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...