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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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It's time for the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras' Summer String Camp! This will be the 20th annual camp, and it has come a long way since its humble beginnings. The first camp was held in the basement of (KSYO conductor) Kathy Hart's home 20 years ago, but the camp has grown to encompass four different levels of participation and takes place at Bearden High School. As explained on the KSYO webpage, the Prelude, Overture, Intermezzo and Finale groups are each geared toward a specific age group and talent level. Participants will get to work with KSO members and KSYO conductors for the week of June 16-20. I must add that the urgency for acting on your interest in this camp is high, since the deadline for applying to the camp is TODAY.





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As part of First Tennessee Bank's 150th anniversary celebration, there will be a sort of grant lottery, called 150 Days of Giving, which will award $5,000 DAILY to a different non-profit organization. By visiting FTB's website, you can vote for the KSO and as many as nine other non-profits daily. (The Memphis Symphony and the Chattanooga Symphony have already been awarded grants). Rules and guidelines are also posted on their website.

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Rebroadcasts of last season's KSO Masterworks and Chamber Classics series are starting up again soon, occurring on Tuesday evenings in July, August and September AT 8:00 on WUOT-FM, 91.9. Here is a schedule of broadcasts and repertoire that was performed on each.

July 7- Masterworks, September 19 (Reznicek Overture to Donna Diana, Beethoven Triple Concerto, Kodaly Hary Janos Suite, Wagner overture to Rienzi).

July 14- Masterworks, October 17 (Barber Overture to The School for Scandal, Richman Piano Concerto In Truth, Grofe Mississippi Suite,  Gershwin An American in Paris)

July 21- Chamber Classics, November 3 (Rossini Overture to L'italiana in Algieri, Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 1, Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances, Stravinsky Pulcinella Suite)

July 28- Masterworks, November 14 (All Mozart)

August 4- Masterworks, January 16 (Strauss Overture to Die Fledermaus, Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23, Tchaikovsky Suite from The Sleeping Beauty, Strauss Emperor Waltzes)

August 11- Chamber Classics, January 26 (All-Mozart)

August 18-  Masterworks, February 20 (Yardumian, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Hovhaness Symphony No. 23, Bloch Sacred Service)

August 25- Chamber Classics, March 2 (All-Baroque)

September 1- Masterworks, March 20 & 21 (Bach Brandenburg Concerti)

September 8- Chamber Classics, April 4 (Principal Quartet: Haydn Quartet op. 64, No. 5, The Lark, Villa-Lobos String Quartet No. 1, Schubert Quartet Death and the Maiden)

September 15- Masterworks, April 24 (Nielsen, Overture and Dance of the Cocks from Maskarade; Grieg Piano Concerto, Sibelius Symphony No. 5)

September 22- Chamber Classics, May 4 (Beethoven Symphony No. 2, Overture to Prometheus
and Romance No. 2 in F; Sarasate Zigeunerweisen,Paganini La campanella)

September 29- Masterworks, May 15 (Beethoven Overture to Fidelio and Piano Concerto No. 4, Shostakovich Symphony No. 10)
2 months ago | |
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Something that is approaching with startling velocity is the Principal Quartet performance in early November, on which will be performed a late Beethoven quartet, his opus 132. (The concerts that feature the Principal Quartet have traditionally taken place in early April). Late Beethoven quartets are considered to be the ultimate in quartet playing; profound, beautiful and challenging. We have scheduled some rehearsals for this summer before quartet members go whizzing off in all directions. Some ingredients for a successful performance of any quartet are: hours of preparation, a bottle of wine (for the rehearsals), and... a score.

In college I took it upon myself to assemble a collection of scores to many of the works, quartets or otherwise, that I would be performing in my future. While the majority of the scores are miniature scores, the score that I own for the Beethoven op. 132 is actually in a textbook that I used in Music History class in undergrad. This collection of scores was published as the Music Scores Omnibus. I unearthed this Omnibus recently, and although in college I had little inkling of what my future would bring, it is now apparent that this textbook held clues to my future. Unbeknownst to me at the time was the fact that the Omnibus was collated and edited by two University of Tennessee professors, William Starr and George Devine. Those were just names on the cover, but upon moving to Knoxville, I soon learned of their musical importance to this town.



George Devine was a longtime (1947-1985) member of the UT music department faculty, teaching music history, orchestration, and instrumentation. The start of his tenure corresponds with David van Vactor’s arrival as the KSO’s music director, and founding of UT’s music school as we know it. The music library at UT bears Devine’s name in dedication. Upon his death in 1999, a memorial statement was read at the KSO Masterworks concerts that September. For many years, Devine was the provider of program notes for the KSO concerts.



