Monday, May 30, 2011

End of Season Loose Ends

You didn’t see clarinetist Mark Tucker or flutist Cynthia D’Andrea playing the May Masterworks concert because their children’s graduation ceremonies fell on the night of one of the concerts. Mark, who wears the most hats of any of us in the orchestra (he is our second clarinetist, librarian and personnel manager as well as being a local saxophone institution) and his wife, violist Carol Tucker have just graduated their daughter Katherine from Karnes High School. Cynthia’s daughter Allison Smith graduated from Knox Catholic High, where she was a standout with the volleyball team. Congrats to Allison and Katherine!!

You did see principal clarinetist Gary Sperl at these shows, but just barely. Fresh off his trip to China during spring break with the UT clarinet choir, he is now in Tanzania, on a “reconnaissance mission” which is a prelude to his year of teaching there during the 2011-2012 season. With time out for dodging cobras and monkeys he will be teaching at Makumira University College in Arusha. Gary is truly the KSO’s “international man of mystery” and we all wish him the best.

Congratulations are in order for principal bassoonist Ellen Connors, who recently won the principal bassoon position with Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, OH. She will be able to play the majority of concerts for both groups; this is what Jackson Browne would call “chasing songs from town to town.”

We said also have unfortunately said goodbye to core violinist Lee Sheehan who will be spending the foreseeable future at Indiana University. She will be studying with Alex Kerr, the former concertmaster of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra. Lee's smile was a welcome sight every day and we will miss her much.

Here is a pic from Kirk Trevor's recent visit to town.

left to right, Gary Sperl, Mary Ann Fennell, Jay Oberfeitinger, yours truly, Nadine Hur, Cathy Leach, Cynthia D'Andrea, Maestro Trevor, Phyllis Secrist, Andy Adzima, and Mark Tucker.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer Reading List

I don’t read all that much, although the constant onslaught of music in my life (and the occasional plane trip) take their toll occasionally and I will resort to silence and a book. Here are some items I have read or will read that may make your summer more interesting. My list is short; I know better than to get my hopes up too high.

Arthur Fiedler: Papa, the Pops and Me, by Johanna Fiedler

As part of its release, Ms Fiedler did a book tour with orchestras. She appeared with the New Hampshire Music Festival orchestra back in the 90's in a show which mirrored a Boston Pops-style concert. Between numbers she spoke of her father’s life and times and it was very sweet and informative. What I remember most about Arthur Fiedler is that he died on my 18th birthday; July 10, 1979.

Twilight of the Wagners: The Unveiling of a Family’s Legacy, by Gottfried Wagner

No, I actually haven’t read this, but I’m pretty sure the Wagner freaks in the orchestra have; hornist Mark Harrell, for one. The hardcover sleeve pictures Wagner’s grandsons with Hitler; maybe I’ll remove it before going to the gate. A lot of mysteries to dig into in that book.

Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion, by Mickey Hart

If you like the music of the Grateful Dead, then you’ve probably already read this; if not, just know that this book is an enthralling biography of the percussive arts. Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart gave a seminar at UT about 10 years ago, his hearing was pretty bad. Little wonder. Well, his loss is our gain with this very personal memoire/overview of percussion in a universal sense.

A Smattering of Ignorance, by Oscar Levant

This one’s a little hard to find. My landlady at the Lake George Opera Festival had this on her shelf, right next to Dolly Parton’s autobiography. This is a fairly lightweight but delightful stroll through the early 40's Hollywood composers’ scene of the Gershwins, Schoenberg, the Marx Bros., etc. It may be of more interest to musicians, but it is a fast read and Levant is brilliant. Like the Glenn Gould and Boulanger books below, this can be read out of order.

Mademoiselle: Conversations with Nadia Boulanger, by Bruno Monsaingeon

This is a new one for me also. Boulanger is known as “the woman who taught the world how to write music in a French accent.” Her pupil list is staggering; Copland, Roy Harris, Virgil Thomson, Michel Legrand, Astor Piazzolla, Philip Glass, and Elliott Carter among others. I expect to learn a lot from this book.

The Glenn Gould Reader, Tim Page, ed.

Pianist Glenn Gould’s intellect and sarcasm are all over this collection of essays, with some critical looks at the nature of classical music from his high niche in the piano world. Music journal articles, radio show transcripts, LP liner notes and even an interview with himself are brought to life by one of the most controversial but brilliant musicians who has ever lived.

The Classical Kids Series, various artists

If you have kids, these audio books will help another hour on that long car trip back from the beach, and then another hour, and maybe another as the kids ask for more. These tales tend to bear repeating, with dramatic, historical looks at composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. The Vivaldi episode became known as “the Katerina tape” in our family with its vivid, soulful story of a girl searching for a missing strad during Carnival. Children under aged 5 will probably just fall asleep to the delightful soundtrack, but older kids will be drawn right into the drama and the music will stick with them forever.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Goodbye and an Invitation

With the end of the KSO’s 75th anniversary season, it is with bittersweet sentiment that we bid adieu to our assistant concertmaster, Miroslav Hristov. Miro has been with us since the 2000-2001 season, and has been acting concertmaster this past season while the concertmaster search has been taking place. A major force in Knoxville’s violin community, he will be turning his attention towards teaching at UT and well-deserved time with his family. I will always remember him as a gifted, optimistic and witty musician and a true friend with an infectious smile and a zest for life. In quartet rehearsals his seemingly infinite knowledge of the violin repertoire was often quoted when we came upon a phrase in a quartet that reminded him of another piece.

As a “coda” to our 75th season, a recital by harpist Cindy Hicks will take place on Sunday, May 22nd at 2:00 Westminster Presbyterian Church, 6500 Northshore Dr., at the foot of Lyons Bend Road. Music by Jolivet, Ibert, Koechlin and others will be performed; principal bassoonist Ellen Connors and principal flutist Nadine Hur will assist. If you heard our concerts on one of the past two evenings, you cannot have missed all three of these musicians’ powerful artistry, particularly on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade. Come see and hear chamber music with harp in an amazing acoustical setting.

Monday, May 16, 2011

75th Season Finale!!

This Thursday and Friday at 8:00 at the Tennessee Theatre, the KSO will present the finale to our 75th anniversary season, an all-Russian program featuring three works which all contain melodies that would surely make anyone’s list of “100 Greatest Melodies.” Programmed are Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini featuring pianist Joel Fan, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

As you may have heard through the grapevine, the KSO has announced that Gabriel Lefkowitz will be the new concertmaster and will be joining us for the May 19 and 20 Masterworks concerts. We are excited about this news and he sounds great on the solos in the Rimsky-Korsakov.

Preceding each concert, Maestro Richman will lead a discussion with our guest soloist starting at 7:00, and following each concert there will be a patron reception in the downstairs lobby of the Tennessee Theatre. This is an attractive scenario on Thursday especially, since the smart money is on an early arrival to beat the Sundown in the City traffic (which will be peaking around 8:00), and staying at the Tennessee past 10:15 will allow some of the after-Sundown traffic to disperse. The après-concert receptions will provide good opportunities to meet and greet Maestro Richman and some members of the orchestra to discuss the many twists and turns of our 75th season. Both pre- and post-concert events are FREE to ticket holders.

Note: by “patron reception,” I am referring to “a reception for patrons,” not “a reception where Patrón tequila will be served.” You will have to go down the street for that. Besides, with all of this Russian music, wouldn’t vodka be more fitting? Just sayin’....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Concerts in the Community- and a heads-up

Tennyson said it best. In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of... FREE concerts in the park!!! Come see the KSO under the direction of resident conductor and NEW FATHER James Fellenbaum at the Maryville Greenbelt stage on Thursday the 12th at 7:30, or on Knoxville’s Market Square Friday evening at 7. Or both!

Baritone Kevin Richard Doherty will reprise his arias from Barber and Figaro from the March 6th Chamber Classics concert. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mel Brooks will also take the stage in this spring break from the ordinary. Bring a picnic supper, lawn chairs or blankets, and an appreciation for a classy start to your weekend. I’d have to say though, a blanket on Market Square might be a little uncomfortable, but it’s just the thing in Maryville.

Yes, you heard right! Jim and his wife, trumpeter Sarah Chumney Fellenbaum, are the proud parents of Kiri Jane, born Monday, May 9th! At our rehearsal Tuesday, Jim’s hospital wristband was an integral part of his beat, and he was in good shape for the shape he was in.

Please remember that the Thursday night Masterworks concert next week coincides with Umphrey’s McGee at Sundown in the City, so parking will be at a premium and extra time should be allowed. Look for restaurants before show time that are more removed from the throngs of people that are sure to show up, such as Chesapeake’s, the Bistro at the Bijou, or Old City institutions if you don’t mind a little walking.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Words cannot express...

In the life of a symphony orchestra there is joy to celebrate and sadness to confront, just as in a family or a church. While the more recent past has provided us with joy in the birth of a baby girl, Sunday’s news of the sudden death of principal hornist Calvin Smith weighs heavily on all of our hearts today. The world has lost a fine musician.

A horn player’s horn player, Calvin moved here from Los Angeles to accept the professor of French horn position at UT, leaving a lucrative free-lance career in the early 90's while continuing to hold the principal horn position with the Long Beach Symphony. After perusing several biographies of him online and finding that no two of them had the same credentials, I believe it can safely be said that he had far and away the most extensive resume of any KSO member. The tag on his car read FECHOPS, (iron chops, if you’re not up on the table of elements), and to hear him play, you would know why. I have always admired horn players for their ability to tame a quirky and treacherous instrument, and Calvin made it look easy.

The irony of it all is that Chris Botti’s arrangement of Time to Say Goodbye which we performed Saturday night begins with a beautiful horn solo. If you heard it on Saturday night at the Civic, you heard the best. Prayers and thoughts go out to his wife Paula and sons Nathan and Jeremy. The memorial service will be held Wednesday, May 11 at 6:00 pm at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Where I Was on April 31st

To anyone who may not be aware, I perform with a local swing jazz group called the Johnson Swingtet. It’s a little sidetrip I decided to take a few years ago to broaden my musical horizon. The group is generally comprised of two guitars, cello, mandolin and harmonica, and is dedicated to the gypsy jazz tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grappelli with a smattering of Western Swing and Samba. This past Sunday night we were playing at Sapphire on Gay St., when between songs folks at the bar let out a big ol’ cheer (but definitely not AFTER a song, especially considering the fortitude of the cheering! lol). We played on, temporarily oblivious to the fact that Osama bin Laden had just been shot.

Meanwhile, back in 2001, I was an orchestra committee member and took part in the contract negotiations after the 2000-2001 season. The negotiations with Mark Hanson, in his sophomore year as General Manager, had reached an agreement without much gnashing of teeth. Just a couple small items needed to be ironed out, and we were settling in to a 9:00-ish meeting when Emily (Robertson) Vestal came rushing into the conference room saying that the World Trade Center had just been hit. Although I had never spoken to Emily, who had just joined the KSO staff as assistant stage manager and now works at Carnegie Hall, it was clear that she was not used to speaking so forcefully.

We finished up the meeting, aware that what we had spent months negotiating might have just gone up in flames also, but we were cautiously optimistic and posterity has long since allayed our fears. That week was to be the Gala concert, but the schedule was reconfigured to include an “emergency” concert on the Civic Auditorium lawn. People were shaken; loud noises from the parking garage made people jerk their heads around to see if they needed to run from something. The “C” garage had a loose expansion joint that has since been fixed, but in those days when driven over, it sounded as if Thor himself were hammering on the whole structure.

On Friday night the 14th, the Gala concert at the Civic Auditorium, featuring pianist Alexander Toradze playing a Rachmaninov concerto and concluding with Scheherazade, went on as planned, although as I recall there was some doubt as to whether Mr. Toradze would make a single rehearsal due to travel restrictions. Indeed, he had to be driven down from Bloomington, Indiana. My memory is fuzzy about this, but I believe this concert also included the dedication of the statue of Rachmaninov that now stands in World’s fair Park, commemorating his last performance here in 1943. Maybe someone out there can ascertain whether this is true, but regardless of when it happened, there is a bit of business to take care of. A forum on includes a post by some bloke who is miffed that Rachmaninov’s last performance occurred in Knoxville. To wit...

....Somehow I feel a final performance there was not appropriate for
such a great artist....from St. Petersburg and other world capitals to Knoxville. Sad, but such is life!

Maybe one of you can tell this person where to go.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Double-header Weekend

This weekend brings a duet of concerts that showcases two completely opposite hemispheres of the KSO’s musical world– the smooth jazz extravaganza of trumpeter Chris Botti on Saturday night, and a generous helping of Baroque string music on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday night at 8:00, jazz trumpet star Chris Botti will join the KSO Pops at 8:00 at the Civic Auditorium. His Youtube performances of When I Fall in Love, Time to Say Goodbye and The Look of Love are classy and moving. Mr. Botti will play three more shows in the states and one in Mexico City before touring Australia later in the spring.

Sunday afternoon at 2:30, the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will present works of Purcell, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Heinrich Biber at the Bijou Theatre. While the bulk of this concert’s repertoire explores a variety of Baroque counterpoint styles, a special feature will be Biber’s Battalia. Dating from 1673, the best way to describe this piece is as Charles Ives entertaining Louis XIV. Special effects not used again until the Bartok era are called for, such as snap pizzicato and the use of paper under the bass strings to create a snare drum effect. You can also hear Vivaldi at his most “emo” in his Sinfonia al Santo Sepulcro, a beautiful gem of baroque “passion music.”

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Friday, April 29th, the KSO played a “runout” concert at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend. Opened in February, 2006, and located on “the peaceful side of the Smokies,” the mission statement of the GSMHC....
is to preserve, protect and promote the unique history and rich culture of the residents and Native Americans who inhabited the East Tennessee mountain communities that were incorporated into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surroundings.
The facility, a sort of “rich man’s Museum of Appalachia,” encompasses five acres, and includes several historic buildings that have been reconstructed on the grounds. There is a greater emphasis on Native American heritage compared to the Museum of Appalachia.

An outdoor venue always has some surprises, and the GSMHC is no exception. Since the gift shop was basically backstage, we got to rub elbows a bit more with our audience, mostly 40- to 70-something tourists. Last year’s inaugural concert there came with the challenge of the setting sun beaming directly on (part of) the orchestra. Tarps were hastily clipped up at the back of the house to block the sun, and damage to instruments and players’ eyes was avoided. This year there were more permanent sunscreens installed, and I thought, great, they’re thinking of us. Only trouble was the material they used was pretty sheer when all was said and done, and the sun was still a nuisance. While blindly imagining the notes in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, resident conductor James Fellenbaum could be seen holding his hand up to block the sun from my eyes. Another potential challenge that did not end up being an issue were the several families of birds that had taken up roost in the rafters above the stage. It was a perfect evening for an outdoor concert, dipping down into the low 60's by evening’s end, and we were very well-received.

I was reminded of the concerts we used to play at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, toward the end of Kirk Trevor’s tenure. Founded in 1969, there are 35 structures on 63 acres. The performance venue there is a covered stage, but the audience, mostly Knoxville residents out for a late summer jaunt, was out in an open field. A Buddy’s Barbecue supper was served, and the concerts featured John Rice Irwin’s Museum of Appalachia Band. Mr. Irwin’s mandolin playing and irrepressible humor were supplemented by upright bass, mouth harp, country fiddle and guitar, and on the last concert we played there (2003?) one of the finest harmonica players I have ever heard. For MOST of the members of the KSO these concerts, which blended the traditions of classical and bluegrass, were real eye-openers. The Orange Blossom Special, which usually served as the finale, confounded some of the players who were not used to feeling the bluegrass aesthetic and protocol. I have returned to the Museum of Appalachia’s gift shop many times to find gifts for foreign visitors that we have hosted. I hope someday soon to return as a performer.