Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chamber Orchestra this Sunday, 2:30 at the Bijou!

I am Baroque-ified. This concert, of all the past 10 seasons of Chamber Orchestra concerts most resembles what we used to call the “Concerto Gala.” No fewer than seven soloists will regale us, and you, with swirling counterpoint and crystalline melodies from 300 years ago.

Henry Purcell’s Chacony is the eldest work on the program, dating from Newton’s time. There is no certified composition or premiere date, but “they” say that it’s from around 1680. This is a very somber ground-bass work that may remind you of his Dido’s Lament.

Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor is the gala piece on the program. New Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai, Principal Second violin Edward Pulgar, Ilia Steinschneider and Sean Claire are our Four Horsemen of the Appoggiatura. I’m giving away free broken bow hair to whoever can find the passage (in the last movement) that Schubert quotes in his Unfinished Symphony.

I’m just going to blurt it out here, violists Eunsoon Corliss and Katy Gawne sound amazing on the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. When the highest instrument on a work is the viola and there are 5 other players, you know the texture is going to be real bassy and thick. It’s a deep string showcase that hits heart-wrenching sonorities you will not hear anywhere else.

But the same could be said for Bach’s Suite No. 3 in B Minor, featuring our principal flutist Ebonee Thomas. Bach knew the language of B Minor very well, and this Suite represents the book of Genesis in that key. Ms Thomas’ tempi are brisk and refreshing. Like that dash of cold water the Army recommended you end your hot shower with. And as with the Vivaldi, you get to hear the orchestra play in F# major for a while. The Badinerie that the concert ends with will leave you (and her, I dare say) breathless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

If it Ain't Baroque, Don't Fix It!

January 29th brings the next KSO Chamber Classics series concert to the Bijou, this time with Baroque music taking the stage in a well-balanced program that will feature Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum in a different role.

I’m remembering from school that the word “Baroque” originally had quite a different meaning from what we have come to accept these days. From Spanish, French or Portugese origins, it was derived from a word meaning “rough or imperfect pearl.” Initially it was a derogatory term that dealt with an artwork’s “eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details.” As a means of differentiating between music of the leaner and cleaner Renaissance and Classical periods that preceded and followed the Baroque, the term is apt in its description of the ornate melodic display and counterpoint that characterizes the music of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and that crowd. The Classical period’s very streamlined, simplistic musical constructs (see last week’s Masterworks concert) were a reaction to the rampant ornamentation that was prevalent in the Baroque (and even more intensely so later in the Rococo). Baroque music was not called such until the 20th century, as late as 1940 in English. For the most part, the term is used simply to correlate the music to other disciplines’ time frames.

J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 is a piece that goes back a long way for me. As an 8th-grader I played it with some kids in my high school’s chamber orchestra. I always loved the syncopated finale rhythm; you know, Minnesota Public Radio uses a snippet of it for their jingle just before Prairie Home Companion comes on. Maestro Fellenbaum will be playing cello on this work, which is more of a septet than an orchestral work per se. Just a half-step away, Bach’s Orchestra Suite No. 2 in B Minor is about as excellent a piece there is in B Minor, with the Schubert Unfinished Symphony (coming up on our April Masterworks) and Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet being up there also. Additional works by Vivaldi, Handel and Purcell will alternately soothe and dazzle with their beautiful “noisy abundance of details.”

Speaking of Baroque, our principal trombonist Sam Chen spent this past weekend in Memphis where the U. of Memphis Low Brass Workshop took place. Sam has had a project of learning the Solo Cello Suites of J.S. Bach on the trombone. I have heard him play them and I can vouch for them as very listenable. Sam was a guest artist in Memphis and he performed several movements of Bach there, as well as leading a masterclass and panel discussion. Way to go, Sam!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mozart Played Live? Who Wouldn’t Go?

Guest conductors always present an opportunity to diversify our orchestral experience, and it’s been very engaging to have Maestro Edward Cumming guesting with us this week for an all-Mozart show that can’t be beat at the Tennessee Theatre tonight and tomorrow at 8. Mozart's 23rd and 40th Symphonies will be sandwiched around the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major (aka Theme from Elvira Madigan).

I know some of you are thinking it. “I didn’t even know Mozart wrote a 23rd Symphony.” It’s a real gem of a piece, sometimes called Overture since there are no pauses between movements. Indeed, you might think it the Entracte to an 18th century Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Phyllis Secrist’s beautiful oboe solos carry the second movement, and the violins are in high gear.

