Friday, April 29, 2011

Watery Music

Today I am grateful that three days of violent storms did little else to our home than savage our roses and clematis. And maybe the roof. (It’s a slate roof; we call it our rock collection). We, like throngs of people across the South were holed up in basements and closets and had hail damage to their cars. Flutist Jill Allard’s patio canopy was ripped into unrecognizable shreds and a fence panel was knocked down. Something massive must have hit violinist Lisa Muci’s car, because the windshield pretty much exploded. I’m glad she or Herb weren’t in it. Violinist Elizabeth Farr spoke of several broken windows in her home and much hail damage to Harpcar. This after Monday’s storm which downed power lines, made Kingston Pike through Sequoyah Hills impassible and caused uprooted trees to sever gas lines– THAT could be a problem to fix in a lightning storm. Tympanist Mike Combs just had his power turned back on TODAY after FIVE DAYS, and our streetlamps in Parkridge are still out since Monday.

Although the Symphony had no performances scheduled last night, the Principal Quartet did attempt to have a rehearsal chez Hristov, out near Dutchtown Rd. I had been teaching in Oak Ridge all day and his house was on my way home. Katy and Edward arrived at about 7:30, and violinist Any Bermudez and her husband Louis Diez were there, hanging out since 5:30 when the weather started to go, er, south. WBIR’s tireless team was on the tube, and Dutchtown was mentioned as a hail target. Miro’s kids were of course having a rave-up with all the attention and the electricity in the air, and we finally got started rehearsing about 8:30. We were choosing repertoire for an upcoming promotional gig and decided to check out something by this guy named Mozart. We got to about letter “B”and then the power went out.

After more socializing in the dark, (Miro’s 3 year old daughter Sophie taught me some of the finer points of running around and laughing, and his 8 year old son Danny and I discussed salmonella and its effects at great length) we decided that it was too dark to play and ventured out in the elements during a lull in the tornado warnings. Although I would have normally gone back to Pellissippi Parkway and then to I-40, I decided to stop at Weigel’s on Cedar Bluff to buy milk. (I swear! We were really out of milk). But when I tried to get on the highway, the ENTIRE Cedar Bluff interchange under the highway was under 5 feet of water. So, it was back to Pellissippi after all. The drive was one of the scarier ones I’ve done, lots of hydroplaning, and SUVs driving too fast. I returned home to find Helen and Richard in the basement watching the sump pump drain.

That first 32 bars of the Mozart are going to be darn good.

Monday, April 25, 2011

If Food Be the Music of Life...

It’s rare to find someone who has no health issues that need management at one time or another. Principal quartet rehearsals are a case in point. We love music so much that these conditions, these restrictions we carry with us do not stop us.

Principal violist Katy Gawne recently dislocated her shoulder, and while the playing is not so painful (at least she doesn’t complain about it), it hurts when she laughs. Unfortunately for her, the other three of us are complete cut-ups and she is quite sore by the end of rehearsals. Venezuela native and second violinist Edward Pulgar is still adjusting to what’s in the air here in Knoxville and is prone to rather charming rapid-fire sneezing outbursts. Plus he, along with first violinist Miroslav Hristov, are father to very young children (see previous blog) and the attendant sleep-deprivation. Edward and his wife Mary having just had a child in February, and Miro and Nathalie with a daughter, Sofie (3) and a son, Danny (8). For myself, I would have to say that my diabetes poses a routine that is deceptively challenging.

While many players encrust themselves with cell phones at break, I am armed with an apple. This is not because I am fond of apples per se, but that they are just very convenient and travel well. (There are worse things to eat. Prunes, for one). The timing of my insulin regiment dictates that I eat something at break, and it is not something I can take lightly. Since the Tennessee Theatre reopened after its renovation, there has been a lovely vending machine in the basement, and there has always been one in the Civic Auditorium. There are a few good choices in them, and several bad ones. So when I run out of apples, or forget one, Doritos have got my back. It’s not that I crave this stuff, or that I’m even hungry, but the notion of food as medicine is a sad reality. The spread of chips, cookies, candy, etc. that the opera company puts out is almost too good to be true and I have to know when to say when.

Either low or high blood sugar can be just a few bites away. Both can cause drowsiness, especially in the afternoon when more sensible countries of the world are taking a siesta. It is imperative to know which way to correct. Is my blood sugar weird? Or am I just really tired? Morning and evening services are fairly predictable, but in the afternoon there are a lot more variables. I have to check my blood sugar with a meter before the service and during break to help determine what to do to stay on top of things. Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar makes me ornery and thirsty, but is not an immediate health threat unless it goes unchecked for days. Hypoglycemia, (low) is much more dangerous and CAN leave one unconscious in a matter of minutes (see: Steel Magnolias). Luckily, that has never happened to me. Effects of hypoglycemia are confusion, fatigue, and a case of the shakes. When in doubt, I err on the high side.

