Thursday, March 31, 2011

What's in store for 2011-2012

It is that time of year when we musicians take a look at what is coming up next season to keep us entertained and on our toes.

On September 22nd and 23rd, we will be presenting an all-Beethoven show, featuring Alon Goldstein performing the dark and stormy Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor and culminating in the Eroica Symphony. October brings Dvorak's New World Symphony to town, and a Pops concert featuring Michael Feinstein and the Sinatra Project.

On November 17 and 18 one of my favorite concerts ever will occur. This will feature a standard I have never played (yes, there still are some-- this season it was Les Preludes; next season, the Enesco Rumanian Rhapsody), a work I (and most cellists) love dearly (the Dvorak Cello Concerto featuring cellist Zuill Bailey), and a major 20th-century masterpiece (Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra).

On January 19 and 20, 2012, we welcome guest conductor Edward Cumming to Knoxville, where he will lead an all-Mozart concert which ends with the iconic Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Then for something completely different, we bring out the big guns in February with Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, (No. 2), a spectacular work with chorus which needs no overture or concerto to bolster it.

The concentration of music in March is very thick. The Chamber Classics concert on March 4th will feature Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat and his Concerto in D, and will finish with Schoenberg’s dreamy Transfigured Night. All this happens one day after a Pops concert dubbed a “Celtic Celebration.” At the end of March, we go interplanetary, presenting Holst’s The Planets.

On April 19 and 20, 2012, writer Jack Prelutski (of Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant fame) will narrate Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals; Schubert’s awesome Unfinished Symphony will open the show. The season finishes in May with a Pops concert tribute to the Carpenters on the 12th and the Masterworks finale on the following weekend will be an all-French show featuring Ravel’s perky Piano Concerto in G and Debussy’s classic La Mer.

Personally, (and I might add, as usual), there is a lot to look forward to here. The Ravel piano concerto is a desert-island piece for me. A gorgeous slow movement with a luscious English horn solo with mile-long phrases is framed by two somewhat crazy outer movements that have jazz written all over them. Transfigured Night (or Verklaerte Nacht) is an early work of Schoenberg’s, originally composed as a sextet but arranged here for string orchestra. It is a landmark work that bungee-jumps off of the cliff of traditional harmony into the abyss of atonality. The Planets, Mahler 2 and the Bartok Concerto are all giant, fascinating works that represent live classical music at its best.

Monday, March 28, 2011


...then you must attend the KSO Chamber Classics concert on April 3rd at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre.

Henry Cowell’s groundbreaking Mosaic Quartet, written in the KSO’s inaugural year of 19 and 35 opens the program and will include an aleatoric sequence referendum, aka the audience will determine in which order the five texture chorale movements are to be performed.

The Knoxville Symphony Woodwind Quintet will then play Samuel Barber’s 1956 work Summer Music for woodwind quintet. If it stays cold, we are going to need summer music bad. If not, then it will be the perfect mood music for a spring day. Sadly, this is Barber’s only chamber work for winds.

I have known principal oboist Phyllis Secrist and principal clarinetist Gary Sperl since before me days here in Knoxville; we all played the Spoleto Festival of Two Words on Charleston SC and Spoleto Italy in 1985. Gary played bass clarinet in Puccini’s Fanciulla del West under Christian Badea, and Phyllis and I drank way too much cafĂ© latte. Phyllis had the distinct pleasure of having her ridiculously talented daughter Rachel return to Knoxville (on spring break from Northwestern) to play violin on the Prokofiev 5 concert with Kirk Trevor this past weekend.

The remaining two works are prime examples of the phenomenon of a work’s glory not hinted at in its title. The Quartet will join clarinetist Gary, flutist Nadine Hur and harpist Cindy Hicks in the Introduction and Allegro by Ravel. Three words here should be all you need to know- flute, harp, and Ravel. After this wave of impressionism has subsided, the Principal Quartet will play Beethoven’s op. 59 #1 quartet, the first Razumovsky quartet as it is known to some. Classical music insiders say “59 number 1" and there’s nothing more needs to be said. The joyous opening movement, the quirky scherzo second movement, the tragic third movement and rowdy finale are standards of the quartet literature. Come find out why.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maestro Trevor's return- and how some of us spent Spring Break

Conductor Emeritus Kirk Trevor’s return to the KSO podium after a few years absence has been very satisfying and inspiring. Since Sunday evening he has been shepherding the KSO through Prokofiev’s masterful Symphony No. 5, Sir Arnold Bax’s Overture to Adventure and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with verve and attention to detail.