No. Mozart did not write the music for the film Elvira Madigan. I resent the fact that his Piano Concerto No. 21's duly exalted status must be buoyed for the listening public by the movie soundtrack tag. I wonder what they used to call it. According to Wikipedia (which is thankfully back in view), only three of the 25 Mozart Piano Concerti have subtitles: K. 246, the Lutzow; K. 271, the Jeunhomme/Jenamy (very interesting story there); and K. 537, the Coronation. But even those titles don’t originate with the composer. Since they are basically written-out improvisations by Mozart with an orchestra accompanying, the piano concerti are the best glimpse into the world of Mozart the performer. Perhaps there is a movie for each one, that would help further the reputation of these gems. Anyways, it’s a old friend; Grout calls it “spacious and symphonic.” Pianist Yeol eum Son’s cadenzas are captivating, and if you KEEP CLAPPING, SHE’LL PLAY AN ENCORE.

Mozart’s 40th Symphony was written a year after a 16-year-old Beethoven played for Mozart. In the lineage of Germanic symphonists, Beethoven (and Schubert) would succeed both Haydn and Mozart, but the rigid constructs of the classical period that Beethoven rent asunder with his symphonies can be heard tearing at the seams in the outer movements of 40. Only two symphonies earlier, in the Prague (which we just played in the Bijou in November), Mozart stayed with the formulae that had brought him success since 10 and 28, but his final three symphonies are so different from each other and all his previous efforts that you just knew something was up over there.

Join us! And remember, Mozart did not write for the marimba.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Down for the Count

This is it. The Cold of the Century. A difficult, busy month is infused with this head-in-a-vise condition that sends me bedward. My wife’s chicken and dumplings helps somewhat, but students, quartet members and band members are told to stay away on account of my misery. A couple lessons I’ve simply had to teach because the work load this month (many more daytime, weekday services) simply does not allow for a rescheduling. I’ve had to beg off of a Swingtet gig on the site of “Extreme Makeover” because of this... this.... thing. The fact that it was outdoors would have ensured the longevity of my ailment. Gabe Lefkowitz’s merry band of diners who have been eating their way across Knoxville have come within five blocks of my house, this time to Palavah Hut for Liberian food on Magnolia Ave, but alas and alack, I am cuckolded in this Kleenex castle for at least another day.

I can sort of do bowings in my state. There’s plenty of that– the Bach Brandenburg 6, Mahler 2 and Purcell’s Chacony. I’ll just spray the parts with Chloraseptic before I hand them in. Also surfing the web is pretty safe. In doing so, I have come across an interesting blog by Edward Cumming, who will take the podium for the next Masterworks concerts this coming Thursday and Friday at 8. Maestro Cumming speaks of two things I am very familiar with; classical music and the city of Hartford. Current Director of Orchestras at the Hartt School in Hartford and former director of the Hartford Symphony, he and I have literally trod a lot of common ground, although luckily for all, the podium was never under MY feet. (Just so you know, I started college 33 years ago at the Hartt School).

Knoxville and Hartford are intense rivals athletically, but pretty copasetic musically. They have Geno, we have Pat. “(But ah, they have the Pats!” you say). The UConn men’s basketball team will play at the Thompson-Boling Arena next Saturday. I wonder if Maestro Cumming will go...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coming to a Theatre Near You...

2012 will be a challenging year in that several pieces new to me are on the horizon. Some old favorites will also renew their acquaintance, and a Pops series that is up there with the best of them lay in store.

Our first performance this year, as in most recent years, will be the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Concert at the Bijou Theatre on Sunday, January 15. Michael Rodgers, the Knoxville Opera Gospel Choir and the MLK Celebration Choir will melt our faces with a mix of Gospel and inspiring classical selections.

Stepping to the plate later that week will be Mozart on the 19th and 20th. I haven’t played the “Elvira Madigan” piano concerto since my first season here, 1986, although I’d played it several times already in the 80's. The harmonies the muted violas create in the slow movement have appeared in dreams I’ve had, so aloof and moody. A new-to-me (no. 23) and a tried-and-true (no. 40) Mozart Symphony sandwich the concerto in this Masterworks production led by guest conductor Edward Cumming. Maestro Cumming is Orchestra Director at the Hartt School of Music, my alma mater.

Baroque music closes out the month with James Fellenbaum leading and playing works of Bach, Purcell, Handel and Vivaldi. The two Bach works, Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 and Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor are prime examples of works whose titles reveal very little of the caliber of perfection achieved in their composition.

Our Pops series is going to rock with Manhattan Transfer and Richard Marx topping the bill on Feb. 4th and March 16th, respectively. Works that shine in the advancing musical firmament are Mahler’s 2nd, Schoenberg’s Nacht, Holst’s Planets, Debussy’s Mer, and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. In the chamber department Stravinsky’s Concerto in D, Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, and Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat are all new pieces for me that invite me into their mystery. Wow. Better get to work.