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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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My last post stated, “the show must go on,” and so it shall! The sidewalks are relatively clear, the heat in the Tennessee Theatre works, and we're looking forward to performing Antonin Dvorak's cantata Stabat Mater,tonight and Friday night at 7:30. We, meaning the Knoxville Symphony AND the Knoxville Choral Society.

This cantata, premiered in 1880, is Dvorak's first work on a religious theme. From the 11thedition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), Dvorak's entry reads:  “English sympathy was entirely won by the Stabat Materin 1883, and increased by the symphonies in D, D mi., and F, G, and E mi. (The American).” The entry goes on to describe the 9thsymphony as “a pseudo-American symphony.” That is good company, considering Dvorak had major success only with the Serenade for Strings and a couple sheaves of Slavonic Dancesto that point, in many more places than just England. This work is an example of a piece assigned a later opus number by some scoundrel publisher, in order to make the composer appear less accomplished. Its actual chronological point is around opus 40.
It is a very different sort of work from a composer we associate with secular music almost exclusively: expansive, patient, and inspiring but not morose, considering he had lost all three of his children in the three years previous to the work's premiere. His response was not to “take out his frustrations” on the music, but to hear a clear inner voice that instigated some beautifully crafted vocal lines and absorbing orchestration. 
2 months ago | |
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“Looks like snow.” Those words are daunting to arts management organizations dependent on last-minute sales to meet attendance quotas. The KSO has been lucky; in my 28 years here, in that no concerts have had to be cancelled due to snow or ice, and just a few shows have even had to contend with heavy weather. The Blizzard of '93 fell at a time when there wasn't much going on with the orchestra, so not much was affected, although I recall that the circus was in town then, and they were devastated. (I remember this because the following week we performed Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Civic Auditorium, with circus animal odors still fresh in the tunnel to the Auditorium stage). I seem to remember a low turnout due to weather at a mid-2000's concert featuring Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Attendees at former Knoxville Opera Company director Robert Lyall's return engagement (in February of 1996, with Dvorak's New World Symphony and Edgar Meyer performing his own Bass Concerto) were greeted with a skim coat of packed powder; THAT was an interesting drive home from work.
Gross weather doesn't usually give us performers pause when scheduling events in the relatively tame winter months here in Knoxville and so we go on faith that some will show up in their muffs and mukluks to see what we do. I am speaking of TONIGHT at 6:00 pm, when violinists Jeffrey Brannen and Ilia Steinschneider will present a concert in room 32 of the Alumni Memorial Building on the UT campus. They will delve into the rich lode that is the Bartok Violin Duos, then Jeff will perform Shostakovich's 2nd Violin Concerto. That is, his SECOND CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN, not his Concerto for Second Violin. Pianist Immanuelle Bizien will assist. Jeff lives in The Fort, so he can just walk there. But even if he lived far away, snow and ice would not stop him, because he is from Boston. Ilia is from Moscow. Need I say more?

UPDATE!!! Due to the weather and the closure of the UT campus, this recital has unfortunately been postponed.  : (
It's too soon to tell about the weather on March 9, but don't let much stop you from driving down to Maryville to see the Vivaldi Four Seasons solos performed by KSO violinists Ruth Bacon, Sean Claire, Rachel Loseke and Sara Matayoshi. (I guess this is the order of the seasons each of them is playing, that's how they appear on this link to the event). The concert will also contain music by Arturo Marquez and Sibelius, and will be under the direction of cellist, Maryville High School Orchestra director, and all-around great guy, Matt Wilkinson. That will be at 7:30 on the 9th at the Clayton Center on the MC campus.
Speaking of all-around great guys, pianist Kevin Class has given the chamber music scene a good shot in the arm by scheduling a pair of concerts in his ongoing series of Brahms piano chamber works, focusing this “spring” on the Piano Trios. Starting on February 23rd, Kevin will host Ruth Bacon and UT Professor of cello, Wesley Baldwin in the passionate B Major Trio, and violinist Rachel Loseke and hornist Gray Ferris for the Horn Trio. The cycle will be completed on March 30th when I will join Kevin and Sara Matayoshi in the op. 87 C Major Trio. This is a first for me. I've always admired the work from afar, but now its time has come. Then the moody C Minor Trio will be played by Kevin, Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and  Wesley Baldwin. Closing out the show will be the epic Clarinet Trio, with cellist Stacy Miller and UT Professor of clarinet, Victor Chavez. These concerts are both at the Powell Recital Hall on the UT campus and start at 8:00.

