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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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The KSO is presenting The Music of Led Zeppelin TONIGHT at 8 at the Civic Auditorium! The Civic will rock out to the likes of Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean (Ha! Last week we "Became Ocean"), Kashmir, andBlack Dog. To my utter joy, all of the signature guitar hooks seem to be assigned to the cello!!!
Led Zeppelin's crunchy, high-energy sound has become a standard by which every other rock band is judged. Their 1975 tour included a stop at the Stokely Athletic Center on the UT campus, on March 2, although it doesn't appear that any other of their tours landed in Knoxville. A splinter group, “Page and Plant” performed at the Civic Coliseum on March 3, 1995 (wow, 20 years and a day later) and included many then-members of the KSO (mostly string players) who were hired free-lance.
Vocalist Robert Plant has since become a darling of the Americana genre, touring for a spell with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss in one of the most unlikely yet satisfying pairings in rock n' roll history. He has made sporadic appearances at Bonnaroo, just a couple hours west of here. Drummer John Bonham's death in 1980 signaled the end for the band. He was said to use the longest drumsticks available, which he called “trees.” I had always thought that his volume was high because his tracks were placed way upfront in the mix, but no, it was because he was just playing THAT LOUD.
Guitarist Jimmy Page got his start as a member of the guitar-heavy band the Yardbirds, which also boasted Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck as members at various times. Long story short, after that band dissolved in 1968, the original Led Zeppelin lineup was formed, and toured as “The New Yardbirds.” With some obvious copyright issues looming, (Who drummer Keith Moon suggested that the name would go over like a “lead balloon”), the name was changed to Lead Zeppelin, but the “a” in “Lead” was dropped in order to avoid mispronunciation.
Bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones (no relation to the “Father of the American Navy”) was the utility man of the group, playing just about everything that was not drums, guitar or harmonica. His mandolin work on Going to Californiamakes that song the acoustic, down-volume gem that made our parents think that the band wasn't all that bad after all. If you were one of the lucky ones who saw the Dave Rawlings Machine concert a couple years ago at the Bijou, you witnessed Jones (now a cog in that Machine) playing that selfsame solo with Rawlings and Gillian Welch singing.


3 months ago | |
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The Big Ears Festival is here!  It seems that the average Knoxvillian knows less about the Festival than the world indie/avant-garde community does.  I will try to explain it.
Think of Bonnaroo.  Four intense days of Pop and Rock music-making, about two hours west of Knoxville in Manchester, Tennessee; a 21st-century Woodstock, largely enabled by Knoxville's cultural ambassador to the world, Ashley Capps.  Now think of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC.  Two weeks of classical, jazz, and contemporary music, as well as drama, performance art and dance.  Big Ears, under the curation (again) of Ashley Capps, melds these two concepts into an urban interdisciplinary carnival, with some of the more cutting-edge acts from Bonnaroo, and the more progressive aspects of Spoleto.
For the KSO's part, we will be performing three works on Thursday night at 7 p.m. that date from 2001, 2012, and 2013.  Philip Glass's Cello Concerto No. 2, Naqoyqatsi will open the program, with guest solo cellist Maia Beiser.  Bryce Dessner's Lachrymae, for strings, will follow, and the concert ends with John Luther Adams' monumental Become Ocean.  Guest conductor Steven Schick, from the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra in San Diego, will lead the orchestra through these classics-to-be.  It's interesting to note that Bryce Dessner, in addition to being a Grammy-winning composer, has also been nominated for a Grammy with his band, the National, with whom he is a guitarist.  He contributed music featured on the soundtrack to the film The Revenant.
Too many great performances are approaching this weekend to mention in the space and time I have, especially given the intense preparation I feel is necessary to do justice to our portion of the Festival. Suffice it to say that as a Knoxvillian, I am thrilled that the eyes-- and Ears-- of the world will be focused on Knoxville once again this weekend.
3 months ago | |
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Our March Masterworks repertoire provides a wide mix of styles, including works by two vastly different American composers. I'm really enjoying getting to know John Adams' The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestrafrom his 1985 opera Nixon in China.There's a fine complement of percussion that sets up a groove that you can't ignore. The machine like rhythms and the masterful use of orchestral colors will still be pleasantly on your mind in the days following the concert.
Samuel Barber's Violin Concertois, hands down, the most beloved American violin concerto, despite a rather rocky beginning. It wasn't enough that Barber was forced to flee Switzerland because of the oncoming Nazi menace, delaying composition of the third movement, AND his father was ill. No, it seems the dedicatee's mentor found the work too “easy” and demanded revisions. After a big harangue, the work was finally premiered by someone else, exactly 75 years ago. The first and second movements are highly lyrical with sweeping orchestrations. The moto perpetuofinale is a rollicking romp; a typically Barber-ian mix of intricate virtuosity and cockamamie tunes that will keep you on the edge of your seat-- and on the verge of laughter. The tympani states the opening theme, for Pete's sake! Guest maestro Jacomo Rafael Bairos and violin soloist Elena Urioste have an endearing chemistry, and Elena is from Hartford, so naturally I'm a fan…

