Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy (and busy) New Year!!

We sometimes take off during the holidays. Last year’s trip to Florida is still on my mind. I mean, a year ago today I was swimming in the ocean! Previous years’ visits with in-laws in Minneapolis and my parents in New Hampshire were also fun and toughened me up for these nebbishy Tennessee winters. This year is a different story. I’ve got a stack of really sublime music to learn, and the music itself is the trip. With Chamber Orchestra, Concertmaster Series, Pops, Martin Luther King Concert and Tchaikovsky IV all in the space of three weeks, January is going to be a many-splendored thing.

On the second Sunday in January (the 11th at 2:30, Bijou Theatre), things get going with a bang, (and some tooting, too) as the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will present music of Mozart, Stamitz, and Richard Strauss. The Mozart is the Bassoon Concerto and the Stamitz is the Trumpet Concerto. In the Mozart, principal bassoonist Aaron Apaza will be doing the tooting, and in the Stamitz, principal trumpeter Chase Hawkins. (Actually, Stamitz may or may not be the composer of this work, but whoever wrote it knew what they were doing. They really gave a toot. Another possible candidate for authorship of this work is a Bavarian composer named Holzbogen. Shades of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author). ANYway... The show will close with Strauss’ passionate, quirky masterpiece for chamber orchestra, the Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Composed in 1918 to accompany an adaptation of Molière’s 1670 play of the same name, it is "Music for The Theatre," but not a “Theatre Piece.” Substantiating the title of this concert as “Orchestral Soloists,” this work presents a staggering array of solos itself with essentially no two people playing the same part. The final movement has a ginormous cello solo in it, and the polonaise-like 4th movement is all Gabe.

Speaking of Gabe, just a few days later it will be time for the concertmaster series January installment at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Violinist Gordon Tsai, violists Katy Gawne and Eunsoon Corliss, and cellists Ihsan kartal and I will join Gabe Lefkowitz to close the concert with Tchaikovsky's string sextet, Souvenir de Florence. This exciting work has some really neat compositional devices, and there are so many beautiful tunes I just don't know what to do with myself. Actually I do know, I suppose I should go and learn them. The first half of the concert also involves the five of us along with principal bassist Steve Benne playing on Vivaldi's Winter Concerto from the Four Seasons, and then Gabe will perform five movements from Prokofiev's Cinderella Ballet with pianist Kevin Class. This is all music that will make you leap to your feet at the end. Wednesday and Thursday, January 7 and 8, 2015 at 7:00 pm.

Stay tuned for the rest of January...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Two Things (Or Is It Three)?

I’ve had some time off to focus on a couple items that weren’t as time sensitive as the programs we were performing. You’ve probably noticed a couple new faces in the flute and trumpet sections. Joining us on principal flute this year is Nick Johnson. When he was telling me about his training and youth, I just couldn’t believe it, because it SO mirrored my own experiences. He spent his early years around Hartford, attending the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, and its Junior Division before that! He also knew Gabe Lefkowitz in the Boston area, where they both attended the Walnut Hill School in Natick. Most recently though, Nick had been living in California and studying with a major force in the flute world, former LA Philharmonic principal flutist Jim Walker.

Our second trumpet, DJ Creech, has had an entirely different sort of experience, getting his musical development solely in the South. From Dacula, Georgia (pronounced “Da-CUE-la” with an accent on the Q), he has received a Bachelor’s in Music from Georgia State, a Master’s from MTSU (where he knew an old bud of mine from the New Hampshire Music Festival, trombone professor David Loucky), and is currently pursuing a Doctorate at the University of Georgia. I think I got all that straight, the paper on which I wrote all his info down got put away in some cookbook yesterday, I’m afraid.


With Christmas now behind us, the New Year is at the gate waiting to board. It can be a somewhat dormant period for musicians, workwise. It’s a time for musicians who itemize to check off all of the end-of-year financial errands so that tax bills are a little easier to swallow. This includes buying strings, rosin, and replacing that mute you lost in the storm in the Alpine Symphony, getting bows rehaired and instruments adjusted, buying reeds and getting wind and brass instruments cleaned and maintained, tuning pianos, and purchasing music that you will be playing in the coming year. And, for many players, it is a time to give back.

Looking through the November Masterworks program, I counted seven KSO members that contributed to the Annual Fund at the $100-$249 level or higher. The program only lists contributors of $100 or more, but I betcha that at least 15 players gave up to that amount. We’d love to count you among our numbers. Our Executive Director, Rachel Ford, has a heartfelt message here which is worth taking a look at whether or not you make a donation. And now that it's after Christmas, it IS actually sort of time-sensitive

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Putting Some English on the Clayton Concerts

There’s a big old sleigh down at the Civic Auditorium, and the gifts it brings are many. The Go! Contemporary Danceworks, the Webb School’s Madrigal Singers, Church Street United Methodist Church’s Treble Choir, UT’s Herald Trumpets, and of course, the Knoxville Choral Society will all join the KSO in Lucas Richman’s final Clayton Holiday Concert. Such an assemblage of performers is gathering to bringest thou an Olde English Yuletide program for four shows, this Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 pm, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3.

Last year’s Celtic shows were a major success. By tapping the music of another of the British Isles this year, we can see the astonishing difference in the music and tradition of cultures that are just a few hundred miles apart.

It’s always a treat to hear a carol you’ve never heard before, and there are a few for me this year. One selection, Pastime with Good Company, is said to have been written by Henry VIII. Yea, verily, I am pleased to hear both it and ‘Tis the Time of Yuletide Glee, a madrigal by Thomas Morley (a Renaissance composer we studied in Music History class), whose work I had never heard live before. But, soft! Charles Dickens makes his presence felt a couple times, too, via the song I Like Life (from the 1970 film Scrooge) and Alan Menken’s God Bless Us Everyone from the 2004 TV film version of A Christmas Carol.

Although they are not technically “Olde English,” we shall also present music by Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst and John Rutter. Britten’s carol Hodie Christus natus est is set for treble voices and harp; it’s just magical. There’s a lot of magic going on there. Prithee, get thee hence to the Civic this weekend and make merry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Interview with a KSO member from the Days of Bertha Walburn Clark

Kathryn Moore, age 99, is the oldest living former member of the KSO. Under the direction of her teacher and KSO founder, Bertha Walburn Clark, she began lessons at age 8 and unofficially joined the orchestra at age 12. When she was 18 and just graduated from Central High School, Kathryn officially joined the KSO under Bertha's direction (around 1938).

Her total amount of time playing in the KSO was 49 years, under the leadership of at least four music directors. Kathryn's husband, General Hugh Moore passed away during World War II and she never remarried. During her career as an English professor at UT, she continued playing in the Knoxville Symphony. 

A few weeks ago, KSO Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz paid Kathryn a visit. He played several Bach selections for her enjoyment. She was incredulous at how talented he is at the young age of 27. She reflected on the last Concertmaster she played with, Bill Starr. She and Gabe compared their violins, though she admitted hers had not been played in 25 years or more. Gabe asked her permission to play a tune on it, despite its having a broken string, She couldn't believe it still worked, and that "the termites hadn't carried it away." It was a special visit for everyone involved. Here is a brief video of the encounter.

