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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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I played all six Brandenburg concerti yesterday. I don’t feel exhausted, just... enlightened. It really was a Brandenburg-athon; I used that word last week and didn’t realize that the Tuesday double rehearsal was ALL SIX. Two of the slow movements were tacet for me, (honestly, what could I add?) but except for that, 17 movements involved me. It's a different sort of program for the Tennessee Theatre stage, contrasting the orchestration chops of Leopold Stokowski channeled through Bach with the ultimate in Baroque ensemble composition. As you remember from our last episode, Thursday night’s concert will conclude with Brandenburg Concerti 4, 3, and 1, while numbers 5, 6, and 2 will be played Friday, which is Bach's 329th birthday.

The orchestrations were considered quite daring at the time; the combination in No. 2 of flute, violin, oboe and trumpet is like the Free Bird of Baroque concertante music. Gabe Lefkowitz (violin), Phyllis Secrist (oboe) and Ebonee Thomas (flute) are joined by guest trumpeter Ryan Beech, who is playing notes I didn’t even know existed on the trumpet. Brandenburg 6 in particular is a lush, intimate snapshot of the potential beauty that Bach knew was dwelling within all of those old European string instruments. Violists Katy Gawne and Eunsoon Corliss are reprising their awesome performance of a couple of years ago. Most of his contemporaries relied on formulas and templates for their compositions, but Bach took on the challenge of writing pieces that employed the Fibonacci sequence in a beautiful way.

Speaking of chops, you will be amazed to learn (if you don’t know already) that all of the notes we play in the Toccata and Fugue and the Chaconne were originally intended to be played by one person. An organist or a violinist, specifically. True tests for their respective soloists, for sure, but in their orchestrated forms, they are somehow not much easier to play. Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum is right on top of things, leading the full orchestra through these dramatic, iconic tours de force.

I’m not sure if this book was on the syllabus or not, but Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach would be a good thing to take a gander at before either (OR BOTH) of the concerts this week. If you can’t find that, just look at some fractal art, or even a map of the coast of England, then look at some Escher prints, and then take in the concert. You will gain some understanding of what sets Bach apart from the rest of the Baroque crowd.
6 months ago | |
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Well, it seems to be snowing. What is it about snow and our Side-By-Side concerts!? I hope it’s just a flurry, because tonight at 7:00, the KSO core strings will team up with the Bearden High School Orchestra strings. Under the capable hands of Katie Middleton they’ve been working hard at a Mozart Divertimento, a Vaughan Williams arrangement of Rhosymedre, and a Dittersdorf Sinfonia Concertante. (You may remember Dittersdorf from an early August post entitled Composers with Funny Names). The Dittersdorf work will have as soloists violist Parker Jones and bassist Kaleb Keller. The KSO strings only will be featured in the final two movements of Holst’s St. Paul Suite.

Looking ahead to the weekend, the Indigo Girls are coming to town Saturday night! I CAN’T WAIT to play Galileo, Closer to Fine, Ghost, and a whole host of other Americana songs that have made this Decatur, Georgia duo an enduring and endearing force on the American Folk scene. If you missed them at Farragut High back in 1998, well, they’ll be at the Civic Auditorium Saturday at 8:00.

Next week brings the Brandenburg-athon, and both Thursday and Friday night’s Masterworks concerts at the Tennessee Theatre will begin with Leopold Stokowski’s timeless arrangements of two solo works of Bach’s, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, and the Chaconne movement from Partita No. 2 in D Minor for solo violin, BWV 1004. Leopold Stokowski was the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 to 1941; surely this is the “Leopold” they had in mind in that episode of Bugs Bunny with the orchestra and the tenor with the shrinking head... It should be known that Friday, March 21 IS J. S. BACH'S BIRTHDAY. The Brandenburg concerti will be arrayed as such: Thursday, 4, 3 and 1; Friday, 5, 6 and 2. Here are some identifying features of each.