3 months ago | |
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This week we are immersed in opera. Not just any opera, but Bizet's Carmenwith the Knoxville Opera Company. Sure, we've all heard the tunes, but there's a whole lot more to it than just excerpted snippets. Playing the entire opera is an odyssey, and what you don't hear on commercials is even better than what you do hear.
I'm way out of college now, but I still can recall a certain grad school class at Umass where I was in way over my head: an opera survey class whose main textbook was written by music critic Joseph Kerman, entitled Opera as Drama. The premise of the book is that an opera's measure of success lay in how well the music is integrated with and contributes to the drama. Wanting a challenging elective, I signed up for the course, thinking “hey great, I'll learn a lot about opera!” I had no idea what kind of obstacle I had thrown in the path of receiving my Master's degree. In addition to the Kerman, there were cartloads of books in various languages and a listening list that was easily as long (remember, opera is a “real-time” art) as the entire spring semester of 1986. I just wanted to get out of there. I took FIVE auditions that spring! It was tooth-and-nail when grades came out, but I passed somehow.

It is nice- and easy- to see Kerman's premise in effect. Bizet's careful crafting of the melody to the characters' destinies has just as much to do with the work's success as does the sheer beauty of the melodies themselves. While it is thrilling to hear high c's and such in Italian (and other) opera, Carmen captures your heart largely without vocal pyrotechnics. A lot of Puccini, and the whole verismo movement seems to be derived from this work: textures, pacing and harmony. It's one of my favorite operas to play, and a work of art about which can truly be said, “there's a lot in it.” All this, wrapped up in “the French style,” can be YOURS this Friday (tomorrow) at 8:00 and Sunday matinee at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. 
3 months ago | |
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It just wouldn't be Valentine's Day without a good dose of romantic hits from stage and screen. In fact, it isn't! It's actually a week before Valentine's Day, but Saturday night, Feb. 7th at 8:00, Broadway headliners Melissa Errico and Stephen Buntrock will join the KSO to present a treasure trove of movie and musical theater hits. I said it back in August, and I'll say it again here: your date will be really impressed when you are a full week early in beginning your Valentine's Day celebration. (Feb. 7th is actually Saint Colette's Day, according to the Franciscan calendar, and according to more than one source, it's both “Wave All Your Fingers At Your Neighbor Day” and “Ice Cream For Breakfast Day”).
And which hits, I hear you asking? Well, ok! The Guys and Dolls of the KSO will be Taking a Chance on The Music of the Night, and then a Wonderful Guy who's Got Rhythm is going to come out and pose the sad question, “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” Perhaps The Summer Knows. That's All He'll Ask of You, though, and next thing you know 76 Trombones will be Getting Married Today! Haha, not really, but I Dreamed a Dream that There Once Was a Man who let Luck Be his Lady. Poor guy, Anything You Can Do to help him would be appreciated.

Just to let you know, there is an Ice Bears game next door at the Coliseum at the same time as our show, so allow a little extra time for parking.
3 months ago | |
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Whew, it's been quite a January. After briefly catching our breath, we'll be launching forthwith into preparations for Carmen and a romantic Broadway revue. In the meantime, the much-anticipated 2015-16 season has been announced, with an eclectic array of Music Director candidates. The “middle six” of the eight Masterworks concerts shall combine dynamic repertoire with diverse podium presences for a season that promises something for everyone, every time. All of the candidates will be conducting Masterworks concerts, as opposed to the previous (2003-2004 season) search, when two candidates led Masterworks and two led Chamber Classics shows. This avoids the resulting “apples to oranges” situation, wherein some players (and audience members) were not involved with the smaller chamber productions.
Especially in times of Music Director searches, we players become more in touch with a term called “guest conductor repertoire.” This is basically familiar, exciting works that a guest conductor can lead without having to completely redesign the orchestra's playing- repertoire that “plays itself.” Perfect examples of this are the Beethoven 7thSymphony and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I guess it could even be said that Strauss' Don Juanand Holst's Planets have crept into that category, as well.
Anyway, we LOVE doing this stuff. Beyond that, there will be world-class soloists providing us with a chance to encounter the conducting candidates' accompanying skills. Here is where a leader needs to know how to follow. The concertorepertoire for the season is not by any means far-flung, but each of the works has its own specific ensemble protocol. This alone should be a draw for the season, with solo repertoire such as violin concerti by Bruch and Barber, and piano concertiby Tchaikovsky and Mozart.