Thanks to Dan McGehee for arranging the visit, and to KSO Director of Communications Rachel Dellinger for taking the pictures and video, and for providing all the "facts and figures."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Weekends of Nutcracker Ballet

The Appalachian Ballet Company will once again (for the 41st year in a row!) dance Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker to the accompaniment of the KSO this weekend in Knoxville and next Saturday in Maryville. Knoxville shows will be THIS Saturday night at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, and Maryville’s shows will be at the Clayton Center at 2:00 and 8:00 NEXT Saturday. There are many new dancers and new choreographies in this year’s production.

The Nutcracker is a time-honored tradition worldwide, and its music is some of Tchaikovsky’s best, although he himself astoundingly was not particularly thrilled with it. Composed to be half of a double-bill with his one-act opera Iolanta, the ballet was not a work of which the composer felt proud, compared to the opera. History has certainly proven him wrong!

We don’t anticipate any technical issues or glitches with the ballet. Other companies have had their share of misfortunes, providing a litany of examples from which to learn. Matthew Carter, Ballet Master of Ballet Nebraska, shared a few on his bio for that company’s website...
Once, in Pennsylvania, the orchestra light blew a fuse during a live performance. I was inside an enormous Nutcracker head during the Battle scene. The orchestra stopped playing, but I didn’t know exactly what had happened at first, since hearing and vision are muffled inside those things! I thought maybe I’d gone deaf or something! I kept going. We completed the Battle scene in silence; the fuse was fixed before the Snow Queen’s entrance, and the dancers saved the day! 
I was also performing in a “cafetorium” (school auditorium/cafeteria) once in California. We had began our Snow pas de deux when M&M’s and french fries started falling on our heads! Apparently the janitor had put the lunch sweepings in the wrong container! It’s hard to remain glamorous in that sort of situation, but we did. 
In another production, I was the Prince sitting with Clara in the throne for Act II. There were little Pages who sat on the throne steps during Act II and departed after the Waltz of the Flowers. One little girl had forgotten to switch her position during the Act, so when she got up to leave her legs had fallen asleep and she couldn’t walk straight. She wobbled, grasped the back drop, and did other crazy movements before the Dew Drop Fairy came back out and helped her off the stage…
Larry Pech, Ballet Master of the San Francisco ballet, also speaks of a near-tragedy in a 1990 Nutcracker production there...
Pech beat lymphoma, but his principal dancer position at the San Francisco Ballet was not waiting for him when he returned. Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson had qualms about hiring a dancer with a compromised spine and instead offered him a job as principal character dancer – a position emphasizing acting and pantomime that is often reserved for a dancer or instructor in his or her 50s or older. Pech, however, was just 30. And a particularly disastrous experience in a 1990 Nutcracker show led him to believe he ought to seek more in life. 
Roughly a year after he'd danced the most challenging parts San Francisco Ballet had to offer, Pech found himself in a student matinee, portraying Herr Drosselmeyer, the magical godfather who presents Clara with the nutcracker. Rather than dancing, his most agile moves were reserved for piloting a golf cart decorated to resemble a massive swan, in which he ferried Clara and the young prince into the land of snow. But then, above the familiar refrains of Tchaikovsky's hypnotic score, Pech heard a series of terrifying cracks.  
He glanced upwards just in time to notice the "two-ton Christmas tree that served as the centerpiece of the set" come loose from its moorings and crash to the ground. The massive evergreen thudded to the stage just behind the golf cart; the resultant shockwaves sent the swan lurching forward and a gust of wind set the orchestra's scores swirling about the theatre. The curtain abruptly fell to the accompaniment of hundreds of mortified children in the audience wailing in horror. Right then and there, Pech made a career choice: "I'll be damned if I overcome cancer and get killed by a Christmas tree." 
He resigned from the ballet shortly thereafter.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Getting Around in December

The KSO is all over town(s) this December, with Storytime concerts continuing, and the KSO Chamber Orchestra traveling “over the river and through the woods” to Concerts in the Community in Harrogate and Dandridge. Since winter decided to start abruptly just before Thanksgiving this year, we’ve all gotten a head start on that “folks dressed up like Eskimos” thing.

This week starts off with the KSO Storytime quartet (Rachel Loseke and Ikuko Koizumi, violins; Bill Pierce, viola; Ihsan Kartal, cello) playing concerts at the Knox County Public Library’s Karns branch on Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 11 am. The theme of this year’s Storytimes is “Boom, Fizz, Read!” and features Eric Carle’s Very Quiet Cricket, Phil Cummings and Nina Rycroft’s Boom Bah, (sounds like the opposite of “very quiet”) and Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root. Geared towards pre-school-age children and their parents, these concerts will be repeated at the Powell, Halls, Norwood, Carter and Cedar Bluff branches through the month of December. Click here to see the complete schedule.

The whole family will enjoy holiday and light classics at the upcoming KSO appearances in Harrogate at Lincoln Memorial University for two shows on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 4:00 and 7:30. Highlights include the Tri-State Community Chorus joining us on works by Rutter and Vivaldi, and KSO principal clarinetist Gary Sperl performing a movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. This concert will be repeated the next evening at the First Baptist Church of Dandridge at 7:00, to my knowledge the KSO’s first ever safari to Dandridge.

Next weekend comes the Nutcracker- stay tuned for more!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We Sail the Ocean Blue

Now that the gales of November have come early, and hopefully gone, we can perhaps have some smooth sailing for the upcoming Knoxville Opera Company’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s nautical comedy H. M. S. Pinafore, coming up this Friday at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Arthur Sullivan serves as one of three English composers of any renown linking the English Baroque of Purcell and Handel (ca. 1700) with late-Romantic bad boys Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, etc. (ca. 1900).  Only the music of William Boyce (1711-1789) and John Field (1782-1837) have had anything resembling staying power on a popularity list, and had you heard of them?  Not that the lot of them otherwise were bad composers, there just hasn’t been much call for them.

Sullivan’s collaborations with dramatist W. S. Gilbert, known as the Savoy Operas for the theatre that would eventually be built to stage them, have had a lasting appeal for their deft mix of silliness and passion.  British and American audiences flocked to see light opera that originated in English, opera that “spoke their language.”  That was my attraction to the music as a child, playing my parents LPs and coming to accept the complex English sentence structure as normal.  Another spin-off from this operetta is this jaw-dropping rewording of I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General by comic singer Tom Lehrer: the entire Table of Elements, as it existed (102 elements) when the song was recorded in 1959.

Included in this production is an aria entitled I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls from the only known Irish opera, The Bohemian Girl by M. W. Balfe. You may have heard this version by Enya; I used to play it for our children at bedtime.  Our soprano, Donata Cucinotta, will not put you to sleep, I assure you.  Titles of numbers in the operetta are actually text cues from the dialogue. There are some unusual ones, such as Kind Captain, I’ve Important information, Sir Joseph’s Barge is Seen, and But Tell Me Who’s the Youth. Maritime slapstick and witty wordplay are all over this production. If you need a good laugh, you’re gonna get it here.