Once in a great while, low blood sugar brings on double vision. “Well, just close one eye,” you might say, but this is up-and-down double vision, not side-to-side. A staff which normally has five lines suddenly has seven or eight. This confounds me, because the last time I looked, my eyes were oriented horizontally, not vertically like a 28-gauge Winchester over-and-under. My only choice at this point is to lay out, as I have already done all I can do by eating or drinking something and just have to wait for the calories to do their trick.

Famous diabetics in music and showbiz are surprising, although some are more high-profile than others; Mary Tyler Moore, Halle Berry, Elvis, Andrew Lloyd Webber, but my favorite would have to be Giacomo Puccini. To cap off a wonderful Easter, here is a link to a beautiful performance, somewhat childishly recorded, of his Credo from the Messa di Gloria. (I’m left wondering, how could the flutist misinterpret the dress code SO badly? And do we really want to see that audience member picking his nose)?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

If only I had stayed up until 5:30 Thursday night...

...then I would have been awake when Jen Bloch and Ildar Khuziakhmetov said hello for the first time to Alexandra, aka Sasha. CONGRATULATIONS!!! WOO! HOO!!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bundles of Joy

During this week off from performances, the KSO community anxiously awaits the arrival of its youngest member. Violist Jennifer Bloch and cellist Ildar Khuziakhmetov are expecting a girl any minute now! She will join a long, splendid list of “symphony kids” that have grown up hearing their mama and/or daddy practice and perform. It was barely two months ago that we welcomed Claudia Pulgar, daughter of violinists Edward and Mary Pulgar (and little sister of Ana Cristina). Former violinist with the KSO Lucie Novoveska and her hubby, composer James Carlson of Offtrail in the Smokies fame, became the proud parents of Elise Nadine this past fall. And bassist Dan Thompson and clarinetist Erin Bray had their third awesome child, Lainie, back in March of 2010.

The players aren’t the only players in this game. Our Director of Communications Stephanie Burdette and her husband Brandon welcomed Clare into the world on 1/11/11, and Jonathan Patrick Ford was born to Executive Director Rachel Ford and her husband Terry on August 18, 2010, joining older siblings Emily and Brenden.

The subculture of KSO kids is deep and diverse; from the shower that scores a bundle of baby stuff, to providing meals to a new family, playdates where our kids get to know each other, and older kids sitting for the younger ones. Back in the early 90's there was an “official maternity concert dress” that easily a dozen expecting symphony moms wore in turn over several years. As I recall, anyone wearing it looked like someone from that Seurat Grande Jatte painting.

Music plays a role in the lives of just about all of the children born to KSO players. Some even join in with the orchestra. Rachel Grubb (daughter of principal oboist Phyllis Secrist) is a proud member of the violin section, and Bonnie Farr (daughter of violinist Elizabeth Farr) plays oboe with us on occasion. Rachel and Bonnie won UT’s concerto competition last year playing Bach together. Both had played in the KSYO and Rachel founded the Oak Ridge Youth Symphony in 2009.

It’s a transforming experience to share the stage with your children. The question is begged, is it even possible to have THREE generations playing in one orchestra at the same time?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

This morning we board a bus that will follow the Trail of the Lonesome Pine up to Richlands, VA, for a Concert in the Community led by Cornelia Laemmli. It is a special day that features a lot of togetherness with fellow players, a beautiful spread of food by the folks at Southwest Virginia Community College, and a legendary fan in the audience who, without fail, will shout “YYEEAAAAAHHH!!!” after every number. It’s been happening for years now and it’s just the most charming thing!! There are soloists that come down from New York, Camerata Virtuosi, including one of the finest Russian soprani I have ever heard, Stefka Evstatieva. The focus of these concerts is on a different nation’s music every year; this year, it’s France, from whence originates another piece I have never played, Franck’s Symphonic Variations. You truly learn something every day. Like that I should sail a little closer to the wind when proofreading my blog.

Yikes!! I just caught my error in the last post. I don’t usually write things in duplicate. But then, my brother and sister just celebrated their 56th birthdays on the 14th, so it’s no wonder that I’m seeing double. My brother Mike is a trombonist, plays in some salsa bands in the Hartford area from whence we come. It is to him that I owe the privilege of being a fan of Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Imagine my delight then when in the course of musical events here in Knoxville I have gotten to play in the KSO with David Clayton Thomas and BS&T (spring of ‘95?) and Peter Cetera, a major force in Chicago (May 15, 2009). And for the record, yes, I do have a signed copy of the Chicago Transit Authority LP, that band’s first album dating from 1969.