#4: We just performed this at the Bijou Theatre; there are two flute soloists and a violin solo. Word on the street is that they sound great!
#3: Depending on how you look at it, this work has either no soloists or nothing but soloists. It is one-on-a-part. Each section plays mostly the same notes with occasional outbursts of cascading three-part harmonies or cadential roulades. The second movement, which is sometimes skipped, consists of two chords and some violin improvisation.
#1: A pair of horns and three oboes are the kingpins of #1. It is the only Brandenburg with 4 movements. The second movement Adagio is drop-dead gorgeous.
#5: This was also recently done at the Bijou by the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra. There is a jaw-dropping virtuoso harpsichord cadenza  in the first movement, played again by Michael Unger. (Mr. Unger will be playing the harpsichord on ALL SIX Brandenburgs). The second movement Affetuoso is a mere trio of solo flute, violin and harpsichord.
#6: This is the most minimalist of the Brandenburgs, with just a pair of violas, a pair of violas da gamba, solo bass, cello, and harpsichord. The viola da gamba is an ancient precursor to the cello that is rarely heard in concert these days. Its similarity to the cello allows the cello to be an acceptable- and more audible- substitute. The first movement has a lot of cool echo effects, and the opening of the last movement was the Minnesota Public Radio jingle for years and years. You will recognize it if you have ever heard the beginning of Prairie Home Companion. 
#2: Soloists for this one are flute, oboe, and trumpet. There are some wicked high passages for the trumpet.

Well it seems to have stopped snowing. I know if I waited long enough it would. Now maybe Old Man Winter will leave us in peace so we can get on with our lives.
6 months ago | |
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Gabe Lefkowitz is at it again, bringing violin encores (with pianist Kevin Class) and a Brahms Sextet to Knoxville’s Old City, this Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00 at Remedy Coffee, 125 West Jackson Ave.

Starting the program will be Riccardo Drigo’s Valse Bluette, arranged in 1906 by the great Hungarian violin pedagogue  Leopold Auer. The original provenance of the work, however, is as a pas de deux, Drigo’s contribution to a collectively composed 1903 ballet entitled La tulipe de Haarlem. In his younger years, Drigo was a favorite accompanist of virtuoso violinist Antonio Bazzini, composer of Dance of the Goblins, which Gabe and Kevin performed on last March’s concertmaster series show. If you are still unconvinced of Drigo’s worth to the music world, just be satisfied in knowing that he conducted the world premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. ‘Nuff sed.

Gabe and Kevin will also be playing Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs, the March from Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, and Introduction and Tarantella by the great Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. You know why all of those French composers wrote so convincingly in a Spanish musical idiom? It’s because they were exposed to the playing AND compositions of Sarasate. Lalo’s Symphonie Esapgnole, Bizet’s Carmen, and Saint-Säens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso are just a few pieces that owe their Spanish-ness to knowledge of Sarasate’s work.

The concerts will conclude with the Brahms Sextet in B?, op. 18. Chamber music is well-served by the “op. 18" moniker; Mendelssohn’s op. 18 is a viola quintet, Dvorak’s is a string quartet, and Beethoven’s is SIX string quartets, which are considered the “Old Testament” (perhaps the Book of Psalms?) of string quartet playing. Richard Strauss’ op. 18 is the Violin Sonata, played by Gabe and Kevin on the Remedy Coffee concerts this past October.

The Brahms is a favorite of string players, always kept in mind whenever pairs of cellists, violists, and violinists are having a glass of wine together. While the music is not easy, the spirit and mood of the work are. The second movement, Andante, ma moderato is a set of “torch song” variations that epitomize the term “Romantic music.” Principal violist Katy Gawne says the variations remind her of La Folia by Corelli. The Scherzo third movement is quirky, and its Trio is in a faster tempo than the Scherzo proper; a very unusual occurrence. The Rondo finale is rich like the first movement, but ends with a snowballing accelerando which is edge-of-your-seat exciting. Early Brahms is a very different animal than mature and late Brahms, and beyond this Sextet, next season will include two essential early works, the Piano Concerto No. 1 on the September 18th and 19th Masterworks pair, and Maestro Richman’s Chamber Classics farewell next May will be the luscious op. 11 Serenade, a symphony in every aspect except its title.
6 months ago | |
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I am crossing paths with two old friends these days, Mssrs. Bach and Brahms. An all-Baroque Chamber Classics concert this coming Sunday boasts two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti (# 4 & 5), and next Wednesday and Thursday’s Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends concert will close with Brahms’ Op. 18 String Sextet. In the realm of “big chamber music,” here are some real treasures.