Closing the concert will be Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The piece is filtered through the orchestrating lens of Ravel, who took an already legendary piano work in 1922 and turned it into one of the most memorable orchestra showpieces ever. It is somehow fitting that we are performing Pictureshere just a few days after the tragic death of British rock keyboardist Keith Emerson. His band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) performed a freely adapted version --including lyrics!-- of the work in the early 70s. His artistry brought Mussorgsky's tunes (and those of many others) to a whole new audience. 
I hope you are in our audience, this coming Thursday and/or Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.
4 months ago | |
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The next few weeks sport the programming of some living composers whose names are confusingly similar. John Adams? John Luther Adams? Schoenberg? I will take it on myself to dispel any perfectly understandable confusion.
The March Masterworks concerts on March 17 and 18 will start with a work by American composer John Adams (b. 1947), The Chairman Dances, from his opera, Nixon in China, which garnered him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition. The excerpted work is not a dance, per se; the word “dances' refers to what the Chairman is doing. Mr. Adams' music is characterized as minimalist, and this work is energetic and enchanting. To the best of my knowledge, the composer is not related in any remarkable way to the Presidents Adams from early in our country's history. Many of Adams' works have been performed through the years by the KSO;  Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Gnarly Buttons, Shaker Loops, and the Chamber Symphony come to mind.
The KSO's contribution to the 2016 Big Ears Festival will include another Adams, this time John Luther Adams (b. 1953). Again, not related to the above-mentioned composer, or either president Adams. Also composing with a minimalist bent, Luther Adams' Pulitzer-Prize-winning soundscape Become Ocean will be one of the works presented on March 31 at the Tennessee Theatre. Whereas the Nixon in China music has a driving rhythmic infrastructure, Ocean uses slowly transforming slabs of sound to create waves of tension and spacey, absorbing sonic panoramas. The Big Ears Festival is an Alt-music Happening dedicated to avant-garde music and other media, drawing performers and audience members to Knoxville from every corner of the world, and taking place in 2016 from March 31 to April 2.

Finally, the April 14 and 15 Masterworks shows will open with Finding Rothko, by American composer Adam Schoenberg (b. 1980). Here again, no relation to the esteemed founder of the Twelve-tone method of composition, Arnold Schoenberg. This work uses more traditional compositional techniques with the addition of a bit of aleatoric (chance) note realization. A video featuring our April Guest Maestro Steven Jarvi interviewing the composer and discussing the four Mark Rothko paintings from which is drawn the inspiration for Finding Rothko is linked here.
4 months ago | |
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Although the KSO schedule as seen on the homepage may look as if there's a lull, nothing could be further from the truth, as there is an opera coming up and a ballet in Maryville.

