read the program notes for tonight's concert.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Showhouse Time!

One of the biggest champions of the Knoxville Symphony is the group of women who make up the Knoxville Symphony League. All year long the League Ladies, as they are fondly known, tirelessly organize events that raise money for the orchestra. Every year they seem to out-do themselves and without their efforts the KSO would not be in as sound financial shape as it is.

One of the most beloved annual events presented by the League is the Symphony Showhouse. Each spring area designers completely decorate a beautiful house somewhere in the Knoxville area. The house is then opened up to the public for viewing. The homes are always stunning. It's a great way to get ideas for design in your own home, or to at least dream up what your ideal home would look like.

This year the Showhouse is actually two condos that are attached. Located in the Rocky Hill area of Knoxville, one condo is decorated in a traditional style and the other is decorated in a contemporary style. Both share a spectacular view of the mountains.

The Symphony Showhouse is currently open and runs through April 25th. Admission is $15 at the door, or you can purchase a season pass for $25. There is no parking near the Showhouse, but a shuttle is available from Rocky Hill Baptist Church.

More information, including hours and directions, is available on the KSO website. Information about the Knoxville Symphony League, including information on becoming a member, is available on their website.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hot to Fox Trot

Congratulations to Maestro Richman who came in second at last weeks Dancing with the Stars benefit for East Tennessee Children's Hospital! Just in case you missed it, here is a video recording of his award-winning performance.

Now if only we can convince him to dance along to Bartok this Sunday.....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Difficult Music

This coming Sunday my quartet will be performing at the Bijou for the KSO's Chamber Classics Series. On the program is Bartok's Third String Quartet, Mozart's c minor viola quintet, and the first Brahms String Quartet. It's a huge program, and an exciting one.

I know that many of you just groaned about the Bartok. Here's the thing: some music is difficult for the listener. I think that Bartok squarely fits in this category. Difficult does not mean bad, by the way. Difficult means that you as a listener need to work harder to make sense of the music. This is not music you can just sit back and take a bath in.

It is worth listening to and playing, though, and there are a couple things you can do in preparation to make your concert experience a pleasant one.

You can listen to the piece. This is a good idea for any music, but is essential for works that are difficult for the listener. Honestly, the first time I listened to this Bartok string quartet I panicked because much of it seemed like random sound. Second time around I started picking out more melodies. Now I could probably sing the whole thing, and I have become quite fond of the piece. The same is true for my daughter who used to hold her ears when I played the CD in the car. Now she asks to hear certain parts and I've caught her humming the main themes while she plays. Attending a concert is not like going to a movie. Knowing how the piece ends won't spoil your enjoyment.

Another way to prepare is to learn a little bit about the composer's style. Did you know that Bartok was one of the fathers of ethnomusicology? He collected and studied folk songs, many of which are quoted in his own compositions. Folk songs don't always use a fixed meter, nor do they always use traditional major or minor tonalities. Knowing this helps you know what to expect.

Music that is difficult for the audience is just as hard for the musicians. Putting the technical aspects aside, although difficult-to-listen-to music tends to be wickedly hard to play, we have to make sense of music that is not always obvious. I'm sure there are people who can listen to a difficult piece of music and "get" it the first time around. Most of us can't and have to do the listening and research work I've outlined above.

Difficult music is like preparing a pineapple: you have to work hard to get past the tough exterior and things can get a bit messy, but in the end the rewards are great.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The King of April Fools

With compositions such as Eine Kleine Nichtmusik, The "Goldbrick" Variations, Oedipus Tex, Notebook for Betty-Sue Bach, and the Unbegun Symphony, PDQ Bach is by far the biggest prankster in the classical music world. This is actually quite an accomplishment because, although we look quite serious in performance, most musicians I know appreciate a good joke. When you spend hours at a time in isolation being self-critical (aka practicing), a sense of humor is essential.

