Monday, February 28, 2011

Surfing the Classical Coast: Youtube

Surfing the Classical Coast

Here are links to some videos of a classical persuasion that are wacky and/or astonishing.

-Amusing incident involving a man on a cell phone during a string quintet “performance.”

-Amazing Spanish guitar duet on ONE GUITAR.
sorry, you'll have to drag and drop this one.

- A Grammy-related number by the Breaking Winds bassoon quartet. This is a scream! A lot of this stuff is. Get used to it.

-And the incomparable Victor Borge. This is from the early 50's at the White House, Mr. Borge does not disappoint.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Of Grammys and Grade School

Playing the KSO’s family concerts this morning reminded me of my experiences on the other side of the stage, as a child attending such concerts in Hartford, Conn. We would trundle off in a school bus (I walked to school, so this alone was a big deal to me) to Bushnell Memorial Hall to see the Hartford Symphony play under the baton of Arthur Winograd. The Bushnell, a stunning building that outseats the Tennessee Theatre by about 1,200, was the venue for a 1996 presidential debate between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. It was a chance to get away from school (YAY!) and if there was an orchestra on stage, I really didn’t notice because the ceiling of the hall was so awesomely adorned with stars and cherubim that I would just lean back and stare upwards all morning. I played the cello then, after a fashion (I was 8 or 9), so I knew what was happening on stage but not really why. And I had little clue that in about ten years I would be joining the musicians on stage to be the “watched” instead of the “watcher.”

I got my chance to join the Hartford Symphony in August of 1981. It was my first audition and there was only one round. I didn’t think I had played all that well, but I must have done something right, because Mr. Winograd said at the end of it, “Where have you been?” For the next three years I supplemented my college orchestra’s repertoire playing a schedule similar to the KSO’s Masterworks series – monthly pairs of concerts with AMAZING repertoire and AMAZING soloists – Perlman, Serkin, Andre Watts and Barry Tuckwell, to name but a few.

His rehearsals were fast-paced and he had a dry sense of humor, which I appreciated. Also a pretty quick temper when things were going south – which I appreciated not incurring. His tempi in standard repertoire were FAST. It was my first time playing a lot of these works and I learned them cold, only to learn later that most other conductors had a much slower musical metabolism than he. Mr. Winograd was a well-respected interpreter of Mahler and Strauss, and the high point of my tenure there was performing Mahler’s 7th at Carnegie Hall. When I left for graduate school in 1984, I wasn’t sure I would ever be in an orchestra of that quality again, but two years later I found myself here.

Last winter my wife Helen and I were hitting the junk stores in town, looking for some patio furniture. We found just what we needed at the corner of Central and Broadway– wrought iron chairs and table with a cool, retro “Coca-Cola” umbrella. A couple days later I enlisted the aid of my good friend Sean Claire, a long-time violinist with the KSO who has an awesome trailer, to haul the set home. (I know you’re wondering where I am going with this.) Before we left, Sean and I decided to peruse the collection of old vinyl at the store. I happened upon an off-label record from the early ‘60's of a string orchestra arrangement of the Mendelssohn Octet performed by a group called “The Arthur Winograd Orchestra!!” You can’t make stuff like this up.

Some Hartford Symphony friends of mine from back in the day told me on Facebook that Mr. Winograd was still alive and communicated with them via e-mail, although at 89 his conducting days were well over. I got his e-mail address and sent him a few lines, but alas, they were never returned. He passed away on April 22, 2010, his 90th birthday. I wonder what he would have said. I guess I will never know.

In addition to Maestro Richman’s outrageous good fortune at the Grammy’s, a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the Juilliard String Quartet, of which Arthur Winograd was the founding cellist. So even though one of the awards was indirect and posthumous, the Grammy angel looked down favorably last week on two of my favorite conductors.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Youth Orchestra Winter Concerts

On Monday, February 21st (That’s TONIGHT) at 7:00, four of the five groups that make up the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra will be presenting their Winter Concert at the Tennessee Theatre. The Junior Philharmonia, led by Erin Tipton Archer, The Philharmonia directed by Kate Hutchinson, the Sinfonia led by Kathy Hart-Reilly, and the Youth Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Wesley Baldwin will perform a wide variety of music sure to delight.