I have to go waaay back in the memory machine to recall my last time performing Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, to 1984, when I still lived up in Hartford.  The pit was cramped and cold, and I think I did some damage to a violist's back with my bow, but the hypnotic beauty of Humperdinck's score has stayed with me to this day.  It has been nostalgic to revisit the opera recently in preparation for Knoxville Opera' s production this coming Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday at (2:30 p.m) at the Tennessee Theatre.  Humperdinck is the quintessential "one-hit wonder," but zounds, what a hit, although he did compose further.  His opera Konigskinder boasts the first use of sprechstimme, a vocal technique somewhere between singing and speaking, and made famous by Arnold Schoenberg. Speaking of Arnold, in 1965, aspiring British pop singer Arnold Dorsey changed his name to Engelbert Humperdinck (same spelling, I guess to avoid confusion : p).  He enjoyed considerable success thereafter.

Looking ahead to March 4th and 5th, we'll be shuffling off to Maryville to perform with the Appalachian Ballet Company for their Spring Gala.  This is the first full, non-Nutcracker ballet production the KSO has done in about ten years, since the City Ballet dissolved their partnership with the Tulsa Ballet.  There will be three numbers based on books by Knoxville children's author Libba Moore Gray; My Mamma Had a Dancing Heart, When Uncle Took the Fiddle, and Little Lil and the Swing-Singing Sax.  The classic Sylvia by Leo Delibes will also be on the program, which will take place at the Clayton Center for the Arts.  Check out the ABC's website for ticket info.
4 months ago | |
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Don Juan and Romeo and Juliet. Two titles that strike fear in the hearts of violinists everywhere. If you wonder why classical musicians practice so many hours, you should come to the Tennessee Theatre on Thursday or Friday night at 7:30, and experience these two monumental works (and staples of the audition repertoire for many instruments). As a bonus, you will get to experience Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto K 466, and blue cathedral by Jennifer Higdon. Our guest maestro this month is Eckart Preu, Music Director of the Spokane Symphony, and Alon Goldstein returns as piano soloist.
It's fascinating to browse through this old (1911) Encyclopedia Britannicato read about musicians when I'm posting a blog. Since we are performing it, I thought I'd investigate Richard Strauss' 1888 tone poem Don Juan. Although some of the volumes in this set have hardly if ever been opened, it became apparent that the page for Strauss was dog-eared! (but certainly not in this century). It says, "Strauss, Richard (1864-  )," and labels him as “a 20th-century Berlioz with a vastly wider musical knowledge and equipment.” They are quick to point out, however, that Strauss ripped off the Brits, claiming that a tune from his tone poem Aus Italiencame from Naples, when it actually originated in Saint John's Wood. Come to think of it, this encyclopedia kind of trashed Don Juan as a work of a young man without a mature center, but glowingly praised works that followed, like Death and Transfiguration and Don Quixote. Thankfully, Strauss' obvious command of the orchestra as a single collective instrument in the work is not overlooked. (Jeez, cut him some slack, guys, he was TWENTY-FOUR when he wrote this!) Remember, Richard Strauss is not related to the Viennese Senior and Junior Johann Strausses, and Richard is pronounced "Re-card."
Sergei Prokofiev was a 10-year-old boy playing chess and studying music with Reinhold Gliere in the Ukraine when this encyclopedia was published, so there really isn't much point in pulling out the "P" volume. Suffice it to say that Prokofiev's command of the orchestra is right up there with Strauss'. As ballet music goes, only Tchaikovsky's or maybe Stravinsky's music can compete. The selections that have been chosen from the two suites scarcely need dancers to tell the story. 
I'm sure there's a lot to say in that book about the Mozart concerto we're playing, too, but it's getting late and I have to "shed some wood" on that Strauss! And just so you know, Jennifer Higdon is from Seymour, but if you type "Jennifer H" in on Google, her name comes up first. Just sayin'.
5 months ago | |
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The KSO Youth Orchestras will be presenting their winter 2016 concerts on February 14-15. The Preludium, Philharmonia, Sinfonia and Youth Chamber Orchestra will be featured on Sunday the 14th (what a unique way to spend Valentine's Day!) at 3:00 at the Tennessee Theatre. The Youth Orchestra proper will give its Concerto Concert the next night at 7:00, also at the Tennessee Theatre. This year's winners are harpist Kari Novilla, playing the Allegro Moderato from Gliere's Concerto in E-flat for Harp and Orchestra, and saxophonist Spencer McDonald performing Tableaux de Provence, by Paule Maurice. These soloists were chosen from a very competitive field, and fellow finalists Henry Shen, Melody Guo, Isabelle Lee, Lyric Rivera, and Daniel Choo all have no reason to be remorseful with their fine, polished performances. Also on the concerto program will be Tchaikovsky's dramatic Marche Slav,and selections from Bizet's Carmen Suites. These concerts both have free admission. Here are a couple “action shots” of our soloists.


