Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Anniversary Remembered

I am pausing here somehow to pay a memorial tribute to great friends of Helen and mine, Bill and Lyn Mason. As fellow members of Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Masons came to know us as adopted children. Since my parents live in New Hampshire, and Helen’s in Minnesota, the Masons’ presence in our life amounted to a third set of parents– and grandparents for our two boys. It was today in 1944 that they were married; and although that was 68 years ago, it being a leap year we can say with tongue in cheek that it would really be their seventeenth anniversary.

Bill had been Assistant State’s Attorney for the state of Illinois, and Lyn and he retired to Knoxville to be near their sons Tom and Bill, Jr., and their families in the 80's. They were major KSO supporters, being active in a Westminster Church KSO-attending group, and had many musician friends both here and in Chicago. In the early 90's, when our youngest son Thomas was a toddler, it was they who would trek out to Johnson City with Helen to care for him while she played as concertmaster. Another trip they made was from Sawyer to Indianola, Iowa, to visit us while I played with the Des Moines Metro Opera orchestra in 1991. As soon as each of our children could speak, the words “Grampa Bill” and “Gramma Lyn” became part of their vernacular. When our oldest son Thomas was 2 or 3, he actually called KSO violist Bill Pierce “Grampa Bill Pierce,” so naturally was he acquainted with the term.

The Masons had a summer home in Sawyer, Michigan, about as far up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan as Chicago is up the west coast. This was a frequent stopping place of ours between Knoxville and Minnesota on visits to Helen’s parents, being the point just about half-way. It was there that I met very good friends of theirs who happened to be world-class musicians. Jazz trombonist Ray Anderson and Chicago Symphony Principal Trumpeter Bud Herseth both had summer places in the same community as them. I will never forget the mornings on the beach, the two of them locked in a game of dueling long-tones for their morning warm-ups.

When either Helen’s or my actual parents visited us, the Masons and they got along famously, with many “Greatest Generation” tales to share. Their own grandchildren got along well with our kids, and Lyn’s Game Nights (featuring “Pass the Shoe” and “Spoons)” were a total riot. Although they have both passed, (Lyn in 2004 and Bill in 2005, I think), I will always remember them on February 29th of any year as majorly important people in our lives.

So.... Happy Anniversary, Bill and Lyn!! We miss you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Different Side of Hollywood

I didn’t watch the Oscars, so don’t ask me about them. While Maestro Richman did not win one, the Hollywood Connection concert for him this year is Stravinsky’s Concerto in D, which was actually written in Hollywood in 1946 and is often called the “Basle” Concerto for the city whose orchestra commissioned it. (Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra, Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou).

Upon first hearing, the musical language of the Concerto is strangely exciting and excitingly strange. This is a product that has inspired everyone from John Williams to Frank Zappa to Shostakovich. The Arioso second movement sports thick, juicy slabs of major/minor string tonality reminiscent of Britten. The outer movements are edge-of-your-seat carnival rides through previously-unexplored tonal and rhythmic territory, and I don’t mean the merry-go-round. Thank God for the hyphen.

Another foray into the ears of an eventual Hollywood resident is the Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) of Arnold Schoenberg. Although sometimes flagged (or flogged) for his abandonment of traditional tonality in favor of a more mathematically derived 12-tone system of composing, this is his op. 4, written just before he tore the roof off of diatonic sound as we know it. The poem by the same name which inspired this work was written by Richard Dehmel, whose poetry also was set to music by the likes of Kurt Weill, Richard Strauss and Max Reger. The rich, stirring harmonies will make you wonder why you didn’t play a recording of it on Valentine’s Day for your sweety.

I’d love to say something about the other Stravinsky work on the program, A Soldier’s Tale or (Please! Call it by this name!) L’histoire du Soldat, not to mention Saturday night’s thrilling Celtic Celebration Pops, but frankly these other pieces are wicked hard and even though it’s 2:20 in the morning, I am going to shed a little more wood before calling it a night.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Here's Why You Should Go See Mahler's 2nd...

If you like Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, but don’t think it has enough brass...

If you enjoy the Tennessee Theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer...

If you are in need of spiritually uplifting words and don’t mind hearing them sung in German by a very large, very good chorus...

If you want to have your face melted by at least 300 very dedicated musicians...

If you want to hear how an orchestra sounds when it is firing on all 100 cylinders...

If you don’t know much about classical music but you know what you like...