So log on to the KSO website, hover on “Tickets & Calendar,” and under “Categories,” a link to ALL of next seasons offerings will appear. Or just click here if you are already on the KSO website and want to see JUST the music director candidates' programs.
3 months ago | |
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Wednesday, January 28th will be a day devoted to the lighter side of chamber music. The Principal Woodwind Quintet will present a lunchtime concert at the Square Room, 4 Market Square at 12 noon. You will then have 4-½ hours to resume heavier pursuits until the Principal String Quartet begins the Scotch and Strings show at Boyd's Jig & Reel in the Old City at 5:30.
The repertoire for the WWQ's Q-Series show is rooted in drama and comedy, with music by Christopher Ball, Gyorgy Ligeti and Greg Danner. The Quintet is Aaron Apaza, bassoon; Jeffery Whaley, horn; Gary Sperl, clarinet; Nick Johnson, flute and Claire Chenette, oboe. People I have known all my life, even though I met some of them only a few months ago. The Ball opus is a five-movement work entitled Scenes from a Comedy,and if I say that one of the movements is called Hilda Broods and Hatches a Plot, you will understand where the composer is coming from. To call Mr. Ball merely a composer is to under-qualify him, since he is actually also an award-winning conductor, recorder soloist and photographer (he won the Zenith Photographer of the Year prize in 1971 for a photo that was apparently even better than the one below). Gyorgy Ligeti's Six Bagatellesare a departure from his more avant-gardenorm, bubbly and cartoon-like as they mostly are. (A bagatelleis a light-hearted piece, or in non-musical applications, a trifle). The show will close with Tennessee Tech theory professor Greg Danner's suite of five character sketches, Vaudeville!One of the movements therein is entitled That Was No Lady... Just sayin'. Tickets for this Cafe 4-catered event are $15 in advance, (like TODAY) or $20 at the door, if available at all.
Last year's inaugural Scotch & Strings featured bracing cold and perilous sidewalks, but those did not deter a great crowd from coming out to one of Knoxville's most revered performance spaces for Laphroaig, Dewar's, Villa-Lobos and Schubert. It's a bit warmer this year, in fact the sun may still be shining when I show up. Violinsts Gordon Tsai and Edward Pulgar, violist Katy Gawne and I will bring about some music to keep warm by, whatever the weather. We'll be previewing some upcoming concerts, first with a bit of Mendelssohn- a sparkling work which really ought to have a more honorable identity than just “op. 44, #1.” This is perhaps the only time you will be able to enjoy scotch and champagne simultaneously. We'll be playing the work in its entirety on the March 25thQ Series at the Square Room, but we thought we'd “run it up the flagpole and see who salutes” at the J&R. Another preview arrangement we'll play will find us waxing rhapsodic; that's all I'm gonna say about that one... There will also be Efrain Amaya's Angelica,and a brief reminiscence of last week's Tchaikovsky symphony. Tickets for the event are $35 in advance, $40 at the door.