Spencer McDonald

Kari Novilla

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That same weekend, the Knoxville Symphony will spotlight the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein on the eve of Valentine's Day. I Could Write a Book about the stature of “R&H's” contributions to the canon of musical theater repertoire, but I have Confidence that you will be Whistling a Happy Tunewhen you leave the Civic Auditorium at 8:00 on Saturday, Feb. 13. Is a Puzzlementwhy someone would want to miss this Grand Night for Singing, on which will host Broadway notables Alli Mauzey, Gary Mauer and William Michals. The Carson Newman University A Capella Choir will also add The Sweetest Sounds to our production; I Cain't Say Noto such blending of voices; it's one of My Favorite Things!Don't you dare miss what is sure to be Some Enchanted Evening. 
So Long! Farewell!
5 months ago | |
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What a pretty sight! Snow is making an appearance, leaving no doubt that there will be a real winter this year. After our balmy December, it was beginning to look like winter was taking a sabbatical. My Oak Ridge students will get an extension for their assignments this week. I'm going to hammer out a few lines here, then go make a snow angel or two.
Our January Masterworks concert repertoire brings a variety of approaches to orchestral writing to the Tennessee Theatre this Thursday and Friday night at 7:30. The four works to be performed team up for an intriguing journey back through time, starting in 1995 with John Adams' clever Lollapaloozaand finishing up with Beethoven's exquisite 7th Symphony. (My favorite Beethoven symphony!) In between, violinist Philippe Quint will solo on the Bruch Concerto (my favorite violin concerto!), and we will get a taste of the music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's early folkloric phase in his 1951 Romanian Concerto.
Our guest maestro this month is Aram Demirjian, who is currently Associate Conductor with the Kansas City Symphony. His youthful energy, concise remarks and bold programming make this month's MW concerts a happy challenge. It came as a blessed relief to hear him say that all the notes whizzing by in the last movement of the Ligeti were to be thought of as an effect. It's always nice to hear what new things a conductor has to say about a standard like the Beethoven, while still letting the composer's genius shine through. Additionally, a lot is revealed about a conductor when (s)he leads a concerto or other work with a soloist. When a conductor is described as a “sensitive accompanist,” it has nothing to do with their skills as a pianist! A maestro who can keep the orchestra's playing on track despite unknown quantities of rubato on the part of a soloist, and often in a sight-unseen situation, makes the orchestra musician's job in concerto playing much easier and calmer.


6 months ago | |
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The chamber music keeps flowing this week, (Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the Knoxville Museum of Art), with Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends taking the “stage” at KMA's Great Hall.  Gabe has some awesome tunes in store, and I'm thrilled to be on board for the closing work on the program, Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat.  It's a work from Dvorak's very bountiful compositional period directly before the luscious 8th Symphony and the "Dumky" Trio, on the eve of his storied sojourn in America.  I have been wanting to play this piece for DECADES. 
The other works on the program, which I will enjoy listening to, are the Debussy Sonata No. 3 in G for Violin and Piano of 1917, a delightful, stream-of-consciousness work painted from an impressionistic palette.  The notorious Caprice No. 24by Paganini will also be on the first half, a work which is literally the basis for Rachmaninov's timeless Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  This theme and 11 variations will leave you dazzled.

Pianist Kevin Class will collaborate with Gabe on the Debussy, another in a long string of productions on which he and Gabe have partnered.  Violist Katy Gawne and I will join those two to present the Dvorak.  Kevin continues to “go hard in the paint,” with the final installment of his presentation of the complete piano chamber music of Brahms on February 15 at UT's Powell Recital Hall.  Katy and I will reunite with former KSO Associate Concertmaster and current UT Professor of Violin Miro Hristov, joining Kevin on Brahms' Piano Quartet in A Major (another work I have been waiting DECADES to play).  The Piano Quintet of Brahms will close out that concert and that series. Joining him will be KSO cellist Stacy Miller, violinists Sara Matayoshi and Ruth Bacon, and violist Hillary Herndon.  As if that weren't enough, Kevin has another cycle going on, the complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart!  The first two servings in that series (which will undoubtedly span at least a couple years, as there are 17 of them) will take place January 27 and March 3. This link is the program for a previous Brahms recital, but scroll down to see the multitude of performances in which he is involved, either at the keyboard or on the podium.
6 months ago | |
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It's a new year with lots of beautiful music to play and lots of mysteries to solve. Four more guest conductor candidates (condidates? candiductors?) will bring challenging and diverse repertoire with them to be savored by performers and concert-goers alike. Then in May, the mechanisms of decision will crank to life, and we'll just have to wait and see…
2016 begins with a spate of chamber music. (Actually, it began with the Vols destroying Northwestern, but there's already plenty of press about that elsewhere). ANYWAY, this weekend's Chamber Classics concert features the Principal String Quartet performing three gems of the quartet literature, and Gabe Lefkowitz' Concertmaster Series will include Dvorak's fabulous Piano Quartet. Winter FINALLY seems to have arrived, so come on down to one of our warm downtown venues to hear these terrific works.
This Sunday at 2:30, the Principal String Quartet will play Schubert's Quartettsatz, Prokofiev's 2nd Quartet, and Brahms' 3rd Quartet in B-flat. “Quartettsatz” (the last syllable is pronounced “zots”) simply means “quartet movement;” in the chamber music realm, this work is comparable to his “Unfinished Symphony.” It seems to be a piece to which Schubert could add no more.It is a darkly animated work, with the moodof his own song, Der Erlkönigechoing about. The Prokofiev piece that follows has melodies based on Kabardino-Balkar folk melodies from the North Caucasus. It's Prokofiev at his quirky best; considering that the premiere was delayed by a Naziair raid, the specter of World War II is not as blatantly palpable as in the works of Shostakovich from the period. The first movement is march-like, but not martial; the second movement sandwiches two deeplylyrical passages around a perky waltz; and the finale is driven by lots of motor rhythms and features a formidable cello cadenza.
Brahms' final quartet op. 67 is nothing like his previous two, which is no surprise, given that the earlier two share an opus number (51). Its first movement Vivace'sB-flat tonality and 6/8 meter are reminiscent of that of the Mozart “Hunt” Quartet that we performed at the Square Room in November. The third movement Agitatois a sublimetour de forcefor the viola; some violists believe it should be considered standard solo repertoire for the viola. A closing Theme and Variations halts seemingly in mid-sentence to revert to the theme of the first movement. The unusual twists and turns in all three of the works to be presented are a joy to bring off, and Gordon, Edward, Katie and I have had a blast getting to know them.

6 months ago | |
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