My sister Martha (the youngest of three sisters) lives in W. Brookfield, MA, a picturesque New England village just west of Worcester on Route 9. She plays flute and handbells at her church. She and I and my wife, Helen played at my niece Crystal’s wedding last summer in Connecticut. Growing up though, she played clarinet. As an 8- or 9-year-old I marveled at the intricate metal riggings of the clarinet in its case but dared not try to figure it out. I was strictly a strings and percussion kid. I remember having a mangy old one-string guitar, sitting in our attic smacking it with a yardstick. That translated into the cello when it came time to choose an instrument– or have an instrument choose me– from the elementary school offerings.

I also had the coolest drum set; coffee cans with lids for drums, including one filled with Scrabble tiles as a snare, and a couple refrigerator racks with wire coat-hangers on them for cymbals. I was the next Ginger Baker, according to my sister Susie. She’s the oldest of us, and got caught up in the big rock-and-roll revolution of the late 50's and early 60's. I still have some of her old 45's.(Shhh! don't tell her). One of these bands, The Drifters, had a lead singer named Ben E. King. Some of you may remember us doing a pops show with him earlier in the 2000's. I remember him as being very personable and just a joy to work with.

My sister Jean is a bassoonist in the Portland, Maine area. She is bound to run into KSO second bassoonist Wren Saunders, who also lives there. It fell to Jean to be the one to turn me on to Stravinsky, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell and the Beatles. It was a real thrill then to have played with Tom Scott, Joni Mitchell’s reed man, when he conducted and played on the KSO pops concert featuring “the singing cop,” Daniel Rodriguez, back in September of ‘02. And for the record, yes, I do have a signed (by Tom Scott) copy of Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark LP.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Byron and Schiller

Well, you may have been wondering why I haven’t posted about our upcoming Beethoven 9th concert. I am wondering too. But what more can be said about it that most people, nay, most AMERICANS don’t already know? That the last movement alone has a huge chorus (in this case the Knoxville Choral Society), and four vocal soloists (Katherine Altobello, mezzo-soprano; Emily Douglass, soprano; Jonathon Sub├Ča, tenor; Benjamin LeClaire, bass)? That the lyrics to this finale are based on an 18th-century poem by Schiller? That the scherzo uses the tympani as a melodic instrument in the theme? That the third movement is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written? I love playing music that sells itself. However, it doesn’t play itself and I have been shedding riffs all week so that I don’t fall flat on my face tonight or tomorrow.

The Beethoven is paired with a work which received its premiere in November of 2010, William Bolcom’s Prometheus. Conceived and commissioned as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (a work scored for chorus, piano and orchestra), it draws its lyrics from the poem of the same name by Lord Byron. Jeffrey Beigel’s piano playing is, as always, amazing, and if you like a large battery of percussion instruments, then this is the piece for you. Bolcom’s works have been performed by the KSO in the past; the Chamber Orchestra played his Commedia in February of 1990, and his charming Three Rags for String Orchestra November of 1995.

While the program notes on Prometheus are available on the KSO’s website, the LA Times review of the world premiere of this work a mere five months ago can be found here:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bellini at Rossini

Vincenzo Bellini’s 1835 opera I Puritani will be featured work in the 2011 Rossini Festival. While his name may not be a household word among casual classical music buffs, his place (along with Rossini and Donizetti) in history is secured as a premiere composer in the bel canto style of early 19th century Italy. Casta Diva, an aria from his opera Norma, is a staple on music history listening lists in music schools worldwide. (And no, that opera is NOT about Marilyn Monroe). Puritani is, sadly, Bellini’s last opera; a love story set during the English Civil War. Think Lucia di Lammermoor with a happy ending. (Who better than the Italians to set English history to opera)?

The third act tenor aria Credeasi Misera is a workout in which the tenor sings a high F, if he feels he can reach it. It’s a high note for an alto, yet here is a tenor boldly going where very few men have gone before. It’s one of those moments that warrant a quick pit prayer. The soprano lead also hits a high “F,” and several high “E-flats.” I can’t help but feel shivers up and down my spine when a soprano hits a high note and holds it for a superhuman amount of time. Time is suspended while the audience stares wide-eyed at the stage. It gives me the same thrill as watching a gymnast’s difficult balance beam routine, a Kobe Bryant 360 slam dunk or a surfer’s best ride of the day on the pipeline. For as well as requiring musical, dramatic and linguistic skill, opera singing is an athletic activity that brooks little margin for error. Pacing and stamina – and luck– are just as necessary here as on the basketball court or football field. The ability to make oneself heard above the pit orchestra is a skill that is years in the making– as is, frankly, the ability to play in a pit orchestra without drowning out the singers.

