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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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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?
6 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.


6 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).
6 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.
6 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!
6 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.
6 months ago | |
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Spring seems to be very shy this year. Its timing seems to be all out of whack; I’ve never seen forsythia bloom so late! Pellissippi Parkway is about to explode with redbud blooms, daffodils, and that other yellow stuff. Years ago there was a sign among the daffodils that said FINE FOR PICKING. It was a creative nuisance, wording the warning that way. A lawyer friend of ours (Bill Mason) challenged us to pick some, stating that our defense would be “It said they were fine for picking!”



Even if spring is late, the Rossini Festival is right on time, and that time is this Saturday! The street fair on Gay Street, the countless performing and visual arts venues, the unsurpassed people-watching, the FOOD– and the operas. The Knoxville Opera Co. and the KSO will be performing Bellini’s Norma on Friday night at 8 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. UT’s Opera Theatre will be performing Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at the Carousel Theatre on the UT campus in four performances starting Thursday night.

We’ve just put the finishing touches on Norma. The two very demanding female leads are being sung by J’Nai Bridges and Rochelle Bard, who, to our delight, feel no need to “mark” during rehearsals. This is the “Cadillac” of opera seria duet singing. The aria Casta diva is a storied workout for the soprano and a dramatic challenge for the Stage Director.

My guess is that many opera-goers will go out for drinks after the show, and one or two may order a Bellini, thinking they are being relevant. In actuality, the Bellini is named after the Italian Renaissance artist, Giovanni Bellini. The drink’s concocter, Giuseppe Cipriani, thought the Bellini’s color resembled that of a toga worn by a saint in one of the artist’s paintings. So, know your Bellinis! And call a cab.

The name of the soprano in the premier of Norma was Giuditta Pasta. Pasta diva. Yes, the Rossini Festival is right on time...
7 months ago | |
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The Principal String Quartet of the KSO will be performing this coming Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou. We will open with one of the most well-known of Haydn’s 83 string quartets, his op. 64 no. 5, The Lark. The second movement of this work is the basis for the song I’m in the Mood for Love, which has been recorded by no less than 120 different artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Chaka Khan to the Sex Pistols. I personally am playing this quartet again for the first time in 34 years. I know, it’s scary. Jimmy Carter was president then, and our first violinist, Gordon “Go-go”  Tsai, was just a twinkle in his momma’s eye.

Fast forward a century and a half, cross both the Atlantic and the equator, and you’ll find the roots of the second work on the program, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ 1st String quartet. Really more of a six-movement suite, this work was recently performed on our “Q Series” concert nine days ago at the Emporium Center. For a piece with Brazilian origins, it sure uses a lot of impressionistic musical language. It’s no wonder, considering Villa-Lobos spent four years in Paris.

The grand finale of the concert will be Franz Schubert’s magnum opus for the string quartet, the d minor Death and the Maiden quartet. The quartets Schubert composed as a teenager are definitely youthful works compared to this; he himself dismissed them as such. A more mature quartet was composed concurrently with D&TM, his op. 29 Rosamunde quartet.

Schubert’s lot was an unhappy one during the year this was composed (1824); incredibly, at the time of its composition, he was younger than any of the members of the KSO’s Principal Quartet. He was broke and sickly, and his publisher Diabelli was ripping him off royally. Perhaps he had some inkling that he would only live four more years. This work’s mood, especially its tonality, reflects his frame of mind at this time, but it is by no means morose.

The first movement has a hook that is challenged only by the opening phrase of  Beethoven’s 5th symphony for the title of  “Most Dramatic Musical Phrase Ever Written.” The subtitle of the quartet is derived from his 1817 lied of the same name, the theme of which is treated with a set of variations that make up the second movement. After a syncopated, dramatic scherzo (with a mood swing into D Major during the trio section), the tarantella finale brings it all home. Its theme is surely the inspiration for the Civil War era song When Johnny Comes Marching Home (aka The Ants Go Marching), although there is no earthly way that either Johnny or the ants could march as fast as this tarantella’s breakneck tempo.
7 months ago | |
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Here I am on a Saturday night with nothing to do. It’s inconceivable, given the rate at which KSO performances have been whizzing by, but totally welcomed. This weekend in Knoxville the Big Ears Festival is in town. Big Ears is a new music showcase founded by Ashley Capps in 2009, now in its third incarnation. This years Ears will be headlined by Steve Reich and will also feature (among many more) the So Percussion ensemble, John Cale (an original member of the Velvet Underground), The Wordless Music Orchestra, Ensemble Signal, and Nils Frahm.

