Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Closer Look at the Clayton Concerts

I have to put in my two cents worth here, that this year’s Clayton Holiday Concerts are truly unforgettable. A wide variety of acts are interacting very intricately, and the pacing is captivating. When the Scottish Medley sequence on the first half ends (with a reel called Christmas Eve that isn’t listed on the program), it is just thrilling to know that a diverse collection of musicians and dancers such as us know exactly when that final downbeat is. The music keeps us on our toes and I dare say it makes you tap yours.

Four Leaf Peat with the KSO and Knoxville Choral Society

The bagpipe is as iconic an instrument as there can be. We are blessed to share the stage with Tracy Wilson, a gifted piper who teaches music at Dandridge Elementary School. Come to find out, he is related to Terry Wilson, music director at First United Methodist Church in Maryville! I remember playing First church’s Christmas services my first year in town here. As I recall, since I was new in town, I got a little lost and a railroad crossing caused me to just barely squeak in in time that Sunday. They also were VERY forthcoming with refreshments, and that became a deciding factor in later years on choosing which Christmas gigs to bring our children to. Lol.

Tracy Wilson (left) with Knoxville Pipes and Drums members

Another lol-worthy situation has occurred, wherein I have written up a dancer who is not actually involved with the performances we are doing. The link to the Maryville Daily Times article from my last post was certainly interesting reading, but not exactly relevant. We have on the stage with us an award-winning Highland dancer, Knoxville’s own Claire Macmillan. She is nationally ranked in her field of specialty, much as Tracy Wilson is in his.

Claire Macmillan

An interesting collaboration from October has reappeared, as the Hannukah Fantasy once again teams Lucas Richman with pianist Jeffrey Biegel as co-arrangers. Mr. Biegel, as you remember, was the soloist in the premiere of Lucas’ piano concerto. Maestro Richman also has his hand in other arrangements, such as the Singalong and the music for Santa’s entrance. A really giant tip of the hat should go to Warren Clark, who arranged a great deal of the Celtic music we are reading off of this weekend. There are very few venues for which Warren has not arranged something. Ijams Park, Martin Luther King Birthday concert, Pops, runouts; he can create a soundscape out of the barest minimum of sources in a believable, readable, and sometimes humorous way.

I understand that the concerts were virtually sold out! We are very grateful with the response and are overjoyed to create memories for so many people. Have a cheery and safe holiday, Y’all!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Clayton Concerts Get Their Irish Up

This weekend brings the twenty-somethingth annual Clayton Holiday Concerts to the Civic Auditorium! I believe the inaugural Clayton was my first season here, but now I’ve even lost track of that tally. Okay, twenty-eighth, says my abacus. This year’s shows will be given a Highlands treatment, with appearances by local specialists in all things Celtic. Go! Contemporary Dance Works, Boyd’s Jig and Reel house band Four Leaf Peat, Knoxville Pipes and Drums, and the Knoxville Choral Society will all “throw down” this Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3:00.

Go! Contemporary Dance Works has appeared with the KSO on numerous occasions, and you will be seeing dancers who are veterans of previous years’ Nutcrackers. It will be a treat to have fine ballet grace the Civic stage for the second time in three weeks. A quick stroll down Google Lane found this article in Maryville’s Daily Times about one Go! dancer’s experiences. The article isn’t about these concerts per se, but it’s still a very honest and engaging look into the ballet life.

Four Leaf Peat is the band you are most likely to want to hear if you are walking in the Old City craving a jig or a strathspey. Winners of the Del Rio Days’ Band Contest, the Peat have recently been seen at The Square Room, the Laurel Theatre, and Tennessee Shines, and they opened for Jean Redpath at the Rugby Village Festival in May. Their drummer, Jason Herrera, is also known to us Symphony players through his work as wigmaster for the Knoxville Opera Co. It’s always nice to see his smiling face at work!

I can’t picture a Clayton concert without the Knoxville Choral Society. I’m listening to them right now on their website. They have mellowed like fine wine under the watchful ear of Eric “Doc” Thorson, and the young artists’ competition that they endow is one of the essential young musicians’ contests in East Tennessee. Knoxville Pipes and Drums will bring it all home with the timeless sound of Celtic bagpiperie. You, the audience, will be featured in the singalong, and maybe... just maybe, tuba player Sande MacMorran will wear a kilt...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nutcracker News and Artwork

As our Nutcracker run reaches the halfway mark for 2013, it bears mentioning that one of our players, 2nd trumpet Marc Simpson, has a daughter in the ballet! 13-year-old Julie Ann dances a soldier and a sugar-plum attendant in three different scenes, and has danced with Amy Morton Vaughan’s Appalachian Ballet Company for several years now. It is a source of great pride to create performing art with one’s child; it’s a pity, though, that the orchestra’s presence below the stage prevents seeing the action. Julie Ann’s eldest sister Valerie also danced in the Nutcracker in the late 90's. I am wracking my brain trying to remember if their have been other KSO players with children dancing the Nutcracker and have asked around; it may be that the Simpsons are unique in their participation. Anyone who knows otherwise should chime in, please!

In the pit for the Nutcracker this year there are several new players; bassoonists Aaron Apaza and Garrett McQueen, principal trumpet Chase Hawkins, and French horns Gray Ferris and Sean Donovan. Their assimilation into the sound of the orchestra has been quite seamless, and the new personalities within their individual sounds lend a new dimension to the characters to whom they link on stage. The remaining performances will be in Maryville at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Another new feature of the Nutcracker this year is the presence of new parts to play from! If there were any bumps in the road to preparing the ballet this year, it was the correcting of some wrong notes, which inevitably get printed in a new edition, although the old edition was frighteningly inaccurate. I’ve been told that wrong notes in some editions are printed intentionally, so as to allow copyright extensions (I’m not totally clear on that). In any case, some of the old parts got recycled into parts to use on “run-outs” (like the one the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra is playing at the Athens City Middle School at 7:30 tomorrow night). I’ve included some artwork from these old parts. There have been some accomplished doodlers who have left their mark over the years during the inevitable downtime that occurs during rehearsals...

This rendition of former Concertmaster Marc Zelmanovich was done by a violist who has since left town...

My stand partner, a native of Turkey, explains the difference between the name for his homeland and what his family has just eaten for Thanksgiving...

I have often wondered if there were numbers to call for help with other works by Tchaikovsky...

This is the piccolo part from which Cynthia D'Andrea has been playing since who knows when. The drawing of Kilroy was done when she was hired (?) to play, at age 13, for a production done by WATE.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Composers of Carols

I’m learning a lot about Christmas carols tonight. For one thing, I had simply no idea that the most popular setting (but by no means the only one) of In the Bleak Midwinter is by Gustav Holst! A setting by Holst’s countryman Harold Darke is lavish and pristine all at once.

Their settings of English poet Christina Rossetti’s text are equaled by that of Katherine Kennicott Davis, no doubt, as Ms Davis is the composer of The Little Drummer Boy. It sure is fun to play that with Mannheim Steamroller, I tell you what. I couldn’t find her setting of Midwinter on Youtube, but I know some choral directors who might steer me towards one; stay tuned and I'll see what I can find. I’m curious about it because it is SSA; the tessitura, or range, is higher than a standard choral scoring. (SSA is soprano-soprano-alto, for those unfamiliar with choral music lingo, as opposed to SATB, for instance). She studied at Wellesley College in Boston, and also with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, I earnestly HOPE I don’t need to tell you how many composers studied with Madame Boulanger... Copland, Carter, Piazzolla, Menotti...

Later in her life, Ms Davis taught at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia, but she probably missed by a few years late the organist Lewis Redner. Mr. Redner played at several churches in Philadelphia and dealt in real estate. In his spare time, somehow, he came up with the tune for O Little Town of Bethlehem, somehow hooking up with that carol’s lyricist, Phillips Brooks.  A great-grandson of the founder of the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. Mr. Brooks was a Rector in the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and is known for having introduced Christianity to Helen Keller during his tenure in Boston. The name of the tune for O Little Town is St. Louis. The irony here is that Katherine Kennicott Davis’ birthplace is... St. Louis, MO.

