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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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The Knoxville Opera's production of Tosca, each act of which was performed in a different venue, was a huge hit in spite of the rain that fell on Act 3 at the Tennessee Amphitheater.  Outdoor concerts continue to adorn the KSO's schedule, with a performance at Maryville's Theater in the Park on May 26, with a rain date the next night, and Market Square Thursday, May 5.  Due to imminent cold, rainy weather however, our Market Square concert TONIGHT will be held at the Bijou Theatre, where concert time temperatures hopefully will NOT expected to dip into the 40s.  (So far May is looking cooler than April, just like December seemed to be warmer than October).  WE are expecting to dip into the music of Johann Strauss (Roses from the South),Franz Josef Haydn (two movements from his “London” Symphony), Franz von Suppe(Light Cavalry Overture)and George Gershwin (The Man I Love),as well as music of Irving Berlin and Leroy Anderson.  Resident Conductor Jim Fellenbaum will direct, and with any luck, his darling daughter Kiri will be on hand to distract him. And in spite of the change of venue, this concert shall remain FREE.

The weekend will send us into the land of cool, smooth jazz, with special guest Kenny G gracing our Civic Auditorium Pops stage Saturday night at 8.  Get ready for Desafinado, Forever in Love, Heart and Soul, Songbird, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow like you've never heard them before-- or if you have, probably not live.  Kenny G captured listeners' hearts with his 1986 album Duotonesand he has not let go in the ensuing 30 years.  I'm a Big Fan!
3 months ago | |
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The final concert of the KSO Chamber Classics series is TODAY at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre!  And when I say “classics,” I mean it.  Like Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3, with Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz as soloist, Britten's Simple Symphony,and Dvorak's timeless Serenade for Strings.
Britten composed the Simple Symphony in 1933-34, and dedicated it to his childhood viola teacher, Audrey Alston, using melodies he composed when he was as young as ten.  It is a very accessible, strings-only work that shouldn't be confused with Carl Nielsen's work of (roughly) the same title, which is anything but simple.  Each of the four movements has alliterative titles; Boisterous Bouree, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande, and Frolicsome Finale.  The second theme of the Pizzicato movement bears a striking resemblance to Barnacle Bill the Sailorfrom that old Popeyecartoon. 



Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major is a happy romp for soloist Gabe.  The work is in G Major, aka “the people's key.”  It is a staple on the audition circuit, and reveals a lot about a player's abilities.  After a brief intermission, we will finish our concert with the Dvorak's 1875 Serenade.  It's one of the “big 4” works in the genre, joining string serenades by late-Romantic heaviesTchaikovsky, Elgar, and (Dvorak protegé)Josef Suk.  I'm looking out at the sky right now and it'sbright blue and cloudless.  This is the musical equivalent of that sky.  The work's sunny disposition reflects obviously happy times in the composer's life.  Many themes reappear from movement to movement in a dignified, reminiscent way, and the waltzy second movement bears a strong resemblance to Chopin's Waltz in C# Minor, op. 64, No. 2.  Same key and everything, but definitely with its own grace and intention.
4 months ago | |
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The Knoxville Symphony's final Music Director candidate, Steven Jarvi, will take the stage with us Thursday (today) and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre at 7:30.  Adam Schoenberg's suite Finding Rothkowill open, cellist Susie Yang will solo in Dvorak's monumental Cello Concerto, and Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variationscloses the program.

Finding Rothkois a quartet of vignettes depicting composer Adam Schoenberg's (pronounced SHOWN-berg) reaction to four of American expressionist artist Mark Rothko's works.  Composed 10 years ago, the work does not describe the paintings per se, as did last month's Pictures at an Exhibition.  The appeal of Rothko's “color field” paintings does not translate well to the computer screen, since an average canvas of his might be 6 feet square.  The composition has some captivating tone clusters, stunning percussion colors, AND… you get to see keyboardist Carol Zinavage use her ELBOWS.  This is in no way a “bleep-bloop” modern work, though; there are some beautiful harmonies and timbres.  In a sense it is valid to say that the Schoenberg is not the only American work on the program, since Dvorak's concerto was written in New York while the composer was Director of the National Conservatory.  There isn't really much about the work that is American, though; rather, it is pure Dvorak, pure cello, pure virtuosity.

The concert ends in jolly good British fashion with the Enigma Variations.  Elgar, the premier British Romantic composer,characterizes himself and 13 of his friends with charming and memorable accuracy.  People over 45 or somayrecallthe oboe melody in Variation III from an insurance company commercial in the 80's.  Does anyone remember what company?  In Variation XIII, listen for the hushed tympani roll, suggesting the engine of an ocean liner-- the composer calls for a penny to be placed on the tympani for that extra industrial timbre.  And, besure to bask in the luscious beauty of Variation IX, Nimrod.  In a season of repertoire filled with beautiful moments, I guarantee this is the one that will transport the most people the furthest.
4 months ago | |
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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.


4 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.
4 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.
5 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.
5 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.
6 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'.
6 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!
6 months ago | |
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