And I know some of are you are curious, so I'll just tell you, free of charge, that the English pop singer Gilbert O'Sullivan was not born with that name. He changed it thereto in 1967 on the advice of his manager, but he was born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


This Thursday and Friday nights it’s the supersized KSO in a blockbuster concert with guest soprano Emily Birsan, at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

Verdi knew how soprani could sound. It is just thrilling to hear his sequence Ah, fors’è lui/Sempre libera  from La traviata from somewhere besides the orchestra pit! So THAT’S how it sounds!? Add to that Puccini’s Oh, mia babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi, Caro nome from Rigoletto, and an orchestral arrangement of Schubert’s “Shepherd on the Rock” courtesy of Karl Reineke, and your dreams of virtuoso soprano singing will come true. Gary Sperl will add a beautiful clarinet obligato to the Schubert, bringing a chamber music classic to a new life on a large stage. Ms. Birsan has a powerful but sweet accuracy to her singing that is breathtaking.

The second half of the program will be a thrilling sonic adventure, the KSO’s first ever performance of Richard Strauss’ final tone poem, “An Alpine Symphony.” Maestro Richman had another Strauss “first” for the KSO with Aus Italien in April of 2004, on the way to a complete cycle of the must-see Strauss tone poems. I am honored to play this work, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the members of the KSO. It features a gi-normous orchestra including a host of brass which the stage can scarcely hold, a wind machine, a heckelphone, tenor tubas, (or “tenah tubers,” as they say in Maine...) AND plenty of cowbells. The script is one hike through the mountains, dawn to dusk. The title “Alpine Symphony” needs not refer exclusively to the Alps– the Smokies, Tetons, Urals, or Andes could easily be called to mind.

This is not the Strauss of the Blue Danube or Die Fledermaus, contemporary with Verdi; that was Johann. Richard Strauss came somewhat later and is unrelated, working around the time of Puccini. A master orchestrator, Richard (pronounced “REE-card”) regales us with musical depictions of waterfalls, pastures, dead-end trails, brambles, and the most intense musical downpour you shall ever experience. While practicing some of these difficult “waterfall” and “cloudburst” passages, I am reminded of what Strauss himself said about them: “when you’re falling down a flight of stairs, you’re bound to miss a couple steps.” If you like brass, you don’t want to miss this, but more importantly, it’s just a FUN piece to play and hear played.

John Muir said it best: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Come climbing with the KSO!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fun with the Youth Orchestras at the Tennessee Theatre

If it’s the second Monday in November, it must be time for ensembles from the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra Association to play at the Tennessee Theatre! More than 300 talented players ranging from elementary to high school age will light up the stage of the Tennessee at 7:00 Monday night. (TONIGHT!) This concert is FREE.

Erin Archer’s ultra-charming Preludium Orchestra will “Make a Joyful Noise” and play some Vivaldi. Nina Missildine will lead the Philharmonia group through music of Sibelius, Yamada and Sieving. (Hmm, so far the conductors are violists...) The Sinfonia Orchestra, under the baton of KSYOA Manager Kathy Hart, will be playing Khatchaturyan’s Sabre Dance, Mike Forbes’ Dance of the Trolls (which depicts trolls in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin), and Mozart’s Overture to the Impresario, arranged by Frackenpohl. You may remember Frackenpohl from my post entitled “Composers with Funny Names” from last summer.

Dr. Wesley Baldwin’s Youth Chamber Orchestra will back up UT Assistant Professor of Clarinet Victor Chavez, soloist in Johann Melchior Molter’s 4th Clarinet Concerto. They group will also play two movements from Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony, which, trust me, ain’t so simple. The final group, the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra, will play Dvorak’s Carnival Overture and the finale from his Symphony From the New World, with James Fellenbaum on the podium.

Speaking of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, here's something intriguing from there-- a Mustard Museum.

And here are a couple of dedicatees for the Forbes Dance of the Trolls...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Norris Dryer, 1943-2014

The Knoxville Symphony and Knoxville in general have lost a great friend and advocate in violinist Norris Dryer, who passed at age 71 on Thursday morning, October 30, after almost three years battling cancer.

Norris lived through a million changes in the KSO, having joined in 1968, late in David Van Vactor’s tenure.  He saw Arpad Joo, Zoltan Rozsnyai and Kirk Trevor all come and go from the podium, and had begun Maestro Richman’s final season.  His KSO experience was threefold:  as a violinist, a board member, and a management team member. He served as personnel manager and, until about three years ago, as audition proctor, the friendly face that every nervous auditionee saw before and after their audition time slot.

Tchaikovsky and especially Mozart were his favorite composers, but when I asked him if he would be interested in playing his violin during his last weeks, he replied that “the last notes I played on my violin were by Brahms, [the 1st Piano Concerto, which closed out the September, 2014 Masterworks concert], and that’s just fine with me.”

Also starting in 1968, he was an announcer and Program Director for WUOT-FM, and a champion of broadcast classical music, which was and still is facing cuts in both airtime and funding.  He had the privilege of interviewing hundreds of guests on Dialogue, part of his afternoon show, ranging from every guest artist the KSO ever engaged during his tenure, to political figures, to athletes. (He said his 1998 interview of Pat Summitt was a most uplifting experience). His challenging Monday Evening Music Quiz was a popular and fun tradition with Knoxville’s listeners, and his eloquent, distinctive voice and musical selections woke thousands of people up via clock-radio on Saturday and Sunday mornings all across East Tennessee.

Upon retiring from WUOT in 2003, he devoted himself to waking people up in a different way – through politics. He ran for Knoxville City Council as a Green Party member, receiving 4,251 votes, 17% of the total tally. Unafraid of taking on Goliath, he ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2012 against Representative John Duncan, receiving 5,733 votes, and is actually on the ballot for that same post in this year’s elections. Involvement with the Green Party, with campus organizations such as UCW-CWA (a union for college employees), and with the Progressive Student Alliance garnered him many trusted  friends. Some of these friends joined the team of KSO members, WUOT staffers and other friends that comforted and cared for him in his last days.

This is all well and good, to speak of what he did. But he must also be remembered for what he was: a steadfast advocate for classical music with an openness to appreciation of all musics; a gentle, caring soul with a firm belief in good old-fashioned courtesy and a crisp sense of humor you could count on; a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about not just baseball, (as has been publicized) but also college basketball and college football; a humble, gracious listener with a knack for knowing exactly what to say and what not to say, and a friend – Knoxville’s, the KSO’s, and my own best friend.

Who will wake us up now?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chamber Music's Many Moods, This Sunday

The KSO Principal Quartet will be presenting music of Shostakovich, Amaya and Beethoven for the Chamber Classics series concert, this Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre.  It looks like the weather is going to be such that being inside a theatre is the correct and warm choice.