As I stare out of my window (Sunday morning now), choosing the next words to type, I see runners. Running by our house. Lots of them. In 45-degree weather. In shorts. Oh yeah, it’s the Knoxville Marathon! I’m sure that some KSO members are running in it, although maybe only the half-marathon. I swore off distance running in my twenties; for whatever reason, my knees would stiffen up after about a mile of running, or about eight miles of hiking. It’s weird, I can play soccer or basketball pain-free until I pass out from exhaustion, but just straight running is too much of a muchness for my knees. I know that violinist Sean Claire doesn’t have that problem. He outlined his weekend schedule for me at the Tellico Village runout the other night. He was to play Carmina Burana with the Symphony of the Mountains in Kingsport last night, returning from that ‘round midnight, then awaken at 5:00 (AM) to warm up for the marathon. I feel like such a slacker. GO SEAN!!!! Here are some other KSO folks who were up way before me today. Left to right, Gordon Tsai, Rachel Loseke, Gray Ferris, Gabe Lefkowitz, Stacy Miller



The Knoxville scene continues to evolve next weekend, when the Dogwood Arts Festival unfurls its petals for the 52nd  time. This all-encompassing showcase of blooms, music and the arts in general will last throughout April and kick off in a big way next weekend with a festival within a festival, Rhythm and Blooms, which does for Roots and Americana music what Big Ears does for avant-garde music. Nine venues will host a who’s who of local and national talent, including Logan Brill, who, accompanied by the KSO, graced the Ijams Nature Center stage with her presence this past September, Four Leaf Peat, the house band of this past December’s Clayton Holiday Concerts, Knoxville’s own Black Lilies, who are taking the country music scene by storm, and cellist Ben Sollee, who I hope does not need any introduction.

The weekend after that, (April 12) will be the Knoxville Opera Company’s 13th annual Rossini Festival, which will take place at its original downtown venues. (There was talk of moving the Festival to World’s Fair Park, but KOC and City officials hammered out a deal to keep it where it has always been). The theme of this year’s festival will be sunshine, avenging last year’s day-long downpour which scared away quite a few (but by no means all) patrons.

The onslaught of upcoming festivals and events rolls out like this, although this list is far from thorough:

Earthfest, at World’s Fair Park, April 26
Market Square Farmer’s Market, starting May 3 and every Saturday morning through October
60th Annual Cosby Ramp Festival, May 4
Bloomsday, UT Trial Gardens, May 10
Vestival, May 10
International Biscuit Festival, May 15-18
Bob Dylan Birthday Bash, June 6
Bark in the Park, June 14
Pride Fest, June 21
7 months ago | |
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Last night, there was an event in the Old City feting Lucas and Debbie Richman in honor of their involvement with the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School. The venue was a relatively new one, called The Standard. A whole host of KSO fans, KJDS supporters and friends were in attendance, and a number of presentations were made, including a very charming PowerPoint collage of interviews with current KJDS drama students. Radio personality Hallerin Hilton Hill gave a short keynote testimonial, and introduced the Principal String Quartet’s performance. We performed three compositions by Maestro Richman, an arrangement of the Jewish Hymn Hine Mah Tov, his Gerhardt Variations, from the score of the film Four Faces, and a set of variations based on Music Can Make Your Life Complete, the theme song of Picardy Penguin. Debbie Richman sang Pure Imagination from the musical Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with the Maestro accompanying her on piano.

It was an interesting venue, to say the least. For years and years, the Standard Wilson Glass Company was headquartered in the building, but they moved to Morgan Street in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood a few years back. I’d bought a variety of windows and screens for our home and had glass installed in a couple of our cars there over the years, but never did I expect to be performing music there, let alone in a tux. Unsure of the exact location, I consulted Google Maps, but the Street View photos they provided showed a pretty abysmal, blighted looking property, obviously taken before the building was renovated! Dewhirst Properties has done a wonderful job with the transformation of the building and I hope to perform there again.

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Just down the street, at the Emporium Center for Arts and Culture (home of the KSO office) at 100 South Gay St., another instalment of the new "Q" Series will take place Tuesday at noon. The Principal Woodwind Quintet and String Quartet will bring an eclectic program to a lunchtime crowd.

The String “Q” will perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ String Quartet No. 1, which is drawn from his 1946 Suite Gracioso. Its six movements are in various moods, ranging from lyrical to impish. The melody of the finale, Saltando como un Saci (Jumping like a jumping bean), bears an uncanny resemblance to Glinka’s Kamarinskaya, frequently played on KSCO runouts. The Woodwind “Q” will present three works, Shostakovich’s charming Polka from the Age of Gold ballet, Henri Tomasi’s colorful Cinq Danses, and Justinian Tamusuza’s Abafa Luli. The concert is free. See you there!
7 months ago | |
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