William Starr’s name is universally known in the Suzuki education realm, and his tenure at UT was Knoxville’s “Golden Age of Suzuki violin.” UT was a world-renowned teacher training facility for years, until he accepted a position at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1986. Current KSO members Julie Swenson and Mary Anne Fee Fennell were products of this fine program. My wife Helen also studied with Dr. Starr at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, Wisconsin (aka Suzuki Mecca). Along with starting this fine training program, Dr. Starr was concertmaster of the Knoxville Symphony orchestra during the David van Vactor years. Dr. Starr spoke at Schiniki Suzuki’s memorial service in 1998. (Photo courtesy Nancy Daby, former violinist with the KSO in the late 80's and early 90's).



2 months ago | |
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I have been thinking quite a bit about a recently deceased former member of the KSO, bassist Dale Watermulder. His death on May 8 cast a shadow on those who knew him, and the May performances that followed were tinged by that shadow.

Dale came to Knoxville from Michigan in 1977 and started his library career at the Fountain City branch, moving to the Lawson McGhee (downtown branch) in the early 80's. He was the force behind the establishment of that branch’s awesome Sights and Sounds (A/V) collection, which has been a valuable reference over the years for many musical endeavors of my colleagues and  I. He was always curious about my summer opera festival playing, and had a lot to say about even the most obscure works that I performed at Lake George and Des Moines Metro Opera.

We were both principal string players in the Oak Ridge Symphony for a time, roughly 1994-2000. As a fellow diabetic, we had many stories to swap. I always felt I had learned something after a conversation with Dale, but subtly so; the wisdom of his words took a little while to sink in. He cared deeply about the things he did and believed in doing them well.

Thank you, Dale, for making Knoxville a more cultured place– one dvd, one cd, one bassline at a time.


2 months ago | |
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The votes are in (after a nowhere-near-scientific poll) and the winner in the category of “favorite concert of the year” is the Shostakovich 10/Beethoven 4th Piano Concerto production from last week. Having mentioned in the last post that it was MY favorite concert had no influence on the “poll’s” results. The works just grew and grew on the players, and by the dress rehearsal the enthusiasm was tangible. These two familiar (but not overworked) classics showed off the orchestra’s strengths well and proved to be a great bonding experience for the players.

There are two events left in the KSO’s 78th season. The Principal String Quartet will be featured in a special event Wednesday at the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery, in Western Plaza at 4429 Kingston Pike. Already an awesome after-work venue, the Blackhorse’s ambiance will be further enhanced by the quartet starting at 5:30. The topic: beer and heavy hors-d’oeuvres. The special guest: Beethoven. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, nobody wrote string quartets like Beethoven, and we will throw in some tangos and such to mix it up. The success of “Scotch and Strings” at Boyd’s Jig and Reel (in spite of the yicky January weather) has spurred the KSO on to add another social event, “Beer and Beethoven.” Assuming that this, too is successful, I wonder what next season’s offerings will be in the “This and That” series: “Merlot and Mozart?” “Chardonnay and Chabrier??” “Sake and Satie???”

The next day, Thursday the 22nd, the Chamber Orchestra will travel to Maryville’s Theatre in the Park, across from the Blount County Courthouse for a FREE 7:30 concert that is a repeat of our May 1 Concert in the Square (which wasn’t really in The Square) and will reprise for the final time concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz’s performance of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. An easy way to distinguish these last two concerts is to think hefeweizen on Wednesday, and Zigeunerweisen on Thursday. A rain date of Sunday evening is in force.
3 months ago | |
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We have been visiting the mind and heart of Beethoven and Shostakovich these days, and they have been gracious hosts. Our accommodations feature transcendent sonic luxury in the form of a gem from Beethoven’s succulent Middle Period (Piano Concerto No.4), and Shostakovich’s luscious 10th Symphony. I dare say that these are works that I haven’t performed frequently but I’m sort of glad I haven’t, because it makes their re-acquaintance all the finer. Despite the fact that both of these works are identified only by their numbers (pretty much the most famous “4th concerto” & “10th symphony” in the standard rep.), they are must-hear works that help earn both composers the of title of tunesmith.