 The Amaya work, Angelica, is based on a legend of Charlemagne and is full of driving, Latin rhythms, but settles into a central lullaby that represents a sleep induced by the “hero” of the legend drinking from a fountain deep in the forest.  I’m sure that I cannot do a better job of describing the legend which inspired this work than the composer has done here.  I’ve discussed the intense Shostakovich 8th Quartet in an earlier blog (August 29th), so here is a little blurb about Beethoven’s op. 132 quartet in A minor.

The outer movements are stormy, bracing and moody, kind of like the weather currently.  (Snow tonight!? Ugggghh)  Just what you’ve come to expect from herr Beethoven.  The centerpiece of this work is the third movement, a study in contrasts between vigor and repose.  His own preface to the movement calls it this: “Song of thanksgiving in the Lydian mode, offered to the Deity by a convalescent.”  The joke is on us, however, as it’s not even in the Lydian mode!  The slower parts of this are solidly in F-major.  He simply doesn’t write any B-flats!   In fact, there are hardly any accidentals at all.  If it was truly in the Lydian mode, it would sound more like Bartok.  Starkly drawn counterpoint bordering on minimalism slowly morphs into a funky, lilting 3/8 Andante in D major.  There’s a mechanical busy-ness and syncopation to this section that hints at the Industrial Age exploding all around Beethoven, and a couple passages which to me sound an awful lot like reggae.  Then it’s back to the slower paced “song.”  And forth.  And back again.  Some comic relief comes with a march that gives way to a 1st violin recitative, setting the table for the nervously energetic finale.

Come see legendary quartets from three different ages on Sunday at 2:30!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall Young People's Concerts: On the Road Again!

Just in time for “Trick or Treat,” The Knoxville Symphony and Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will be “treating” more than 8,300 Knox County 3rd- through 5th-graders to a worldwide musical travelogue later this week. Joining us for part of the excursion will be the Austin East High School Dancers and their West African Drum and Dance Ensemble. Terry Weber, from the Clarence Brown Theatre (he was Emperor Joseph II in our collaboration with the CBT in Amadeus a few years back- “There it is!”) will be the co-pilot for this voyage, portraying the distance cousin of Indiana Jones, “Tennessee Smith.”

A fairly large amount of time will be spent in Europe, from whence we will bring tricky music by Smetana (The Moldau), Johann Strauss, Jr. (The Blue Danube Waltz) and Tchaikovsky (Marche Slave). Another treat will be an arrangement of the Parisian cabaret song Sous le ciel de Paris (Beneath the Paris Skies). A couple other nations represented will be Mexico (Jose Pablo Moncoya’s Huapango, pronounced “wa-PONG-go”), and Venezuela (Aldemaro Romero’s Fuga con Pajarillo, pronounced “pa-ha-REE-oh”).

These concerts will take place at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, Wednesday-Friday at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., although there will not be a 10:45 Friday show. In addition, we will journeying to Greeneville’s Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, November 5 for shows at 9:30 and 11:00 am, although this pair of concerts is SOLD OUT.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Q Series Feeds Body and Soul

Can you believe it’s time for the next Q Series concert? The first in the series, about a month ago at the Square Room was a big success musically and dietarily. This Wednesday the KSO Principal Woodwind Quintet will be joined by pianist Emi Kagawa in a colorful and eclectic program (a balance diet, if you will) at noon. A box lunch from Café 4 (in front of the Square Room at 4 Market Place) will be included in the admission price, which is $15, $20 day of show.

Lucas Richman’s Variations will start the program, a duet between bassoonist Aaron Apaza and clarinetist Gary Sperl. The work has a variety of textures and is infused with the Jewish klezmer style of clarinet playing. Originally for cello and piano, the work was recorded by the great klezmer clarinetist Giora Feidman in 2006. What Django Reinhardt did for the guitar and Bela Fleck for the banjo, Feidman is doing for the clarinet, hyperextending technique across traditional boundaries and into a new artform.

Poulenc’s Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano is next, Emi Kagawa will join Aaron and oboist Claire Chenette. Francis Poulenc (pronounced “fron-see pool-onk”) is quite an underrated composer, his masterful choral work Gloria notwithstanding. He is much more well-known to singers and church musicians. It’s been many years now, but the KSO Chamber Orchestra performed his Sinfonietta. Poulenc also wrote a chamber cantata called Le bal masqué (The Masked Ball) which is quite bizarre. This Trio is the perfect blend of naivete and sophistication, and has a clever and somewhat Halloween-ish ending.

Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds will close the program. After the work’s premier in 1784, Mozart wrote to his father, saying that the Quintet was the best thing he had ever written in his life. This after composing 451 other works! I don’t think I can add much to Mozart’s words, take it from him...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The music of Hector Berlioz, Modest Mussorgsky and Paul Dukas will provide us with the perfect Halloween wake-up call this Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. Guest maestro Sameer Patel has been a gracious and concise presence on the podium, very much attuned to the overall impact that this dynamic music is designed to create.

I love the music of Modest Mussorgsky. His use of unusual combinations of instrument timbres (such as gong with bass clarinet, or trombone with high tympani) produce truly exotic orchestral colors. His music also has its own unique, harmonic language that is half-Gothic and half-peasant. The program for A Night on Bald Mountain is truly diabolical in nature, but ends with a glimmer of peace.

Paul Dukas’ The Sorceror’s Apprentice is GOING to leave a smile on your face, I guarantee. Not to take anything away from the Fantasia connection, but this work has the ultimate contrabassoon solo. It’s fall-down-on-your-face funny and MUST be heard in person. You’ll also notice, near the end, the source of a John Williams theme from a galactic warfare movie from about 40 years ago. And if that isn’t enough, Dukas has a Knoxville connection– he was a composition teacher of the KSO’s third music director, David Van Vactor.

If Mussorgsky set the tone for the evening with diabolical subject matter, Hector Berlioz ups the ante in Symphonie Fantastique. Berlioz wasn’t being vain in entitling his work with a superlative (the French usage of the word fantastique suggests “fanciful” or “outrageous”), but he had every right to “toot his own horn” if he wished; it really happens to be a fantastic piece of music. Symbolic of his own experience with a love beyond reach, the symphony is a marvel of orchestration– and an emotional smorgasbord. If you remember, last month’s Bright Blue Music by Michael Torke showed how music could evoke colors when heard. Berlioz has written a piece which seeks to evoke the object of his affection. A recurring theme, called an idée fixe (rhymes with “Ebay freaks”) represents the woman (Irish actress Harriet Smithson). There are instruments offstage; the 1st oboe and orchestra bells will both spend some time in the wings, typical of the Romantic Era aesthetic wherein the artform is bursting at the seams of its physical confinement to the stage.

You will be happy to know that South Central St., down the hill behind the Tennessee Theatre, has reopened (with a slightly modified traffic pattern), allowing access to on-street parking if you are wishing to avoid the congestion of the State Street Parking Garage.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Opening Concertmaster Series Program! (plus pops quiz answers)

Just to the right of today on the calendar is the first entry in the Gabriel Lefkowitz and Friends Concertmaster recital series at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday at 7:00, Gabe and pianist Kevin Class will perform Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances and finish with Cesar Franck's landmark Violin Sonata. Principal French Horn Jefferey Whaley will join Gabe and Kevin in Brahms' Horn Trio, op. 40, to close out the first half.