Peter Schickele "discovered" PDQ Bach in the cafeteria of The Julliard School. The "last and least" of J.S. Bach's children, his dates are 1807-1742. Many compositions by PDQ Bach call for instruments to be played in unusual ways such as having players blow through the double reeds off of oboes and bassoons, and the tromboon: a trombone with a bassoon reed instead of a mouthpiece. He also frequently uses things that are not often thought of as instruments: balloons, bicycle horns and bells, plastic tubing, and fog horns are several examples. The music is not the easiest to pull off but the humor is so great that it's worth the work.

Some of my favorite pieces by PDQ Bach are The "Erotica" Variations for piano and Banned Instruments, Iphigenia in Brooklyn, and Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice.


Don't forget: you can still vote for Lucas for Knoxville's Dancing with the Stars! He makes his dancing debut TONIGHT to benefit East Tennessee Children's Hosptial!!!!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Dancing with the REAL Stars

This Thursday, April 1st, our very own Maestro Lucas Richman will be participating in Knoxville's Dancing with the Stars. The proceeds from the event will raise money for East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

On a personal level, I think East Tennessee Children's Hospital is a terrific place. Of course, you never want your child to wind up there, but if they need medical attention, it is THE place to be. As a parent I have spent enough time at Children's to be on a first name basis with a lot of the staff. My daughter was premature and had a host of complications. In her first three years of life, we spent a lot of time at the hospital, seeing specialists affiliated with the hospital, and going to physical, occupational, and speech therapy at Children's Hospital Rehab Center. Now, at age five, Alice is a normal, healthy, happy little girl. There is no doubt in my mind that we owe this to the hard-working physicians, nurses, therapists and staff of East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

There are a few ways you can participate in Knoxville's Dancing with the Stars. You can attend the event on Thursday and watch Lucas do the Fox Trot. There will be other people dancing too, but we all know that Lucas will be the one to watch! If you can't be there, you can vote for Lucas online. Each vote is only $1. The great thing is, you can start voting NOW before he even dances! Also, no one is limited to a single vote so feel free to stuff the ballot box for this great cause!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


1 out of 8 people in our country do not have enough to eat. Here in East Tennessee the numbers are worse: 1 in 6 people living right here in our community will go to bed hungry tonight. In Knox county alone, this amounts to upward of 47,000 adults, 9,000 seniors and 15,000 children who don't have enough food to eat. As a mother this hurts my heart. It is unacceptable.

Tonight you can help. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is once again participating in Orchestras Feeding America National Food Drive. We are collecting non-perishable food to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee. Last year the symphonies around the country who participated raised over 200,000 pounds of food to donate. Lets see if we can help top that number this year! When you come to the concert tonight, bring a can with you. Heck, bring as much as you can carry! This is the Volunteer state, after all... This may not seem like much to you but it means the world to someone in need. With 1 in 6 people in our community experiencing hunger, chances are great that you know someone who is suffering.

You can find a list of the items most needed by Second Harvest here. We cannot accept food in glass containers or monetary donations at the concert. If you would like to make a monetary donation to Second Harvest, here is where you can contribute.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Random Monday

* This week the KSO will once again be participating in Orchestras Feeding America. We will be collecting canned goods at our concerts on Thursday and Friday. There are children and seniors right here in our community who go to bed hungry because they do not have enough to eat. We can make a direct difference.

* Continuing in the spirit of giving to the community, Lucas will be participating in Knoxville's very own Dancing with the Stars on Thursday, April 1st. Although the event takes place on April Fools Day, it is no joke. This is a fundraiser for East Tennessee Children's Hospital. You can vote with your wallet; every vote costs $1 and all proceeds benefit the hospital. I've never seen Lucas dance, but my guess is he's quite dapper. Vote early and vote often!

* Have you seen these PSA's for the Arts? They seem to have been out for awhile but I've never seen them on television. Knox county is getting ready to ax some more arts programs in the schools. Perhaps they need a good dose of Raisin Brahms or Van Goghgurt.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Tomorrow night the symphony will give a performance in Tellico Village. We go to Tellico every year and it's one of my favorite runouts because it is close and the audience always packs the hall.