It is likely that one or more of the afore-mentioned was at least aware of an event that occurred in 1906. The first music to be broadcast on the air, from an AM “station” near Washington, DC, included a solo violin/voice performance of O Holy Night by Canadian-born Reginald Fessenden. It was on Christmas Eve,1906. 20 years before my father’s birthday, to give you some perspective. O Holy Night was written by Adolphe Adam, a Frenchman who studied composition against his father’s wishes in the 18-teens with Ferdinand Hérold, the composer of Zampa. (Here is a link to the overture to that opera). Nadia Boulanger’s father also studied with Hérold. Yikes.

Wow, now I get why people go into academia. You can’t make this stuff up.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Tidbits

We at the Blogger household are having a fine Thanksgiving, hosting my in-laws, Mary and Tom Gover from Minneapolis. The last thing they expected to see in Knoxville was snow. With sons Thomas and Richard home for the short week, there is a lot of catching up to do. Yesterday was, as a matter of tradition, taken up with turkey roasting and total kitchen engagement. My contribution through the day was to fry some green tomatoes for breakfast, (yes, they were from our garden), bake a pecan pie, and prepare broccoli tonkatsu (broccoli with sautéd onion and pecan in applesauce and tamari). Everything came out great, especially the pie..... nom nom nom...

Facebook seems to have taken a detour down Quiz Street. I try to avoid such diversions, as I tend to not disconnect from them easily. As a measurement of musical nerdhood, this “checklist” quiz of composers you’ve heard covers a lot of the early-music ground, but many present-day composers are left off. Sure, I’ll grant that Leonin and Perotin are legitimate, important composers, but mon dieu, how could you not include John Williams? Georges Enescu? Emil Reznicek? Lee Hoiby? Furthermore, who is this Barbara Strozzi with her wardrobe malfunction? My score of 201 rated me at “kinda nerdy,” but I could think of at least a dozen composers which weren’t on the list, which would boost me up in to the “nerdissimo” category, by this website’s measure.

Below are some musical moments for which to be thankful.

Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, turned 110 on Wednesday. Her vitality and vigor in this video, as well as her story, is simply amazing to watch.

The Toccata from Charles Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5 in f for organ is one of the most grandiose and joyous musical compositions PERIOD. Someone with a lot of free time has committed to performing the piece on the electric guitar.

I picked up an LP at a junk store last week by “Mrs. Miller.” I had heard about her, but not been experienced. It led me to further research, and lo and behold, there is a video of she and Jimmy Durante singing one of Jimmy’s signature tunes...

What would Thanksgiving be without a 2-part “invention” by Red Green, the patron saint of handymen...

Happy Thanksgiving! And Happy Hannukah! From the whole KSO family.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Woodwind Quintet opens new series at Pellissippi State

Our new Q-Series makes its debut at 7:00 pm Thursday night at Pellissippi State! The KSO Woodwind Quintet will perform music of Bizet, Gunther Schuller, Dvorak and others at PSTCC’s Clayton Performing Arts Center in a FREE concert.

I know better than to expound upon a subject that I, a string player, really know very little about (woodwind quintet repertoire). I’m much more qualified to tell you what marvelous people our principal Quintet are. Flutist Ebonee Thomas and horn player Jeffery Whaley have only been on the scene for a couple years, and bassoonist Aaron Apaza only a couple months, but they have already improved Knoxville’s quality of life in beautiful ways. By comparison, I knew oboist Phyllis Secrist and clarinetist Gary Sperl before I moved here (Spoleto ‘85). They and I have been playing in the KSO for a combined 103 years. We have seen it all.

The works to be performed will be the Passacaille by French composer Adrien Barthe, Bizet’s suite Jeux d’enfants “(Child’s Play),” Paul Valjean’s 1955 Dance Suite, and Gunther Schuller’s Suite for Woodwind Quintet.  The concert will conclude with arrangements of three Gershwin piano preludes and Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet.

The Dvořák is, of course, a staple in the string quartet literature, as well as one of the earliest nods by a major composer to the United States. Those who know the score will be interested to hear who gets to do what.

American composer Gunther Schuller was a guest conductor for my undergrad orchestra at the Hartt School in Connecticut. We performed a large-scale work of his whose title I forget, but it was outrageously complex. The way he stored his baton in his hair was quite amusing, as was his music. I remember one day, it was a Wednesday.....

I drove an orange and white VW bus back then. (This was in Hartford, I know, but it was 1979, before the big basketball rivalry started). I needed to practice Mr. Schuller’s music; it was all over the cello, and still is, but I couldn’t find a practice room. Luckily my bus had the middle seat removed and I was able to shed some riffs in it. But in the meantime a storm had gathered, and right as rehearsal was supposed to start, sheets of rain and frequent cloud-to-ground lightening all around me caused me to choose between education and death. I stayed in the bus, and was a little late to rehearsal, but come to find out later that the Bradley Air Museum– and many area homes and businesses as close as  five miles away– were destroyed by what has been called “the 9th most destructive tornado in American history.” A link to some photos of the damage can be found here.

I haven’t performed any of Mr. Schuller’s music since then, but with this memory, I am happy to leave such a performance to others this time around. I’m going to leave it to the WIND players...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mozart to the Rescue!

"Does it not seem as if Mozart's works become fresher and fresher the oftener we hear them?"
   ~ Robert Schumann

"In my dreams of Heaven, I always see the great Masters gathered in a huge hall in which they all reside. Only Mozart has his own suite."
   ~ Victor Borge

"Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it-that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed."
   ~ Albert Einstein

Take it from these authorities, Mozart is the standard by which all composers are judged. Profound simplicity, simple complexity. You don’t know this until you have heard other composers and how they fall short of, or laughably overshoot, Mozart’s example. The Knoxville Symphony will be playing his Overture to Idomeneo, Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, A Musical Joke, and Symphony No. 31, Paris on Thursday and Friday nights, November 14 and 15 at the Tennessee Theatre. Violinist Lara St. John will be the soloist for the Concerto.

In Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Mozart is written into the story as a part of the Magic Theater, a venue in which a saxophone player, Pablo, experiences the fantasies that exist in his mind. Mozart says to (the protagonist) Harry Haller, “Look, there’s Brahms. He is striving for redemption but it will take him all his time.... Too thickly orchestrated, too much material wasted.” [I know this will raise the hackles of some Brahms freaks].... “Thick instrumentation was in any case neither Brahms’ or Wagner’s failing. It was the fault of their time.”

Composers in Mozart’s day were governed by strict rules which governed phrase lengths, scoring, and keys into which they could venture, given any specific beginning key. A lot of the humor in the Musical Joke is subtle and derived from the abandonment of these rules. By the time neo-classical composers such as Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Casella were composing, it was understood that those rules would be routinely broken. The results were just as comic, but about 150 years too late. Mozart got the jump on them. There are some horn notes in the Minuet that will elicit belly-laughs, (hopefully not from the hornists themselves), as will the cadenza of the third movement Adagio cantabile, and the entire Presto finale. As for the closing three chords... Katy bar the door.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Catching our breath

Personally, I am finding it hard to put on the brakes this week after the last was so action-packed. Kiddie concerts and Chamber Orchestra, plus a whole lotta Halloween celebrations. It’s a good chance to catch my breath and notice what’s on my calendar and that of others in the group.

On a journey that has actually already started, one of our core quartets will be touring the Knox County Public Libraries on the “Dig Into Reading” tour. Violinists Rachel Loseke and Yin Wu, violist Bill Pierce and cellist Ildar Khuziakhmetov started Tuesday at the South Knoxville branch. They will hit Fountain City on Friday at 10:15, Karnes on Nov. 13 at 11 am, downtown Thursday the 14th at 11 am, and Murphy, Farragut, Burlington, Norwood, Powell, and Cedar Bluff the week of Nov. 18th.

The Saint John’s Cathedral Monday Noon Recital series is a fine Knoxville classical music institution that brings chamber and solo repertoire to a downtown audience. I have performed many times in this series, and not merely for the free (for performers) lunch that follows each concert! On November 18th, KSO board member Dr. Frank Gray will be teaming up at the piano with Emi Kagawa in a program of piano four-hands music. There will be music of Schubert, and Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. The concert is free of charge, but the lunch afterwards is $5 for guests. Ms Kagawa will be joining the KSO Principal Quartet in January for a show on the new "Q" Series, in Schumann’s Piano Quintet at American Piano Gallery in Turkey Creek.