Completing the family affair, his daughter Chloe has been playing brilliantly in the Beethoven. She has clearly come into her own as a soloistic force and it is unfair to her to hang the moniker of “Kirk Trevor’s daughter” after her name.

The Bax overture we are performing has my vote for the “sleeper of the year.” Composed during the KSO’s first season, one has to wonder upon hearing it why it is not performed more often and why the parts, which must have been printed in the 40's or 50's, were completely clean of markings. Maestro Trevor said of the work, “it has somehow slipped unfairly into obscurity, even by English standards.” But it is full of shimmering, thick brass writing and memorable tunes.

Prokofiev 5 is a work no one who enjoys the symphonist’s craft should miss, firmly entrenched in the canon of other great “Fifths:” Beethoven, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler. Prokofiev’s wit and soul are in fine fettle and unlike some of his other symphonies, there is no “language barrier” here. The first movement is sweeping and upbeat, the second movement Scherzo cooks along like a train that is on the verge of derailing (to paraphrase Kirk). The final two movements are showcases for Prokofiev’s mastery of symphonic colors.

Some of us were wondering where the clarinets were the other night at Maestro Trevor’s first rehearsal. There were holes in the texture, the fabric of the music and I’d almost forgotten why. We were even treated to the Maestro’s own dulcet tones, singing the missing clarinet part in the Prokofiev 5th. Gary Sperl, our principal clarinetist, was finishing up a tour of the People’s Republic of China with the UT Clarinet Choir! Their travels took them to Beijing, Xi-an and Chengdu in a tour that started March 10th and ended (gulp) Monday. It was good in many ways to hear jet-lagged Gary and bass clarinetist Ben Gessel at Tuesday’s rehearsals; not just their playing, but their mere presence, given the volatility of the world these days.

See more about it here:

Monday, March 21, 2011

I stand corrected. I was under the impression that the Prokofiev 5th Symphony we are preparing was written during the KSO’s first season. WRONG! Maestro Trevor described the work as dedicated to the triumphant human spirit when said spirit was being tried severely during WWII. The actual composition year is 1944, but in 1935 Prokofiev composed his 2nd violin concerto (that’s Violin Concerto No. 2, not Concerto for second violin, all you smarty-pants musicians), the Romeo and Juliet ballet, and Peter and the Wolf. Not a bad year for him!

Here is a taste of Chloe Trevor performing the Beethoven Concerto with the Astoria Symphony, in Queens, NY, with Maestro Trevor directing. Chloe has graced our stage many times before, and brilliantly; in the late 90's she performed Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro on a series of Young People’s Concerts and runouts, and performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto on the final Chamber Orchestra concert of the 2001-2002 season.

I gained a new perspective on the Beethoven Concerto in music history class in college. The professor played an LP that was popular in the 50's, a music appreciation record that was narrated by a famous musicologist of the day (Wow. Famous musicologist... now there’s an oxymoron. No wonder I’ve forgotten his name). His description of the opening of the concerto– “...five taps on the tympani...” was so 50's that I immediately knew I was born in the wrong decade. But it brought home to me the idea that the tympani could function as a melodic instrument. It’s astonishing, though; the motif is so simple yet so versatile. I don't need to tell you that Beethoven is astonishing, though; you know it. However, if you need to be reminded about why, please join is this Thursday or Friday (or both!) at the Tennessee Theatre at 8.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The KSO is excited to welcome back Conductor Emeritus Kirk Trevor to the KSO podium. He was the sixth conductor in the 75-year history of the KSO, directing from 1985-2003. Kirk was responsible for, among way more things, initiating the Clayton Holiday Concerts, for “Mahlerizing” the KSO, (he completed the cycle of all nine Mahler symphonies, of which until his tenure the KSO had taken 49 seasons to perform only numbers 1, 2 and 4), and for gambling-- and winning-- on a powerful production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that sold out 8 performances at the Civic Auditorium in March of 2000. And last but not least, he is the man who hired me.