Here are some pictures of festivities at the Rossini Festival, compliments of the festival’s Facebook page.

This is a painting of the two leads in Puritani, Rachele Gilmore and Yeghishe Manucharyan, donated by artist Dale Moore.

Here is Mr. Rossini drooling over the dessert counter at Gondolier at Cedar Bluff.

While you slept last night, a crew was hard at work turning Gay St. into the street fair you know and love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Springtime for Rossini in Knoxville

It’s been so cold recently that it hardly seems like it’s time yet, but the tenth annual Rossini Festival is just days away!!

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past 9 years, you know that the Knoxville Opera Company’s Rossini Festival is a celebration of Italian and opera culture taking place in downtown Knoxville. The street fair is a one-day event held on (closed-off, thankfully) Gay Street. The flagship productions of this year’s Festival are Bellini’s I Puritani featuring the Knoxville Opera Company and the KSO (Friday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:30, Tennessee Theatre), and Britten’s Albert Herring, produced by UT Opera Theatre (Saturday 2:30 and 8; Sunday and Monday at 7:30, Bijou Theatre)

It looks as if the four different al fresco performing stages are geared each towards a certain discipline. The South Stage, on the Bijou Theatre block of Gay St., will mainly be home to choral performers, among them groups from Maryville College, Pellissippi State and Central High, as well as a couple of Barbershop outfits.

The Market Square Stage will be home to mainly dance events; through the course of the day, Swing Dancers, Middle Eastern dancers, Go! Contemporary and Circle Modern Dance, and the incomparable Austin-East African Dancers and Drummers (among others) will grace the stage.

The North Stage, roughly in front of Mast General Store, will feature mostly instrumental ensembles; jazz, klezmer, brass choirs and a Suzuki violin ensemble led by Kathy Hart-Reilly, the fearless leader of the Sinfonia contingent of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The Opera Stage, about even with Krutch Park on the east side of Gay St., is where the most operatic of music will take place. Several vocalists who have shared the stage with the KSO and Knoxville Opera will be performing, including Karen Nickell, Joey DiMenno and the husband and wife team of Jami Rodgers and Kevin Anderson. Another husband and wife team, the Cricket and Snail, will delight and entertain. This unique duo is made up of KSO violinist Lucie (Novoveska) Carlson and Jim Carlson on accordion. You may remember that a work on the November Masterworks concert, Offtrail in the Smokies, was written by Jim.

Here is a link to the Knoxville Opera Rossini Festival with maps, schedules and other pertinent information.

Except for last year’s virtual washout, the Festival has traditionally been blessed with great weather. So far it looks like a good day is in the forecast, but you may want to keep an umbrella handy. In an effort to perhaps see if anyone is paying attention out there, I would like feedback as to what readers thought the best-SMELLING spot at the Festival was. Plus a big smile to anyone who gets the reference in the title of this blog. : )

Monday, April 4, 2011

Remembering a Legend: Bill Scarlett

With the echoes of a Middle Beethoven quartet reminding me of my afternoon, my inner jazz musician would be remiss not to note with sadness the passing of a major force- "force majeur"- on the Knoxville jazz scene AND a longtime member of the KSO, Bill Scarlett. He was principal clarinetist with the KSO from 1957 until 1977, when current principal Gary Sperl came to town. He also taught at UT for at least twice as long as that.

Bill and I shared the stage occasionally, usually on Pops concerts: Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Ray Charles, Byron Stripling and many more. I was struck by his bio for the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra’s website: “After 40 years of teaching at the University of Tennessee, Bill has taught almost every single member of the band in some capacity.” A 2008 inductee into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame, he was responsible for founding the UT Jazz Giants, which grew to be the UT Jazz Ensemble.

Billy (at far left) is pictured here with jazz pianist Donald Brown, who is flanked by local saxophonists Rocky Winder and Lance Owens in a photo from a cd put together by Brown called Tenors and Satin: The Knoxville Jazz Session.

There will be a memorial celebrating Bill's life and legacy on Sunday, April 10 from 7 to 9pm at the Foundry on the World's Fair Site. All are welcome to attend. Please spread the word about the memorial to anyone who you think might be interested. Hope to see you there.