Bela Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances are based on some of the many folk tunes that Bartok encountered in Transylvania in his quest to catalog them all. Different musical modes give each dance its own compositional palette. Starting with the Poarga Romanesca, the work accelerates to a delirious conclusion. The titles of the movements have always eluded me, as they were in Hungarian. Here they are translated, with each movement's mode indicated.

Joc Cu Bâtă = Stick Dance = Dorian and Aeolian modes
Brâul = Sash Dance = D Dorian
Pe Loc = In One Spot = Aeolian and Arabic
Buciumeana = Dance from Bucsum = Mixolydian and Arabic
Poarga Romanesca = Romanian Polka = D Lydian
Măruntel = Fast Dance = Mixolydian and Dorian

One of the most remarkable things to me about the Brahms Horn Trio is that I DON'T HAVE TO PLAY IT. My closest involvement with this work is to have turned pages for a pianist years and years ago. And no, there won't be three French Horns on the stage (Gabe and Kevin did not take up the horn while we weren't looking). It is just an identifying title, to differentiate the work from the typical piano trio comprised of violin, cello and piano. The presence of the horn makes for some soaring lyrical lines contrasting with some boisterous marziale passages. The trio was written in 1865 as a memorial to Brahms' mother, who had passed earlier that year.

A work that best embodies the Romantic ideal, Franck's Violin Sonata was written in 1886 as a wedding gift to the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe et ux. The work is quite metamorphic in nature in that much of the material grows from the small lyrical fragments that open the work, and tunes from earlier movements reappear in later movements. This sonata stands alone as an uncategorizable masterpiece of the solo violin repertoire.

Tickets for this concert will be available at the KMA door for $20.


Ok, so everyone's just dying to know the Obscure Lyrics Quest answers, I can tell by all of the comments, lol...

1) “They say in the darkest night, there's a light beyond.”
A: I didn't mean to start with a trick question, it was just randomly chosen (and we hadn't rehearsed this yet when I posted the blog), but this line comes from Art Garfunkel's 1973 single, All I Know. You REALLY would have needed to know this song well, because we played it as an instrumental....

2) “I was so hard to please.”
A: Hazy Shade of Winter”

3) “Dogs in the moonlight”
A: Paul Simon's “Call Me Al.”

4) “I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand.”
A: The Dangling Conversation.

5) “The old men lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset.”
A: Old Friends.

6) “You better get your bags and flee.”
A: Keep the Customer Satisfied.

7) “Why don't you show your face and bend my mind?”
A: Cloudy. This is also a trick question, WE DIDN'T PLAY THIS TUNE...

8) “Gazing from my window to the streets below”
A: I Am a Rock

9) “I can snatch a little purity.”
A: Paul Simon's Loves me Like a Rock

10) “And the moon rose over an open field.”
A: America

11) "I'll play the game and pretend."

A: Homeward Bound

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pops Quiz...

Welcome to a rainy Friday afternoon!

In honor of tonight's Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel Pops concert, I would like to invite you to play a game I call “Obscure Lyrics Quest.” Since we've already received the music for this concert, we have an inside track on which songs are going to be played. Rather than just tell you the songs, (where's the sport in that?) I will write down lines from some of these songs, and you will, after attending the concert, match the line with the song that was performed. I may change it up a bit and write down a line from a song that is NOT being performed. (I'm tricky that way). Also keep in mind that songs of both Simon and Garfunkel as solo acts are being performed. And NO FAIR GOOGLING!!! Pretend it's 1970. So! Here goes...

1) “They say in the darkest night, there's a light beyond.”

2) “I was so hard to please.”

3) “Dogs in the moonlight”

4) “I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand.”

5) “The old men lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset.”

6) “You better get your bags and flee.”

7) “Why don't you show your face and bend my mind?”

8) “Gazing from my window to the streets below”

9) “I can snatch a little purity.”

10) “And the moon rose over an open field.”

11) "I'll play the game and pretend."

Here is a pertinent clip of a favorite memory of (2nd cast) Saturday Night Live. I'm SOOO glad I could find it! It's a classic-- and I find it amazing that they could do it with straight faces.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beethoven and Boccherini at the Bijou

This season’s first concert of the Chamber Classics series is just around the corner! This Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre, we will be presenting Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B♭, sandwiched by two works of Beethoven: his Overture to Coriolanus and the 4th Symphony, under the direction of Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum. Our guest soloist for the Boccherini will be UT’s esteemed professor of cello, Dr. Wesley Baldwin.

Boccherini’s B♭ Concerto is arguably the most approachable of the “Big 9" concerti for the cello (others were written by Haydn [2], Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Tchaikovsky [Rococo Variations], Dvorak, and Elgar), but still nowhere near “easy.” Boccherini was Italian-born, but spent the last 44 of his 62 years in Spain, qualifying him as an honorary Spanish composer. The work, written some time between 1765 and 1774 (honestly, that’s the closest anyone has come to pinpointing a date), underwent a transformation at the hands of the German cellist Friedrich Grützmacher in 1895. This transformation borrowed parts of Boccherini’s other cello concerti in the outer movements and the entire slow movement of another. Grützmacher also composed cadenzas for all three movements, Boccherini having left none. Would Boccherini be pleased with what Grützmacher did? P’raps, p’raps not, but most cellists find that the Grützmacher “renovations” make the concerto much more palatable; “normalized,” if you will, given that Boccherini had a penchant for odd-length phrases and for repeating figures one or maybe two times too many.

Beethoven’s 4th has long been in the shadow of the odd-numbered symphonies that surround it. The Eroica (3rd) is the first “monster symphony” (dwarfing even the longest Mozart symphony, the Jupiter), and as for the 5th, well, welcome to the Romantic Era. The 4th has more in common with Beethoven’s first two symphonies than with the 3rd or 5th, and for good reason: the dedicatee, Count Franz von Oppersdorff of Silesia, had heard a performance of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony (which is nothing like the 3rd ), and commissioned a similarly “Classical” work. The premier happened in March of 1807; also on the program were the 4th Piano Concerto, which was heard on this past May’s Masterworks concert, and the Overture to Coriolanus which opens Sunday’s concert.

Speaking of Coriolanus, this is Beethoven’s darkest overture because it is the only one that stays in a minor key for its entirety. (The Egmont Overture starts in f minor but ends in F Major). It has some notoriety for having some especially difficult passages for the cellos. Matters are not helped by the fact that the Orchestra Excerpt Book for cello has some of the lines in the wrong order. At the risk of being called nerdy, I have included a couple photos of the affected passage. I guess it was a sort of backhanded way of making students dig deeper into the work, a way to separate the men from the boys, if you will, but most people just think it was sloppy editing. A classic case of WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?