We will also be welcoming back his daughter, Chloe, who will solo in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the KSO’s Masterworks concert next Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre. A third and very special guest is Serge Prokofiev’s engaging 5th Symphony, (with the scherzo that seems to be based on Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home), composed during the KSO’s inaugural season and last heard here in January of ‘89. Arnold Bax’s Overture to Adventure completes the program that will surely be a shining star in the firmament of the KSO’s 75th season.

I don’t know how many concerts over the years I played under the baton of Maestro Trevor, but it is surely in the hundreds. My first concert here included Sibelius 2nd and Walton’s Cello Concerto, two pieces I’d never played. It was the first time through much of the repertoire for me and I loved every minute of it. The early Pops concerts were interesting, to say the least. Former Vols and Dallas Cowboys star Bill Bates narrated a piece called Freddy the Football at a concert in the OLD Knoxville Convention Center; on another, the late, great Chet Atkins had a dude come out and lip-synch Ray Stevens’ The Streak. Some fine Pops artists came through town back then, though; Emmy-Lou Harris, Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Lou Rawls, The Kingston Trio...

Classically speaking, Kirk took some pretty heady chances. Not too many are still in town who remember the Korngold, Vorisek or Elgar symphonies we did, the David Ott Viola Concerto, Murray Schaeffer’s East, or 13-year-old Dalit Paz Warshaw’s Ruth. The following link is a treasure to see, as it can lead you to the program for every single concert Kirk conducted here.

more later...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Great Day to Hear a Spring Quartet

The Principal String Quartet of the KSO will be performing at Borders Books Store in the Deane Hill Shopping Center, Sunday, March 13th at 4:00. This “Sunday with the Symphony” concert will feature the quartet in a preview of the April 3rd Chamber Classics concert at the Bijou. Beethoven’s Op. string quartet 59 No.1 will be played in the coffee shop performance space at Borders.

The quartet has been hard at work on this piece (and others) for several months now. In the bible of string quartet playing, Beethoven’s three quartets, Op. 59, would surely be the book of Psalms. They are at the same time intimate and powerful, and the first, in F Major, runs the gamut of musical emotions, from puckish verve in the scherzo second movement to tender melancholy in the third, to outright mayhem in the finale, which is based on a Russian folk theme.

Working through the piece with my comrades (Miro Hristov and Edward Pulgar, violins; Katy Gawne, viola and former bloggist) is a joy. Ask just about any string player and they will tell you that working on the quartet literature is not just a learning experience, but a bonding experience, too. The beautiful thing about the Symphony is that the four of us have been put together fortuitously and have a great camaraderie.

Morning rehearsals often happen at my house, where the coffee flows freely. Evening rehearsals, often at Miro’s house, are open-ended affairs where only an attack of narcolepsy can end the rehearsal. In the spirit of chamber music reading parties of yore, wine is often featured. Miro’s son Danny often serenades us at the piano before we get down to brass tacks, while his daughter Sophie lets us know in no uncertain terms that the purple stand is hers! Rehearsals at Katy’s abode are fun because there are almost ALWAYS cookies and her 6-year-old daughter Alice ALWAYS has a tale tell, as well as some constructive criticism.

So come on out- get a cup of Joe, curl up with a good book (how about the score to the Op. 59 #1 quartet??) and support chamber music in Knoxville. BUT.... don't forget to set your clocks ahead one hour tonight, or you will see us shopping for books instead of playing music. We shan’t be gone long.... you come, too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The KSO’s Pops series will showcase the talents of Jim Curry, who channels John Denver with his smooth voice and tasteful arrangements. John Denver’s songs will seem to sing themselves on Saturday night at the Civic Auditorium at 8.

A visit to Wikipedia to learn about John Denver can be truly enlightening. I was struck by the variety of pursuits he endeavored. As well as being a fine singer/songwriter and the Poet Laureate of the state of Colorado, he was an avid flyer, skier, photographer and writer. His death in 1997 in an experimental plane off the California coast shocked the world, but ironically he was a finalist to be the first civilian to fly on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Christa MacAuliffe was chosen. I had forgotten this, but he was also a skiing commentator for ABC at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, for which he also composed and sang the theme song, entitled The Gold and Beyond. AND, His first wife hails from St. Peter, Minn., which is my wife’s home town.