When you play Bach’s music, you live it. The tunes, the rhythms, the logic, the fingerings... I first encountered the Brandenburg Concerti as a freshman at Newington (CT) High School. We worked up these SAME TWO concertos and traveled to Washington for a competition. I believe we actually performed one of them in the Senate Rotunda as well. A cellist from back in the day eventually become principal cellist of the Charleston (SC) Symphony, and a violist AND an oboist would later play with the Chicago Symphony. My best friend John Eckhardt played the concertato (solo) violin parts, and there were in fact three or four flutists who could really do a nice job with the solo flute parts. John would later become friends in Chicago with KSO Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum, who will be conducting Sunday’s concert...

That’s whack enough, but beyond that spectacle of coincidence, I’d have to say that Bach’s miraculous alloying of beauty and structure are never so vividly on display as in these two Brandenburgs. It is fitting that we will be playing them on this month’s Masterworks concerts because they are undisputed masterpieces. Here is a chance to hear harpsichordist Michael Unger putting John Brock’s harpsichord through its paces, and Gabe Lefkowitz  taking on what is considered “the tail of the dragon” for violinists. All of the harpsichord and violin solos are riveting outbursts which will leave you wondering what hit you. You’ll also hear our flutists Ebonee Thomas and Jill Bartine  team up in #4 for some of the most beautiful duet writing. Ever.

As is that wasn’t enough, we will perform a Handel Concerto Grosso, Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins op. 3, no. 11, featuring Gabe and principal second violinist Edward Pulgar as soloists. Sunday, March 2 at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre. Gotta go practice. I promise I’ll get to the Brahms later...
6 months ago | |
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Picardy Penguin is back! Look fast, because he’ll only be here this morning at the Tennessee Theatre at 9:30 a.m., and at the Clayton Center in Maryville Wednesday at 9:30, then he’s off for more cyber-journeys. He’ll be accompanied by the Go! Contemporary Dance Works and singer Katy Wolfe Zahn in a program that will explore dance traditions from across the globe. We’ll be playing a Dvorak Slavonic Dance, the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet, Shall We Dance? from The King and I, a Piazzola fugue- tango, and maestro Richman’s Tango á la Picardy among others. For  a few minutes, The Hokey Pokey will be what it's all about for Picardy.

It’s interesting that the piece Picardy is dancing has a French title, for France is from whence the name “Picardy” comes. This isn’t to say that Picardy Penguin is French, just his name. I don’t think the Normandy has quite the right climate for penguins. Musically speaking, the name Picardy refers to a compositional technique called “Picardy thirds.”  That’s what happens a when a song, or “piece,” or whatever, which has been in a minor key all along ends in that key’s major mode. Something that immediately comes to mind is Coventry Carol which, in spite of its English origin, is a definitive example. In volume 1 of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, only one of the 24 minor-key movements does NOT end with a Picardy third.

The origin of the term seems to be somewhat vague, perhaps due to the fact that performers would add the Picardy third ad libitum, but the manuscript would end in the minor mode just to be compositionally consistent. It was probably just these two or three guys back in the 16th century, Jean-Pierre Smith and Guillaume Jones, who would just get tired of playing in the minor mode and end a section of music with a MAJOR third above the tonic instead of a MINOR third. Eventually composers took to finishing multi-movement works with an entire movement in major. Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto are good examples of this. Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, which starts in A Major but whose last movement is in A minor, is an example of a “backwards Picardy third.”

The Picardy third has been described as “turning a frown into a smile” musically, and that is just what the KSO’s “cyber-penguin” will do. See you there!
7 months ago | |
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I am moving to Music of the Spirit this week. Diverse musical, spoken, and spiritual languages are converging on the Tennssee Theatre stage this Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30. Music by Armenian-American composers Richard Yardumian and Alan Hovhaness will precede Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s choral masterpiece Sacred Service.

