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.