Friday, March 30, 2012


This week we welcome pianist Emi Kagawa to town for the Sunday afternoon Chamber Classics concert at the Bijou (2:30). In a unique orchestration, the impressionistic classic Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet by Ernest Chausson will cap off an eclectic show featuring the KSO’s Principal String Quartet. Also on our stands is Mozart’s quirky Quartet in E♭, K. 428, (that one in E♭ that you were always afraid to sight-read at a gig) and an exciting work by Mexican composer Javier Alvarez entitled Metro Chabacano. featuring edge-of-your-seat, Mexican train rhythms. Rehearsals have moved to my house for the quartet proper; I don’t know why, but Katy has kicked us out. HAHA jk. The themes of the first movements of the Mozart and the Chausson are similar and we have had some fun combining the two, although that’s where the similarities end. The Chausson exhibits tendencies of Faure and Franck and is like no other work you will hear, with concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and Emi leading us down the musical Champs-Élysées.


Losses in Knoxville’s musical community are never fun to write about, but we have lost a really precious person in Louise Hough. She played violin in this orchestra before I arrived, up until a few years ago. Her smile was always great to see at a church gig and her laugh made you feel like everything was ok. Her husband Don was principal trombone for many years and remains a major force on Knoxville’s jazz scene. We share his pain as we remember Louise in our prayers and thoughts.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pitch-hiker's Guide to The Planets

We are about to embark on a 50-minute mission through the solar system. Our ship will have on board quantities of wind and brass instruments (including the infamous bass oboe and the far-flung bass flute), two timpanists, two harps, and our usual crew of strings. Strange sounds will emanate from the strings on the way to Mars; the first sounds to be heard are all of the strings playing col legno (with the wood).

We will pass by Earth again and hit Venus, a much more peaceful place with a bunch of cello solos. Continuing toward the sun we will say hello to Mercury, a small, agile planet that really gets around. The contrabassoon will have the last word on this leg of the voyage, then we hit the road again, so to speak, making the long trek to merry olde Jupiter in just a few seconds. Here you will hear an English hymn (I Vow to Thee, My Country) written during World War I, that makes every Englishman think of home.

Saturn is a planet that, when adjectivized, can be confusing. The word saturnine has many meanings, to wit: melancholy or sullen, suffering from lead poisoning, sardonic or disdainful. Nothing is mentioned about the rings, though. I decided not to buy a Saturn because I heard it was hard to find new rings for them. ANYway, this planet is big and slow, and given to sudden outbursts of tritones.

Continuing outward from there, we will encounter Uranus, which ancient peoples believed had magical properties. While no one will be pulling rabbits out of hats on stage, everyone will be preparing for the final leg of the journey. It looks like a cool place– literally. Of all the planets we will be broaching, Neptune is the spaciest. The ending, featuring a women’s chorus which we picked up somewhere in the asteroid belt, most resembles the space music we associate with TV shows such as Lost in Space, The Green Martian, or Homeboys in Outer Space. In a performance of Planets we did before the Tennessee Theatre was rebuilt, a cool effect was achieved by having this chorus walk down the stairs towards the dressing rooms to create a fade-out effect. Nowadays, the Tennessee backstage area does not lend itself to such an exodus.

Enjoy your trip!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

This is crunch time. I am looking at the stack of music that lay before me and trying to remember a time when I had so much to process. Really, since January things have been thick with notes. My bandmates have written me off as some sort of “classical defector,” and for the first time in my life I have had to turn gigs with them down even though I am technically free. (JK!! They are some of the most understanding folk I have never known, and champion friends to boot). Then there are students. 22 of them. I am reminded of when I was a kid and had a paper route, each customer (student) had a different way they wanted their paper delivered, and received their papers on different days. I still have dreams about this; I wake up from them thinking I have forgotten a customer. There are also birthdays this week; my wife Helen's is the day after our son Richard's (17th) on the 21st. As if I didn't have enough to do, I am auditioning for a summer festival after the Planets concerts. So if these posts are merely informational, rather than scholarly and literary, I promise to try to return to my old form when some of the smoke has cleared in a couple weeks.

What’s on the docket right now? Planets. Or more specifically, Gustav Holst’s The Planets. I’ll never forget the first time I played it, with Kirk Trevor conducting. My only previous experience with Holst’s music (and there isn’t much more of it) was the St. Paul Suite, a lovely, harmless little suite of dances composed for a girl’s school in London. (Whether it’s the same school about which Paul McCartney wrote the song Girl’s School, I don’t know). The Planets, however, is a “whole ‘nother thing,” as they say in Texas.

We welcome back to the podium Daniel Meyer, who left us just as Maestro Richman was arriving here. They sort of just traded places; Dan Meyer became an assistant conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony, which was Lucas’ previous post. Dan won us all over with his personable style, as witness this photo from some time earlier this century, taken at a reception after a Chamber Orchestra concert in Tellico Village.

Standing, left to right: former principal flute Teri Forscher, yours truly, violinist Julie Cook, violist Jen Bloch, cellist Ihsan Kartal, violinist Karen Kartal, cellist Bruce Wilhite. Kneeling, left to right: Maestro Daniel Meyer, violist Eunsoon Corliss, former principal second violinist Eric Kline.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Right Here Waiting for Richard Marx

Richard Marx will be in town this weekend for a rare Friday night version of Saturday Night Pops. I missed the Marx revolution in the late ‘80's and ‘90's, but I am apparently just weird, I guess. One YouTube video has received 17 MILLION hits; odds are that several of those “hitters” will be in attendance. After watching a couple vids, it’s also clear that I am SO going to get some wardrobe ideas from this show. I have heard some of his songs, but I don’t think this is going to be like the Neil Sedaka concert we played here back in the 90's (today is Sedaka’s birthday).

Looking back, we can laugh about it now, but the KSO Pops series has seen some pretty scary times. In the 90's, it seemed that Knoxville had a Pops curse that rendered guest artists unable to perform their second night’s show. (Pops artists performed pairs of shows then, Friday and Saturday nights). Dionne Warwick was hospitalized after her Friday night show with pneumonia; Mr. Sedaka had a mild stroke after his. It was a stroke of luck that jazz singer Nancy D’Andrea, mother of KSO flutist Cynthia D’Andrea, was in the audience. She teamed up with our second bassoonist at the time, Mike Benjamin, who also happens to be one of Knoxville’s premiere jazz pianists, to save the night on both occasions. Trumpeter Doc Severinsen also had a last-minute cancellation, but we were left with enough time to find a suitable replacement. In the late 80's, singer Judy Collins became ill at the last minute and Helen Reddy was secured as a replacement. And then there was the year that most of the Clayton Holiday concerts had to be cancelled due to a flood at the Civic Auditorium. I’m probably missing a couple; it was a virtual epidemic for a while, but I think now we can safely assume that the Pops jinx has been retired. Nevertheless, I am going to keep my fingers slightly crossed through Friday.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plenty Going on This Weekend!

It’s the time of the season for concerto competition winners! Both the UT orchestra and the Knoxville Choral Society will be presenting programs this weekend that will feature collegiate (UT) and High School (KCS) soloists.

Saturday night at 8 at the Knoxville Convention Center, The Knoxville Choral Society under the direction of Eric Thorson will present choral works of Handel, Donna Gartman Schultz, and Emma Lou Diemer. These works will be sandwiched around appearances by three young soloists; soprano Meghan Mayes, clarinetist Luke Norton and pianist Albert Xue.

The next afternoon at 4, the UT Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro James Fellenbaum will present four contest winners in a wide range of styles, along with the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin. Violinist Thomas Lovett, who will perform Ravel’s Tzigane; is a frequent player with the KSO. Soprano Theresa Dunigan, who has been seen in recent Knoxville Opera productions, will sing the Vier Letzte Lieder of Richard Strauss. Jolivet’s Flute Concerto, with flutist Kathryne Salo, and the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by Shinyoung Kim round out the program.

Another event that involves KSO members will take place Sunday, March 11, at 5:00 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 800 Northshore Drive. As part of that church's Friends of Music and the Arts concert series, and in conjunction with Westminster Presbyterian Church’s choir, Mozart's Mass in c, K. 427 will be performed. This mass is often referred to as the "Great" and its scale is just that-monumental and grand. The solo work is virtuosic and the choruses mammoth, including movements scored for eight voice parts (double chorus). Due to its difficulty and scope, the work is not often heard. There is no charge for admission.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Saturday Night Pipes" or, "Blame It on the Glocca Morra"

The storms have passed, it’s a beautiful day, and the sounds of Celtic brilliance await you at the Civic Auditorium tonight at 8.

My lineage is Scots-Irish. I, however, do not own a kilt– I am not that hardcore. I am more likely to associate myself with the Boston Celtics than the actual ethnic group. (Q: why don’t we say “Boston Keltics” with a hard “c” sound)? And while Celtic music is not something in which I am well-versed, composers such as Hamilton Harty, Leroy Anderson, Percy Grainger and others have made it easy to appreciate the verve and beauty of this genre. Celtic Celebration features a cast of dancers, singers and musicians well-grounded in highlands music.

Spearheading this cast is pipe-master Christopher Layer, an internationally respected Celtic music interpreter, and tenor Benjamin Brecher, who my colleagues agree is the quintessential Danny Boy tenor. Music from the films Braveheart, Brigadoon, and Finian’s Rainbow are included in this collection of Irish and Scottish favorites.

Although it hardly seems a concern at this point, word has it that the Civic Auditorium/Coliseum complex is a pretty safe haven from tornadoes. I hope everyone was spared last night and can attend either the Saturday Night Pops tonight or the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra's "A Soldier's Tale" concert tomorrow. Preferably both!