If you don’t have anything better to do (you don’t)...

....then you should come and see Mahler’s 9th Symphony tonight at the Tennessee Theatre at 8:00.

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's A Family Affair

This week is sort of a crazy one chez Bryenton. The KSO, as you may know, is presenting Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 this coming Thursday and Friday. Meticulously crafted music as joyous and potent as any Wagner (not to mention shorter), from the German “family tree” of symphonists. The outer movements contain some of the most powerful music ever written, and the Mighty Wurlitzer will peal again, briefly doubling the volume that the 400-odd performers on stage– and backstage– are already making. The UT choruses provide a magnificent wall of sound and backstage brass band is thrilling.

It has been almost 30 years since the KSO has performed Mahler 2; even before my time, during Zoltan Rozsnyai’s tenure. People try to tell me that Kirk Trevor did it during his tenure, but it isn’t showing up on any of the databases. I think they’re getting it confused with the 8th; incredibly, an even more spectacular work which we did in the spring of ‘92. Or the third, which... has a big trombone solo. Or maybe it was a 1999 Oak Ridge Symphony (a rival orchestra) performance, in which a dozen or so current KSO members took part.

With all this talk of sound, it’s important to consider its opposite. The silences in the symphony are like another performer, the ears need that breath. Like everything else we play, this is an especially important work to avoid cell-phone solos.

Meanwhile, in another room of our house, my wife Helen is preparing for her performance on Saturday of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol with the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra. JCSO is another rival orchestra, of which she has been concertmaster for almost 20 years. It’s like Meadowmount South here. These are solos that I heard many times in the Concertmaster and Associate Concertmaster auditions we have held here in Knoxville in the past year-and-a-half. I have been saying, “Okay, can we please hear the Schumann Scherzo,” and she’ll start to play Happy Farmer! That show will be at 8:00 at Seeger Hall on the campus of Milligan College.

Helen was also concertmaster of the Oak Ridge Symphony for that 1999 Mahler 2. A bowed and dated first violin part on her music shelf gave it away. So there.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

From Maryville to Caryville

Aagghhh!!! It’s startling and new!!! What happened to the KSO’s home page? Somebody up and “new and improved” it! Actually, I’m kind of glad they did. This blog has been going on for 3-½ years, it hardly needs the “NEW!” tag on it. I hope the new design doesn’t intimidate you; I’m still working my way through it, trying to find the program notes, etc. If I don’t, I’ll have to make up ALL those cool facts about the music we play instead of only about half of them. (JK)!

Well, well, well... This week is a rebuilding week. The last four weeks were action-packed, and the next four probably will be the same. Side-by-side concerts with the Bearden High School Orchestra are imminent, as are Storytime concerts at local– and not-so-local– libraries. TODAY- at the Lawson-McGhee (downtown) library at 10:15 AM– that’s RIGHT NOW– and at the Norwood branch library on Merchants Rd. at 4:00. These are unique, intimate opportunities for young children to get a taste of classical music and have a book read to them.

A Storytime is planned for Caryville on the morning of March 6th. I don’t recall the KSO ever having played there, it must be a first. We’ve gone beyond; to Oneida, Huntsville, and even up to Whitley City, KY, but never Caryville. And by “we,” I don’t include myself, as this will be a different string quartet. That same day, Bearden High School’s Orchestra will host us at their side-by-side concert at 7:00. As was the case at Maryville High, challenging repertoire is on the docket; movements from Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, Vivaldi’s Concerto for 4 Violins, and Dvorak’s awesome Serenade for Strings. BHS Orchestra director Katie Middleton has done a great job with the strings at Bearden and their music department is always right on time.

Plenty of great stuff happening before we cross that Campbell County line, though. Mahler 2nd is on my stand and under my pillow, set for next Thursday and Friday, the 23rd and 24th. Chamber Classics and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat are on March 4th, again without me as Stravinsky hated the cello and didn’t write a part for L’Histoire, (really, it says so right here on Wikipedia! JK). I’m sorry, I guess on the home page they are calling it “A Soldier’s Tale.” I have never known it by any other name, but it is a wonderful narrated piece that is essential Stravinsky. His Concerto in D for strings and Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht fill out this very continental concert.

Stay tuned for more about Mahler...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Opera Weekend: Tragedy amidst Plenty, Triumph amidst Tragedy

So, there’s this opera, you see, it’s by Charles Gounod. It’s called Romeo and Juliet which is a famous play by a guy named Shakespeare, perhaps you’ve heard the name. It’s being put on by the Knoxville Opera Company with the Knoxville Symphony performing the score. It’s happening TONIGHT at 8 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theater. Tenor Noah Stewart (as Romeo, one would hope) and soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez will lead the cast in this most romantic tragedy (or is it the most tragic romance?) ever. Gounod’s score will remind you of music of his contemporaries Georges Bizet and especially Jacques Offenbach, although you will not hear any Can-cans here.

I am always amazed at the onslaught of entertainment opportunities in Knoxville on any given weekend. A fully opera-tized weekend can be had this weekend with the R & J in Knoxville and the powerful work that is being put on by the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association, Brundibar. It is a children's opera by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, originally written for and performed by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia. The name comes from a Czech colloquialism for a bumblebee.

If you enjoyed the Sound Company children’s show choir on our Clayton Holiday (and other) concerts, then you will want to see this production (under the direction of Music Director Dan Alcott) which features them exclusively as cast members. A goodly number of KSO musicians are Oak Ridge Symphony members and will be performing Brundibar at the Oak Ridge High School Performing Arts Center.

Monday, February 6, 2012

From the Dim Past

In early 1987, our first year here, my parents came and visited us at our rented shack in the South Knox County hinterlands. They arrived on a Sunday in late March; after some language barrier issues with people giving them directions (“Maryville Pike” spoken with a southern accent sounds just like “Murrville Park” with a northern accent), they finally found our place. Trees had leafed out more than just a little, and we grilled out at violist Bill Pierce’s Cedar Lane apartment comfortably in the 65-degree weather. A violinist in the orchestra then, Karen Lowry, threw a chamber music party on a rainy Thursday evening at the house of Pat Carter. When we left Pat’s house, it was snowing. After eight inches fell overnight, we opened Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet with the Knoxville Opera under the direction of Robert Lyall at the Tennessee on April 3, 1987.

Since this was our first winter here, we thought that random snowstorms could happen at any time during any month with an “r” in it. My wife, a Minnesotan, and I, from Connecticut (I don’t know what you call people from Connecticut), have been sadly disappointed over the years to find that that was the exception and not the rule.

The opera that happened that weekend has consistently been a treat, however. Robert Lyall, Francis Graffeo and Brian Salesky all have led many memorable performances over the years. Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet will again be produced this coming weekend, and snow doesn’t seem to be in the picture. More to follow...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Manhattan Transfer, Yoga, and Brass Quintets

We are so excited to have Manhattan Transfer coming to Knoxville to perform with us! Ever since the late 70's, when tasty hits such as Birdland and Tuxedo Junction graced the airwaves, I have been a fan. Linking the jazz vocal ensembles of the past (The Pied Pipers, Brazil 66, The Four Freshmen) with those of today (Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, The Bobs, The Nylons), there is no more iconic group in their genre that is still performing after all these years. The show will be Saturday, Feb. 4th at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, 8:00.

The inaugural Calvin Smith Brass Quintet Competition has been announced. While the Competition gets its own website up and running, the temporary link for this event is at the Knox Brassworx website. Pre-formed ensembles may compete in the Student Division or the Graduate/Professional Division. The competition will take place in “historic” Oak Ridge in early July. What an awesome way to memorialize our late colleague Calvin.

Yoga seems to be on the up-and-up these days, being a wonderful partner to music performance. I haven’t yet been (re-)bitten by the bug, but I have been known to bust out a shoulder stand every once in a while. Second flutist Jill Waguespack Allard has found a calling in yoga instruction, leading several types of yoga classes at the Glowing Body in Old North Knoxville and at The Practice Yoga in Western Plaza. She has pursued this endeavor with missionary zeal, which has in turn spurred several symphony players to take up this beneficial practice. Violinist Sara Matayoshi has proven to be a yogi, also leading classes at both of these venues.

Orchestra players attend classes that both Jill and Sara lead. At post-concert gatherings, Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz has been known to call it an early night, say “I have a 6:30 yoga class tomorrow morning,” leading to many a face-palm by those within earshot. Violinists Ilia Steinschneider and Diane Zelickman, violist Eunsoon Corliss and pianist Carol Zinavage have also been on board the yoga express with varying degrees of intensity.

6:30???? AM??????