Beethoven really broke some rules with the 4th concerto. Most, if not every concerto written up til then had a big ol’ orchestral introduction (tutti). The 4th starts with a quiet solo piano chord. And then a few more. It’s unassuming and seductive, but when the strings come in a few bars later, you realize that hey, this is not your father’s piano concerto. From this point on in the compositional timetable, orchestral tuttis became optional, or at least held to a few bars. Like the Shostakovich that follows on the second half, this first movement creates structural suspense that is just riveting. The second movement Andante con moto is beyond words beautiful and profound with just strings and piano, and the final Rondo: Vivace is a race to the finish. Just take a look at the chronology in the environs of this work in Beethoven’s output:

Op.55- Eroica Symphony
Op. 56 Triple Concerto for Violin, cello and piano; we played this with the Eroica Trio in September here. It seems like years ago now.
Op. 57 Piano Sonata, Appassionata
Op. 58 THIS PIECE
Op. 59 not one but Three Razumovsky Quartets, holy horseshoe, Batman!
Op. 60 Symphony. No. 4
Op. 61 Violin Concerto

Shostakovich’s tenth symphony is the best piece composed in 1951, and my favorite symphony of his to play. Biographical leitmotifs serve as bricks in a musical wall, which is finally busted  through in the last movement. The second movement is a renowned musical portrait of Stalin– a giant orchestral machine in overdrive. The famous “three knocks” rhythmic motif is used quite a bit in the third movement. Shostakovich’s writing for all the winds, but especially the bassoon family, is hauntingly beautiful and I promise you it will be in your dreams that night if you hear it (Thursday or Friday night– OR BOTH– 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre).

Can you tell this is my favorite concert of the year?
3 months ago | |
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It is common knowledge that an orchestra will play together more successfully and consistently when the players all breathe together before an entrance. This is one of maestro Richman's pet peeves, and in rehearsals, asking us to breathe together results in a stunning improvement in ensemble. Breathing is not something that only wind players do; string players benefit from this practice as well, because the music itself has to breathe regardless of whether your instrument requires you to bow or blow. There are bound to be some extra breaths tonight, however, as the Cirque de la Symphonie performers will doubtless cause some involuntary gasps for breath on the part of those players who can see the action.

Do not be misled into thinking that the Cirque performers are the only ones participating in acts of derring-do. The orchestra repertoire for this concert is extensive, challenging and... breathtaking. Some of it is culled from recent concerts (Bach/Stokowski Toccata and Fugue, waltzes from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty), not-so-recent concerts, (Shostakovich's Festival Overture, Rachmaninov's Vocalise), and a whole host of less-easily-categorized tunes. There are still a few tickets left for this fun and exciting acrobatic show that is suitable for all ages. As yet, the stunts to be performed are unknown to us, we will find out in about 2 hours at the dress rehearsal. The show starts at 8:00 at the Civic Auditorium.


3 months ago | |
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It’s early May; time for festivals, graduations, garden planting, and... the KSO Youth Orchestras’ final concert. The KSYOA’s 40th season comes to a close Monday, May 5th at 7:00 at the Tennessee Theatre. The five orchestras are comprised of 275 young musicians, all of whom are just tickled pink to be performing in the KSO’s awesome home theatre. The Youth Symphony, under the direction of Maestro James Fellenbaum, will be playing the effervescent Overture to Russlan and Ludmila, and two movements of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with guest violinist Bella Hristova. I am not sure of the repertoire for the other orchestras, but you can count on it to be crowd-pleasing.

Here is a photo of the final “string rehearsal” for the Youth Symphony...



We (slightly) older folks in the KSO shall have an interesting week. In honor of the recently opened Richard Jolley glass installation Cycle of Life at the Knoxville Museum of Art, concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends will be performing in the Great Hall of the KMA. While the scope of this permanent installation has caused some down time for sections of the KMA, the museum itself has also undergone extensive renovation since October en route to its 25th anniversary next year. This Thursday at 7:00 pm, Gabe will be joined by pianist Kevin Class, violist Katy Gawne, violinist Gordon Tsai and myself to perform Rachmaninov’s Trio elegiaque No. 1 in g, Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (if you missed it today or last Thursday at the Bijou, here is another chance) and Dvorak’s op. 96 American string quartet . (Sorry, no Phillip Glass).
3 months ago | |
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Hello out there!

Our concert scheduled to take place on the Market Square stage has been moved inside to the Bijou Theatre. Temperatures are expected to dip down into the single digits (Celsius), and our instruments all suggested that we make the move. Nothing can turn a Buffet Clarinet into firewood faster than warm breath into a cold instrument. Spokesman for the instruments, Mr. Woody Windham, says that while the Market Square ambiance is lovely, everyone will be happier in the Bijou– string instruments will stay in tune, brass players faces won't freeze to their mouthpieces, woodwind instruments will live to see another day– and we won’t have to thaw out our audience at the end.

Our program for this concert (which will be repeated in Maryville's Greenbelt Park on May 22) is packed with classical goodness– Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Strauss, Sousa– and Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz will preview a work from his upcoming appearance with the Chamber Orchestra, Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs). That’s 7:30 TONIGHT at the BIJOU.