                                (Excerpt book) The whole-notes should lead into the half-notes

                                                                 (Real Part) Like this!

Monday, September 22, 2014


May is the month when “Commencement” ceremonies are held, January is the month that starts the calendar year, but September is the month when the KSO opens up its season, and when all of its different classical series hit the ground running. Our Masterworks series started with a bang this past Thursday and Friday, the Q Series will begin afresh in its new venue this coming Wednesday at noon, and the Chamber Classics series comes to life at the Bijou Theatre this coming Sunday at 2:30.

Sharp eyes at the Tennessee Theatre Masterworks concerts last week may have missed a familiar face in the woodwinds. Principal oboist Phylis Secrist has chosen to take a year's leave for '14-'15. Good golly, I'd want to take a year off too, if I had been performing with the KSO for parts of FIVE decades. : ) Playing principal oboe with us last week (and for the rest of this season) is Claire Chenette, from Iowa via LA. Actually, it's a little more complicated than that, as she did her undergrad work at Oberlin. Claire is now a Master's candidate at California Institute of the Arts, which all the cool kids (as well as I myself, now) call CalArts. In LA, Claire somehow finds time to devote to a new music ensemble called Wild Up, and a folk band called Three Thirds.

Claire's Knoxville chamber music debut will come Wednesday, Sept. 24 at noon at the Square Room, in this season's first Q Series concert. In fact, it will be the Square Room's debut as well. Joining her will be the rest of the Principal Woodwind Quintet-- Jeffrey Whaley, horn; Ebonee Thomas, flute; Aaron Apaza, bassoon, and Gary Sperl, clarinet. They will perform Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and a suite pulled from Bizet's Carmen. Sounds pretty suite, if you ask me! The Principal String Quartet will then bring Tango Moderato and Tango Chromatique by Michael McLean, and the exciting final two movements of Beethoven's String Quartet op. 132. Concerts in this series include a scrumptious boxed lunch from Café 4 and are $15 in advance, $20 on the day of the show. So it's pretty simple-- buy your ticket today (subject to availability) and it's $15, buy it tomorrow and it's $20. Hmmmm....

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Here comes the 2014-15 Masterworks season, opening up this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 with Music of Torke , Hindemith and Brahms! Bright Blue Music by Michael Torke (pronounced TOR-key) leads off the show. Colorful and intricate, perky and amiable best describe this synesthetically conceived work. It lopes along like a quick-ish Mahler ländler with some tricky antiphonal passages. Torke's work was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra, led by David Alan Miller. Some of you who have been here a while may recall that Mr. Miller was a candidate for Music Director of the KSO when Maestro Richman was hired. Interesting bit of circularity, that.

Finishing the first half of the concert will be a work akin to the Kodaly Hary Janos Suite that was performed on last season's opening concert: Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (I know that title is a mouthful; let's just call it Symphonic Metamorphosis). In fact, back in the days of wine and vinyl, the Kodaly was often backed with the Hindemith on a single lp. So if you liked the Kodaly, you shall surely like the Hindemith. Whereas Kodaly took his inspiration from Hungarian folk tunes, Hindemith drew on his own unique musical language and some early Weber opera dances to create a very engaging and exciting work. Hindemith rearranged the traditional harmonic structure to make a new language which relied heavily on the interval of a fourth, as in jazz. The orchestra for this work requires all of the extra wind instruments and uses them well. The brass writing throughout (but especially just before the end) is simply thrilling. A musical theorist as well as a composer, Hindemith's textbook, Elementary Training for Musicians, gives countless music students fits in college Ear Training class. One blogger described this exhaustive compendium as “an all-purpose torture device for the masochistic musician.” In addition to sight-singing exercises from hell, there are protocols for every possible issue that could arise when printing music. I still refer to it to resolve logistical issues. The Metamorphosis cello part has Hindemith's trademark music font that takes me right back to that Ear Training class every time.

If Hindemith's re-imagining of the traditional harmonic system doesn't quite suit you, then move over, Rover, and let Brahms take over! Brahms' First Piano Concerto is the final work on the program, unusual for a concerto. This early work is symphonic in nature with the piano often contributing to an orchestral texture, rather than simply being “backed up” by the orchestra. It is full of Romantic passion and tenderness typical of what a 25-year-old is equipped with. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker will be our soloist. It's always nice to visit a concert soloist's blog, which you can do here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Weekend (Links)

In this final weekend before the KSO's Masterworks series get revved up, there are a few events going on to capture your musical attention.

Tomorrow night (that's Sept. 12, if you have a calendar) at 8:00, there will be a collaboration between UT's Music Department, The Confucius Institutes of both UT and MTSU, and the Confucius Classroom at King's Academy, in a production called Where East Meets West: An Evening of Opera and Song. Chinese opera is an ancient art, with programmed works dating back as many as 15 centuries. This production will take place in the beautiful Powell Recital Hall at UT's Haslam Music Building, and it's FREE.

Post-show victuals will definitely be more enjoyable with the accompaniment of music produced by three cellos. Starting at 10:00, at the Jig and Reel in the Old City where there is NO COVER CHARGE, Beatles cover band Norwegian Wood's Cello Trio edition will perform until 1:00 a.m. Players are Alexia Pantanizopoulos, Georgia Sinko, and yours truly. We will be playing some mind-blowing arrangements of Beatles and related tunes, tangos, light classics-- and of course, some jigs and reels.

The very next day at 2, the Oak Ridge Community Orchestra's first concert under its new Music Director and Conductor will happen on Saturday, Sept. 13 at First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge. When I tell you WHO this new Maestro is, you may be surprised-- or, then again, if you're aware of his many talents, you may not be. It's none other than the KSO's own Concertmaster, Gabe Lefkowitz! Gabe will lead this respected group through music of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Khachaturian. A press release for this FREE event can be found here.

I am not finished performing this weekend in the wee hours of Saturday morning. After a short snooze, my OTHER band, Kukuly sand the Gypsy Fuego, will performing at Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House, 3725 Maryville Pike. Our set for this“Smokin' Day Festival” starts at 5:00 and goes for an hour. This acoustic trio will delve into Western Swing, Samba, Tango, and Gypsy Jazz. The music is FREE, but a wristband that grants you all you care to eat can be had for $20.

That's it! Just one more week before opening night! Stay tuned for more about that...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Remembering Árpád Jóo

The world has lost a fine Maestro. On July 4th of this year, former KSO music director Árpád Jóo (pronounced “Yo”) passed away from a heart attack in Singapore. His hiring at age 25 in 1973 made him the orchestra's fourth principal conductor, and its youngest ever-- in fact, at that time he was the youngest ever Music Director/Conductor of a metropolitan orcestra in US history.  Entering the Kodály School of Music at the tender age of 6, he was taken under the wing of Zoltán Kodály himself, and the two shared a long friendship up until the Kodály's death in 1967. A fine pianist before his conducting career, he was awarded first prize in the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Boston at age 20.