3 months ago | |
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OK! Where are we now? The Tennessee Theatre, of course. The “Big Orchestra” is hosting a guest conductor, Larry Loh from Pittsburgh. In that city, he is the Resident Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphonies. The January Masterworks concert pair is given over to music of Berlioz (Roman Carnival Overture), Shostakovich (Cello Concerto #1), and Tchaikovsky (4thSymphony). These shows have 7:30 starts at the Tennessee this coming Thursday and Friday nights.
Our soloist is Julie Albers, from New York. She has just been appointed Principal Cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, but is also on the faculty of the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Atlanta. Such is the life of an in-demand player; lots of frequent flyer miles there. As busy as she is, there is no sense of harriedness in her playing. The Shostakovich Concerto on which she is featured requires great concentration and focus, and she brings out the best in the work.
And now a little about that work. The more frequently performed and studied of the two Shostakovich Cello Concerti by far, the First Concerto in E-flat was written in 1959, 3 years before the String Quartet No. 8 that the Principal String Quartet performed this past November. The two works share some material; the main theme of the concerto's first movement appears in the quartet's scherzo. The outer movements of the concerto are boisterous, bordering on wacky, with some fairly simple melodic ideas receiving harmonization from Shostakovich's unique tonal and rhythmic palettes. The second movement Moderato is cast in a serene, meditative (but DEFINITELYnot morose) mood, and features a duet between the solo cello (playing artificial harmonics) and the celeste, played by Carol Zinavage Shane. (Carol and I both agree that the Turtles' 1968 hit You Showed Meborrows its melody from this movement). The Moderatoyields to an extended stream-of-consciousness cadenza, leading to an upbeat (and offbeat) finale. As a whole, the work definitely bears repeated listening; there is SO MUCH in it.
Speaking of so much, “Tchaik 4” is all of that. Before I knew the work well, I just assumed that the multitude of tunes in it were from different pieces by Tchaikovsky. Then I performed it for the first time, and I couldn't believe that all that stuff I had heard was in just the FIRST MOVEMENT. At least 8 different themes appear, ranging from lilting to soaring to tumultuous. The first movement Andante sostenuto/Moderato con anima is the longest symphony movement Tchaikovsky composed, but it is done so smoothly that one doesn't notice the length as much as Tchaikovsky's gift as a tunesmith. The 3rdmovement Scherzo: Pizzicato Ostinatostands alone in all of the symphonic literature with not a single bowed note from the strings. The Finaleis fast and furious, and provides a happy ending.

I haven't spoken of the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overturewhich opens the concert, but it is a true classic. It has to be, it is full of Berliozian wit and verve, and besides, it has an English horn solo in it. Don't be late or you'll miss it!
3 months ago | |
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It's always good to say those two little words: SOLD OUT! That's What's Up! The “carrot and schtick” method of entertainment seems to be just what Knoxville needs right now. Saturday night at 8:00 at the Civic Auditorium, there will be a full house as the KSO will host Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, with all of your favorite Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes front and center.
So much classical music is quoted here, it's impossible to list, but there is a strong Wagner presence in the score. Some of the tunes are lifted veboten, er... verbatim from commonly performed editions, but often there are slight altercations –oops!-- I mean alterations in the direction the music goes. It keeps us on our toes, we get to wear headphones, and we finally learn what instrument makes that slide-y sound at the beginning of the  fanfare!
If you are attending the concert, be aware that there is a Knoxville Ice Bears vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers game in the adjacent Coliseum, which has a 7:30 face-off. Parking may take a little extra time, but probably not as much time as it will take that poor hockey player to get his face back on.Say, why not skip the traffic and walk off the dinner you just ate downtown? It's only five blocks from Market Square, three from Gay St. (And you walked HOW FAR the last time you were in New York)?

Just for a little added flavor, I'm going to put this bug in your ear. Don't you think Mel Blanc looks like Django Reinhardt? Just sayin'... Also their styles are similar, going for broke at every turn.


Only the guitar gives it away... 


4 months ago | |
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I was amped to play Strauss' Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite last weekend, and I'm amped to play Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florencein its original sextet form tonight and tomorrow night at the Knoxville Museum of Art at 7:00 as part of the “Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends” Concertmaster series. This is a high-amp month, with Tchaikovsky's 4thSymphony coming right up next week. The one great thing about music is that the music itself doesn't care when we move on to something new-- We can say “we love it,” but it's okay to say that we love another piece just as much. One week's favorite must necessarily give way to the next piece, otherwise, why not just play the same work over and over?
Why Florence? In rehearsals for the sextet, I've been keeping an ear peeled for hints of things which might evoke the way Florence looks, sounds or smells, but having never been to Florence, I'm not really sure what I'm looking for. The commission for this sextet, issued by the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society, came in 1886, but in true Tchaikovsky fashion, it took a while for Tchaikovsky's muse to kick in. It wasn't until 1890, when he was in Florence composing his opera The Queen of Spades that the idea for the bel canto second movement theme sprang into his head. And that's it! Nothing else in the piece particularly evokes Italy; it is more about Tchaikovsky telling the world how much he loved to be in Florence.
After a somewhat unsuccessful premiere in December of 1890 (the composers Liadov and Glazunov were in attendance, and agreed that the last two movements “needed some work”) and consequent massive revisions to the third and fourth movements, Tchaikovsky was quite pleased with what he had written, particularly the fugatopassage at the end of the finale. Only then did the title of the work come to be given. It is the last multi-movement work by Tchaikovsky save for the 6th(Pathetique) symphony.

