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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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The Knoxville classical scene is bursting at the seams with events to please a variety of tastes in spite of Mother Nature's efforts. First up is Valentine’s Day, whereupon the Knoxville Opera Company will produce Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love at 8 at the Tennessee Theatre. If your date looks good in galoshes, then I’d say he or she is a keeper. A Sunday matinee will happen at 2:30, for those who will inevitably forget Valentine’s Day– again. Details here.

Speaking of romantic music, in between the two opera performances, a giant among romantic-period symphonies will be performed on Saturday at 7:30 at the James R. Cox Auditorium on the UT campus. Director of UT Orchestras (and KSO resident conductor) James Fellenbaum will lead the UT Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, as well as a pre-concert lecture in Rm. 210 of the Alumni Memorial Building at 6:45. This powerful work is full of tunes you will never stop humming.

The Knoxville Symphony’s Youth Orchestra program is 40! When people hit 40, they tend to wax morose and use terms like “over the hill” and “out to pasture” to describe their lives, but at 40, the KSYO is bigger and more vital than ever, boasting 5 ensembles and 275 young players. There will be two separate concerts; the Preludium, Philharmonia, Sinfonia, and Youth Chamber Symphony will perform on Monday, Feb. 17th at 7:00 at the Tennessee Theatre, and the Youth Symphony will present its Concerto Competition winners on Feb. 23 at 2:30, also at the Tennessee. This year’s winners both are violinists: Ben Parton, who will be playing the finale of Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto, and Daniel Choo, who will perform the first movement of Wieniawski’s 2nd Concerto. (Btw, that’s pronounced “veen-YOF-ski).”

Music of the Spirit will be the guiding light in the February KSO Masterworks concerts, (Thursday and Friday, Feb. 20 and 21, Tennessee Theatre, 7:30) with David Yardumian’s Veni Sancte Spiritus, Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness (pronounced ho-VAH-ness), and Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service. Veni is a short orchestral work inspired by the 13th-century plainchant. Hovhaness’ work includes in its finale a “musical tidal wave” evoking Indian raga, and Bloch’s work is the quintessential setting of the Jewish Sabbath morning service. The UT Choral Ensembles and baritone Nmon Ford will combine with the KSO for the Bloch.
2 months ago | |
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We heard how tap shoes can cause the dancer to become another instrument in the percussion section of the orchestra in our recent Clayton Holiday concerts, and we shall hear it again tonight in the Dancing and Romancing Pops concert at 8 at the Civic Auditorium. Joan Hess and Kirby Ward will don the tap shoes for some Rogers/Astaire-influenced numbers, and Debbie Gravitte will sing some love-locked ballads, marshaling the KSO’s effort to bring an early Valentine’s gift to downtown Knoxville. Another guest performer at this concert will be Swing– that trademark taproot of early 20th-century American popular music, cultivated and nurtured by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others.

Arrangements for this concert are typically written involving keys that favor instruments keyed in flat keys. Traditional jazz instruments (clarinet and trumpet families) call B?(two flats) the home key, but orchestral instruments are accustomed  to C Major (all of the white piano keys). Tastefully arranged tunes from this era should whiz by effortlessly without regard for difficulties of key or rhythm, yet there is very little time to put the music together in rehearsals. Those lush swing harmonies can go pretty far afield in the tonality department. Some players are sometimes unpleasantly surprised by how fast a song actually goes compared to how fast they wish it went. Complex syncopated rhythms sound very intuitive, but what those rhythms look like on the printed page surprises some folks.

The Valentine’s season continues into next week as Knoxville Opera will stage Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amour, (The Elixir of Love) at the Tennessee Theatre on Valentine’s Night and on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16. More on that in a bit...
2 months ago | |
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The snowy weather was just what this Yankee needed. I don’t mind cold weather as long as there is snow to show for it. Today’s three-and-a-half tips for winter driving are: bend your wiper blades back off the windshield before it starts storming, always scrape all of your windows, and leave earlier. It also helps to know (as it does in music) when to take advantage of momentum and when to avoid it.