Yardumian’s Veni Sancte Spiritus is based on an ancient plainsong and starts with a soulful clarinet solo. The harp also has a major solo passage, and the work as a whole has a contemplative tonal language. I am pretty sure that Nino Rota had heard this work before composing A Time for Us (Theme from Love Story) in 1969.

Alan Hovhaness was a free-thinking American Original. His music was influenced by that of many different cultures; Armenian, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, just to name a few. He wrote some 67 symphonies, but we will be performing his 2nd, Mysterious Mountain symphony. Right at the start, the wall of string sound envelopes you and you swear you are listening to Vaughan Williams. All three composers represented on this concert wrote magnificently for the individual instrument families of the orchestra, but Hovhaness plays the families off against each other with stunning results.

Bloch’s choral writing uses the same tonal language as Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and many others, but the sung language is Hebrew. Bloch uses the orchestra in a much more dramatic, unhingedly passionate way than Schubert or even Mendelssohn, as the confines of the Classical period had long been rendered passé. The giant wall of vocals provided by the UT Choral Ensembles is brings youthful power to a work that is just as vital as any of the great Masses and Requiems. Our baritone soloist, Nmon Ford (pronounced “En-mon,” in case you were wondering) brings a commanding presence to the role of Cantor.

In philosophy circles, there is another Bloch. Ernst (only one “e” in his first name) Bloch was considered a leader in utopian thought. You can see where there might be some confusion there, especially since Ernst’s and Ernest’s lifetimes overlapped by 74 years. A certain KSO member is related, not to the composer Bloch, but the philosopher Bloch. (Uncle Ernie)?
7 months ago | |
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The Knoxville classical scene is bursting at the seams with events to please a variety of tastes in spite of Mother Nature's efforts. First up is Valentine’s Day, whereupon the Knoxville Opera Company will produce Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love at 8 at the Tennessee Theatre. If your date looks good in galoshes, then I’d say he or she is a keeper. A Sunday matinee will happen at 2:30, for those who will inevitably forget Valentine’s Day– again. Details here.

Speaking of romantic music, in between the two opera performances, a giant among romantic-period symphonies will be performed on Saturday at 7:30 at the James R. Cox Auditorium on the UT campus. Director of UT Orchestras (and KSO resident conductor) James Fellenbaum will lead the UT Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, as well as a pre-concert lecture in Rm. 210 of the Alumni Memorial Building at 6:45. This powerful work is full of tunes you will never stop humming.

The Knoxville Symphony’s Youth Orchestra program is 40! When people hit 40, they tend to wax morose and use terms like “over the hill” and “out to pasture” to describe their lives, but at 40, the KSYO is bigger and more vital than ever, boasting 5 ensembles and 275 young players. There will be two separate concerts; the Preludium, Philharmonia, Sinfonia, and Youth Chamber Symphony will perform on Monday, Feb. 17th at 7:00 at the Tennessee Theatre, and the Youth Symphony will present its Concerto Competition winners on Feb. 23 at 2:30, also at the Tennessee. This year’s winners both are violinists: Ben Parton, who will be playing the finale of Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto, and Daniel Choo, who will perform the first movement of Wieniawski’s 2nd Concerto. (Btw, that’s pronounced “veen-YOF-ski).”

Music of the Spirit will be the guiding light in the February KSO Masterworks concerts, (Thursday and Friday, Feb. 20 and 21, Tennessee Theatre, 7:30) with David Yardumian’s Veni Sancte Spiritus, Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness (pronounced ho-VAH-ness), and Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service. Veni is a short orchestral work inspired by the 13th-century plainchant. Hovhaness’ work includes in its finale a “musical tidal wave” evoking Indian raga, and Bloch’s work is the quintessential setting of the Jewish Sabbath morning service. The UT Choral Ensembles and baritone Nmon Ford will combine with the KSO for the Bloch.
7 months ago | |
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We heard how tap shoes can cause the dancer to become another instrument in the percussion section of the orchestra in our recent Clayton Holiday concerts, and we shall hear it again tonight in the Dancing and Romancing Pops concert at 8 at the Civic Auditorium. Joan Hess and Kirby Ward will don the tap shoes for some Rogers/Astaire-influenced numbers, and Debbie Gravitte will sing some love-locked ballads, marshaling the KSO’s effort to bring an early Valentine’s gift to downtown Knoxville. Another guest performer at this concert will be Swing– that trademark taproot of early 20th-century American popular music, cultivated and nurtured by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others.