The first year I played with the symphony the principal second violinist and I carpooled to Tellico. It was Julie's first year as well so neither of us had been to Tellico. Now, driving directions from the symphony have vastly improved, but at that time they weren't always the greatest. Julie and I had been told horror stories of directions that included instructions such as, "Take I-40 North" or "turn left at the place where they tore down Captain D's." This might have worked out okay for someone who had lived here long enough to know where Captain D's used to be but we were terrified. I pictured us driving down the road searching for the remains of buildings past; unwilling archaeologist-musicians on an impossible quest to find our performance space.

We never got directions quite that bad, but on a previous occasion we had carpooled together to a runout to Lincoln Memorial University, followed the symphony directions, and were quite surprised when we found ourselves heading back toward downtown Knoxville in the absolute wrong direction.

With this experience fresh in our minds we set out for Tellico Village with a lot of extra time. It was a good thing, too, because we needed it. Our directions said to turn right. What they didn't say was that there were two streets with the same name in Tellico Village. We saw the road named on the directions. It was on the left, but we figured the directions were wrong so we turned. It was a bad decision. We found ourselves in a neighborhood. We quickly realized our mistake and flagged down a man mowing his lawn. He wasn't much help and seemed very suspicious of two women dressed head to toe in black formal attire. We started panicking. This was obviously the wrong way but we were on the right road. On a hunch, Julie headed back to the main road. Five minutes farther up we found the second road by the same name, on the right this time. THIS was the correct road. We made it to the concert with a few minutes to spare for warming up.

Now, nine seasons later, I know how to get to Tellico, but tomorrow I plan to take the GPS just in case.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Music for Relaxation

I had a terrible weekend. Usually I can look at things and keep perspective. Once the dust settles on a situation I tend to be a "lets make some lemonade!" kind of girl. Right now I have enough lemons to open a lemonade factory. It wasn't all doom and gloom, though. The pops concert on Saturday was a nice reprieve. (Didn't I tell you it would be a great concert?!) Yesterday afternoon, though, I needed a break. So I turned out the lights and turned on some music.

I'm not a big fan of those "Music for Relaxation" CD's. Listening to Bach's Air on the G String with crickets chirping in the background is just not that relaxing to me. When I want to relax I turn to a variety of music. Yesterday I put on a recording of Erik Satie's Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes for piano. Satie was a French composer and pianist who was writing music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Gymnopedies are his most famous compositions. Written originally for solo piano they have been transcribed for nearly every instrumental combination conceivable from solo instrument with piano to rock band. The pieces are melodically simple with sparse harmonies. The ease and flow of the music is mesmerizing. As I listened to the pieces yesterday I could actually feel the tension leaving my body. It was like having a brain massage. Of course, music didn't reverse my bad weekend. It did put me in a much better humor to deal with things, though.

If you haven't heard any music by Satie, you owe it to yourself to look him up.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bolero for Cello Eight Hands

There is a piece by PDQ Bach for viola four-hands: one viola, two bows, two players. I've wanted to perform it for a long time but have always been discouraged when I try to read it with another player. Staying out of the way of just one other hand and bow is extremely challenging. Four people on the same instrument? Amazing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Newton's Third Law

The motto "the show must go on" is as applicable to the symphony stage as it is to a Broadway show. Life doesn't stop just because there is a concert. Sometimes the unexpected happens. People get sick, strings break, or Broadway calls.

It is moments like these that lead to greatness. I was not around for the pops concert about 10 years ago when the guest artist suddenly became violently ill right before the performance. I have heard all about it, though. Not because it was a disaster, but because everyone in the symphony banded together and gave a memorable performance on the fly. It has become a KSO legend. The Masterworks concert where Lara St. John broke her E string in the middle of the Shostakovich violin concerto is one of the highlights of my nine seasons with the orchestra. It was dramatic and exciting. I have never heard an audience roar like they did when she finished that piece.

You see, Newton's Third Law of Motion applies to the symphony orchestra nearly as well as it applies to physics. You push on us, we'll push back. The greater the disaster, the greater our effort to compensate. Not that we don't try to play our best under normal circumstances, its just that when something unexpected happens everyone pushes a little bit harder. This is when greatness occurs.