His career after Knoxville saw him guest-conducting around the world, and led him to positions with the Calgary Philharmonic, the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra in Madrid, and several orchestras in his native Budapest. Jóo's 1980 recordings (LPs) of the complete orchestral works of Bartok on the Sefel label were lauded by major critical media: Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, even Sports Illustrated. His recordings of complete orchestral works of Liszt and Kodály also have withstood the test of time, although sadly these don't seem to have been transferred to digital media.

The KSO will be dedicating the September Masterworks pair to Maestro Jóo, in recognition of accomplishments during his tenure in Knoxville. His passion, vision, and interpretation set the bar high for future music directors and players alike, and his establishment of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra program has proven to be an amazing gift to the community that still bears fruit today.

Here is a link to Árpád Jóo's biography page on the KSO website.

Hereis a link to a memorial article from the city he went to after Knoxville, in the Calgary Herald.

Here is a link to a video of Maestro Jóo leading the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra in a segment from Wagner's Die Walküre from 1989.

Friday, August 29, 2014

It's Quartet time in Tennessee!

It has started. The long-distance run that leads up to the KSO Principal Quartet's November 2 Concert at the Bijou. Our first rehearsal on three new (to us) works. Principal Violist Katie Gawne stated that it is amazing (and a relief!) that in spite of taking the summer, it was easy to slip back into the level and style of quartet playing that we have been tweaking and honing over the last two years. It's easy to play at a high level when there is give-and-take, respect, and care. It's great to be back!

The Beethoven Op. 132 and Shostakovich 8th Quartets are iconic, monumental works that challenge, and ultimately define, an ensemble's sound. Angelica is a classic-to-be written by Venezuelan native Efrain Amaya based on the Legends of Charlemagne. An added challenge is that soon after this repertoire was chosen and programmed, scheduling intricacies dictated that the concert would not be in its usual early April niche, but JUST AFTER HALLOWEEN. This adds up to a prep period that is five months shorter than usual.

The 8th Quartet of Shostakovich was borne on broken wings and broken dreams of freedom, written in three days almost a year to the day before I was born. He had just been diagnosed with ALS, and had recently reluctantly joined the Communist Party. This is a tragic work, there is no doubt, but really, what great Russian works aren't at least half-tragic? Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, Boris Godunov, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Ballet are gut-wrenching all the way, but even the Nutcracker and everything Rachmaninov wrote can bring you tears before leaving you with a smile on your face. Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussourgsky, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich; the progressive overlap of their lifetimes and musical palettes is startlingly obvious.

Whereas Shostakovich wrote music that is distinctly "Russian," Beethoven did not intentionally write "German Music." We as players and listeners often have trouble separating Beethoven The Man from his country, but to him it was just "music." He ran for the great Germanic relay race team of composers, taking the baton from Mozart and Haydn and handing it off to Brahms while Weber, Mendelssohn, and Schumann cheered them on. Beethoven's early works, informed by his predecessors, respected the templates and forms of the day, but you can tell the music is just bursting at its formal seams, like a chrysalis breeding the Romantic Era. We were always told that Beethoven was half-Classical and half-Romantic; some teachers even had the nerve to call him "transitional." Beethoven was a compositional period unto himself. He was... The Man.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014-15 Pops Line-Up

The KSO's Pops series for this coming season will be 150% percent bigger than it was last year! Six concerts instead of four, each one at 8:00 pm at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium, and each one spotlighting a wildly different hue in the Pops spectrum. (Note that all are Saturday nights except the October 3 concert, which is a Friday).

Our first touring revue will be bringing some herbs-- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, to be specific. AJ Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle put on an unbelievable show that will leave you Feelin' Groovy. (Interesting that one of the gentlemen is named Beedle; I'd always thought of Simon and Garfunkel as “America's Beatles”). So c'mon and take that Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine across the Bridge Over Troubled Water to the Civic Auditorium on FRIDAY, October 3, before she says Bye Bye, Love!

From the sublime to the... What's Up, Pops?! Bugs Bunny cartoons with a live orchestra? Sufferin' Succotash! I've heard that music a lot. I have kids and I WAS one; really still am one, as you can plainly see. It sounds really difficult, wish us luck! Anyone who ever was a kid should come to the Civic on Saturday, January 17, and get ready to see some new 3D short films of Tweety Bird and Wiley Coyote!

Broadway artists Melissa Errico and Stephen Buntrock will share romantic music from stage and screen on February 7. Les Mis, Phantom, West Side Story, you know you want it. You fellers out there, if you really love your girl, Wouldn't it Be Loverly to do something special like this for her a FULL WEEK before Valentine's Day? (And more than just chocolates from Walgreen's on the actual holiday, one would hope).

You've seen them on the Tonight Show, Letterman, and Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve, or maybe you were fortunate enough to catch the Broadway show The Jersey Boys. The Midtown Men will be Workin' Their Way Back to the “boy groups” of the 60's and 70's on March 14. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rascals, and of course Franki Valli and the Four Seasons will all be heard-- there's a mother lode of material there and it will be just the right Time of the Season to hear it all again.

I knew it would happen some day, and on April 11 it shall: a chance to play the music of Queen. Rock n' Roll for sure, but WAAAAAAYY more than three chords. Windborne's Music of Queen will Rock You!! I'm at a loss for song titles in this segment because, well, y'know... My favorite Queen songs are Bicycle Race, Party, Killer Queen, and Tie your Mother Down, to give you an idea of what to expect. Bohemian Rhapsody and I go all the way back to it's release in April of 1976, my freshman year in high school. My parents and I had gone to the Outer Banks for April vacation; it was in the upper 90's for 4 days straight, all the way up into Northern New England. I was on a towel with a transistor radio, waiting impatiently for WNBC to play it. The hottest ever Boston Marathon, called “The Run for the Hoses,” began at noon on APRIL 19, 1976 when the temperature was 100 degrees. That's hot.

Elvis Presley recorded hundreds of songs. There's no telling what Terry Mike Jeffrey will pull out of his Blue Suede Shoes on May 9, and That's All Right! By the time I was listening to pop music, Elvis was into things like Suspicious Minds, Burnin' Love, and Kentucky Rain. I kindly missed the boat on all of the earlier Elvis hubbub, I'm sort of a latent baby boomer. But I'm sure Love Me Tender was a slow dance at the prom for some of you...

Talk about something for everyone!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ivory in the Balance

A recent federal administrative action that has affected string players and string instrument collectors is the “Ivory Ban,” an effort by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to strengthen the Endangered Species Act by restricting and regulating border crossings of items containing ivory. The ultimate purpose of this effort, enacted in February and “soft-pedalled” in May, is to increase the crackdown on poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia. That, in and of itself is a righteous goal, but...

I don't usually have a political bee in my bonnet, and this is perhaps an unusual forum for such a topic, but already this edict has proven troublesome to touring orchestras and international artists entering the US. Already some unsuspecting string players have had bows confiscated (and, I assume, destroyed) by TSA agents because of a nickle-sized piece of ivory in the tips of their bows. This has been the preferred material for protecting the end of the bow stick for centuries, although more recent bow makers have switched to different materials since 1976. Occasionally there may also be ivory in the frog of the bow, or in the pegs of the instrument. Only ivory installed before February 26, 1976 is permitted to enter, and then only with valid CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) documentation. (February 26, 1976 is the date on which African elephants were placed on the endangered species list).

