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!!!