On Saturday the orchestra will be performing a pops show. A few months back, the unexpected happened when our guest artist for the show canceled. KSO management found a replacement in singer Steve Lippia. Now, this is not in any form a disaster since Lippia is an experienced and quite talented singer, but when I flipped through my pops music this weekend my sixth sense started tingling. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those times where the unexpected leads to greatness. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if we were still talking about this pops concert in 2020.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baroque Masters

This afternoon we begin rehearsal for Sundays chamber concert. The concert features music of Baroque era masters such as Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, and Purcell.

We will also be playing the famous Pachelbel Canon in D. Pachelbel was kind of a one hit wonder. The Canon is by far his piece that is performed most often and is especially popular at weddings. When I taught Suzuki violin we often had the students play the Canon for public performances at festivals, shopping malls, etc. I always enjoyed watching the audience as they played because couples would hear the music and start to smile with happy memories. It is a piece that has earned the ire of cellists everywhere because their part consists of eight notes repeated and repeated and repeated until the piece is over. If Dante had envisioned a circle of Hell reserved just for cellists, I expect the punishment would have somehow involved the Pachelbel Canon. That doesn't mean the rest of us can't enjoy it, though!

The featured instrumental soloist for this concert is KSO's new principal bassoon player, Ellen Connors. She will be performing the Vivaldi Bassoon Concerto in A minor. In my nine seasons with the orchestra this is the first time we have had a soloist playing the bassoon. It is a rare opportunity to hear this beautiful instrument featured with the orchestra.

Also on this concert is Bach's Coffee Cantata. When a piece has a nickname, there is usually a story behind it. Sometimes the composers are responsible for the alternate name, but often friends or colleagues coin the nickname. Before I read the program notes on this piece I thought there was a good possibility that the string section that first performed the piece had given it the moniker of "coffee cantata." We don't play for several movements, enough time to go get some coffee. Actually, it is a cantata about coffee. Apparently Bach loved the stuff. The piece shows a humorous side of Bach that is rarely seen.

The Baroque Masters Chamber Concert will take place at 2:30 this Sunday at the Bijou Theater.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chopin turns 200!

Subject: Frederic Chopin

Born: March 1, 1810 in Warsaw

Died: October 17, 1849 in Paris of tuberculosis, although recently people have speculated that he may have had cystic fibrosis.

Known for: piano music! Chopin composed nearly exclusively for the piano. He did write a cello sonata and a piano trio, both of which feature...... the piano!

Child prodigy? Yes. Chopin was outplaying his first piano teacher at age 7. He penned his first compositions that same year. He was compared to Mozart and Beethoven.

Contribution to music: Chopin was a pioneer in form. He was responsible for inventing new forms such as the instrumental ballade as well as seriously tweaking existing forms such as the sonata, waltz, etude, etc. He also pushed the harmonic envelope with his use of chromaticism and dissonance.

Happy or neurotic?: Leaning more toward neurotic. Chopin wasn't particularly lucky in love. He never married, but had a few long-term tumultuous romances that never quite worked out, most notably with writer George Sand. He was also quite sickly for most of his life.

Strange fact: Chopin was terrified of being buried alive. When he died, his heart was taken out of his body and preserved per his request. The Polish government now has control / possession of his heart.

Here is Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, one of the 2009 gold metal winners of the Cliburn Competition performing Chopin's Twelve Etudes, Op. 1.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Different Perspective

Athleticism has never been my prowess. When I perform as a soloist or as part of a quartet the thing that keeps me up at night is not the actual playing, it is the mere act of walking out on stage. I am a step aerobics teacher's nightmare because, for as much as I can control my fine motor skills, I am a gross motor dunce. So, I shouldn't have been shocked when, on Monday, I did my best impression of an Olympic ski crash. Only I was just walking. And there wasn't any snow. (Yes, I know that in there, somewhere, there is a viola joke just begging to be had.)