It turns out this will be the first of two concerts we are to play in the Bijou this week. Our final Chamber Classics go-round will be Sunday afternoon at 2:30, with the aforementioned Gabe playing Zigeunerweisen and a whole lot more. It appears we are also entering a Beethoven Zone. Over the next 4 weeks we will perform his Overture to Prometheus, Romance in F for violin and orchestra and 2nd Symphony, (Sunday at the Bijou), Overture to Fidelio and Piano Concerto No. 4 (May 15 + 16 Masterworks), and who knows what else on the “Beer and Beethoven” event at the Blackhorse Brewery on May 21. So if you are a Beethoven aficionado, your time has come.
3 months ago | |
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Having just returned from a whirlwind musical trip to Scandinavia, the time has come for the KSO to ride the bus to Southwest Virginia Community College for their Festival of the Arts. We will play with the Camerata Virtuosi New York and the SWCC Chorus. The program includes quite a few French works; we will need to trade our Finnish/English dictionaries in for Le Petit Larousse. Some of the most beautiful music ever written with a French accent will be presented: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte, Debussy’s Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, and this gorgeous Faure work I’d never even heard of, Cantique de Jean Racine. Throw in a dose of Prokofiev (first movement of his Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Pavlina Dokovska), and it’s safe to say we’re all over the map. This will be Sunday the 27th at 4:00 at the Southwest Virginia Community College’s King Community Center in Richlands, VA.

Back home we go on Tuesday when we will join with the Hardin Valley Academy Strings at 7:00 for a concert of music that shows off the many facets of the string sound. Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Respighi, Michael Daugherty’s funkalicious Strut, and some lush tunes by more recent American composers. This is actually a concert that was postponed from a snow day in February? March? I don’t know, it seems like years ago, now that spring is finally here, but these guys have been waiting to play this concert for a long time and I know they’re psyched! Peggy Jones has again attained great heights with her students, and we KSO core folks get to see what all the cool kids are doing. (Caution to performers: 6:00 sound check!)

I can understand if you can’t make the drive from Knoxville to Southwest Virginia to hear us play, you might say it’s kindly far. But if you’re still willing to travel (or if you get lost on the way to SWCC), (and speaking of spring), be aware that my wife Helen will be performing Beethoven’s Spring Sonata and Brahms’ 1st Violin Sonata with pianist Mark Hussung at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City at 3. And if you can’t make that either, that’s okay, too. I mean, even I can’t go, so who am I to judge....

The final weeks of the season unfold rapidly and there’s a landslide of charts to learn. I may leave a parenthesis unrequited or a sentence fighting for its life, but I will try to keep y’all abreast of our goings on. Ciao!
3 months ago | |
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I’m not much of a reader, really. People ask me what I’ve read, or recommend books, and I just nod and smile politely. I mean, I do have some favorite books, but it’s not like I go to the library every month and withdraw a big honkin’ bag of books. A symphony (or quartet, or opera, or sonata...) is to composers as a novel is to authors, and I embroil myself in such “novels” on a regular basis. I really get to know the characters, the pace of the drama, the plot, etc., and it’s plenty to keep up with.

There have been a lot of new “books” for me late this season: Bellini’s Norma and the Schubert Death and the Maiden quartet, (wow, interesting combination!) and coming up in May, Rachmaninov’s Trio éléqiaque and Dvorak’s American quartet. Right now I’m engrossed in a new (to me) “novel,” and it’s by Jean Sibelius, his 5th Symphony. While it’s true that music is a universal language, I am encountering some new words, and some idioms unique to the Finnish. Sibelius’ orchestrating genius is all over this work; oboes and flutes doing things you’ve not heard before, and that trademark phat brass sound that is felt as much as heard.

Our soloist for the April Masterworks concert will be pianist Andrew Staupe. Upon meeting him tomorrow, we shall tarry with our longtime Norwegian friend, Mr. Grieg. It turns out that Mr. Staupe, having grown up in the Twin Cities, studied violin with the same teacher with whom my wife studied, Mark Bjork! One thing is for sure: string players will never freeze their fingers off as long as they are playing music written by cold-weather composers such as Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. Lots of “noodles,” as we call the quiet, fast notes that set the table for melodic fare in other sections of the orchestra.

So that’s the book on the Thursday and Friday night Masterworks concerts at the Tennessee– Overture and Dance of the Cockerels from Nielsen’s opera Maskarade, Grieg’s Piano Concerto, and Sibelius’ 5th. Ya sure, ya betcha.
3 months ago | |
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