Erin Archer’s Junior Philharmonia performance will feature music by Kiko Yamada’s Zou San, which is Japanese for “little elephant,” and an arrangement of a Canadian folk song, Chumbara, by Deborah Baker Monday. The Philharmonia will present Alan Lee Silva’s Blue Ridge Run and Sacagawea by Brent D. Smith. Kathy Hart-Reilly’s Sinfonia forces will perform Canzone (based on an aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto), Jugglers by John O’Neill, and Iditarod by Soon Hee Newbold. Wesley Baldwin will lead the Youth Chamber Orchestra in Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D minor.

This concert is free, as is the concertmaster candidate violin recital by Joseph Meyer tonight at Pellissippi State. Enterprising concert-goers might actually be able to attend (some of) both concerts! Stay for a bit of the youth ensembles at the Tennessee, then hightail it over to Pellissippi State for the second half of Mr. Meyer’s recital. Hey! It could happen. (Keep in mind as per the previous post, that reservations are required for the violin recital). Need I add that this is a busy week for the KSO!!??

While I’m at it, I may as well mention that the Youth Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of James Fellenbaum, will be performing Sunday, Feb. 27th, also at the Tennessee Theatre. Winners of the Concerto Competition will be performing with the group. Pianist Jerry Feng will perform the stormy first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 in C Minor. Violinist Cameron Lugo will play the passionate first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Our youth orchestras are full of dedicated, enthusiastic young musicians that are thrilled to be playing on the big stage. Come share in their joy tonight!

Friday, February 18, 2011

This week: Picardy and the White Swan

As part of the KSO’s search for a new concertmaster, the three finalists for the position have been asked to perform solo recitals at Pellissippi State. About a month ago, we heard our first candidate, Gabriel Lefkowicz, give a fine recital, performing works of Bach, Beethoven, Wieniawski and Ravel, accompanied by pianist Kevin Class. On Monday, Feb. 21 our second candidate, Joseph Meyer, will present works by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Messiaen and Alard at the same location, Pellissippi State’s Clayton Performing Arts Center. Mr. Meyer is currently concertmaster of the Louisiana Philharmonic in New Orleans, and assistant concertmaster of the Colorado Music Festival (Boulder) in the summer. The recital is free, but it is necessary to reserve a seat. Here is a link to the KSO site with more particulars.]

The series of recitals by concertmaster candidates is a wonderful opportunity to experience the raw artistry of the candidates in a setting that is different from the usual concertmaster roles, “unplugged,” as it were, from the orchestra. On Thursday and Friday nights next week, we will be able to see and hear Mr. Meyer’s rendition of the solos from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite. The February Masterworks concert will also feature Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, Chopin’s Piano Concerto #2 in F Minor with guest soloist Orli Shaham, and Liszt’s monumental Les Préludes.

In more ways than one, this will be an exciting stage in the quest to discover who will become first mate for our ship of sound. The amount of violin talent out there is staggering. All three of the candidates are already making their respective marks in an international way.

Also next week, Picardy Penguin will be landing Thursday morning the 24th to great fanfare with a delightful Picardy-esque look at the building blocks of music: melody, rhythm, and harmony. Soprano Katy Wolfe Zahn will join in a show aimed at the 3- to 8-year-olds in our fan base (and their parents!) that will feature music of Offenbach, Glière, Beethoven, Bizet, Lucas Richman and Johann Strauss. Here’s a link to those concerts at the Tennessee Theater- tickets are available for the 11:00 am performance, which has been added since the 9:30 show has been sold out...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Man, oh Manon!

Every weekend sees the KSO in a different role in the local arts scene, and this weekend it’s a collaboration with the Knoxville Opera Company in Jules Massenet’s Manon.

Knoxville was visited by another woman named Manon in the early 90's. Those who follow local ice hockey will remember a goalie named Manon Rheaume, a trailblazer who sought to break the gender barrier (the ice ceiling?) in men’s pro hockey. (I have faith that some Symphony-goers are also fans of Knoxville Ice Bears, formerly the Cherokees. If not, work with me). She is known as the “First Lady of Hockey,” but for all intents and purposes read that as “the Only Woman of Hockey.” Her early career reads like a tour of the South; perhaps her Quebecois childhood made her long for the warm southern clime.

-1992 Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)
-1992–93 Atlanta Knights (IHL)
-1993 Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL)
-1993-1994 Knoxville Cherokees (ECHL)
-1993–1994 Nashville Knights (ECHL)
-1994 Tallahassee Tiger Sharks (ECHL)

In the KOC’s production of Manon, the goal-oriented heroine covers some ground, too- although in a different kind of game. You can guess that since Monday is Valentine’s Day, the game is love.

-Act One: Manon withstands the advances of an aging rake, Guillot.
Manon shuns life in a convent and falls in love with Chevalier Des Grieux.
-Act Two: Manon chooses a secure life with wealthy landowner Bretigny.
Manon withstands the advances of Guillot. Again.
-Act Three: Manon longs for Des Grieux, who has entered seminary school, and leaves
Bretigny to dissuade Des Grieux from the priesthood. They run off together.
Manon withstands the advances of Guillot. Again.
-Act Four: You’ll have to find this out for yourself!

Massenet’s score is rich and romantic, soprano Talise Trevigne’s portrayal of the title role caps off a brilliant cast, and the grandeur of the Tennessee Theatre itself proves to be a character in this drama. The remaining show is Sunday, Feb. 13 at 2:30. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Side-by-side: Back to School

Private students of mine have mentioned the upcoming “Side-by-side” concerts in which the KSO core strings will pair up with high school orchestras from Oak Ridge and Hardin Valley. The repertoire is challenging and I have had lessons with many kids who were scratching their heads. Britten’s Simple Symphony, an arrangement by Lucas Richman of Kol Nidre, an movement from an early Mendelssohn string symphony will be performed. The performances will be Thursday March 3, at Hardin Valley Academy and Tuesday March 6 at Oak Ridge High School. Both shows start at 7 pm.

Both Oak Ridge and Hardin Valley’s high school orchestras are led by longtime dear friends. Jenifer van Tol in Oak Ridge was the concertmaster of the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra when I moved here in 1986, and Peggy Jones is at Hardin Valley; my wife and I have known her via Westminster Presbyterian Church since the late 80's.

The Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra (ORSO) when Jenifer van Tol was concertmaster was conducted by Robert Lyall. It still boasted several charter members, dating back to its founding during WWII; Herb Pomerance, Waldo Cohn, Meyer and Dorothy Silvermann, Jacinta Howard, just to name a few. These were great people with many stories to tell. Jenifer’s sons Stefan and Jonathan also played low strings in the orchestra, were stage managers and generally just a joy to have around.

Fast forward a bit to 1994 (or so- forgive my senior moment). Ms van Tol has stepped down as concertmaster and my wife Helen now holds that position. We weren’t initially aware of Peggy Jones’ musical talent until we played some string music with her at Westminster Church and she soon was invited to become a member of the ORSO, as a violist. I was surprised to learn that she was studying music education at UT and aspired to be a high school orchestra director. Whereas many musicians study in other fields- to get “real jobs”- and continue to play on the side, here was somebody who already had a “real job” and was hoping to break into music! It was a dream-come-true for her. Her children have been active with the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra; Ian on cello and Megan on bass, and also are generally just a joy to have around.

We are looking forward to this musical mentoring and would like to thank the National endowment for the Arts, the City of Knoxville, Knox County and the Tennessee Arts Commission for their generous funding for this project.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Changing of the Guard

Good morning everyone! I get a kick out of reading the entries that Katy has been posting so diligently for the last two years. Thanks to the thoroughness of electronic media in bestowing me with the title of author of every previous entry, I must now provide the disclaimer that no, I am not responsible for the awesomeness which preceded me. I have big shoes to fill.

There’s a lot to talk about. Luckily, I like to talk. The music: a vast menagerie of styles, nationalities and personalities. Involving groups ranging in size from soloist to a cast of hundreds. Moments which are best experienced LIVE. Those CDs- they’re just not the same. The KSO’s output is but the tip of the musical iceberg, but what a glorious tip it is!

I really enjoyed Katy’s interviews with orchestra members and will try to keep up that good work. Although most of us are content to be adored onstage as classical music idols with superhuman musical powers, it may come as a pleasant surprise to you’uns that we require and desire the same things as “normal” people; e.g. food, clothing, shelter, chocolate and the beach.

It was a full week last week, with the violin doing most of the filling. Guest Concertmaster candidate Gabe Lefkowicz blazed through a well-balanced recital at Pellissippi State on Monday. Then on Thursday and Friday’s Masterworks concerts Midori set fire to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Gabe volleyed back on solos in Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben with impressive zest. Saturday the 5th brings romantic tunes from Broadway and Hollywood on the Clayton Valentines Pops, and next weekend Massenet’s Manon takes the stage with the Knoxville Opera Company. Plenty to do indoors in this cold weather.

Stay tuned....