The Fall Youth Orchestra concerts are less than a week away! The 40th season of KSYOA starts off on Monday Nov. 11 at 7:00 pm at the Tennessee Theatre. All five groups will perform, starting with the Preludium orchestra, directed by Erin Archer. Her cool sister Megan Tipton will be conducting one of the pieces. Katie Hutchinson’s Philharmonia will present selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Wired by Lauren Bernofsky. Kathy Hart-Reilly will lead her Sinfonia ensemble through music of Yukiko Nishimura, Beethoven and J.C. Bach. Wesley Baldwin’s Youth Chamber Orchestra will be focusing on music of Scandinavia, with Arvo Pärt and Carl Nielsen in the spotlight. The Youth Orchestra proper will close with a Suppé Overture (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, with cello solo by Daniel Hong), and the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s 3rd symphony. A big thank you goes out to UT-Battelle for their generous support.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Opening Chamber Classics Concert This Weekend

The 2013-14 KSO season rolls along this week with Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) Wednesday through Friday and Chamber Classics on Sunday afternoon, all under the baton of Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum.

This year’s YPCs have a game show theme. Several orchestra members will try their hand at acting, answering musical questions in games modeled after The Price is Right, Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and Family Feud. Musical selections by Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and many more will be played in a show that is highly interactive. A talented young local pianist, William Crowe, will solo on Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue after a little skit based on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. The shows are geared toward 3rd through 5th grades.

On Sunday, November 3 at 2:30, an Italian-themed Chamber Classics concert will take place at the Bijou Theatre. UT piano professor David Brunell will solo in Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with us, and three works with Italian flavor will be served. Rossini’s exuberant Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri, Respighi’s elegant Ancient Aires and Dances, and Stravinsky’s effervescent Pulcinella: Suite round out the program.

Mention Pulcinella to orchestra musicians and you will hear “Aaaahhh....” It is a quite accessible work, yet still has that unmistakable Stravinsky glint in its eye. Based on music originally thought to be composed by the Italian composer Pergolesi, this suite pulled from a full ballet score is considered to be a harbinger of Stravinsky’s neo-classical style period.

You gain an hour this weekend. Why not spend it at the Bijou?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Classics Galore

The weekend whizzed by and stuff happened that I just totally whiffed on. I hope word got out about these events. Nestled in amongst Knoxville Opera’s Tales of Hoffman performances were a couple of orchestra concerts of note. And by now, a happy trio of violinists and a pianist have delivered some Beethoven to the UT campus.

The Oak Ridge Symphony performed on Saturday night, the 26th, with Maestro Dan Allcott on the podium. Wesley Baldwin, professor of cello at UT, and Wei Tsun Chang, professor of violin at Tennessee Tech., teamed up for Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello, op. 102. Around this centerpiece were arranged Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Schubert’s 2nd, and Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi. Some sweet tunes there.

Sweet tunes Sunday evening also, as hot on the heels of Hoffman was the UT Symphony Orchestra responding with a fine, varied program. Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, Wagner’s Siegfrid Idyll, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and Sibelius’ Finlandia in another orchestra concert conducted by a cellist!

No cellists were harmed in a concert just last night though, wherein KSO violinists Sean Claire, Ilia Steinschneider and Gordon Tsai continued the Beethoven violin sonata cycle in UT’s luscious new Recital Hall. Pianist Kevin Class went the distance with all three blokes for the keyboard victory.

AND the first frost came a little early this year, had to clear out the garden suddenly.

AND the World Series is on.

AND it’s Halloween.


Beethoven Boys!! Left to right: Ilia Steinschneider, Gordon Tsai, Sean Claire, Kevin Class.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Tale of "Tales"

Although he composed a wealth of operettas, songs, ballet and chamber music, Jacques Offenbach’s current fame as a “2-hit wonder” is based on the “Can-can” from the opera Orpheus in the Underworld, and the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman, the Knoxville Opera Company’s current offering (Friday, Oct. 25 at 8:00; Sunday, Oct. 27, 2:30; both at the Tennessee Theatre). Mid-19th-century Paris was crawling with opera and ballet composers; Bizet, Delibes, Massenet, Halévy, Auber, Saint-Saëns, Gounod, etc, so to keep up with all of these composers’ accomplishments is a challenge. I will say, as a cellist, that Offenbach’s output in the area of cello duet repertoire is a vastly underrated and sadly neglected body of work. Hoffman stands out as a mature, robust anomaly; a serious opera from an era when comic opera was the order of the day. Sadly, Offenbach didn’t live to see its premier, which was completed by Ernest Guiraud and Offenbach’s 18-year-old son Auguste.

Soprano Talise Trevigne is featured in multiple roles, returning after her fine portrayal of the title role in Massenet’s Manon in 2011. Her hilarious Doll Song is a harkening back to Offenbach’s opera comique roots, and Ms Trevigne does not disappoint. Tenor Evan Bowers performs the title role, and Boris van Druff (Pirelli from last season’s Sweeney Todd; man, I still can't believe that was only last season) continues his merry pranks with a humorous falsetto aria.

My experience with the several different productions of Hoffman with which I have been involved has been enjoyable, but one particular performance can only be described as “scary as hell.” In the summer of 2005 the Des Moines Metro Opera produced Hoffman at the Simpson College home of that company. KSO violinists Edward and Mary Pulgar were also in the pit for this production.

The Blank Performing Arts Center has a proscenium stage which brings the action out in front of the orchestra, and is connected by two bridges to the main stage, similar to the Clarence Brown Theatre set-up. In this arrangement, some of the action occurs just behind the conductor.In the epilogue, a completely plastered Hoffman careens on stage and lands on a chair that is waiting for him. In this particular performance however, the chair was too close to the conductor, the floor was too slippery, the tenor was too rambunctious in his portrayal of a drunk, whatever. Hoffman slid in the chair, crashing into the wooden wall (bulkhead?) separating the orchestra pit from the proscenium stage, and the wall, weighing about 125 pounds, caved in- right on to conductor Dr. Robert Larson’s head! So while the principal cellist to my left scrambled to push the plywood wall away from the conductor, the show went on without missing a beat, although our hearts certainly did.

We at the KSO and KOC are not hoping for this kind of excitement at our Friday and Sunday productions. The talented cast is providing sufficient thrills, thankyouverymuch.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beauty Is Truth...

Our maestro has hit a home run with his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, In Truth, at the Tennessee Theatre Thursday and last night. Pianist (and the work’s dedicatee) Jeffrey Beigel, in his fifth appearance with the KSO, gave a splendid performance of the work. A year and a half in the works, In Truth’s three movements represent expressions of truth as pertains to being true to one’s self, true to the world, and true to one’s spirit. The first movement is declamatory yet melodic, bringing to mind the pacing of Rachmaninov’s concerti. The middle movement uses asymmetric ostinati (repeated rhythmic figures) and some high-octane ragtime to bring its points across. The finale is patiently lyrical and in the end recalls the first movement’s themes to complete a circle of truth.

In Truth is approachable from both the musicians’ and the audience’s standpoints. Appearing on our stands just seven days ago, the music was challenging but intriguing. Only minor dynamic adjustments were necessary in rehearsals to create balanced voicings of Maestro Richman’s sonic dreams. The audience reactions both nights were enthusiastic and genuine. As the work is performed by more and more orchestras beyond the member groups in the consortium of orchestras that commissioned the work, it seems clear that In Truth will “get some legs,” (to quote the maestro), and easily find its way into the music folders of musicians and the ears of listeners.

I will never forget the look on Maestro Richman’s face at the end of the first movement on Thursday night. Words like joy, marvel and fulfillment all fall short of describing the glow on his face from having heard his efforts come to fruition. In the future I will think fondly back at these two nights, and that look of contented achievement will stay with me forever.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Train of Thought

We hear train whistles all the time. There’s a level crossing about 4 blocks away from our house, and each train’s unique blast sounds a chord that could be plotted on a piece of music paper. The Concertmaster Series shows have been known to be graced by a train whistle once in a while. As often as I can, I notice the “spelling” of the chords, as if to plot the “Norfolk Southern progression.”

Samuel Barber’s overture to The School for Scandal starts with a funky D Major chord with an added sharp 5. I don’t know how to explain this other than to say play these notes simultaneously on a piano: D, F#, A and B♭. There’s a train that comes through every couple months that blows this exact chord, it’s uncanny. I’ve been waiting for years to play the Barber just because it’s a gorgeous, clever, uplifting piece, and I will get my wish this Thursday and Friday at 7:30.

