Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mozart by the Numbers

Fresh off a successful Q-Series concert on Thursday night with the KSO Woodwind Quintet, principal flutist Ebonee Thomas will bring the Mozart Concerto for Flute K. 313 to the Bijou Theatre, Sunday afternoon at 2:30. Written in 1778, this first of three Mozart flute concerti is known for being the “on-hold” music for the New York City 311 line. You don’t have to travel all the way to “the 212" to hear this, though; just come on down to the Bijou. Also on the concert will be music of Mozart, Mozart and Mozart! If you missed the November Masterworks concert, or even if you didn’t, here is a chance to hear his Overture to Idomeneo, Musical Joke, and Symphony No. 31 in a more intimate setting.

In case you are wondering about what K. 313 means, here’s the scoop. After many attempts to catalog Mozart’s works after his death, Ludwig von Köchel in 1862 arrived at an accurate chronological tally of Mozart’s complete works, with the last work being K. 626, the Requiem. Guess what! The Flute Concerto K. 313 is EXACTLY halfway through the catalog! (626/2= 313; sheesh, I’m such a nerd). Many composers, e.g. Beethoven, have opus numbers to identify their works, but Mozart was so prolific that he probably lost count somewhere around K. 65, and who could blame him? Some composers have had other catalogers for their works, with the first letter of the cataloger’s name as the index. Two examples are Bach, whose works were cataloged by Wolfgang Schmieder, and Haydn, some of whose works were cataloged by Anthony von Hoboken.

The Woodwind Quintet is quite busy these days. They will be performing at the Tennessee Theatre’s Mighty Musical Monday on February 3rd at noon. In addition to the quintet, Bill Snyder and Freddie Brabson will play selections on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. Guest MC for the program will be Hallerin Hill. A lunch consisting of a sandwich, chips, and a dessert may be purchased in the lobby for $5.00. In addition several snacks may be purchased at the concession stand such as soft drinks, bottled water, popcorn, candy. There is no charge for the program. The MMM is a long-standing, uniquely Knoxvillian institution, with a very different sort of audience than you would find at a typical KSO concert.

Friday, January 24, 2014

News from the Podium

I haven’t mentioned this in the blog even though it was revealed in September, but you surely must have heard that Maestro Lucas Richman has decided to step down as Music Director of the KSO. There has been a lot to write about, and it didn’t seem appropriate to include this news as a mere side item to a subject on which I was writing. In better words than I can summon, here is Lucas in a press release video talking about his announcement.

The KSO has been fortunate to have Lucas Richman as its seventh Music Director for these last eleven years. I have found the maestro to be a winning combination of personable, knowledgeable and approachable. During his tenure here the orchestra has thrived in new areas, such as Music and Wellness and dramatic collaborations. The orchestra's budget has been in the black for six consecutive years, almost unheard of in these times and in this field. Concurrent with that has been his own personal successes in the commercial music realm. The GRAMMY award he won a couple years back is now accompanied by acknowledgment for his contribution to Golden Globe-winning film Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace biopic that premiered on May 21, 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival, then on HBO five days later.

Lucas was in LA some time in 2012 when this film was being made, and was asked to step in for Marvin Hamlisch conducting parts of the score to this film. Marvin was ill, and passed shortly thereafter. Lucas conducted what would've been Marvin's last appearance, and therefore is in the credits for his involvement. Here is Lucas’ account of the experience in the studio, and his words to the Pittsburgh Symphony audience at a Pops concert there in September of 2012 where he stepped in– again–  for the late Marvin Hamlisch.


At the beginning of August in 2012, I was in Los Angeles to lead the 15th installment of my BMI seminar, Conducting for the Film Composer.  We had also scheduled the first live performance of Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project on August 3rd with an orchestra and chorus made up of incredible professional musicians who were all donating their services in order to raise over $120,000 for Haiti relief.  I received a phone call on the morning of August 2nd (the one rehearsal for the concert was to be held that evening) from my dear friend, David Low, who asked if I could get myself to Warner Bros. studio in order to conduct a whole day of recording sessions.  It turned out that the sessions were for the pre-records on an HBO film entitled, Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.  Marvin Hamlisch had done the arrangements and had even written a new song for the movie—but he was in the hospital and was unable to lead the sessions.  Pianist Randy Kerber was featured in these recordings reproducing, with incredible facility and dexterity, many of the original tunes as recorded and played by Liberace.  Later on, during the film’s shooting, Michael Douglas, as Liberace, would pretend to be playing the piano to these pre-recorded tracks.  Coincidentally, Marvin had also been one of the 25 contributing composers to the musical woven thread that had become Symphony of Hope, so my day and evening was touched by Marvin’s musical magic.