Iffy conditions on Wednesday didn’t deter a sizable crowd from coming out for “Scotch and Strings,” a new concert experience at Boyd’s Jig and Reel in the Old City. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz emceed with panache, and the principal strings brought tangos, reels, and previews of the April 6th Chamber Classics program: Haydn, Schubert and Villa-Lobos. Four different Scotch varieties (Dewars, Macallan, Arran and Laphroaig) were also in attendance, and the irresistible  pubby cheer of the Jig and Reel was augmented by this “in-Scotch” performance. (And yes, WE WAITED UNTIL AFTER). Randy and Jenny Boyd were consummate hosts. Unfortunately my music stand had had a wee bit too much Laphroig, and at one point flipped my whole book to the floor.



Speaking of Music and Wellness, the KSO has been selected, for the second year in a row, to receive a Getty Education and Community Investment Grant. This is an award that allows the orchestra to continue its fine work in the healthcare community, sending players into care facilities to aid in the healing process and quality of life enhancement at these facilities. The grant allows the KSO to retain on staff a music therapist, making the KSO the only orchestra in the country to do so. What’s more, players have participated in seminars which will lead to their being certified in the music therapy field. This grant is an affirmation of the healing power of music, and of the KSO’s increasing role in quality of life in the Knoxville area.
2 months ago | |
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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.
2 months ago | |
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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.

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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.”
2 months ago | |
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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.
2 months ago | |
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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.
3 months ago | |
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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!
3 months ago | |
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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.
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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!
3 months ago | |
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I have to put in my two cents worth here, that this year’s Clayton Holiday Concerts are truly unforgettable. A wide variety of acts are interacting very intricately, and the pacing is captivating. When the Scottish Medley sequence on the first half ends (with a reel called Christmas Eve that isn’t listed on the program), it is just thrilling to know that a diverse collection of musicians and dancers such as us know exactly when that final downbeat is. The music keeps us on our toes and I dare say it makes you tap yours.


Four Leaf Peat with the KSO and Knoxville Choral Society
The bagpipe is as iconic an instrument as there can be. We are blessed to share the stage with Tracy Wilson, a gifted piper who teaches music at Dandridge Elementary School. Come to find out, he is related to Terry Wilson, music director at First United Methodist Church in Maryville! I remember playing First church’s Christmas services my first year in town here. As I recall, since I was new in town, I got a little lost and a railroad crossing caused me to just barely squeak in in time that Sunday. They also were VERY forthcoming with refreshments, and that became a deciding factor in later years on choosing which Christmas gigs to bring our children to. Lol.


Tracy Wilson (left) with Knoxville Pipes and Drums members
Another lol-worthy situation has occurred, wherein I have written up a dancer who is not actually involved with the performances we are doing. The link to the Maryville Daily Times article from my last post was certainly interesting reading, but not exactly relevant. We have on the stage with us an award-winning Highland dancer, Knoxville’s own Claire Macmillan. She is nationally ranked in her field of specialty, much as Tracy Wilson is in his.


Claire Macmillan
An interesting collaboration from October has reappeared, as the Hannukah Fantasy once again teams Lucas Richman with pianist Jeffrey Biegel as co-arrangers. Mr. Biegel, as you remember, was the soloist in the premiere of Lucas’ piano concerto. Maestro Richman also has his hand in other arrangements, such as the Singalong and the music for Santa’s entrance. A really giant tip of the hat should go to Warren Clark, who arranged a great deal of the Celtic music we are reading off of this weekend. There are very few venues for which Warren has not arranged something. Ijams Park, Martin Luther King Birthday concert, Pops, runouts; he can create a soundscape out of the barest minimum of sources in a believable, readable, and sometimes humorous way.

I understand that the concerts were virtually sold out! We are very grateful with the response and are overjoyed to create memories for so many people. Have a cheery and safe holiday, Y’all!
3 months ago | |
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