I'm fine. I'm not sure which is more badly bruised, my arm or my ego. I am, however, out for the week. This afforded me a rare chance to check out the symphony from the audience. Last night I attended the dress rehearsal for tonight and tomorrow night's Masterworks performances. It was fun, I really enjoyed listening. Things sound very different in the hall then they do from the first desk of the viola section. Last night the orchestra sounded particularly great in Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream features actors from the Clarence Brown Theatre. It was quite entertaining. I got the giggles hearing the character of Thisbe performed in Shakespearean English with a Southern accent. If you are attending the concert and aren't familiar with the play, I would advise reading a synopsis. The actors from Clarence Brown are playing more than one role apiece, differentiated with different hats, and, of course, are not performing the entire play. It was interesting to see how Lucas and the actors from Clarence Brown put this together. There is a good balance of the actors and orchestra taking turns being the main focus. I was also pleasantly surprised at how much the orchestral passages enhanced the mood of the play. If you are able to brave this horrible winter weather we are having, I highly recommend attending tonight or tomorrow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blogger's Night!

Blogger's Night is coming up this week! I had so much fun meeting everyone at the reception last year, I look forward to seeing some of you again and hopefully meeting some new people this year.

I'm hoping that we'll have some new faces in the audience this week, so I'm re-running part of a blog I wrote last year in preparation for Blogger's Night.

Do I have to wear a tie / ball gown / tux?
Only if you want. Wear what you are comfortable wearing. You will see people in all kinds of attire at the concert from very formal to jeans and a teeshirt. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

When do I clap?

This is a sticky question, and one that has been discussed and debated here. Tradition says to wait until the entire piece is over before clapping. To clap in the “right” place you can either count movements or do what I do and wait for someone else to start clapping before joining in. Another way to tell it it's time to clap is to watch the orchestra and conductor. If we still have our instruments up and the conductor hasn't turned around, it usually means we're only pausing between movements and the piece isn't finished. Don't stress too much about this. Even if you accidentally clap in the “wrong” place, applause is a show of appreciation and we like to hear it.

Can I take pictures of the orchestra / theater?

Yes, you can take still pictures of the orchestra and theater before the concert starts, at intermission, and at the end of the concert. When the lights go down and the concertmaster walks on stage to start the performance, we request that you stop taking any flash pictures. Video and audio recording are not permitted.

Where can I learn more about the pieces that I will hear?

The KSO posts program notes online. You can read about the pieces you will hear on Blogger's Night here. There is also a pre-concert chat that is free to anyone who is attending the concert. These start at 7:00. I highly recommend attending. They are led by the conductor and really give you a better idea of what to listen to during the performance. When I can sneak out of the house early enough, I like to listen to the pre-concert chat. Even though I've spent the week rehearsing the music, I almost always learn something interesting.

If you have any other questions, please post them in the comments section. I will do my best to answer them for you. I am looking forward to meeting my fellow bloggers at the reception after the concert!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Principal Quartet at Borders

My quartet has been rehearsing quite a bit lately. There have been several days in the past few weeks where, between quartet rehearsal and symphony rehearsal, I've spent more time with my quartet members than I have with my husband. Luckily we all get along. (And my husband is understanding about the strange schedule of a professional musician! He does want to write a guest post entitled "The Symphony Widow" sometime, though.) Usually a string quartet puts itself together; people mutually decide to play as a group. In our situation, the symphony has put us together because we are all in principal seats. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. Right now it's a successful mix of personalities and temperaments and I'm thankful. The give and take of rehearsing and performing with the quartet is very satisfying.

This Friday at 7:00 (tomorrow!), the Principal Quartet will be performing at the Morrell Rd. Borders. We'll be playing a few movements of the first Brahms quartet as a preview of our April chamber concert, some Mozart, a piece or two by Gershwin, and some other light classics. This is a free concert and we'd love to see you!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Next Season!

I am so excited. The KSO publicly announced the 2010 - 2011 / 75th anniversary season yesterday and it does not disappoint. You can check things out for yourself here, but I'll give you some highlights of what I'm looking forward to next season.