At the end of the day’s sessions (before I ran downtown for rehearsal), I asked the film’s music supervisor if he would pass on our best wishes to Marvin for a speedy recovery.  He had said, of course, that he would be happy to do that but, as these things go, he ultimately was unable to deliver the message.  Unbeknownst to all of us, I had just inadvertently conducted the last recording session that Marvin, himself, was ever scheduled to do—because, sadly, he passed away over the weekend.  At the time, I was unaware of this until the following Tuesday when, back in Knoxville, I received a phone call from Bob Moir, Vice President for Artistic Planning at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  He informed me of Marvin’s passing and asked if I would do them the honor of stepping in for Marvin that September in order to open the PSO’s Pops season on four concerts with Matthew Morrison (from the T.V. show, Glee).

The following are the remarks I said to the audience on that weekend in September, as we were all still reeling from the aftershocks of Marvin’s passing:

Good afternoon and welcome to the PNC Pops with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  I’m Lucas Richman and I’ve got some very big shoes to fill—a huge void created by the tragic loss of our dear friend, Marvin Hamlisch.  I had the honor of conducting for him several times when he would be at the piano playing music from his various projects, such as his first film, The Swimmer.  The stage set-up you see here has affectionately become known as the “Marvin position” because of the many musical moments over the years that he led from this very piano.  We miss you Marvin.

Marvin was already a well-known award-winning composer, songwriter and musician when he came to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  But this was where he began as a principal pops conductor, a post he maintained and loved for 17 seasons with the PSO.  Marvin may have been a New Yorker, but he often said that Pittsburgh was his second home because he loved this city, this wonderful orchestra, the people here and, you, the audience.  I think that Marvin touched more people with his music than even he realized because everyone here seems to have a story about him.  When I was being brought here the other day from the airport, the driver told me about a time when he was in a restaurant and, when he went to the Men’s room, he realized that Marvin Hamlisch was there.  The driver knew that it might be uncomfortable to shake hands at that point but, somehow, he wanted to let Marvin know how much he appreciated his music.  So, as the two men were standing there, facing the wall, the driver cleared his throat…and began to sing.  “Memories, like the corners of my mind,” to which Marvin responded (as only Marvin could), “Thank you, sir…that’s one memory I will never forget.”

Sunday, January 19, 2014

More Warm Music for Cold January Nights

The KSO will be performing on the Night With the Arts in Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sunday Jan. 19th at 6:00 p.m. at the Bijou. This annually presented event will diverge from its usual concert format and feature a drama of conversion entitled The Greatness Within, written by Sherineta Morrison. The orchestra will partly be in a supporting role for the actors of Ms Morrison's Sché Productions, the company presenting the drama. TGW is sprinkled with classic soul numbers such as Lean on Me, Billie Holiday’s timeless God Bless the Child, and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

Also incorporated into the drama will be Åse’s Death from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, and the first movement of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons, with Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai as soloist, and interpretive dance by Brittany Woodfin. The Celebration Choir under the direction of Aaron Staples will add their unique gospel touch with some classic spirituals.

And now for something completely different, the KSO’s new “Q Series” will take a trip out west to the American Piano Gallery, 11651 Parkside Dr, Farragut, for another eclectic chamber music program, Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Woodwind Quintet will present music of John R. Barrows, Irving Fine, (Maryville native) Jennifer Higdon, and Endre Szervánszky, after which the Principal String Quartet will finish with Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Joining in the Higdon and Schumann will be pianist Emi Kagawa.

Both of these concerts are FREE OF CHARGE and show off the musicians of the KSO in non-traditional ways. Hope to see you at one or both.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Waltz Party

This week we are pleased to host guest conductor Sean Newhouse for our Masterworks production, “Strauss for the New Year.” Two works by Johann Strauss II bookend the program, with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A and Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Sleeping Beauty as the major offerings.

Maestro Newhouse is one of the new breed of sought-after conductors, a product of the Eastman School, the Cleveland Institute, Tanglewood, and Aspen. I admire his focus, his energy, and his ability to feel at home with an orchestra that he essentially knows nothing about.

If you don’t watch the Vienna Philharmonic on TV on New Year’s Day, you are missing one of the great “feel-good” classical experiences. The city that embodies the spirit of the waltz fields a team of happy, smiling virtuosi playing in a style and spirit through which you can almost taste the champagne. Other orchestras who do broadcasts on that holiday never quite match the VPO’s joie de vivre. We will definitely be channeling that spirit via Maestro Newhouse.