There’s a Beatles song entitled I Want to Tell You, it features some of the most out-of-tune harmonies you could ever hope to hear, so laughable that they are charming. At the end of every chorus, they sing “I’ve got tiiiiiiime...” It’s a first-inversion A Major chord, except the C# and the E sort of gravitate towards each other. This is a common whistle-tone chord that I have heard in other cities. When I hear it, I’m thinking “I’ve got time,” unless, of course, it’s the whistle of my train leaving. (This has actually happened to me, in Greenville, SC, where I was catching a train to attend an audition in DC). We won’t actually be performing that song this week, but...

Gershwin’s An American in Paris starts out in the streets of Paris with car horns0p------=0 (I swear, my cat just typed that...) There are three of them that the percussion section wields, loud klaxon horns that have a substantial technical requirement. Squeezing those bulbs is tricky; thank goodness they don’t have to be driving taxis around while they do it. But seriously folks, the Gershwin is a goldmine of rich orchestration and jazzy, feel-good content that will leave you humming its tunes for days.

Lucas Richman’s brand new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth awaits us at rehearsal today like that big huge gift under the Christmas tree that everyone, especially piano soloist Jeffrey Beigel, wants to unwrap. I’ll try to add a few lines about that anon, but this is a pretty busy week and I have a train to catch...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Choral Music Where It All Began

We are preparing for Thursday night’s concert of music by Rheinberger and Haydn at Church Street United Methodist Church. The two works are completely new to me, and I am enjoying the discovery process. The only other work I have played by Rheinberger is his Nonet, which my wife and I performed years ago in a nonet bash at the Pollard Auditorium in Oak Ridge. (There were also nonets by Ludwig Spohr and Bohuslav Martinu). Rheinberger’s music is best described as “almost Brahms, with a dash of Elgar.” I have of course played a lot of Haydn, but never his Theresienmesse. The style of this mass is like that of his Seven Last Words for string quartet, resembling Beethoven (his student!) more than Mozart. The choirs are the Church St. Church’s own choir and the Knoxville Chorale. The soloist in Rheinberger’s Organ Concerto is the church’s own organist, Edie Johnson. Soprano Jami Anderson, mezzo-soprano Lauren Lyles, tenor Alex Ward and bass Daniel Webb are the soloists for the Haydn mass.

Jami Anderson grew up in Knoxville and her father was the choirmaster at Church Street from 1979 to 2008. When she sang her first notes at rehearsal Tuesday night, I realized that her voice had its upbringing here; I could almost hear the walls saying, “so nice to hear you again, Jami!” All of the voices are familiar, or will be soon. Ms Lyles will be appearing in Knoxville Opera’s Tales of Hoffman, coming up later this month. Daniel Webb was featured in this past May’s Chamber Classics concert performing Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles, and Alex Ward portrayed Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd last season.

The church itself is a work of art; tons and tons of Crab Orchard stone, Gothic grandeur and a fine, 1967 Aeolian-Skinner organ. When FDR was en route to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for its dedication in1940, his route took him past Church St. Church, and he is said to have remarked, “That is the most beautiful church I have ever seen.” It was also, almost 80 years ago now, the site of the first concert of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra as we know it today, under the direction of Bertha Walburn Clark.

People pay a lot of money in Europe to tour grand, historic churches that look like this. For a mere $10, you can experience the church AND the music of Haydn and Rheinberger on Thursday night at 7:30.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Kodaly, Strauss and Schubert at Remedy Coffee

The Concertmaster Series has its first installment of the season this week. I am thrilled and blessed to be performing two works this Wednesday and Thursday evenings that are keystones in their respective chamber music genres. The concerts will be at Remedy Coffee in the Old City, 125 W. Jackson Ave., and start at 7:00. There will be a cookies-and-coffee reception following chamber music by Kodály, Richard Strauss and Schubert.

Kodály’s op. 7 Duo for violin and cello has long been on my list of favorite pieces, and Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and I will be performing the 1st movement Allegro serioso, non troppo. What does this tempo marking mean? Seriously allegro? Fast and serious, but not too fast? Or not too serious? The music seems very serious to me, but I suppose that it can be played too fast, hence the non troppo. (Italian for “not too much).”

The work uses the Dorian mode and the pentatonic scale, both elements of the Eastern European folk music that Kodály and Bartok so meticulously catalogued. After the opening theme is stated, an ostinato (repeated rhythmic accompaniment figure) is traded between instruments. I can’t decide whether this figure comes out of nature (could be a birdcall, perhaps an edgy loon?) or technology (could be Morse Code), but it is highly entertaining and serves as a rhythmic basis for the pyrotechnics that follow.

My go-to recording of the piece is of cellist Janos Starker and violinist Josef Gingold, which I recorded off the radio in college, back when lps were used at classical radio stations. So despite static from bad reception, scratches from the record they were broadcasting, and tape hiss from my tape sitting for decades in a shoebox, Maxell tape once again proves immortal.

Gabe and pianist Kevin Class will combine on Richard Strauss’ op.18 Sonata for Violin and Piano in E♭. This is early Strauss, think the first Horn Concerto and the Cello Sonata and you’re on the right track. E♭is a heroic key shared by both of Strauss’ horn concerti and his tone poem, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). Gabe will get to play the role of the Strauss hero this time, as the Heldenleben violin solos, which were programmed on Gabe’s audition concert, are actually a musical representation of the hero’s love interest. (Although I must say that Gabe’s performance of them was nothing less than heroic).

This work from 1887 and the Schubert Piano Trio in B♭ from 1828 stand at opposite ends of the Romantic Era. What a long strange trip it had been. There isn’t much to say about the Schubert that hasn’t already been said by much smarter people than me, except that if you liked his Trio in E♭ which was performed in the spring of 2012 at the Bijou, you will like this trio even more. Words about the Schubert B♭ can best be found on a sampler on our music room wall that my sister gave us:

                For heights and depths no words can reach,
                music is the soul’s own speech.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thinking Outside of the Vols

More food for your orchestral music hunger will be served at the UT Symphony Orchestra’s “Introducing...” concert, this Sunday, Sept.29, at 4:00. Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, which is chock-full of cello-y goodness, will be the main course of the program, with Verdi’s Triumphal March from Aïda and Wagner’s Prelude to der Meistersinger will also be on the menu. KSO Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will be the chef, and the Cox Auditorium in UT’s Alumni Memorial Building will be the venue.

Speaking of UT, KSO violist Hillary Herndon will be giving a faculty viola recital at the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall in the new Music Building on campus. This recital is TONIGHT at 6:00. Don’t miss it, she is performing Luise Adolpha le Beau's Polonaise, Brahms' F-minor Sonata, a Sonata by Sergei Vasilenko (a contemporary of Rachmaninov), and Astor Piazzola’s Le Grande Tango. Hillary will collaborate with pianist Jennifer Muñiz.

Both the UT Symphony concert and viola recital are free of charge.


It seems I have company (among KSO members) who write about music. There was a very fine interview done by our keyboardist, Carol Zinavage, of concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz in the September 9th issue of The Shopper News, a local free weekly newspaper. Although the next issue of Shopper News has probably already hit the newsstands, the article can still be viewed online. The special insert, “New York to Knoxville,” has not one but two contributions by Carol, the other being a look at some hidden New York treasures. Way to go, Carol! I would also like to add that the famous "Red Shoes" photos of Gabe were snapped by Jean-Philippe Cypres, who, in addition to being an innovative photographer, is a fine harmonica (aka harp) player with whom I have collaborated many times in the Johnson Swingtet.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Today's schedule:

The classical music scene keeps on keepin' on this weekend with two events this evening that involve many KSO players.

First, at 3:00 the Oak Ridge Symphony will perform a free Family Concert at the Oak Ridge High School Performing Arts Center. The concert will be train-themed, and will feature violist Jenna Walters in J.C. Bach's Concerto for Viola. Jenna is a high school student of KSO violist Hillary Herndon. Also on the concert will be Eduard Strauss' Bahn frei polka and music from Thomas the Tank Engine and Polar Express.

The first installment of a complete cycle of Beethoven's violin sonatas will happen tonight at 8:00 at UT's new Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall in the Haslam Music Center on campus. KSO violinists Sean Claire, Sara Matayoshi and Ruth Bacon will perform 4 of Beethoven's revered violin/piano works, with Kevin Class at the piano. I thought it would be ironic if Beethoven's Spring Sonata would be performed on this first day of autumn, but alas, that will happen on a subsequent date. This concert is free and promises dynamic performances by Sean (op. 12, no. 1 and op.30, no. 1), Sara (op. 30, no. 3) and Ruth (op. 23).