I best remember John Denver in the movie Oh, God! wherein George Burns (as God) enlists him to tell the world that He is not dead. I never would have thought of him as an actor, but I saw it and it’s one of those movies that you might want to see. It’s dated-ness would be very charming, but when all is said and done you can’t go wrong with George Burns. Back in the day I liked a couple of his songs very much; Sunshine and Thank God I’m a Country Boy. When I was growing up there was a huge rivalry between fans of his and fans of Jim Croce, who had a very different voice but whose music was quite similar. There was no bridging that gap; you were either with or “agin” Mr. Denver.

Regretfully, I must sign off here. I am off early with the KSO to play Young People’s Concerts at Greeneville’s Niswonger Performing Arts Center. REALLY early.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

If you are captivated by high notes and the witty interplay of comic opera, then today’s Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert, featuring arias and duets from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, is just the ticket for you. Soprano Katy Williams and Baritone Kevin Richard Doherty will combine with the KCSO to brighten up what promises to be a dreary day here in Knoxville.

As a follow-up to the KSO’s production of Amadeus! earlier this season, the overture and five set pieces from Figaro will be performed. This is the “silly farce” that the Court Chamberlain, so bent on having Mozart stick to “elevated themes,” so disdained in the play.

Although there is no play entitled “Giaochino” dedicated to the life and times of Rossini, his music is no less legendary. The baritone aria “Largo al factotum” is immortalized in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. You know, the one where the singer’s head shrinks in the middle of the performance. The soprano aria Una voce poco fa is the quintessential Italian opera buffa coloratura workout, and Ms Williams does not disappoint.

Also on the program will be the Overture to the Pirates of Penzance, by Arthur Sullivan, the overture to a rival production of the Barber of Seville by Giovanni Paisiello, and Lucas Richman’s own Salutation No. 8.

So bring your swim fins, (or at least an umbrella), hoist the anchor and set sail to the Bijou Theater today at 2:30 for a trip through the land of comic opera.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The (other) Soloist

Last May, The Volunteer Ministry Center hosted a luncheon featuring Steve Lopez, author of the 2008 best-selling book The Soloist. The luncheon was a fundraiser for the VMC and also featured performances by the cellists of the Knoxville Symphony orchestra. The Soloist, as you may know, is the story of the struggles of a homeless classical musician who catches the eye of LA Times reporter Steve Lopez. It was made into a movie, released in 2009, starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers, the Juilliard drop-out who has become homeless.

The book has been on my list for a while, but after the luncheon I felt I had become very knowledgeable on the book’s main points, so colorful and descriptive were Mr. Lopez’s anecdotes. I was surprised to learn of the subject of the book since I had become acquainted with another book by the same title written by Mark Salzman, published and nominated for a Pulitzer in 1994. Although the cello also figures prominently in Salzman’s book, music is not the main focus. The novel centers around Renne Sundheimer, a former cello prodigy who is now professor of cello at a University in southern California. While “legal thriller” is too dramatic a term for this novel, it is an intriguing fictional tale of Sundheimer’s experiences with jury duty in the trial of a Zen master’s bizarre murder. There is a love interest with a fellow juror, although Sundheimer’s character is laughably self-conscious when push comes to shove.

Some interesting parallels exist between Lopez’s protagonist and Salzman’s. Both are child prodigies who, for whatever reason, have shunned (due to mental breakdowns of differing types) the obvious career paths to which they have been affianced. Experiences in their late teens alter their respective world views. Sundheimer, having risen perhaps too quickly to stardom as a solo cellist, has found his way despite meeting, at age 18, an artistic roadblock that renders him unable to play in tune. A major boost comes for him when he accepts as a student a 9-year-old Korean boy who shows a great deal of promise and reminds him of himself. Ayers has no trouble whatsoever playing either the violin or the cello in tune, but it is his inability to be in tune with his surroundings, which surfaced while an undergrad at Juilliard, that makes his character so tragic.

Mark Salzman’s The Soloist is laced with many spiritual insights into the world of classical music, particularly the solo cello, while weaving an absorbing tale of an experience in the realm of due process.