As awesome as Strauss’ waltzes are, I feel the need to put in a good word for Tchaikovsky as a waltz composer. The Russian Waltz is a different animal than the Viennese Waltz; a more straightforward and meaty affair. Whereas Strauss goes for lilt and charm eight bars at a time, Tchaikovsky’s waltzes (usually from ballet tableaux) have long, arching phrases that drive to robust conclusions. As examples, recall the three waltzes from the Nutcracker and the ones featured in the suites from Swan Lake and (this week) Sleeping Beauty. On our concerts this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, the Sleeping Beauty waltz will be immediately followed by Strauss’ Emperor Waltz, allowing for a very interesting comparison of the two styles.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Warm Chamber Music for a Cold Night

Well, winter sure is here. Pipes, noses, and school buses are freezing all around us. One man, concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz, is determined to warm things up with a pair of performances at Remedy Coffee in the Old City, this Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7. Gabe and pianist Kevin Class will be collaborating on three French hens– er, works; Chausson’s Poème, Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, with violist Katy Gawne and cellist yours truly joining in the Fauré.

The Chausson and the Saint-Saëns works are the two most well-known short French works for violin and orchestra (orchestra = Kevin Class). Both works are technically demanding and brilliantly colorful. Chausson’s work, from 1896, is steeped in the impressionistic musical language that swept through France in the late 19th and early 20th century. Although the Saint-Saëns work is from 1863, somewhat before the onset of impressionism, Saint-Saëns is often falsely grandfathered in with the impressionists solely because of his Frenchness. People of a certain age will notice that the theme of the Rondo closely resembles the old Andy Williams hit I Will Wait for You.

A noteworthy segue to the concert’s finale is that Fauré studied composition with Saint-Saëns, and succeeded him as organist at the Église de la Madeleine. This was no mean feat, considering Franz Liszt had called Saint-Saëns “the greatest organist in the world.” Fauré’s music, like Chausson’s, is impressionistic, but whereas Chausson, Ravel, Debussy, and many other impressionists can often sound confusingly similar and (I hate to use this term for music that is 100 years old) “modern,” Fauré’s unique musical language still has its feet in the Romantic era.

I have been looking forward to the Fauré since the last time I played it. The “goose-bump factor” is very high throughout for me, with so many patiently unfolding melodies, warm harmonies, and surprise endings. The second movement (of four) Scherzo is absolutely charming and impish; if we were in Maine, we would have to describe it as “cunning.” The third movement Adagio, in contrast, is a rich, somber funeral march cut from the same cloth as his Élégie for cello.

Stay warm... and Vive la France!

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Busy January- and a Fruitful December

Phew! My Christmas trip ended yesterday as I was able to fly out of a snowy Manchester, NH airport, connect at a dry and snow-free Philadelphia airport and land at a snowy McGhee-Tyson Field. I had the distinct (?) honor of driving in snow in both New Hampshire and Tennessee in the same day. It was great to see family, play in the snow, and ring in the new year in frigid Portland, Maine with a very good old friend who used to live in Knoxville. Now, of course, it is time to hit the ground running, with a busier-than-ever January offering SEVEN different performances with wildly varied content. 

The first concerts, less than a week away, will be at Remedy Coffee in the Old City next Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:00. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and friends will perform an all-French program, with two timeless solo violin works (Chausson’s Poème and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso) followed by a staple of the piano quartet literature, Fauré’s C-minor piano quartet. Saturday night the KSO will host the music of ABBA as performed by Arrival at the Civic Auditorium.

Our January Masterworks series on January 16 and 17 at the Tennessee Theatre will call to mind New Year’s Waltzin’ Eve in Vienna with guest conductor Sean Newhouse leading us through music by Tchaikovsky (Sleeping Beauty Suite), a Mozart piano concerto (K. 488 in A, with guest pianist Louis Schwizgebel), and a selection of Strauss waltzes and his Overture to Die Fledermaus. That Sunday, the 19th, the FREE concert in Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Will take place at the Bijou Theatre at 6:00, featuring fine local gospel voices.

Carrying on without a comma, the new Q Series featuring the Woodwind Quintet and the Principal String Quartet will occur at American Piano Gallery in Turkey Creek, on Thursday January 23. The Principal Quartet’s offering will be Schumann’s timeless Piano Quintet, op. 44, with pianist Emi Kagawa. I regret that I don’t at this writing know the Woodwind Quintet’s repertoire, but one of them is going to “send me an owl” with that information. 

Are we done yet? Heck no! On Sunday the 26th at the Bijou, the Chamber Classics series will resume with an all-Mozart show, featuring principal flutist Ebonee Thomas as soloist in Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G. January’s last performance will be a new venture, again in the Old City, as the Principal Quartet will be featured at Boyd’s Jig and Reel in a special event called “Scotch and Strings,” with Gabe Lefkowitz emceeing.


We knew that this season’s Clayton Holiday Concerts were something special, but only when the smoke cleared did we know just how special. A Facebook post by the KSO’s Director of Finance, Mike Greiner, alerted me to the fact that this year’s Claytons were the “highest-selling single-ticket event in the KSO’s history.” I was a little concerned beforehand, since the News-Sentinel write-up for these concerts was not on page 1 of their Living section like usual, but way inside on page 6. My concerns were obviously unfounded. Again, thanks to the community for such wonderful support!