The concert will start in Italy, with Vivaldi's Winterconcerto from his Four Seasons“concerto cycle.” Gabe will be accompanied by an orchestrinaof 10 players. I have learned this is called a “decet.” Following that, Gabe and pianist Kevin Class will perform five movements from Prokofiev's Cinderellaballet, those movements being Waltz, Gavotte, Passepied, Winter Fairy and Mazurka.
4 months ago | |
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Brrr...
It seems like wicked cold weather always attends the January Chamber Orchestra concerts at the Bijou. The edict has been issued from management: “Do Not Use The Stage Door To The Bijou For Any Reason!” Unlike the Tennessee Theatre, where the stage door is a floor down from the performing level, the stage door of the Bijou opens right on to the stage, letting in whatever bus exhaust, Harley-Davidson noise (even with the door closed you get that), and- COLD AIR.
To ensure good instrument and musician health, there are contractual guidelines assuring that the temperature onstage will be at a minimum of 65 degrees. Any colder than that, and players' fingers are at risk of injury. The woodwind and string instruments have a minimum temperature requirement for structural health, but I must add that it is the wide fluctuations in temperature that cause the most problems, not the cold temps themselves. A cello or a bassoon, for instance, can't help but cool off when being toted from a warm car (or bus, or train, etc.) to the hall. For a string player, this means opening the case and mingling the warmer indoor air with the cooled air inside the case, before pulling the instrument out in earnest. Different pieces of the instrument expand and contract with the heat at different rates, so there is a chance that they will come unglued. The friction fit of the pegs is affected by these different expansion rates also, which is why we often open our cases to find that one (or more) of our strings has come unwound. The glue which holds a stringed instrument together is purposely not super strong, in case there is some tectonic shifting due to temperature differential. Any glue that is stronger than the wood itself will cause the instrument to tear itself to shreds when exposed to a drastic temperature change. You want the glue to let go, not the wood itself. Humidifying devices, the most common of which is called the Dampit, are inserted into the f-holes to raise the humidity inside the instrument. The humidity plummets because of the dry forced-air heat that is so prevalent in our modern winter world.
A woodwind player's plight is different here, in that the player's warm breath blown into the instrument is at a way higher temperature than the ambient air, even on a summer's day. For this reason, woodwind instruments also need time to become acclimated to the cold. Another danger for wind instruments makes itself known at the end of a rehearsal or concert, when players leave through a door that allows cold air to enter. (A woodwind instrument takes quite a bit longer to put away; you can always count on the woodwind players to still be on stage at least 10 minutes after work). This cold air always seems to make a beeline for the woodwind instruments, which have become toasty warm from the indoor warm air and from being played. Principal clarinetist Gary Sperl can tell you some horror stories about cracks that his clarinets have sustained this way.
I have always been puzzled by the amazing condition of some string instruments that are 350+ years old. Most modern classical musicians, if not all, have every convenience and amenity to keep us warm in this weather, but what about 300 years ago? How on Earth did musicians in Europe and especially Russia cope with winter weather? Obviously Strads, Guarneris, etc. were owned by the upper class, who had ample means of keeping things warm, but what about the poor grunts that had decent but not world-class instruments?

It will probably get above freezing by Sunday at 2:30, when the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will present music of Mozart, Stamitz and Strauss. It will definitely be above 65 inside the Bijou Theatre. So come warm up with us!
4 months ago | |
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