So your day will proceed as follows: Attend EITHER the HOLA Hora Latina Festival on Market Square (this was postponed yesterday due to rain, it'll be held from 12-5 today) OR stop in at the Greek Fest in Sequoyah Hills (12-6), (or both?! Hmmm...) head to Oak Ridge for the “All Aboard!” concert, then land on campus for the Beethovens.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Opening Night: A Well-Rounded Musical Meal

Ahh, here we are on the eve of opening night with the KSO. On our stands is an eclectic program that really works. Sometimes a concert succeeds, not on the strength of one big blockbuster monsterwork, but with a nice mix of styles and colors, and for that, I am psyched about Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

There are two works on the concert that are new to me. Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek's 1894 Overture to Donna Diana and Richard Wagner's Overture to Rienzi bookend the show. The Reznicek is a punchy, perky, quirky little gem that qualifies as a “one-hit wonder.” Reznicek was a smart-aleck friend of Richard Strauss, and his compositional response to Strauss' Ein Heldenleben was a tone poem entitled Schlemihl. Wagner was a forerunner of Strauss, and his overture to the 1842 opera Rienzi is a grand ending to a really grand show.

The Háry János-Suite by Zoltán Kodály is a colorful, exotic, lyrical masterpiece by an extremely under-appreciated composer. Overall, Kodaly's musical lexicon is located somewhere between Manuel de Falla and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Simply put (from a musical language standpoint), if you like Carmina, you'll like Háry. Our performance will include the cimbalom, an Eastern European hammered dulcimer that is a striking addition (no pun intended) to the soundscape of the orchestra. There are a couple movements without strings; it's always nice when the “wire choir” gets a break, but woe betide the poor string player that doesn't see the word “tacet” at the top of the page. The third movement is entitled Song. Don't let that simple title fool you, this is as beautiful as orchestral music gets, and I'm pretty sure the Moody Blues were under the influence of Kodály when they wrote Knights in White Satin. The fifth movement Intermezzo is famous for its introductory “orchestral sneeze.”

There's tons of folklore about sneezing, that it validates a truth that was just spoken. Depending on who you ask, the lore is of Flemish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Roman, Egyptian, Greek or Russian origin, but “sneezing on the truth” is a fact of life in many cultures. I sneeze every time I walk into a liquor store, but I digress. In orchestral music, the sneeze works better before the statement is made. Other composers used this device, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony starts with two such sternutations, as does the finale of his 7th. The one at the beginning of Stravinsky's Infernal Dance of King Katschei from the Firebird Suite is probably the most violent sneeze ever; it startles even those playing it.

Speaking of Beethoven, he's going to be there on Thursday and Friday night, too. The Eroica Trio will be playing with us, and this will be a treat. In particular, the solo cello part to the Beethoven “Triple Concerto” is some of the most demanding writing for both the player and the instrument; you will not be disappointed.

Concertgoers should know that Clinch Avenue, the street that runs past the north end of the Tennessee Theatre, is closed to vehicular traffic, but still open to pedestrians. Don't be daunted by the scaffolding next to the building, there is  safe passage on either side of the street, but don't expect to drive through it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How a Buzz Led me to See What the "Buzz" Was All About

It's a scary situation in a string player's life when the instrument buzzes. Just the words “bass-bar crack” send violinists' and cellists' blood pressure soaring. I don't know how it happened, but my “good” cello, “Brigitte,” caught a bad buzz at the beginning of the summer. I tried to wait it out, thinking that the humidity might help squelch the buzz, but no. Every F# I play still sounds like a snare drum or kazoo. So, it's time to visit the “cello whisperer.” In its absence, what I am left with is this machine-made “beater” instrument that really doesn't belong on the Masterworks stage. An untenable situation.

Enter James Fellenbaum. Our resident conductor also happens to be a cellist. (You heard him if you attended the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Classics concert from January, 2012, when we last performed Bach's 6th Brandenburg Concerto). So, remembering this instrument, and with my fingers crossed that he wouldn't be needing it, I took a bold step and laid bare my soul before him, and he was generous enough to allow me to borrow it for the next month or so. It's a departure for me, to play on an instrument that is younger than I, “(Birgitte” was ALLEGEDLY built around 1800 in England), but I look forward to teaching his instrument some new tunes. (Jim allowed that he had played the Kodaly Duo in college, so the instrument already “knows” that work. Gabe Lefkowitz and I will be playing a movement from it on the Concertmaster Series early next month.).

I arranged to meet Jim at the UT music building to pick his cello up yesterday, and on the way there it dawned on me that this is not just “the UT Music Building,” but the BRAND SPANKING NEW, Natalie Haslam Music Building. It still has that “new Music Building smell,” and luckily a class was just letting out and I was able to get a glimpse inside the recital hall. Here are a few snapshots of the interior of the building.

Main Lobby

Here are front and rear of the Recital Hall

I though these translucent stairs were way cool.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Music in Bloom at Ijams

The 78th season of the Knoxville Symphony starts off tonight with the annual Ijams Nature Center benefit. The lawn of “Knoxville's most natural place” will be filled with Ijams' benefactors and the sounds of Mozart, Rossini, and Sousa, among others. Noted Nashville singer-songwriter LoganBrill will be gracing our stage with renditions of her songs and La vie en rose, the tune which put Edith Piaf on the map. A Knoxville native, Logan Brill belongs to a Nashville songwriting posse called Carnival Music. Her voice evokes Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow, and her album Walking Wires is due to be released October 15th. Interesting to me, alone, (perhaps) is that she is the niece of a classmate of mine from the Hartt School of Music. The weather for these concerts has been perfect every time, I see no reason why it shouldn't also be perfect today.

This production at Ijams has been, traditionally, the herald of the new season. Everyone has stories of their summer, there are new faces to get to know, and the string players have a fun time playing “moth tennis” with their bows. (The stand lights attract the bugs and divert them a way from our faces). The list of featured guests at the Ijams concert over the years reads like a “who's who” of movers and shakers in the Knoxville community, whose varying degree of talent has been a source of much amusement. Former Mayor Victor Ashe once did battle with the triangle in a Strauss waltz, Senator Lamar Alexander played some wonderful old-time country tunes on the piano, Vols sportscaster Bob Kesling beautifully performed a Vivaldi cello sonata, etc. The trend lately has been to feature talent from Knoxville's rich music scene, such as Christa DeCicco (from Christabel and the Jons), jazz singer Kelle Jolly last season, and Ms Brill this year. Tickets are available through the Ijams Nature Center.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Kids in Town...

There are new family members in the KSO. July auditions provided new second and fourth horns, and principal bassoon. Previous to that, our new principal trumpet was chosen from 30-odd applicants; you’ve heard Philip Chase Hawkins if you attended the 4th of July concert, leading the brass through the rain in an 1812 Overture that made us forget about the weather.

Our new principal bassoonist is Aaron Apaza, and he comes to us via Interlochen, UPenn, The Curtis Institute and Yale University, where Ellen Connors, our principal bassoonist from 2009-2012, also studied with Frank Morelli.

Our new permanent 4th horn is Sean Donovan, who hails from Murphreesboro, TN. He attended MTSU and UMKC, and is currently on the faculty at MTSU.

The correct term for referring to a player of this instrument is “horn player,” although “hornist” is a somewhat distant second in acceptability. When I type “hornist,” a red squiggly line appears under it, so I’m just going to say “horn player.” I have a problem with calling a person a “horn.”

For the 2013-14 season our 2nd hornist will be Gray Ferris, who studied at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Arizona. (My mom went to UNH, just after the war. She didn’t play horn, though). This season, Gray will be handling the duties of our usual second horn player, Jennifer Crake Roche, who will be taking a year off, because.......

she has given birth to a new baby girl!!! Jacqueline Marie Roche, the youngest symphony member, was born on August 23rd, to Jen and hubby Sam. Congratulations!!!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013-2014 Masterworks Preview Part III

As you remember from our last episode, we had just celebrated Bach's birthday by performing all of his Brandenburg Concerti over two nights in March. When the smoke from all 329 of those candles clears, we will be left with just two months left in the season.

On April 24th and 25th, 2014, a trip to Scandinavia will be happening. We will musically travel to Denmark, where the Overture and Cockerel's Dance from Carl Nielsen's opera Maskarade originated. Pianist Andrew Staupe will perform the ever-popular Piano Concerto of Edvard Grieg, Norway's finest composer. We will close with Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, a lesser-known but rich entry from Finland's symphonic native son.

May's finale, on the 15th and 16th, holds music by Beethoven and Shostakovich. The Fidelio Overture of Beethoven starts things off, followed by his Piano Concerto No. 4, with soloist Spencer Myer at the keyboard. I don't know if I've ever told you this, but the Beethoven 4th is a “desert island” piece for me; of the five Beethoven piano concerti, I find it to be the most soulful and the most quirky, especially the responsorial middle movement. As infrequently as I have played it, I'm beginning to think of it as a “dessert island” piece.

The grand finale to the season will be Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10. Yet again, a work that only has a number to identify it, but it oozes true Russian soul which permeates so much of Shostakovich's defiant music. A highlight of this first symphony after his denouncing the communist party is the second movement Scherzo, a powerful maelstrom of a work which is a “musical portrait of Josef Stalin.”

All shows start at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two Great Awards

There is news of high achievement and good fortune recently in KSO management. Our fearless Executive Director, Rachel Ford, was named one of six YWCA Tribute to Women Honorees. Such honorees are chosen from area businesswomen who are outstanding in their field and an inspiration to those around them, by an independent, out-of-town panel of judges. We knew all along the caliber of woman that we had running our show here at the KSO, but now there is undisputed proof and recognition of the quality work she has been doing here for several years. Way to go, Rachel!

A major part of that work is fundraising, and some major funds have recently risen. A grant by the Aslan Foundation to the tune of $1,000,000 has come our way, and will be used over a five-year period to establish the KSO's Woodwind Quintet as “core musicians,” to fund the Chamber Classics series, and to bolster ticket revenue for the Masterworks and Chamber Classics. For many years, the talk was that the Woodwind Quintet would become a core group of the KSO (just as there is a group of core strings), and now that day is finally here. The Aslan Foundation was founded in 1994 by Lindsay Young, for whom the downtown branch of the YMCA is named, and is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural beauty, assets and history of Knox County.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Added Chamber Music Concert

In a business where downsizing and even capsizing seem to be the rule rather than the exception, it is refreshing to know that the KSO has been compelled to add a concert to its schedule. The popular new Concertmaster Recital Series has spilled over to a fourth show. Although some call this the "Remedy Coffee concert series," because of the venue where the concerts are held, this added show will happen in the Great Hall of the Knoxville Museum of Art. There will be only one performance (instead of the customary pair), on May 1, 2014 at 7:00.

The concert will take place in conjunction with the KMA's installation of a massive work by glass sculptor Richard Jolley. The concert will include music by Sarasate, Rachmaninov and Dvorak. ("What!? No Philip Glass?" you may ask). Tickets will go on sale August 19 and will be $25.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Composers With Funny Names

As if Dvorak, Chopin and Puccini’s names didn’t already provide enough fodder for jokes, here are a few names that should tantalize your sense of humor.

 Arthur Frackenpohl (b.1924). I don’t know much about Mr. Frackenpohl, and neither does Wikipedia, but his Concertino for Tuba is a staple in the solo tuba literature. He is Professor Emeritus at SUNY, Potsdam, having studied with Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. The All Music website has a lot more information about his compositions, which are quite varied in their instrumentation.

Václav Nelhýbel’s (1919-1996, pronounced “Nellie-bell”) name caught my eye in junior high school, when our school orchestra delved into one of his many student orchestra compositions, imaginatively entitled Music for Orchestra. A Czech-American composer, his life’s work seems to be invested as much in the scholarly investigation of compositional techniques as in actual composition.

Claude Balbastre (1724-1799), keyboard composer from Dijon, France. I am not going to give a pronunciation hint here, the constraints of polite company dictate as much. Use your imagination. Balbastre's fame was so great that the archbishop of Paris had to forbid him to play at Saint Roch during some of the services, because the churches were overcrowded when Balbastre played.

Balbastre. Guess he played lute also.

Marcel Bitsch (1921-2011, pronounced “Beesh).” Another Frenchman, he composed for just about every wind instrument there is. His Études are so melodious that they are sometimes performed as concert-pieces, and they are often studied by instruments other than those for which they are written.

Otar Taktakishvili (1924-1989, pronounced “Tock-ta-quiche-vee-lee”) was a Georgian composer, best known outside Georgia for his Sonata for Flute and Piano. While still a student at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, he penned the official anthem of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. I hope I don’t need to mention that Tbilisi is not a suburb of Atlanta.

Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was arguably the most famous Polish composer after Chopin. His impromptu piano-duo concerts with fellow Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski in the Warsaw ghetto were undoubtedly welcome morsels of joy in that war-ravaged city. He had a very full musical life, about which Wikipedia provides a wealth of information that makes for fascinating reading. He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991.

Panufnik and Lutoslawski in 1990

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) was a Viennese contemporary and friend of both Haydn and Mozart, often playing quartets with them, and in those days considered an equally gifted composer. His concerti for viola and double bass are still standard repertoire pieces.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013-2014 Masterworks Preview Part II

After an undoubtedly well-deserved Christmas break, the KSO Masterworks series will fire back up again on January 16th and 17th  with a crowd-pleasing program of music by Mozart, Tchaikovski and Johann Strauss. Guest conductor Sean Newhouse will sandwich Strauss’ Overture to Die Fledermaus and the Emperor Waltzes around Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and Tchaikovski’s Suite from  Sleeping Beauty. The piano soloist for the Mozart will be Louis Schwizgebel.

February’s offerings, on the 20th and 21st, will be our choral concerts, with Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service topping the bill. This musical celebration of the Jewish Saturday morning service was written in, and inspired by, the Alps of Bloch’s native Switzerland on the eve of World War II, in a musical language somewhere between Moussorgsky and Vaughan Williams. Preceding the Bloch will be Richard Yardumian’s Veni, Sancte Spiritus and Paul Hovhaness’ 2nd Symphony, Mysterious Mountain. Although all three of these works were written in a 25-year span of the mid-20th century, there is a common thread of ethereal, gothic beauty which will transcend their composers’ relative obscurity and warm up cold February nights.

What better way to ring in Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday than to bring ALL SIX of his Brandenburg Concerti to the Tennessee Theatre stage! Over a 2-night period, March 20th (# 4, 3, and 1) and his actual birthday, the 21st (# 2, 6 and 5), the KSO will participate in a special Baroque edition of March Madness. Each Brandenburg Concerto has its own special orchestration and soloist configuration, and compositionally they are the quintessential Concerti Grossi which were so often imitated but never equalled. The famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and the Partita No. 2 and Chaconne, both orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, will launch the concert both nights.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In Memory of a Former Leader

I was on Facebook yesterday, scrolling through the day’s postings, when I noticed an item about a cyclist who had suffered a fatal heart attack in the middle of a bicycle race, in the first leg of the 3-day Courage Classic near Vail, CO. I thought to myself, “what a shame,” but as more and more musicians that I knew to be local “shared” this story, it became clear that this was not only someone I knew, but someone who meant a lot to the Knoxville Symphony.

William “Rick” Lester was the KSO’s General Manager in the mid-90's, following Connie Harrison’s and preceding Mark Hanson’s tenure. As a part-time GM, splitting his time among the KSO and several other consultancies, he turned around a financially foundering KSO with bottom-line-based strategies that weren’t always popular due to their austerity. The rapidly evolving music scene in Knoxville and the rising tide of alternative music sources (the internet) demanded new methods for selling the KSO’s product, and Rick was not afraid to make bold changes. His conservative leadership was one link in the chain that has kept the KSO in business while many other orchestras faltered or went completely under.

Here is a link to the story on the (Colorado Springs) Gazette’s online obituaries. For a more in-depth look at KSO events under Lester’s watch, here is a link to a 1997 Weekly Wire online newsletter. It is unfortunate that some will focus on the way he died, losing track of the true tragedy of his passing. We in Knoxville remember and mourn, and are thankful for his work here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sit or Stand?

It invariably comes up when I am talking to a concert-goer, the question of why the cellists do not stand up while playing the Star-Spangled Banner. Although I have never been accused of being an anarchist because of this, I am sure some people must wonder if the cellists as a team are protesting something.

It varies from orchestra to orchestra, but from a very unscientific poll I took on Facebook (I have about 150 friends who play orchestral instruments), the consensus is that the cellos sit to play, as this is the way that the instrument should be played. Some opined that it is respectful to the flag to perform in the most technically correct way possible, in order to serve the music to the utmost. In some orchestras NOBODY stands, since if one section must sit, then all should. No one in this poll admitted that the cellists stood up for the Banner, and no one believed that we should.

I have been known to play standing up. When I played in-school concerts, we often featured something called the “Fugue Game.” We would perform a Mozart fugue, from the “Easy Mozart” quartet book, and a quarter of the kids in the room would be assigned to each quartet member. When your player played the fugue subject (theme), (s)he would stand up. The game was to count the number of times your player would stand up, and although it was mayhem sometimes, it was always a lot of fun. Sometimes we would throw them a curveball and stand up and stretch during a rest, then we would have to warn them that we had to stand up AND PLAY. Since this was all in fun, sacrificing a little technical correctness was "good for the game," but the Star-Spangled Banner is not child’s play.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Blog About Blogs

It’s been a couple of years since I linked to some other bloggers, yet I am no more savvy about the blogosphere than when I started doing this. Tonight, somehow, I am sharing a few more and although they aren’t specifically symphonic music-related, they are interesting and amazing enough that they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Violist Julie Goodale and I met while playing in the Lake George Opera Festival orchestra in 1995. The orchestra was comprised of players from many states, but mostly free-lancers from Boston, Philly and New York, which is where Julie is from. For several summers in a row she would regale us with tales of treks on the highest peaks in the world, and of marathon runs. I wasn’t aware early on that she was a breast cancer survivor, but when I learned that, my mind just boggled. Her website, Life-Cise, and her blog, Fitness for Survivors, give profound insight into the world of someone who is not merely a survivor but a fitness pacesetter who makes the average “fitness nut” look like a couch potato.

Kimberly Simpkins is a KSO violinist who left town a few years ago, but has returned to pursue a degree at UT. The ins and outs of her life in music and parenthood are detailed in her blog, Mining for Diamonds.

An event that is probably not unique to Knoxville happens every June 7th, rain or shine (rain this year). It’s the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash, and this year I had the pleasure of performing on the Market Square stage with Norwegian Wood, a Beatles cover band. Sharing the stage with me were Ayca Yayman, (KSO second oboist), cellist Alexia Pantanizopolis, accordionist Tres Dogherty “(Tres Dog)”and violinist Seth Hopper. It was challenging, to do Dylan’s music, because his tunes often are more spoken than sung, sort of a folk-sprechstimme. Not great for an instrumental band, but we found some tunes that worked. A song that would definitely not have worked was Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. Someone has co-opted that song title and named their blog after it, Stuck Inside of Knoxville with the Urban Blues Again. Anything that happens in downtown Knoxville, and I mean anything, is recounted in this every-other-day blog that has won the MetroPulse Best of Knoxville 2013 award for local blogs. Some very timely documentation of the burgeoning downtown Knoxville scene can be found here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013-2014 season preview part 1

As summer finally dries out, I anticipate the 2013-14 season like a gardener anticipates the arrival of seeds that he has just ordered from a catalog. It will be my 27th season with the KSO. In dog years, it would be my 182nd. As is the case perennially, there is something on every concert that especially tickles my fancy, whether it be a work I am experiencing for the first time, something I haven’t played in years, or something I wish I could play every year.

In September, we are offering the Beethoven Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano with the Eroica Trio as guests. Those who have been here for a while will remember their appearance with us in the 1995-96 season (I think). It was a wonderful performance, although unfortunately what many remember is the fact that the pianist broke a heel as she walked on stage. Sigh. Those September 19 and 20 concerts will close with Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite. Kodály’s name is a departure for some to pronounce, (simply put, it’s “co-die”) but his music is “to-die” for; infinitely accessible gypsy-tinged impressionism. Háry János is his best-known orchestral work and features the cimbalom (pictured below), an eastern European hammered dulcimer that will be right out front on stage.

On October 17 and 18 we will hear Lucas Richman’s spanking-new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth with pianist Jeffrey Biegel (pronounced “beagle”). The work will be bookended by three staples of the 20th century American literature: Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal, Ferde Grofé’s Mississippi Suite, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris. I cannot say enough about the Barber overture; it is clever, bubbly and beautiful, but I will warn you that the Adagio for Strings it ain’t. The Grofé work was one of my first exposures to classical music; I eagerly await the revelation of what I was missing because my parents’ LP had so many skips in it.

In November, when it will undoubtedly be rainy again, we will welcome Lara St. John back to our stage to bring the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D to life. This sunny all-Mozart show will also feature the Overture to Idomeneo (“Ee-doe-men-A-O”), A Musical Joke, and the Symphony No. 31 (Paris). This pair of Masterworks will occur on November 14 and 15. All shows are at the Tennessee Theatre and start at 7:30.

Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

100 Percent Chance of the Spirit of 1776

I had the good fortune of performing at this year’s Rossini Festival, which happened on a rainy day in downtown Knoxville. The rain wasn’t the source of the good fortune, of course, rather it was witnessing the spirit of those who braved the wet to see our performance. Aside from the extension cord plug (for the PA system) falling into a puddle and shorting out after every other song, the performance really went well. Advice I was given to always keep a towel in my gig bag paid off. At another Rossini Festival, 2009, I believe, one of my bands played just prior to Keith Brown’s UT Jazz group. The jazzers had to cancel their show because there was a TORNADO WARNING. Rain has also accompanied the KSO on some of our outdoor concerts in Maryville and Morristown, but it did not deter very many people from attending.

I’m not even sure what will happen if it rains so hard that we can’t play. I remember, about 4 years ago, in the middle of the concert on the 4th, a big ol’ storm rolled in and we had to evacuate to the Knoxville Convention Center for about an hour while the storm passed. But when the clouds and rain cleared, there was a fine fireworks display and the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture brought the house down, so to speak.

People pay hundreds of dollars to attend Bonnaroo and hear toxically loud music in the rain and mud. (And I bet they didn’t even play Rocky Top)! The smart money (which is to say, NO money- it’s a free concert) is on the KSO’s 29th annual Independence Day concert, starting at 8:00 at the World’s Fair Park South Lawn. Soprano (and KSO Director of Education and Community Partnerships) will sing music of Irving Berlin, Alfred Reed and Marvin Hamlisch, and several marches will raise the spirit. And trust me, hearing Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s Pioneer Dances will be the most pleasant musical surprise you have had in a while.

Bring an umbrella. And a raincoat. Because it did more than rain at Valley Forge.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two June Events

Finally it feels like summer, so much traveling since the season ended! It’s a day off, the first REAL day off in weeks. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m blogging, but I always have a few minutes to spare y’all.

The KSYO summer Strings Camp was an unqualified success, with a record number of players (213!!) among four different ensembles. Each group prepared and presented a wide variety of music, collaborating on a soul-stirring final concert. KSYO staff Jim Fellenbaum, Erin Archer, Katie Hutchinson, Katie Middleton and Kathy Hart-Reilly each pack twenty pounds of potatoes into a ten-pound bag every day. Thanks to them, a fondness for orchestra playing is deep in the hearts of those kids forever. I have a couple students 
who were absolutely captivated by the whole experience. 


Our hard-working administrative staff has been off in St. Louis, watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs... er, representing the KSO at the League of American Orchestras convention. Executive Director Rachel Ford and Director of Education and Community Partnerships Jennifer Barnett spent June 17-20 in St. Louis with close to 1,000 orchestra professionals, giving presentations and rubbing elbows with fellow “orchestrators” in the STL.

Lots of links to our and other orchestra’s presentations are on the League website; to see Yadier Molina’s home run in the 6th inning at Busch Stadium, here are some photos.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Heart and Soul of Gypsy Music

I believe it is time to begin working on next year’s repertoire, not the least of which is this violin and cello Duo by Zoltán Kodály that concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and I will be playing on October 2 and 3 at Remedy Coffee. It’s a piece I know well but have never performed. I remember witnessing performances of it in college and marveling at the exotic, gypsy-delic musical language and pyrotechnics, and thinking, “how am I, a suburban kid from Connecticut with a cigar-box instrument, going to sound like that)?!

Well, I like to believe that some of that gypsy business has taken root in me over the decades, but in case it hasn’t, something I did recently can only help. This past weekend I have been in Northampton, Mass. at Django in June, a gypsy jazz summit which has happened at Smith College every June for 10 years now. My affinity for and participation in this genre is fairly recent (about 8 years), but I made a splash in the gypsy jazz community this weekend and held my own with some scarily talented artists. What’s more, the source of the gypsy-flavored writing in Kodály’s Duo revealed itself to me in the person of one Tcha Limberger, a blind guitarist/violinist/vocalist whose every move embodied the spirit of gypsy music.

Since Django Reinhardt was a guitarist, there were a predominance of guitarists in attendance, but violins, mandolins, basses, and accordions were also there. An ensemble of 10 accordionists was one of the highlights of my experience there, as well as multiple groups of musicians jamming on the lawn and in various rooms on the Smith campus. I could go on and on about this; how it was somewhat of a homecoming for me, (although I went to nearby UMass-Amherst, my wife Helen went to Smith and the quartet we played in practically lived at Smith), and how Knoxville was one of the most-represented cities at the camp, but suffice it to say that I wished I didn’t have to leave and I am now charged up with new ways to tackle the playing of the Kodály.

Here are some videos of Tcha Limberger playing various gypsy instruments. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pops to Die For

The 2013-14 KSO Pops line-up is gonna be something to behold. A wide variety of acts that will make it very difficult for me to keep my eye on the conductor. My orchestra conductor in undergrad, Charles Bruck, said that with one eye you watch the conductor and the other you watch the music, but I am going to have to grow a third eye somehow, maestro Bruck.

Starting on January 11, I Can’t Wait for the music of ABBA as performed by Arrival. This Swedish quartet is in constant demand, bringing hits like SOS, Waterloo, Fernando and Knowing Me, Knowing You to life. OH YEAH, and Dancing Queen. I remember as a middle-schooler the big splash ABBA made on the Pop scene, putting Sweden on the Anglophile musical map- along with Blue Swede. At the height of their success, ABBA was second only to Volvo as Sweden’s top export earners.

In the Valentine’s season, Feb. 8, I Can’t Wait for Dancing and Romance to bring a swing revue a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the Civic Auditorium with Kirby Ward and Joan Hess. Mr. Ward has a lot of irons in the fire. As an actor, he has been seen on General Hospital, Law and Order/SVU, and PBS’ One Good Turn.  I am hoping he can recreate the “chair walk.” Joan Hess will bring her many talents as well; she was Tanya in Mamma Mia on Broadway and Jessica on Flight of the Conchords.

I have always enjoyed The Indigo Girls’ soulful folk music (soulk?) The song Hammer and a Nail contains one of my favorite motivating lyrics ever; “don’t you know a refuge never grows/from a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose.” Their vocal chemistry is straight from the vine.  I Can’t Wait for them to take our Civic Auditorium stage March 15, 2014 at 8:00.

If you have any breath left to take away, I Can’t Wait for Cirque de la Symphonie to take it in a return engagement on May 10 that should not be missed, need I say more? Graceful, death-defying, dazzling, insert adjective here.

Why wait?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

KSYO Strings Camp... And Viola Righteousness

Hoo-wee!! I thought I was on vacation, but boy, nothing could be further from the truth. All of my students are continuing to study through the summer, my bands are evolving like never before, (check out Norwegian Wood, with oboist Ayca Yayman and I at the 9th annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash on Market Square, Friday, June 7th at 5:30) and weddings and such are coming out of the woodwork. I will be attending a gypsy jazz workshop at Smith College (my wife Helen’s alma mater!) in a couple weeks, a “giant step” for me and my gypsy jazz colleagues here in town.

There is of course, the July 4th concert in about a month, but it’s a mistake to think that that is all there is going on at Symphony HQ. Coming up June 17-21 is the KYSO String Camp, held at Bearden High. The final concert for that will be on the 21st at 2:30. I have a few students who will be taking part in this fine program, and they are psyched! It is still not too late to sign up your young Casals, Heifetz, or Kashkashian, but it WILL be too late on Saturday. A link to all the necessary info is HERE.

Did you think I was being cheeky? No, notice I didn’t say “Kardashian.” Back in February, at the Grammys, violist Kim Kashkashian received a Grammy in the category of “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for her recording of viola music by Hungarian composers  Kurtag and  Ligeti. You can imagine the confusion among Grammy fans who may have thought that Kim Kardashian had embarked on a second career. A force in the viola world for more than three decades, Ms Kashkashian’s name is THE first to come to mind of people in the know when considering the pinnacle of modern viola achievement, up there with Casals and Heifetz on their respective instruments. If you Google “Kashkashian Grammy,” you will find a bevy of articles with painful misspellings and ditziness, written by people who really just should not have gotten out of bed the day they wrote them. One brief article, posted by Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR, includes a picture of Kim that shows the ubiquitous “chinrest hicky,” omg, definatly not something Kim Kardashian would countenance.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Wow. A transforming weekend. (Last weekend) Without going into too many details, since the last entry I’ve been to New England, where our son Thomas received his B.A. in Art History from Middlebury College in Vermont. Moving him from his dorm happened in a driving rain, which started Thursday night and never stopped pouring even as we left on Sunday afternoon. The high temperature while there was 45. I also attended a graveside service in New Hampshire for my Aunt Nell, my dad’s brother’s widow; she was 94. It was 65 years ago Thursday that she and Uncle Earl stood up beside my parents, who are both still up and about and went out to dinner that night. It being Memorial Day, it was appropriate that my parents and Richard and I should visit our ancestor’s graves; my roots run deep in the Granite State.

While waiting FOUR HOURS for a late plane in Charlotte, I had time to flip backwards through my calendar, in hopes of collating a “top ten” list of great moments from this past season. I got to about 7 when our flight was cancelled, at which point there was nothing to do but freak out. But I’ve narrowed it up and so here it goes, in no particular order.

6. Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the “deep end” of the January Chamber Classics concert, featuring principal horn Jeffrey Whaley and tenor Cody Boling. Deep, rich tonalities from England’s most fertile musical mind.

3. Verdi’s Requiem. Thrilling choral music by one of the masters of drama. “Surround-sound” brass and a cornucopia of wonderful tunes, all with a distinct Italian accent.

8. Dvorak’s Piano Quintet. I had never performed this work until January, at Remedy Coffee with concertmaster Gabe Lefkowicz. It was like a late Christmas present.

4.  Sweeney Todd. It’s hard to believe this was part of the ‘12-‘13 season because it started so long ago- the earliest start to a KSO season ever. Sondheim’s score still scares me.

1. The Rite of Spring. Not much needs to be said here, a tour de force for the orchestra. Although it was my fifth time performing the Rite, the individual performances were the best this time, adding up to a totality that was waaaaay more than the sum of its parts.

2. Principal quartet concert in April. I had only performed the Beethoven op. 95 quartet before; the Debussy, Borodin and Richman works were all new to me. The Debussy especially was a challenge, having heard so many good recordings of it and wondering just how we would put it together. At the end of the day, though, I was just as likely to be humming tunes from Lucas’ work as from the others. Written more than half of his lifetime ago, Movements for String Quartet left me hoping that more quartet music would be forthcoming from him.

9. La fanciulla del west. I enjoyed revisiting Puccini’s strangest opera, having done it almost 30 years ago at Spoleto. There were big giant déjàvus that left me feeling like Buddy Hackett running through the big “W” in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

7. Bernstein’s Candide. This was only a suite from the opera, but it came out of nowhere to win over players and audience members alike who were unfamiliar with it. The overture is just the tip of the iceberg here; Make Our Garden Grow (the closing chorus representing the other end of the iceberg), gets me every time, and Bernstein’s sense of humor carried the show all the way with fine singing by Boris van Druff, Jeff Austin and Karen Nickell.

10. Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Although we hear Korngold’s music (and that of his countless imitators) a lot, it is usually in movies. Here was a work that featured concertmaster Gabe as soloist, and he really knocked it out of the park. The concert finished with Brahms’ 4th, (maestro Richman’s audition piece from ten years ago), inviting reflection on ten great years.

5. The May Chamber Classics featured Within the Quota, music for a ballet by Cole Porter. A somewhat obscure but very charming period piece, some of Porter’s musical effects were just laugh-out-loud funny.