Spring weather's firm foothold on us here in East Tennessee reminds us that the time has come for the Knoxville Opera Company's 14th annual Rossini Festival! The centerpiece collaboration between the KSO and the KOC this year is a work not by Rossini, but Verdi: Il trovatore (The Troubador). Curtain times are Friday night, April 24 at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon the 26th at 2:30, at the Tennessee Theatre, while the street fair will be Saturday between the performances. Verdi composed 30 operas and only the first (the rarely heard Oberto) and the last (Falstaff) are comedies. So while there is much triumphant music and some light moments in each of his works, the math works out that if you attend a Verdi production, most likely someone is going to die. (In the opera, I mean!) Act II starts with the celebrated “Anvil Chorus,” a tune which no one could mistake for anything but Verdi, but throughout there are beautifully composed tunes that illuminate the characters' feelings in a way that artfully transcends any language barriers. (There will be “operatitles,” but still, that's no excuse for not learning Italian in the two days you have until the curtain goes up Friday night).
The Rossini Festival itself is
the third major arts and culture festival weekend in a row,
recommending Knoxville for the title of “Festival City.” Two
weekends ago it was the Rhythm and Blooms festival, and last weekend
(and ongoing throughout April) it was the long-running Dogwood Arts
Festival. Here is a link to the schedule for all of the 55 acts, and
here is a link to the Opera Company's Festival website.
Next week sees the strings of the
KSO traveling to Maryville to mix it up with the
Maryville High School orchestra, April
at 7:00 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. (Note to KSO players: our
call is at 6:00 PM). Beloved works by Bizet, Saint-Saëns,
and Sibelius will be offered at this free concert. That is by no
means all that is going on next week, but all that I have time for at
to see you downtown on Saturday!
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
For our April Masterworks concerts this coming Thursday and Friday the 16th and 17th, we are privileged to have with us guest maestro Vladimir Kulenovic leading us through a program of Smetana, Rachmaninov and Beethoven. Vladimir is the Associate Conductor of the Utah Symphony, and Resident Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic. That is quite a commute! The repertoire on this concert pair approximately brackets the 19th century, with the Beethoven dating from 1808, the Rachmaninov from 1891 (but revised in 1917), and the Smetana from somewhere in between.
Bedrich Smetana was a Czech composer who lived and worked roughly 20 years earlier than his more celebrated countryman, Dvorak, and the first Czech opera composer of substance. The Bartered Bride (admittedly a highly mockable title), from 1866, is the only one of his eight operas still performed on an international scale. The composer's name is apparently being pronounced incorrectly, as it is widely pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. One source has his name pronounced to rhyme with “piranha.” There is no small amount of gypsy flavor in Smetana's music, and the Bartered Bride Overture is a wild ride from stem to stern. There are actually two different fugues in the work, a fast, perpetual motion deal at the beginning, and a more choppy, syncopated one in the middle. I'm going to be frank here; there are a lot of notes in this piece! In my auditioning heyday, the appearance of this work's excerpts on a repertoire list was a signal for me to steer clear of that audition. So many opportunities (about 12 per second) to sound like a squeaky Greyhound Bus seat! Here's where the beauty of playing in an orchestra, where there is safety in numbers, is evident.
Finnish pianist Antti Siirala will join us for the Rachmaninov First Piano Concerto. There may still be some alive who heard Rachmaninov's final performance right here in Knoxville in 1943, but through the magic of Youtube, we can now hear (but unfortunately, not see) Rachmaninov performing this concerto.
Finally, we get to Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, #6. This is not to be confused with the Pastoral Symphony from Handel's Messiah, which all too often serves as nap music in performances of that oratorio. I am just amazed at how beautiful Beethoven's music is, considering what a complete mess his manuscripts look like, as you can see below. Hard to make out heads or tails from what he left us!
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Now that spring is surely here to stay, it's no longer necessary to worry about whether concerts will be canceled-- due to snow, at least. I do remember a couple of snowy Easters from the past, but those were up north in Connecticut, where no weather is considered unusual. We will now concentrate our hopes for dry weather for our evening outdoor concerts on Knoxville's Market Square May 7th, and in Maryville's Theatre in the Park May21st. Although our Ijams Nature Center concert in September has NEVER been rained out in 28 years, springtime weather can be much touchier. Last season's Maryville concert saw both audience and orchestra members bravely ignoring the elements until a big honkin' downpour put an end to it. There is a rain date for the Maryville show, (the next night), but mark my words, WE WON'T NEED IT.
People don't usually think of Easter music the way they do about Christmas music, but in general it is a much more staid style. Haydn's Seven Last Words from the Cross is a very appropriate choice, with several different arrangements available. Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture is a bit more grandiose. Rachmaninov's Vespers, written on the eve of Rachmaninov's departure from Russia, is THE most beautiful a capella choir writing ever. Collections of music for this holiday (here is one) often include Dvorak's Stabat Mater, which was performed here in February. I feel lucky to have been introduced to this work.