* Amadeus!!!! In September we will be collaborating with The Clarence Brown Theatre for a stage production of Amadeus. I have no idea if we'll be in a pit or on-stage. Either way, I have a feeling this will be really neat. (By the way, next week we are collaborating with CBT on a smaller scale for our Shakespeare-inspired Masterworks Concert!)

* We've got all sorts of wonderful guest artists scheduled. Dylana Jenson will play Tchaikovsky in September, Norman Krieger will play Rhapsody in Blue in October, Orli Shaham will play Chopin in February, Jeffrey Biegel will be back in April playing Bolcom, Joel Fan will play Rachmaninoff in May, Midori will play Mendelssohn in January, and Conductor Emeritus Kirk Trevor will be back for one concert in March with his daughter Chloe as violin soloist.

* We will be having our concertmaster search all next season. Three finalists will spend a week with the orchestra playing a Masterworks concert and giving a solo recital.

* Some great chamber music will be happening next season. My quartet will be performing Cowell's Mosaic Quartet and Beethoven op. 59, No. 1 in F ("Rasumovsky"). The Woodwind Quintet will also be performing a work by Barber, and Nadine Hur, Gary Sperl, and Cindy Hicks will be playing Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for flute, clarinet, and harp.

* We're scheduled to play some truly blockbuster pieces. Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony, Janacek Sinfonietta, Liszt Les Preludes, Strauss Ein Heldenleben, Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade, Prokofiev Symphony #5, Mozart Symphony #39, Beethoven Symphony #8, and Beethoven Symphony #9.

* Did I mention we're playing Beethoven's 9th Symphony?! I love this piece so much I have already started a countdown to our performances: only 424 days left....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Leontyne Price!

Yesterday was soprano Leontyne Price's 83rd birthday. There are many wonderful clips of Ms. Price on Youtube but I like this one in particular due to the audience reaction. Happy Birthday Ms. Price!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tchaikovsky Accordion Concerto

I feel a certain kinship with accordion players. The accordion is an under-appreciated instrument that is the butt of many jokes, sort of like the viola.... Really, great accordion playing is just as spectacular as any other instrument played well. Maybe even more because it is unexpected.

Lisa Muci brought this clip to my attention. All I can say is WOW! The 3rd movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto is a bear to play when you're just handling the solo part. This musician manages to not only play the solo part, but all the orchestral parts too. It is too amazing not to pass on to you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sound Bites

This morning the quartet had an extra long rehearsal. My brain is a little bit fried, so here are some small observations about our rehearsal process this past week.

* Yesterday the quartet rehearsed at my house. Progress on the Bartok was compared to a football game: 6 inches forward at a time and a whole lotta instant replay in slow motion.

* Unlike Miro's cats, my cat, and Andy's as well, doesn't seem to care one way or the other about Bartok. No singing along and neither hid nor parked themselves close to us.

* After one particularly heinous "crash and burn" moment in rehearsal yesterday we looked out the window and noticed an ambulance slowly driving by my house. I wondered if the neighbors had called.

* Some of the chords I have to play make me wish for a sixth finger: three note clusters, perfect fifths over three or four strings. There are some things that are just about impossible. I know that Bartok knew this and just didn't care. I like that. Pushing technique to the limit is how we get better. After all, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was declared unplayable at one time.

* I love Brahms but find it just as difficult to play as the Bartok. It's not as technically challenging; the phrases are so long it is easy to get lost in the middle. I need a GPS in the Bartok to guide me through the mixed meter and rhythmical craziness. I need one in the Brahms to perfectly shape the phrases.

* As much as I joke, the more we rehearse the Bartok, the more I like it. Modern music tends to be like that: the first listening leaves you a bit speechless but the more you get to know the piece the better you like it. Putting the Bartok together is very satisfying, both because it takes so much work to figure it out and also because it is a piece that is much greater than the sum of its parts. I'm really happy we're playing it, it's a wonderful piece. I also know I wouldn't have gotten to know it this well otherwise and this has been a great lesson to me in giving unfamiliar music a chance.