The CITES documentation is predictably complicated at seven pages long. The fact is that the majority of people can't tell real ivory from synthetic, let alone legal ivory from illegal. Hundreds of bows (which hardly ever have a date stamped on them) change owners daily, mostly without any papers, and if you ask any party involved in those exchanges, they would more than likely be unaware of the ivory content. You try out a bow, and if it feels right and does the things you want it to do, (and you can afford it), you buy it, whether it has papers or not. High-end bows ($30-50,000) are affected by this because replacing their ivory invalidates their authenticity and endangers their integrity. To be sure, we are not talking about factory-made equipment that comes with an owner's manual and a bar code.

String players are just one demographic who are affected by this ban. While it is doubtful they would show up at the gate, countless old pianos are out there with ivory keys-- including one in the White House, I have heard. Sax and trumpet keys may have ivory caps. Cue balls for billiard sets, pistol handles, to say nothing of primitive art and jewelry. I do truly care about the plight of the elephants. It's just that I am skeptical that criminalizing musicians (and others) and placing their equipment at the mercy and whim of some airport employee is going to do anything to stop even one poacher from acting-- or bring dead elephants back to life.

I have included a list of links for further information, as the matter is so complicated that I can only scratch the surface of what is going on with this issue here. 

The website offers some general tips for travelling with instruments here .

This League of American Orchestras posting offers some more specific tips and links to the numerous websites that hone in on how to at least try to stay within the law.

President Obama's National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking (a pdf) can be found here.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service gives us here an overview of what can and cannot be done with ivory.

Here is the USFWS's guide to travelling internationally with a musical instrument, expanding its scope to endangered plant life such as pernambuco wood, from which the finest bows tend to be made. Good luck.

Here is an article from Time with links about the "soft-pedalling" of the original act.

Friday, August 8, 2014

P's and Q's

It's time to talk about our new Q-Series! Five Wednesday noons at the Square Room, starting September 24. Tickets will go on sale August 18th at $15.00 apiece. Any remaining tickets will be $20.00 the day of the show, so act quickly to take advantage of this great package deal! Your ticket includes a boxed lunch supplied by Cafe 4, one of downtown's classiest lunch spots. The soundtrack to your lunch hour will be provided by the KSO's Principal Woodwind Quintet and/or Principal String Quartet (repertoire TBA).


Our violist and violinist husband-and-wife team, Louis Diez and Anileys Bermudez, are proud parents of Thomas Rafael Diez, born Monday, August 4 at 6:01 p.m.! Congratulations to them, and welcome, Thomas, to the One Big Happy Family that is the KSO!


I couldn't pass up this meme which showed up on my Facebook feed, it is sort of nerdy, but at the same time, enlightening. Composers' penmanship is an interesting study. Some are painstakingly clear in spite of their famously abundant output, (Bach, Mendelssohn), while Beethoven's handwriting so messy it's a wonder anything can be determined from the manuscript. Here is a sampling of Treble Clefs from ten legendary composers. Top row: Bach, Haydn Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. Bottom row: Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

2014-15 Chamber Classics: Wow.

The definition of the term “chamber orchestra” was imbued on me at a young age. The works of Bach, Corelli, Haydn and Beethoven, performed with more intimate forces, came across totally differently than with the “all hands on deck” crew.

In the Baroque, pretty much all they had was chamber orchestras, but as venues and instrumentation grew more grandiose and hyfalutin', people began to miss the olden days when there were soirees in CHAMBERS that essentially had no bad seats. Beethoven, Brahms, Grieg, Copland, and Richard Strauss recognized the potential in these musical textures and connectivity, and have composed music just for our Sunday afternoon chamber series this season!. If they only knew...

Leading off on September 28th, Beethoven brings it all home (well, most of it) with an overture and a symphony. The Coriolan Overture and his 4th symphony will sandwich an appearance by UT's Cello Professor, Wesley Baldwin, in Luigi Boccherini's iconic Cello Concerto. Some people ask, “did Beethoven even write a 4th Symphony?” but there it is, sandwiched in between the Rasumovsky Quartets and the Violin Concerto in the catalogue. Dr. Baldwin's colleague and our Resident Conductor, Jim Fellenbaum, will conduct.

Speaking of quartets, the KSO Principal String Quartet's usual April concert will happen in November this season, on the 2nd. We will be presenting Shostakovich's 8th Quartet and Beethoven's epic Op. 132 Quartet. I hate it when people refer to Shostakovich as “Shosty.” He deserves a more dignified nickname, like Rostropovich has; Slava. To me “Shosty” conjures up images of Shasta soda, or the “Mister Softee” ice cream truck that used to compete with Good Humor when I was growing up. It was soft ice cream, compared to the ice cream bars that Good Humor sold. (Sells?) ANYway, there is nothing sugar-coated about Shostakovich 8, and this much-revered late Beethoven quartet is so different a work from his 4th Symphony that you won't believe it's the same composer. Venezuelan composer Efrain Amaya's Angélica will be the perfect palate-cleanser.

First thing back from the holidays will be our January 11th Orchestra Soloists concert, with concertos by Stamitz (trumpet) and Mozart (bassoon). New fellers Chase Hawkins (trumpet) and Aaron Apaza (bassoon) will lead the charge. On the second half, EVERYone will get a solo in Strauss's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, a quirky and beloved 20th -century neo-Baroque work which has become a hallmark of the chamber orchestra repertoire. It's pronounced “boor-zhwah zhon-tee-yum,” and was last performed here in April 1995, when Phil Hansen was our principal cellist. Way too long ago.

Although March 1st isn't technically a spring date, James Fellenbaum and the KSCO's offering of Copland's Suite from Appalachian Spring will make it so at the Bijou. Starting with Grieg's Holberg Suite and weaving through music of Honneger and Webern, this is as varied a chamber orchestra concert as one could imagine. What's more, the Go! Contemporary Dance Works will be adding their talents in the Copland, augmenting the springtime ambiance.

Lucas Richman's final appearance with us at the Bijou Theatre will be May 3. The program features three luxurious works whose scope and sentiment suits the Bijou-- and the occasion-- perfectly. American Composer William Schuman's Symphony for Strings dates from the year before Appalachian Spring but comes from quite a different place. The strings will then get a rare break and Richard Strauss' Serenade for 13 Winds will finish up the first half. A word has been coined for the skill required to produce such beautiful music for winds: it's called “bandstration.” Like orchestration, but with a band. The grand finale, and another long-awaited return, will be Brahms' First Serenade for Orchestra. It's pretty much a six-movement Brahms Symphony, and if you're like me, you know there ain't no such thing as too much Brahms. 

This is a star-studded Chamber series, and I Can't Wait! Please join us! All concerts start at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre.