Saturday, December 22, 2012

We All Need a Break

It's been a rough couple of weeks, and some are finding it harder to enjoy some of the traditions which make the holiday season what it is. As Christmas break takes us away from "this petty pace from day to day," it is comforting to know that the new year promises a whole new crop of transcendent moments and thrilling performances. January is packed with concerts, and there will be new determination to make every note count and provide nourishment to ears hungry for beauty. January 13th, the Chamber Orchestra will be bringing an all-British program to the Bijou. Just a couple nights later, on the 15th, we will be travelling to Maryville High School for a side-by-side concert with the MHS orchestra. Carrying on without a comma, on the 16th and 17th, Gabe Lefkowitz's Concertmaster Series continues with another installment at Remedy Coffee in the Old City. The British Invasion continues with a Lennon-McCartney tribute on the 19th, and the following Thursday and Friday brings us to the big stage at the Tennessee Theatre with Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and Schumann's Rhenish Symphony. Wow. Now that the world has not ended, I guess it's time to get cracking on some of those notes.

In the meantime, since all of us could use a laugh, I have scoured Facebook for more clever and downright hilarious holiday-related humor. Enjoy!

My friend Marjorie Goldberg Fink is a freelance violist in Philly. We went to the Hartt School together back in the 80's. Her kitteh Tulip is learning the rules of the dreidl. 

 Amy Muchnick is professor of viola at Missouri state university. Another old violist friend from college, another cat learning the hard way.

Maybe this is a little TMI, but it's nice to know that this elf will not HAVE to eat the prune cobbler.

Speaking of sugar plums, different ways of playing familiar holiday music are always entertaining. I never knew what a big instrument a glass harmonica was! (video)

This isn't holiday-related per se, but it's JUST WHAT I WANTED!!!!

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays from the KSO family!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Images

The Clayton Holiday Concerts were a joy! I've gotten a lot of great comments and kudos. Making music and art with very good friends from a variety of avenues of my life always helps me get in the spirit of the season. I was hoping to have more pictures than words on this post, but well, now I've blown it.

The view from the lighting board.

A KSO quartet playing at West Town Mall last week. Clockwise, cellist Ihsan Kartal, violist Eunsoon Corliss, violinists Ruth Bacon and  Rachel Loseke.

Violinist Stacy Taylor is so much more than a violinist. She laid the violin aside this time, and ran the John Horner-designed lighting panel at the Civic Auditorium, which husband Sean Claire says is like being a soloist on an instrument which is seen and not heard. Christopher Sanders is "That Man Over There." To Stacy's right is Santa's dietitian, Ginger Breadman.

Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai in a winter wonderland. 

The brass got a dusting of snow; from the right, principal trombone Sam Chen, principal trumpet Cathy Leach and her trumpet elves, Marc Simpson and Sean White.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Concerts Approaching!

The 26th annual Clayton Holiday Concerts are happening this weekend (Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Saturday and Sunday at 3:00) at the Civic Auditorium. A variety of performers are helping to bring it off; Go! Contemporary Danceworks, Sound Company Children’s Showchoir, Soprano Natalee Louise McReynolds, and the Knoxville Choral Society.

The program is sprinkled with tunes from musicals and films spanning the 20th century to a couple months ago. From the 1968 Broadway musical Promises, Promises comes the bubbly Turkey Lurkey Time. It’s another fine Burt Bacharach tune which some of you Glee fans will remember from a recent episode. Babes in Toyland was a monster hit operetta for Victor Herbert and his librettist Glen MacDonough in 1903. We will be playing The March of the Toys and Ms McReynolds will join us for Toyland. Check out Helen Traubel singing Toyland in this vintage recording. Be a Santa is a classic Broadway Christmas tune that closes act I of the 1962 musical Subways Are for Sleeping, with music by Jule Styne.

The 1942 movie Holiday Inn featured a veritable barrage of Irving Berlin tunes about various holidays, (including Washington’s Birthday!) but none more beloved than White Christmas. At the Christmas Eve service at our church growing up, our pastor (a WWII vet) requested that the congregation sing White Christmas; no song captures WWII-era holiday spirit the way this one does.

As the youngest of the family growing up, I was lucky to have older siblings with a variety of tastes in music and films. This is what led me to become enchanted by Lucille Ball’s last feature film, Mame, based on the Broadway musical Auntie Mame. I was dragged to the theatre one day by my sister Jean and her erudite husband Bruce to see it, and even though Leonard Maltin has since called it a BOMB, I loved it. What did I know? I was 12. Anyway, the tune We Need a Little Christmas comes from that movie. Like many of these tunes, the show from whence this comes is not a show about Christmas, per se, but has a holiday scene.

The 1963 musical Here’s Love sounds from its title, at least, that it should have been released in the late 60's. Meredith Willson had struck gold with The Music Man (featuring in the title role the same Robert Preston that played Gen. Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside in Mame), and this remake of Miracle on 34th Street mashes up Pine Cones and Holly Berries with It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.

Hope to see you’uns out and about!! And remember, Santa will be watching...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Early December is a time for “runouts.” Although a couple of groups have library and Music and Wellness programs this week, the major offerings of the larger ensemble are out of town.

Yesterday, (Tuesday) the core strings traveled to Athens, TN for afternoon school concerts and a general-public concert in the evening at the Athens Junior High School. The schools we played at were spread throughout McMinn County– Athens, Englewood, Etowah, Riceville. It had been many years since we'd gone to Athens and they were positively thrilled to have us back.

Athens is a small town, not a college town like its sister in Georgia, and not a historic major city like its mother city in Greece, but it does have an attraction that is notable on any level. “The Three Tenors of Athens” wowed us and our audience last night with a trio of tunes with holiday ramifications. An arrangement of Verdi’s La donna è mobile from Rigoletto was upgraded with lyrics pertaining to Christmas food. Franck’s beautiful Panis Angelicus was next, and an a capella canticle entitled Hallelujah brought their portion of the show to a touching close.

The Three Tenors of Athens: (left to right)
Rusty Patterson, maestro James Fellenbaum, Mike Simmons, Tim Frazier

Tomorrow (Thursday) will find us 60 miles in the other direction, at Lincoln Memorial University in Harriman, TN. This rep for this concert, repeated at 4:00 and 7:30 at Duke Hall Auditorium on the LMU campus, is mostly the same as the Athens runout, except that instead of three tenors, we will have one soprano. KSO staff member Aubrey Baker will be singing Mozart’s motet Exsultate Jubilate, the final movement of which is known as the “Mozart Hallelujah.”

It was a great day when the Clayton Center for the Arts opened in Maryville, giving the Appalachian Ballet Company a first-class, in-town home for their productions. We will be providing music to their Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 8th  at 2:00 and 8:00 at the Clayton.

Finally, a quartet from the KSO will be performing holiday-flavored tunes at West Town Mall on Sunday the 9th. The shows will be at 1:00 p.m. and (approximately) 2:00 p.m., and will be located in Deer Park, which is (to quote the memo) the rotunda next to guest services – at the intersection in front of the food court. Take a break from shopping and enjoy some LIVE holiday music!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Nutcracker and Other Good News

The Nutcracker is back! The Appalachian Ballet Company’s annual production runs this coming weekend on Saturday at 8:00 and Sunday at 2:00 at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. The following weekend, on Saturday the 9th, there will be two performances, at 2 and 8, at the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College.

There’s always something new to glean from the Nutcracker, even without seeing the dancing. The score is a Coney Island of orchestration technique. At every performance I marvel at the percussionist remembering to always hit the chime 12 times, at the bassoons who hold an insanely long note just before the battle scene, at Cindy Hicks’ consistently flawless renditions of the harp solo that ushers in the Waltz of the Flowers, at the desolate beauty of the Waltz of the Snowflakes. This year a new dancer will be from the KSO family; trumpeter Marc Simpson’s daughter Julianne will be a soldier! She’ll be the one with the new contact lenses. Also, Picardy Penguin’s charming sidekick, Katy Wolfe Zahn has a son who is onstage as a page.

Violist Jen Bloch and cellist Ildar Khuziakhmetov are not playing the Nutcracker, for they have just welcomed their second daughter into the world! Maia Alina was born Monday morning, Nov. 26th, joining big sister Alexandra Rose in the household.

Knoxville investment firm The Trust Company, with the help of an online poll, will be selecting one of three non-profit organizations to be awarded a $5,000 donation! The KSO is competing with The Helen Ross McNabb Center and Ijams Nature Center for this award, although a minimum $1,000 gift awaits the two organizations which do not get the highest vote count. Show your support for the KSO and log on here to view contest rules and to cast your vote! The contest is open until December 9th and you can vote once a day until then.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pausing Here Somehow

The Korngold Concerto/Brahms 4 concert was every bit as challenging and rewarding as I had predicted it would be. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz captured the spirit of Korngold precisely. Mr. Lefkowitz had plenty of reason to celebrate, and we surprised the staff at Boyd’s Jig and Reel on Friday night with our numbers. His parents had come to town; I had a nice chat with his dad about our mutual Boston friends. Maestro Richman also had some interesting things to say comparing the Brahms 4 of last week with the Brahms 4 from his audition here. High on his list was how the orchestra could adapt “on the fly” more easily than when he was first with us, but he was quick to point out that the orchestra had a large contribution to his own personal growth as a musician over the last 10 years.

We figured Gabe was sleeping late the next day, hanging with his parents, but no! He carried on without a comma, flying to DC to rehearse the Ravel Tzigane with the Youth Orchestra of Prince William up in Manassas, VA. We remember the Tzigane well from the Remedy Coffee concert; that is one lucky youth orchestra that got treated to his artistry on Sunday.

The entire KSO family is deserving of a nice Thanksgiving break. I am constantly amazed at the reach and sheer number of concerts and programs that the Symphony does. We here at the blogger household just welcomed back our older son Thomas back from Middlebury College, where he is a senior. He hadn’t been in Knoxville for almost 12 months! He is always shocked at how warm it is here in Knoxville. Add to that my wife’s parents, and it’s a full house. We put the ping-pong table away, put up a dining room table that was in my wife’s grandfather’s house, and just like that our playroom is now a dining room! (The room was way too small for a ping-pong table anyway; we called it “chamber ping-pong”). Some of the chairs that go with the table had to be doctored by our carpenter buddy, (KSO cellist) D. Scot Williams, who you may recall is also the builder of the new conductor’s stand at the Tennessee Theatre.

On behalf of the KSO family, please have a restful and happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Good Old German Engineering Part 2

One thing I have noticed about this month’s Masterworks concerts (Thursday and Friday nights, 7:30, Tennessee Theatre) is the format. Overture-concerto-symphony was most orchestras’ magic recipe for success for years and years. This season, only this week’s concerts follow this format strictly. Getting away from this formula was an important step in increasing an orchestra’s relevance, as a wealth of new music started appearing in the 80's which did not fit neatly into one of the three categories mentioned above. Some overtures really weren't appropriate anywhere but at the beginning of a concert and therefore came around less frequently, and I believe Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz Overture is a good example. It starts with a beautiful horn chorale that leads to some quintessential stürm und drang writing. Turning from C minor to C major, the finish is rousing and noble. (Reminds me of a fine wine I had recently).

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is about as under-appreciated a composer as the Average American might hear about. Considered groundbreaking and influential in his day, his music only fell out of favor in the 50's because EVERYONE ELSE STARTED WRITING LIKE HIM. When you hear a John Williams film score, e.g. StarWars, you have to remember that George Lucas asked Williams to make the score “sound like Korngold.” Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowicz gave a taste of the first movement of the Violin Concerto at the Remedy Coffee concert last month. This is the real thing and he is all over that violin, I tell you what! The themes of the work come from Korngold’s movie scores from the ‘30s; remember that movies were in black and white then, so a composer’s job was to supply color. Think Barber vs. Rachmaninov and you see where Korngold’s muse is. We have often played his Der Schneemann, (the Snowman) on Clayton Holiday concerts, quite an accomplishment for a boy of ELEVEN.

I have included the trailer for the Warner Bros. Film Anthony Adverse (1936) for a sample of his film scoring. So charming. And oh, oops, here’s a scene from the actual film. This is the film that the Violin Concerto’s second movement theme comes from. It's also the film that won Korngold his first Oscar.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Youth Orchestras Take the Stage

What a weekend! I hope you were able to catch one of a million things that happened; Oak Ridge Symphony, Johnson City Symphony, Knoxville Early Music Project (KEMP), La Boheme at UT Opera (still one more performance of that, Monday night the 12th!). Not to mention that free admission at the zoo deal that couldn’t have happened on a nicer day, weather-wise. We even had an earthquake!

It’s time for the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras fall concert! Jim Fellenbaum, Wesley Baldwin, Kathy Hart-Reilly, Katie Middleton, Katie Hutchison and Erin Archer will guide 5 different ensembles Monday, Nov. 12 at the Tennessee Theatre. Erin’s Archers, aka the Preludium orchestra, will be doing some fiddling. Next, Katie Hutchison’s Phiharmonia, K-Phil, will play an arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod and a Soon Hee Newbold work. Katie Middleton will lead the Sinfonia ensemble (Kathy and Katie’s Clef-Climbing Crew) through Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Kathy Hart-Reilly will continue with Rossini’s Semiramide Overture, (for years I mispronounced it “semi-arid,”) and Canzone Sotto le Stelle, which is apparently a Russian piece.

Wesley Baldwin’s Chamber Orchestra, (the Chamberlains) will offer a Mozart divertimento and a horn solo featuring UT horn professor Karl Kramer. Jim’s Gems, aka the Youth Symphony, will present Smetana’s Moldau and Saint-Seans’ Danse Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila.

Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Good Old German Engineering

It seems like the November Masterworks concert always includes my favorite piece of the year- and frequently turns out to be the most challenging. November 2008 brought Beethoven’s 7th, 2009 featured Petrouschka, 2010 Strauss’ Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, and last year the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. This year continues the phenomenon with the Brahms 4th.

In my undergraduate days at the Hartt School, we were required to take an assembly class called “Musicianship.” It was a weekly assembly that from week to week featured a potpourri of performers (e.g. percussionist Colin Wolcott, violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Josef Szigeti), lecturers, student performances and faculty appearances (such as Jackie Maclean, Gary Karr and Charles Treger). One lecturer did a program on how Brahms’ 4th was really an homage to Mozart. I have forgotten most of the details of his presentation, but one that stuck with me was that the keys of the Brahms symphonies (#1 in C, #2 in D, #3 in F and #4 in E) turned out to be the opening 4 notes of the finale of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony; to wit, c-d-f-e. Coincidence? Probably not.

One doesn’t usually equate humor with the music of Brahms, but the third movement (Allegro giocoso) of the 4th Symphony is probably Brahms at his punchiest. Before I ever played the symphony I was exposed to an abridged rendition of the third movement by the rock band Yes. On their Fragile l.p., a track entitled Cans and Brahms featured keyboardist Rick Wakeman going nuts on a variety of synthesizers, which had literally just been invented. When I heard the rest of the symphony, I realized that the 3rd movement was there for comic relief. The rest of the work is thoughtful and moving. The first movement is a staple on violin auditions and draws the listener in with its pregnant pauses and mood swings. The second movement, Andante moderato, is full of tender moments and majestic alpine harmony, reflecting his surroundings summering in the Austrian Alps. The last movement (Allegro energico e passionato) runs the gamut from tumultuous to placid. With its passacaglia form, it strikes the perfect balance of beauty and intellect.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Haydn From Beethoven

After a spate of dramatic works, the KSO turns to the 18th century for the chamber orchestra’s presentation of music by Haydn and Beethoven. On Sunday, Nov. 4th, 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre, KSO principal trumpet Cathy Leach will be the soloist in Josef Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, and early symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven will flank the concerto.

“Papa Haydn” uses an unusual instrumentation for his Symphony # 22. Instead of the expected pair of oboes, two English horns (cor anglais) bear the crown in the woodwind family. Down the ages, the naming of this instrument has had a far-flung path. Developed in Silesia in the mid-18th century, the original name seems to have its roots in the German word engellisches, which means angelic. As fate would have it, engellisches is also the same Middle High German word for “English,” which fed the confusion and lore. Throw in a camp of people who believe that due to the presence of an angled bocal (connecting the reed to the instrument), that cor anglais means “angled horn.” (The French word for “angled” is also its word for “English” and is not capitalized in that incarnation). Well, call it what you will, the deeper, thoughtful tone of the English horn is bound to result in some deep thoughts, hence the subtitle for the 22nd, The Philosopher.

Beethoven’s 1st (1800) is a product of a composer who was about to smash the mold that had been the symphonist’s formula for decades. Coming only 2 opus numbers after his six monumental op. 18 string quartets (the “Old Testament” of quartet playing), it is more like an orchestrated quartet in its mood and content. This is a work that my high school orchestra tackled, or attempted to tackle, back in the 1870's. Needless to say, the KSCO will be taking somewhat faster tempi than we took back at My Old School.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Face it. You are not going to enjoy driving around looking at leaves today. It’s a rainy, messy mess. There are still tickets left for the opera, it’s nice and cozy warm in the Tennessee Theatre, and you need a laugh. So why not? After that, the UT Symphony Orchestra is putting on a concert tonight at 7:30 at the Alumni Gym. James Fellenbaum (that’s German for “busy man”) will lead the orchestra through an all-Russian program, including Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. KSO violinist Rachel Grubb will be on the podium to conduct the Lieutenant Kije Suite of Prokofiev as well. Another overture, Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla, will open the show.

We at the KSO welcome violinist Rachel Loseke to the fold. She is from South Dakota but has been living in San Diego. She studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in 2009. She is very much a cat person and has brought a couple with her here. She was very gracious and tolerant of us at a recent fête in her honor chez Stacy Miller, and was not intimidated by the fact that it was a costume party.

Speaking of James Fellenbaum, here are some images (like so many  pics on this blog, courtesy of cellist Stacy Miller) from the Young People's Concerts.

Here are Fellenbaum and concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz getting a lot of wear out of their lab coats.

Violinist Rachel Loseke is at 3:00, with Ikuko Koizumi at 6:00, Liz Farr at 9:00 and Ani Bermudez at 10:45.

Some of the chemistry experiment paraphernalia from the show. Note that violinist Ruth Bacon has a very skeptical look on her face...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

AM and PM

Wow, folks, it’s a busy week. Mornings are taken up with Young People’s Concerts at the Civic Auditorium, and evenings find us rehearsing and performing Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Our YPC’s are an exploration of “the science... of sound.” Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum leads the orchestra through music of Beethoven, Puccini, Richman, Moussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, and all the way to Mars for a reprise performance of that movement of Holst’s The Planets. The concerts start with Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, effective “mad scientist" music, indeed. Maestro Fellenbaum and Ken Mayes, from the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, don safety goggles, rubber gloves and lab coats to perform a chemical experiment in front of the orchestra, involving liquid nitrogen and other chemicals. Lots of oohing and aahing. An oscilloscope is used to map waves of the pitches of some instruments, and the finale from Lucas Richman’s United Symphony is played into the oscilloscope to show what the aggregate sound wave of the entire orchestra looks like. The Holst segment is accompanied by images from the Mars rover Curiosity, and although my eyes are buried in the music, what I can catch a glimpse of is far out.

No sooner had I posted the last blog, about my first Candide experience, when I learned that Kevin Anderson would be singing in the Knoxville Opera Company’s Fledermaus. (Friday, Oct. 26 at 8:00, Sunday Oct. 28 at 2:30). This operetta, like Candide, has an overture that includes many of the themes from the operetta; it is interesting to see how themes from the overture unfold into entire arias and ensembles. The entire work is chock full of side-splitting, locally adapted lines, but what takes the cake is John Forrest Ferguson’s hilarious drunken soliloquy which opens Act 3. (If you’ve been here a while, you’ll remember him as Claudius, King of Denmark in the amazing KSO/Clarence Brown Theater collaborative production of Hamlet that sold out 8 shows at the Civic Auditorium in 2000. Not to mention countless performances at CBT). Strauss’ unshakably effervescent music is of course a joy throughout, and other surprises await opera-goers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Candide, Can Do

Although Georges Bizet was only 17 when he wrote his Symphony in C, he never heard it performed in his lifetime. It was a composition assignment from his days studying with Charles Gounod, written in the spring of 1855. The manuscript lay in a pile of archivables until a French musicologist discovered it in 1933, at which point its success was immediate and deserved. The oboe lines in the adagio are drop-dead gorgeous, and many older composers failed to achieve such a calm, simple beauty. The other three movements, especially the zingarese finale, crackle with an energy that rivals Beethoven’s first couple of symphonies and most of Schubert’s.

Before I go any further, I have to remind everyone that the concerts start at 7:30 this Thursday and Friday. The opening gala concert always did start earlier, but now every Masterworks show is at 7:30. This reminder is largely for my own benefit. There. Now I’ve told myself.

It must be stated, I suppose, that we are not performing the entirety of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, but a  suite therefrom. Of course we have performed the Overture to Candide many times; it is an effervescent and uniquely American work. I have enjoyed hearing the rest of the opera, and rediscovering how the themes in the overture are used in the opera. The Best of All Possible Worlds, Oh, Happy We, Glitter and Be Gay and the Battle Scene all draw their themes from the overture. Glitter is a complete vocal workout for the soprano, and Amy Maples is nailing it! If you miss this, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My first and only other time playing Candide was at the Lake George Opera Festival (now known as Opera Saratoga) up in Saratoga Springs, NY. My family and I had a great time staying there from 1995 to 2004.  My last season we played Candide at the Little Theatre of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Cunegonde was played by Knoxville’s own Jami Rogers! Who knew that I would finally meet her there, 1,000 miles from home. Her dad James Rogers, a major force in church music in Knoxville, came to visit. As many times as I’d seen Jim in Knoxville, seeing them so far from home was off the chain. It wasn’t long after that Jami would be my son Thomas’ voice teacher. As if that wasn’t enough, when the famed “Scottish Opera version” (the last of many “builds” of the work that Bernstein approved) had its American premier in St. Louis. Jami’s husband Kevin Anderson had a role in it, and the understudy for Cunegonde? Jami Rogers.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Oh, Happy We

We are gearing up to bring you Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide, at the Tennessee Theatre this coming Thursday and Friday at 7:30. If you missed Jeff Austin as Sweeney Todd or Boris Van Druff as Pirelli in Sweeney Todd, now you will have a chance to hear a couple of great dramatic voices from that production. You will also be treated to alto Karen Nickell, sister of KSO cellist Stacy Miller, and wife of baritone Andrew Wentzel (whom you may have heard singing the National Anthem at UT football games).

I’m looking through a book called 100 Great Operas and their Stories, but I’m not finding Bernstein’s Candide. Hmmm, Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon (whose overture we performed in May) is in here, as is Flotow’s Martha and Montemezzi’s Love for Three Kings. When is the last time you heard anything more than just an excerpt from these gems? You mean to tell me that Candide is not one of the 100 greatest operas??? Then I looked at the publication date on the book, 1957. It turns out that Candide was premiered in 1956, who knew? Time for a new opera stories book, I guess.

My first exposure to Bernstein’s Candide was short and bittersweet. The Oak Ridge Symphony orchestra, then under the direction of Robert Lyall, programmed Make Our Garden Grow, the touching final chorus from Candide, on a concert in 1989 in memory of long-time KSO cellist and physicist Jim Marable, who tragically passed away in November of 1988. My stand partner in the big orchestra when I first moved here, Jim was the KSO’s first Assistant Conductor, appointed in 1973 by Arpad Joó. Jim also was the first conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra, which he and his wife Barbara helped establish in 1973 with generous financial and physical assistance. Jim’s memorial service, at Central Baptist Church of Bearden, was attended by many Manhattan Project scientists, including quite a few founding members of the Oak Ridge Symphony. The Knoxville Symphony’s dedicatory performance under Kirk Trevor of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in January of 1989 was this orchestra’s response to Jim’s passing, but every time I hear Make Our Garden Grow, I can’t help but think of Jim.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October Potpourri

This week finds us here at the Blogger household in a somewhat heightened state of anxiety, as my wife Helen will be performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with the Johnson City Symphony, where she is concertmaster. (I’m having a déjà vu because it was just last February that she was performing the solos from his Capriccio Espagnol)! The show, which will include Glinka's Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla and Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia,takes place on Saturday night at 7:30 in Seeger Hall on the campus of Milligan College in Elizabethton, TN.

You may have noticed something new on center stage at the Tennessee Theatre last month. Maestro Richman now has a new desk! KSO cellist D. Scot Williams, who is an award-winning woodworker by trade and most recently has turned his attention to organ building, fashioned a world-class conductor’s stand over the summer, just in time for the maestro’s 10th season at the podium. This gorgeous piece, made of oak, has a special means of keeping the microphone from rolling out of the storage compartment on to the floor. Working together, Scot and Lucas came up with a design that could specifically hold a score printed on 11x17 paper (34" wide when open) without having it flop over the sides. The finish is designed to complement the podium, which was built about 25 years ago. Here is a view of it that you aren't likely to see unless you join the orchestra.

The inaugural Concertmaster Recital was a huge success. Gabe Lefkowitz and Kevin Class played with dynamic elegance, the venue was perfect in terms of appropriate size, and the full houses BOTH NIGHTS attested to the Knoxville audience’s hunger for chamber music. Here are Gabe and Executive Director Rachel Ford outside Remedy Coffee before Wednesday’s show. (I didn’t notice Rachel at Thursday’s show, but that’s alright, because it was her birthday)! Below that, Gabe, Kevin Class (at right) and myself after an exhilarating Brahms Trio performance. I can’t wait for the next installment!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brahms Remedy

That’s what it says on my calendar, but to you all the event is the inaugural Concertmaster Recital at Remedy Coffee in the Old City, this coming Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00. Gabe Lefkowitz will be presenting an engaging trio of works by Ravel, Prokofiev and Brahms. Pianist Kevin Class will team with Gabe on all three works, and I will join for the Brahms.

Ravel’s Tzigane will open the concert. Tzigane starts with 4 minutes of solo gypsy violin amazingness, then turns into a colorful romp through Ravel’s rich compositional mind. I don’t know how they do it. Prokofiev’s Sonata is a delightful counterpoint to the Ravel; an expansive, eloquent work that sounds equally lovely played on either the violin or the flute. Each composer’s palette is diverse, and live, close-up chamber music like this most closely resembles the purpose for which their colors were intended.

Brahms’ first entry into the Piano Trio ring with an opus number is this B Major trio, op. 8, although a work attributed to him may have been written earlier. Strangely enough, this is the only work of Brahms to exist in two “builds.” The original 1854 monster was revised in 1891 (around the time his Clarinet Quintet was written- op. 114!) and that is by far the most frequently heard version. The Scherzo is largely untouched, as both the elder and younger Brahms seem to have found some common ground. B Major, or H dur as the Germans say, is a gnarly key on the cello. There are no open strings to rely on for a pitch center, thus the term “tonal region” comes into play. So although I would love to stay and chat, I must go and work on my sharpshooting. And I, for obvious reasons, shall be courteously abstaining from the coffee until after...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This Weekend

Speaking of the viola, it’s time once again for the UT Music Dept.’s 6th Annual Viola Celebration, happening this weekend at the Alumni Memorial Building on campus. Concerts will be at 8:00 Saturday night and 4:00 Sunday afternoon. KSO violist and UT viola professor Hillary Herndon does a great job putting on this "alto clef festival."

There’s a lot of things going on this weekend, Knoxville is a great town. Greekfest is happening; if you know about it then say no more, but if you don’t, then here is a link. Metro Fest will occupy eight venues in the Old City/Downtown area, an all-out blitz of at least 26 bands from Knoxville’s burgeoning alternative music scene. And not far away, at Cove Lake State Park in Caryville, TN, the 6th Annual Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival will happen from 11 am to 7 pm, honoring local African-American roots-music legend Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong. This festival will feature at least 26 MORE bands from the Knoxville area’s burgeoning roots music scene. And... you will want to save October 7th at 3:00, pianist Emi Kagawa will return to Knoxville in recital at American Piano Gallery. If you attended (or heard the rebroadcast of) the Chausson Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet last spring, you know that this will be a superb event.

Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A New Season- And a New KSO Family Member

The KSO's Masterworks season opens this Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre with a varied program of Brahms, Copland, Richman and Rachmaninov. This will be the orchestra's 77th season, and a landmark tenth season for Music Director Lucas Richman.Whereas previous opening gala concerts have started at 7:00 and all subsequent concerts in the season have started at 8:00, every concert in this series including this Thursday and Friday night will start at 7:30 pm. 

Call me iconoclastic, but to me, the words “academic” and “festival” are strange bedfellows. Brahms definitely puts the emphasis on “festival” with his Academic Festival Overture. One  might think a work with such a title was written to accompany a bunch of pointy-headed philosophy profs eating Braunschweiger and drinking schnapps, but it was actually a thank you gesture for the University of Breslau, which had bestowed upon Brahms an honorary doctorate in 1879.  The second theme of this piece is undoubtedly the basis for the Perry Como hit song Catch a Falling Star; that is how I have remembered the work over the years.

Lucas Richman’s Summer Excursions was written for LA’s Young Musicians’ Foundation Debut Orchestra Camp in 2003. As you may remember, this is the youth orchestra that Lucas toured China with in January. It is challenging for us; imagine how the kids must have felt, faced with this music for the first time! Embedded in the middle of the work is an original ragtime tune that Lucas dreamt up.

Aaron Copland is a composer whose music sounds like Lucas Richman’s. His El Salon Mexico dates from 1936, and features Copland’s trademark meter shifts, skewgy harmonies, and jazz rhythms. The music depicts a dance hall of the same name in Mexico City and uses Mexican folk tunes throughout.

I know. You’re attending the concert this Thursday or Friday night because of the Rachmaninov second concerto. The one from which Eric Carmen carved out (from the second movement) a major hit with the song “All By Myself” in 1975. Orion Weiss’ playing of the concerto is about as clean and brilliant as the stars on a clear, crisp, moonless autumn night.


We are without our principal violist Katie Gawne for a while, because the KSO family gained a new member last week. Last night we were introduced to Louisa Jane Gawne, who was born on Thursday the 13th! Here's Louisa with awesome big sister Alice.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tour de Todd

As  Sweeney Todd winds down, we are all thankful for a good run and appreciate all who attended. The houses all appeared to be full and things have been going incredibly smoothly. One thing that concerned me before the run was this unsettling instability in the pit floor, but the orchestra pit seems to have evolved some over the years. Time was, about once or twice per show at the CBT, (I’m remembering this from the late 1987 when they produced West Side Story) there would be a small earthquake (pitquake?) as the lift system for the pit would “burp” and you wondered whether you should file calmly out.

After Tuesday night’s performance, the orchestra members were treated to a tour of the set. We got a chance to see “the chair,” and our minds boggled as we learned that it took two months to construct. You see, this is no ordinary chair. The back of the chair tilts backwards, and the barber’s job of disposing of customers is simplified by CBT’s amazing carpenters. Here is tympanist Mike Combs taking a test-drive.

One charming detail of the scenic design is this general jumble of fake body parts underneath the body drop. I mean, I guess they're fake; I know that the body farm is nearby....

Speaking of body drop, we got a chance to see the whole shebang, and some of us even tried it out. It's tight quarters up there where bodies enter the tube to slide down, requiring no small amount of agility. It reminded me of some of the tree forts we built as kids; we made the entrances treacherous so that intruders would not be able to take over our fort. Here harpist Cindy Hicks takes a slide. I tried it too, head-first on my back. It was cool, man!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


When you play a show for a long run like we are doing with Sweeney Todd, you can’t help but have some of the tunes linger on in your memory. Sometimes the lingering turns into outright fixation. That is what is happening on and off with certain tunes from the show. Right now, By the Sea is so catchy that it is becoming the soundtrack to my day off.

If it’s not a tune, sometimes it’s a concept that sticks in my mind. Like the way that a stylized version of the Westminster chimes begin each scene, or the way the beggarwoman has her own little thematic material- a kvetchy little tune, oy! An element that gives the show a timeless quality is the organ that signals that a life is about to end. To boost the bass, cellos and basses double the organ pedal notes in these passages, there not being any room for an organ with pedals. If I close my eyes, I can almost picture myself in a dark, smoky movie theater (the Tennessee?) with an organist accompanying Nosferatu back in the day. Except it’s really not a good idea to close my eyes during a show, for very long anyway, so I will leave that experiment up to theater-goers.

Our principal second violinist, Edward Pulgar, has achieved a status that makes us all very thankful. On August 29th, he took the oath of allegiance and is now a US citizen! We are very lucky to have him here. He can be found on Wikipedia lists of musicians AND conductors of Venezuelan heritage. Last night at Stacy Miller’s party facility, we feted Edward and the theme was... Pies! Someone actually made the chicken and beef pies and, to paraphrase Mrs. Lovett’s customers, “Dang, they were good!”

Congratulations, Edward!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Off and Running!

The first weekend of Sweeney Todd has past, and I am amazed by the sheer quality of the show, not merely through my own observations but also based on comments attendees make in the parking lot afterwards. In a full-length show like this, a lot of little details come together for an overall success in the pit, on stage, and backstage.

From my centrally located perch in the orchestra pit, I have a good view of the audience. I look out and see old friends, important people, and thankfully, not very many empty seats. Watch people who scramble to turn their cell phones off when the announcement is made, and those who sit calmly. Hmmmm. My details for a successful and safe show include leaving my phone in my car. I don’t trust myself to remember every time, and it’s just one less thing on my mind. Other details include earplugs and baby powder. (No, not used together!) The earplugs are obvious, as the brass’s sound can be, ummm, razor-sharp at point blank range, but baby powder, you might ask? Let me tell you, Sweeney is a very pizzicato-heavy show, and towards the end of Act 1 there is a number with a bunch of high A-string pizzes that turn my right fingers into, um, mincemeat. (The A-string is the smallest diameter string, which digs into your skin the most. HIGH A-string playing shortens the string even more, so there is EVEN MORE tension on the string). I learned from playing a lot of basslines with my jazz groups, baby powder on the right index finger sure takes the, ummm, edge off of that pain. A little dab'll do ya.

Upon perusing our Sweeney book the first time, I noticed a song entitled Johanna, and one entitled Pretty Women. Immediately I thought of the Kool and the Gang song, Joanna, and wondered, jokingly, if this was the same song. Well, it isn’t. Neither is Pretty Women the same song that Roy Orbison made famous in the 60's. (That was Pretty Woman, singular). After a few times through the musical, I do notice that there is a slight resemblance, VERY slight, of the Pretty Women we play to the CHORUS of the Kool and the Gang song. Maybe it’s just a certain chord progression or something, but that’s how my mind rambles when I play in a pit orchestra.

Okay! Time to go out and enjoy the beautiful Labor Day weather! Not...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Slowly But Surely...

Sweeney Todd preparations continue apace. Sondheim’s score is a major character in the musical, the style of which calls to mind Britten, Puccini, and Orff at various points. There is very little in the first 15 minutes or so to suggest that this is not an opera. Whereas Mozart’s music in Amadeus was something we all kind of knew already, this score is more closely tied to the action and vamps (indefinitely repeated phrases of music) are abundant, requiring a careful knowledge on Maestro Richman’s part of the tendencies of the actors, and a watchful eye on the stage vis-a-vis things that could go wrong or differently. It is an unenviable task in which he is, fortunately, very well-versed.

Sondheim’s musicals are some of the most widely known, and as regards to living composers, the most respected. His most well-known work, A Little Night Music, with its signature tune Send in the Clowns, was performed in the fall of 1996 at UT’s Carousel Theatre, with Picardy Penguin’s sidekick Katy Wolfe Zahn in the lead. Katy returns in this production as a beggarwoman; a less glamorous role, but when all is said and done, a character that is only slightly more vile than Night Music’s reprobate dragon lady, Desiree. Her costume (and her hair- YIKES!) in Sweeney will render her unrecognizable as anyone you may be used to seeing. Another crowd favorite participating in the show is baritone Perry Ward, appearing as Mr. Fogg. He has been heard previously with the KSO in Amadeus, in our most recent Brahms Requiem, and with the Chamber Orchestra in Mozart’s The Impresario.

Dale Dickey is proving to be a joy to work with, making a point to put faces with the names of everyone in the orchestra. As if she didn’t have enough on her plate already...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ahh, So That's How It Goes...

I have to admit, I’m a relative newcomer to Sweeney Todd, but I’ve heard enough to know what to expect. I’ve had the book for a few weeks now, put bowings in it, played through some of the numbers, but they really didn’t make much sense without the rest of the orchestra and cast. And these song titles... A Little Priest? The Worst Pies in London? At our first rehearsal yesterday it was a relief and a joy to hear all the parts, to discover where on stage we would be situated, and above all, to get a taste of the leads. As in Amadeus, the orchestra is literally on the stage, with action happening behind, above and in front of us. 

I couldn’t help but notice that the distribution center for Music Theater International, source of parts to this and other musicals, is in New Hartford, Conn. It should be known that New Hartford is nowhere near Hartford, nowhere near anything, in fact. It lay between Barkhamsted and Collinsville and is about one-half state forest land. It’s a clean, piney rural town we had to travel through to get to our favorite lake growing up, the romantically named Compensating Reservoir, on weekends and after half-days at school in June. In terms of towns near here, I’d say it’s an Oneida kind of town. Which reminds me very little of a story maestro Kirk Trevor once told some of us over beer, wherein we learned that the distribution center for books for all of the Disney musicals is somewhere between here and Sevierville. I wonder what possesses the publishers to choose such sites for their library? I just don’t get it.

Anyway, enough about me! Do make plans to see Sweeney Todd, running from August 30th to September 16th  at the Clarence Brown Theatre. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Remembering David Wells (1927-2012)

Every classical musician needs someone to take the raw materials and spin them into a finished product, or at least a more-finished product. A teacher who is not necessarily spanning the globe with world premieres and guest appearances, but who takes the bus to your town, week after week, puts in a 14 hour day and some the next day shepherding you and your classmates, then travels to another city to do the same. A mentor who, note by note, étude by étude, concerto by concerto, burns the bourgeois out of you by lighting a fire under your muse and converts you into a “practicer.” Just such a person in my life has recently passed, David Wells; a dedicated educator with many years of tenure at the Hartt and Manhattan Schools of Music, and New England Conservatory

Probably his most notable contribution to the musical world is the Yellow Barn Music Festival, which he founded with his wife Janet in 1969. NEC violin professor Eric Rosenblith soon joined forces with the Wellses, and chamber music training comparable with Meadowmount, Chamber Music West and Kneisel Hall has happened every summer since. Over the years several KSO members, most recently Gordon Tsai, can attest to the high intensity and quality of growth occurring there.

My favorite lessons with him had “yoga cello”as a focal point. Avoiding repetitive motion ailments and the like was a major focus in masterclasses, and yoga was a tool of his trade. On the other hand, his boisterous coaching style was as dynamic a musical experience as you could ever hope to receive. Mr. Wells could call upon such sundry sources of inspiration as Segovia or Shakespeare, Maria Callas or Björn Borg to guide the way to interpretation of a phrase or technical triumph. Through him I learned that there was more to beautiful artistry than just playing in tune.

You won’t likely find a YouTube video nor buy cds of David Wells playing the cello, but you will hear his influence in a great many chamber, orchestral and solo musicians. (Actually, the Yellow Barn Music Festival has released a recording of a Wells Duo recital from 1976, a couple of tracks from which can be heard here). I channel his love of music and his teachings every time I rosin up my bow or greet a student.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Three B's and More

To prove that not all of us have been sitting on our behinds all summer doing nothing, violinist Ilia Steinschneider will be giving a recital with comrades Eunsoon Corliss, Ihsan and Karen Kartal, and members of the Son Trio at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Music of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Telemann will be performed. Westminster Church possesses a grand acoustic which really flatters instruments from the string family. (6500 Northshore Drive, 37917, 7:00 pm). Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B, a Telemann Canonic Sonata, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, and Schubert’s masterful Cello Quintet. Some serious chamber music here

But Ilia will not be done when he returns home from his recital Sunday! No, far from done, as he will be soloing in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with the Oak Ridge Community Orchestra.
Community Orch. This concert will be at 2:00 next Saturday at 1st Baptist Church of Oak Ridge, at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Lafayette Drive in Oak Ridge. Bree Miller will be his solo counterpart in the Bach, in a concert that will also feature Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The concert will be under the direction of William Burkhardt.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dog (and Pony) Days of August

The 2012-13 season is practically upon us! The Sweeney Todd run has the rehearsals starting a full two weeks earlier than any KSO season has ever started before, so it is hard to believe that we will be reconvening in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS!! When I moved down here in 1986, I was quite shocked to learn that the schools started in mid-August (as opposed to after Labor Day most years in Connecticut, from whence I hail). That is a mystery I still have not solved; something about late spring being too hot to be productive? Every year it seems like August is hotter than May, so I’m thinking that’s not the reason. Maybe someone out there can supply me with the logic behind that scheduling.

Almost too late to mention are the upcoming auditions for the KSO’s Youth Orchestras, taking place on August 24th-27th. The first rehearsals for all five of these groups take place on Monday, September 10th, and most Monday evenings after that, at West Valley Middle School (9118 George Williams Rd.). Repertoire (excerpts) and other info is available on the KSO website, although I will reveal that the Youth Orchestra proper consists of excerpts from Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger and Smetana’s The Moldau, both of which will be performed this season. It is very encouraging to see that the excerpt pdfs are taken from the actual orchestral parts, and not from the IMC excerpt books, which are hopelessly riddled with misprints.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pops Memories from YouTube

I can’t remember the year, they have all seemed to blend together into puddles, like “the 80's” or “when Thomas was watching Lambchop,” but somewhere back there we had EmmyLou Harris as a Pops artist and I couldn’t believe I was going to share the stage with her. She is the only artist I have both paid to see AND played with. One song I remember vividly was Rose of Cimarron, but I really wish she had done this Beatles tune. I love her description of it: "Way more than three chords".

Rosemary Clooney came to Knoxville in 1999 in the twilight of her career, but it was such a joy to hear her sing Tenderly,  a song I am trying to convince my band(s) to do.

Spring of Y2K sported  probably the most power-packed Pops line-up that I can remember. The artists that year were Monica Mancini, Ben E. King, Doc Severinsen, and the Smothers Brothers. Ms Mancini’s voice was a breath of fresh air, proof that she was not merely riding on the coattails of her ultra-famous father (who, by the way, was a Pops artist a couple years prior). Ben E. King was a perfect gentleman as well as an engaging performer, Doc Severinsen was entertaining in many ways, (catch him back with us on April 13, 2013!!), and the Smothers Brothers were just plain ridonculous.

Today happens to be violist Jennifer Bloch’s birthday! In her honor I have selected a blast from the past, via a forgotten Pops act. (This particular Youtube video has the fewest "hits" but IMHO it is far and away the most honest and entertaining version). A Stephen Sondheim song whose lyrics just, umm, drove us crazy.

Art Garfunkel was maestro Trevor's final Pops artist, and I was thrilled to accompany one of "America's Beatles." While it was an absolute hoot to hear his 12-year-old son (who was a viola student of a very good friend of mine in NY) sing "Feelin' Groovy," flutist Cynthia D'Andrea and I struggled to find the point of doing a Randy Newman song entitled "A Real Emotional Girl." Inasmuch as Randy Newman's voice is an acquired taste at best, the song was somewhat improved by Garfunkel's ethereal voice. I would have just died if he sang "99 Miles from LA," but he didn't, and I didn't.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Two Wildly Divergent Events From Earlier This Month

On July 6-8, the Calvin Smith Brass Festival took place at Oak Ridge High School. A good example of the festival’s popularity and draw can be found in the list of winners in the Brass Quintet Competition: the first three prizes went to groups from Lexington KY, Fredonia, NY and Clarksville TN. Word has it that a group from Hungary had applied, but couldn’t come up with enough funds- maybe next year!

A feature of this festival was the world premiere of a work composed in memory of Calvin Smith, entitled FECHOPS! by Ed Morse. The title refers to the license plate that Calvin had on his car which, translated from the table of elements, means “iron chops.” The performance of this fanfare, with tubist Sean Greene conducting, can be heard and seen here. The memory of a fine musician is well honored with such a quality festival, which I am told will be an annual event.


As I mentioned in a post from last year, a number of members of our orchestra play other genres of music. You may recall that a band called the Akashic Mysteries counts among its members oboist Ayca Yayman. On July 15, at the Preservation Pub on Market Square, the Mysteries played their first show in almost a year, accompanied by the projection of films by the Brothers Quay. In a sort of random way, their performance was fitting accompaniment to several essentially silent stop-motion animation Quay films (LINK) produced since the 80's. With an eclectic instrumentation including electric mandolin, (any band fronted by an oboe is eclectic, IMHO) my ears were reminded of the music of King Crimson and Camper Van Beethoven. The films were real eye-openers, with their surrealist and Dada influences. Although it was no surprise to me, having heard her often singing karaoke, Ayca sang on a couple tunes, (one song was Fascination Street by the Cure) and it was really quite captivating. After laying the oboe aside first, of course...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Look (and a Listen) Back

In my rush to have a relaxing summer, it occurs to me that some events are passing me by that I should be letting you all know about. I’ll start with..... Rebroadcasts!!

A time-honored tradition of revisiting the previous season’s concerts is being carried on, Mondays through September on 91.9, WUOT-FM. Although the first two broadcasts have happened already, the majority of the ‘11-‘12 season is still ahead of us. Here is a link to the schedule.

Auditions last week and last month have yielded us principal horn and principal flute positions. In each case, temporary players have won their seats in a permanent way, so that means that the awesomeness that we experienced at the hands of (flutist) Ebonee Thomas and (hornist) Jefferey Whaley is here to stay!! What’s more, two violinists that were on leaves of absence last season are returning, namely Lisa Muci Eckhoff and Ikuko Koizumi. We’ve missed them! But by the same token we’ve really enjoyed having Ruth Bacon and Diane Zeligman here in town for the year and we will miss them also. Sigh.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Well, I WOULD have posted my 4th of July pictures yesterday if the danged power hadn't gone out. I was without power from 6:15 pm to 3 am, plus my phone battery was dead so I was pretty much not here yesterday. Everything seems to be fine now, but you never know. I better post quick.

Misting stations were in evidence at the South Lawn. Although the musicians really could have benefited from this, we wanted to at least START the concert with dry clothes.

New this year (I guess) is this slide. Again, sadly, inadvisable for musicians' use.

There was a flyover. Thankfully, off-limits to musicians.

Our vocal soloists, Natalee Louise McReynolds and Alex Temple Ward flank Maestro Richman.

Violinist Ilia Steinschneider and his adoring fans.

The cello section had some adoring fans, too...

Players from years past often rejoin us for the concert on the 4th. Betsy Fee Elliott (sister of violinist Mary Anne Fennell) is at far right.

Tympanist Mike Combs and bassist Steve Clark gear up for the show.

Cellist Stacy Miller could not be with us, but her daughter Cecilia made her debut with the KSO cello section!

More smiling faces: pianist Carol Zinavage...

and violist carol Tucker and cellist Alice Stuart.

This could only be Knoxville.

Monday, June 25, 2012

4th of July Repertoire Revealed...

The Knoxville Symphony’s Pilot Independence Day concert is rapidly approaching. The repertoire is power-packed and symbolic, with special guests and choir. Of course one of the best features of this concert is the crowd– it’s an amazing event for people-watching. While the first annual 4th of July concert some 28 years ago may not have celebrated the 2nd anniversary of Knoxville's 1982 World's fair, this show will tip its cap to the 30th anniversary of the Fair. Here are some of the main points.

Verdi’s Triumphal March from Aida promises to give the brass a workout. I am not sure whether there will be elephants, giraffes, etc. at our show, but I have a story that is germane to this music. We were playing Aida, back in 1998 (?) under KOC’s conductor Robert Lyall in the Civic Coliseum, a real bathtub of a place to play, but at least we could see the big screen. We had just completed the March in a rehearsal and there was a break in the action. The Operatitles had advanced to the next scene’s text, which was something like, “Oh savior of our nation, we welcome you!!” The big screen camera operator, however, had turned his focus to the spazzini, or the guys sweeping up animal poop!

Energy Express by Scott Evans will perk up the ears of those “of an age” who would remember it as the theme song to the Knoxville World’s Fair. This link has a photo montage full of priceless memories of the way our town looked 30 years ago this summer. The music also bears a strong resemblance to Help Me Rhonda.

On the second half, a suite of songs from the film Friendly Persuasion by Dimitri Tiomkin finds an interesting relevance in that maestro Richman’s father, Peter Mark Richman, starred in this 1956 film. It will also feature vocalists Natalee Louise McReynolds and Alex Temple Ward, who will be soloists in the upcoming Sweeney Todd collaboration this fall. Mr. Ward will also sing the Pledge of Allegiance, and Ms McReynolds America the Beautiful. The concert will also include marches, Civil War songs, and of course, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The concert is free and fireworks will follow.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next Season Part 3

This should be the last dose of time-release postings about the KSO's 2012-13 season.

Opera offerings for next season are substantial. They kick off with the October 26th and 28th production of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss, just in time for Halloween. On February 8th and 10th, we will travel to the wild west by way of Italy with Puccini’s Fanciulla del West, aka The Girl of the Golden West, just in time for Valentine’s Day. This is one of the lesser known Puccini operas, but I am proud to say that I have played it. I am somewhat shocked to say, however, that it has been TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS since I played it, at the 1985 Spoleto Festival. It was there that I met our principal oboist Phyllis Secrist and our principal clarinetist Gary Sperl- before I moved here. The KOC season ends on April 26th and 28th with Rossini’s La Cenerentola, aka Cinderella, just in time for, umm, Richter Scale Day. Although this will (I assume) coincide with the Rossini Festival, I believe and hope that the only scales we encounter are either major or minor.

In the Pops department, a wide variety is planned again for 2012-13. (Yikes. 2013. It seems like we were just ringing in a new millenium, but now here it is, the early teens!!) After our venerable Clayton Holiday Concerts on Dec. 12-14, the music of Lennon and McCartney will be showcased on January 19th. A Barbra Streisand songbook show will happen on March 16th and the series will end with 2 bangs– April 13th we will feature trumpet god Doc Severinsen, and on May 11th, piano songwriter Jim Brickman will close out the News-Sentinel Pops series.

While you are marking your calendars, you should make a note of the KSO's Youth Orchestra concerts. Nov.12, Feb. 17 and 18, and May 6 are dates for these fine glimpses into the future of classical music.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sad News from the West

In many ways, Memphis is a western version of Knoxville. Or maybe Knoxville is an eastern version of Memphis. Either way, orchestrally speaking, the two cities are very similar in the size and function of their orchestras. In the late 80's I had an opportunity to meet some Memphians at a project that was called the Nashville Cello Ensemble. 16 cellists from Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville convened at Fisk University in Nashville to perform a concert that included, among other things, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No.1 for Eight Cellos.

The leader of the group was from Memphis; the Memphis Symphony’s principal cellist, Peter Spurbeck. I had been anxious to meet Mr. Spurbeck because my second choice (behind Umass, Amherst) for graduate school had been Memphis State, where he was cello professor. In rehearsing for the show and talking with him, it was soon clear that here was a cellist’s cellist.

After he suffered a stroke in early May, a CaringBridge page was set up in his honor. I learned a lot more about his teaching, and his dedication to his life’s work via the many glowing messages of remembrance left by former colleagues and students.  I had become aware during our brief meeting in 1988 that he, like me, was a diabetic. At that time and for many years after (I was 20-something and still wondering if the cello and diabetes were a good combination), I was inspired by the knowledge that he was not letting his diabetes keep him from achieving anything he wanted. In this respect I learned a great deal from him without taking a single lesson. He had been principal cellist for 30 years, retiring in 1996, and was widely known in Memphis as “Papa Cello.” His passing in late May was a real blow to Memphis’ classical community and the global cello community in general, and he will be missed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another Entry in the "Ring" Cycle...

As sure as magnolias and roses are in bloom in Knoxville in the spring, there are June brides who hope for a sunny day and safe travel for all their guests. On June 2 our 2nd horn player, Jennifer Crake, was just such a June bride, tying the knot with Samuel David Roche at the Maple Grove Inn. A good many KSO members were present, and some performed, with Maestro Richman directing. Horn section comrade Mark Harrell even composed a work for the event. After a honeymoon in Ireland, Jen will be back on hand to hear the next batch of principal horn auditions in a couple weeks. Congratulations, guys!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Next Season, Part 2

As we did in 2010, we will be collaborating with UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre, this time on Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. I’m sure you are familiar with the subject matter of this production. Written in 1979, Sweeney Todd couldn’t help but inspire the 1982 film Eating Raul, and Fannie Flagg’s 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (which became a movie in 1991). Quite a cannibalistic decade, that. Opening August 30, and continuing through early September at CBT, featuring Knoxville’s own Dale Dickey.

I know you’ve been waiting for part 2 of part 2. For a composer, it’s easy to get a hold of your audience’s attention by being able to have songs or works with titles, like Claire de Lune or Stairway to Heaven or even Starships. I believe chamber music fails to properly grab hold in Knoxville because so many of the great works are entitled simply  “Sonata,” or “Quartet,” or the like. This town, heck, any town can always use a chamber music infusion, and Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz has launched an invigorating recital series at Remedy Coffee in the Old City. On three nights scattered throughout the season  will be Sonatas by Prokofiev and Ysaÿe and other violin classics, paired with the likes of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet, Brahms’ B-Major Trio, and Mendelssohn’s Octet. The first of these shows will be Wed. October 3rd at 7:00. That Brahms trio I mentioned is his best by a wide margin, and it will close the program.

I hope you appreciate all the trouble I went to in finding the diacritical marks above. I am not a natural typist, I type only by ear.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Come Out! Come Out! Wherever You Are!

Whether you are in Knoxville or Maryville, you have a chance to catch the KSO at an outdoor venue Thursday (7:00 p.m., Market Square) or Saturday (Maryville Greenbelt, 7:30 p.m., rain date Sunday at 7:30). Rain seems to be out of the picture for these evenings, so we shan’t accept that excuse for not attending. A wide-ranging mix of tunes will be played, from Rossini, Mozart and Respighi to Irving Berlin, Gershwin and Leroy Anderson.

Face it. You know that Market Square is the bomb when it comes to wining, dining and entertainment choices. No, I mean it. There is no cooler place on the planet right now than Knoxville. Well, ok, except for Cancun. The show on the Square can be a relaxing end to your day or a prelude to your evening’s carousing. Justin Townes Earle is playing a show at the Square Room just after ours.

Maryville’s Greenbelt Theatre in the Park is a sweet, lush oasis nestled between the Blount County Courthouse and Broadway Towers Housing. Our audience has been growing and, bless their hearts, has endured rain for us on occasion. Principal Clarinetist Peter Cain, who you remember from last week’s Overture to Mignon, will be soloing on a movement of the Weber Concerto. At both of these shows there will be a “clarinet sprint” in Leroy Anderson’s Clarinet Candy, about as tasty a little number as ever did you hear. It pits our clarinet section’s Mark Tucker aka “Tukka” vs Peter Cain aka “P-Cain” in a wherving dervish of derring-do in B♭.

I should add that these concerts are FREE!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Next Season, Part I

Hot on the heels of recovering from my French music gueule de bois, I turn my attention to the 2012-2013 Masterworks season to learn what the “hair of the dog” will be. It looks like straight-up classics, with some works that I welcome back especially warmly after long absences from my music stand.

The biggest news is that this season will be Maestro Richman’s TENTH!!! He made this announcement at last week’s concerts, but some may have misunderstood this to be his tenth wedding anniversary. (I’m not positive of the exact length of time, but I’m pretty sure he and Debbie have been married somewhat longer than ten years). Another change is the moving of the start time of our concerts, which will be 7:30 p.m., following a trend that many orchestras are now pursuing. This allows for earlier nights out, which the Thursday crowds will especially appreciate. It will also aid people in getting to restaurants before their kitchens close post-concert.

September 20th and 21st’s gala affair will start with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, travel to a Lucas Richman original, Summer Excursions, then south of the border to Copland’s El Salon Mexico, and finishing with Rachmaninov’s hallowed Piano Concerto No. 2 with Orion Weiss at the keyboard. Fall continues on October 18 and 19 with another Lucas Richman original, Kol Nidre. Another fine French work, Bizet’s crackling Symphony in C finishes up the first half, while a suite from Bernstein’s Candide closes out the evening. The November 15 and 16 shows look to Germany for sources. Weber’s classic Overture to Der Freischutz starts, with new concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz then soloing on Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Maestro Richman will come full circle with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, which you may remember is the piece he auditioned with here back in October of 2002.

Just as we did this season, we will have two guest conductors in ‘12-‘13. On January 24 and 25, Toshiyuki Shimada will lead the orchestra in a “favorites” concert, featuring Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (with piano soloist Gleb Ivanov) and Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. “The Romance of the Violin” is the theme of the February 21st and 22nd concerts. Violinist Brittany Sklar will join us for  James Newton Howard’s haunting A Village Romance from the M. Night Shyamalan 2004 film The Village, then dazzle us with Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. Dvorak’s Carnival Overture (which I somehow have NEVER played) and Tchaikovsky’s Polish Symphony (ditto) sandwich these two works.

March 21 and 22 will bring a taste of Spain to the Tennessee Theatre, with our second guest conductor, Kelly Corcoran. Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez will feature guitarist Ana Vidovic. Falla’s 2nd Three-Cornered Hat Suite, Turina’s Danzas Fantasticas and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol round out the program. The big guns of the season are saved for last; on April 18 and 19 we will perform Verdi’s masterful Requiem, and closing out the season on May 16 and 17 will be Stravinsky’s crowning achievement, The Rite of Spring. Appetizers for the Rite will be Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture and Lucas Richman’s Three Pieces for Cello & Orchestra, with cello soloist Inbal Segev soloing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A French Resolution

We’re working on the Masterworks May, four French works that span the period from 1866 to 1931. All four works on the concert have excerpts published in the ubiquitous cello excerpt books, published in the 50's (I guess), edited by Leonard Rose. Out of context, it is impossible to picture how these little bits fit into the greater picture. It was best to get ahold of 78 RPM recordings of the works; there are such links to the Lalo overture and a beautiful aria from Mignon below.

Each half of the concert opens with an overture, first the Overture to Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, and later the Overture to Le roi d’Ys by Edouard Lalo. The American premieres of both of these works took place in New Orleans, at the French Opera House. Mignon premiered in 1871 and Le roi d’Ys in 1890.

Ambroise Thomas, a contemporary of Charles Gounod (whose Romeo and Juliet was recently put on by Knoxville Opera), starts his overture with a clarinet solo. Later on, in the strings’ portion of the introduction, something was clearly “sampled” by Andrew Lloyd Weber in Music of the Night. The polonaise-like body of the work must surely have been a staple on Boston Pops concerts, just as the famous Gavotte is a staple on Suzuki recitals.

If I said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, the Ravel Piano Concerto in G is a desert island piece for me. As funky as Rhapsody in Blue but deeper. Outer movements that bend your mind while tapping your feet, sandwiched around the most gorgeous slow movement of anything ever.

Lalo’s opera is about King Ys (yes, his name is Ys, pronounced like the letter “e.” French is a strange language). His daughter Margared is betrothed to Prince Karnac. I’m going to leave the rest to your imagination. The PBS documentary on Johnny Carson is affecting me. Or maybe it’s the tequila.

Debussy’s La Mer is to the ocean as Holst’s The Planets is to the solar system. The first movement is entitled De l’aube à midi sur la mer, or “from dawn to noon on the sea.” At about 10:15, in the middle of Car Talk, the cello section breaks out in 4 part harmony with the most amazing bleu vignette; a veritable bleuprint for much of the big band horn harmony heard here in the 40's. The orchestration throughout the work is as brilliant as anything by Berlioz, Stravinsky or Bartok, and the brass really let the ship back and haul away on the mizzen to bring this seascape to a close.

VIVE LA FRANCE! Thursday and Friday at 8 at the Theatre de Tennessee.

Friday, May 11, 2012

“Yesterday” is Tomorrow; So Is Vestival

Our final Pops concert this season, “Yesterday Once More,” will be loaded with tunes by the Carpenters and similar artists from that very fertile early 70's pop period. Recent KSO Pops artists have also been part of this soft rock revolution– Burt Bacharach, Peter Cetera, Roberta Flack, etc.

The music of the Carpenters is to me one of those things that I fall back on when I need an example of something simple, beautiful and tasteful. I am just floored by the number of tunes that I remember from their arsenal. We will be playing just about of all of the hits.

We should be thankful states that the show will be performing this year with the St Louis Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Knoxville Symphony AND OTHERS (caps mine). That’s good company.


As we will be rehearsing for the bulk of the afternoon Saturday, we will most likely not be able to catch any of the goings-on at Vestival, South Knoxville’s art and heritage festival. The Vestal neighborhood of South Knoxville is the focus here. A wide variety of local artists, craftspersons and musicians will be on hand. Vestal is that funky neighborhood that is home to King Tut Grill, Pease Furniture, and The Candoro Marble Co.

Right next to Pease Furniture is the Ogle St. Barber Shop. I have been getting my haircut here since I arrived in this town in 1986, save for those few (dark) years ca. 1996-2003 when I let my hair grow long and avoided barber shops. I have it on a good authority that this is the barbershop where Mark Tucker (the KSO’s 2nd clarinetist, personnel manager, and librarian) used to go for haircuts when he was a child. It’s straight out of the 50's; except for the price of a haircut going up $1 every ten years, not much about this place has changed since Mark’s days here. That is the charm of Vestal; that steady, unafraid-to-be-itself neighborhood across the river.