Arrangements for this concert are typically written involving keys that favor instruments keyed in flat keys. Traditional jazz instruments (clarinet and trumpet families) call B?(two flats) the home key, but orchestral instruments are accustomed  to C Major (all of the white piano keys). Tastefully arranged tunes from this era should whiz by effortlessly without regard for difficulties of key or rhythm, yet there is very little time to put the music together in rehearsals. Those lush swing harmonies can go pretty far afield in the tonality department. Some players are sometimes unpleasantly surprised by how fast a song actually goes compared to how fast they wish it went. Complex syncopated rhythms sound very intuitive, but what those rhythms look like on the printed page surprises some folks.

The Valentine’s season continues into next week as Knoxville Opera will stage Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amour, (The Elixir of Love) at the Tennessee Theatre on Valentine’s Night and on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16. More on that in a bit...
7 months ago | |
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The snowy weather was just what this Yankee needed. I don’t mind cold weather as long as there is snow to show for it. Today’s three-and-a-half tips for winter driving are: bend your wiper blades back off the windshield before it starts storming, always scrape all of your windows, and leave earlier. It also helps to know (as it does in music) when to take advantage of momentum and when to avoid it.

Iffy conditions on Wednesday didn’t deter a sizable crowd from coming out for “Scotch and Strings,” a new concert experience at Boyd’s Jig and Reel in the Old City. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz emceed with panache, and the principal strings brought tangos, reels, and previews of the April 6th Chamber Classics program: Haydn, Schubert and Villa-Lobos. Four different Scotch varieties (Dewars, Macallan, Arran and Laphroaig) were also in attendance, and the irresistible  pubby cheer of the Jig and Reel was augmented by this “in-Scotch” performance. (And yes, WE WAITED UNTIL AFTER). Randy and Jenny Boyd were consummate hosts. Unfortunately my music stand had had a wee bit too much Laphroig, and at one point flipped my whole book to the floor.



Speaking of Music and Wellness, the KSO has been selected, for the second year in a row, to receive a Getty Education and Community Investment Grant. This is an award that allows the orchestra to continue its fine work in the healthcare community, sending players into care facilities to aid in the healing process and quality of life enhancement at these facilities. The grant allows the KSO to retain on staff a music therapist, making the KSO the only orchestra in the country to do so. What’s more, players have participated in seminars which will lead to their being certified in the music therapy field. This grant is an affirmation of the healing power of music, and of the KSO’s increasing role in quality of life in the Knoxville area.
7 months ago | |
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Fresh off a successful Q-Series concert on Thursday night with the KSO Woodwind Quintet, principal flutist Ebonee Thomas will bring the Mozart Concerto for Flute K. 313 to the Bijou Theatre, Sunday afternoon at 2:30. Written in 1778, this first of three Mozart flute concerti is known for being the “on-hold” music for the New York City 311 line. You don’t have to travel all the way to “the 212" to hear this, though; just come on down to the Bijou. Also on the concert will be music of Mozart, Mozart and Mozart! If you missed the November Masterworks concert, or even if you didn’t, here is a chance to hear his Overture to Idomeneo, Musical Joke, and Symphony No. 31 in a more intimate setting.

In case you are wondering about what K. 313 means, here’s the scoop. After many attempts to catalog Mozart’s works after his death, Ludwig von Köchel in 1862 arrived at an accurate chronological tally of Mozart’s complete works, with the last work being K. 626, the Requiem. Guess what! The Flute Concerto K. 313 is EXACTLY halfway through the catalog! (626/2= 313; sheesh, I’m such a nerd). Many composers, e.g. Beethoven, have opus numbers to identify their works, but Mozart was so prolific that he probably lost count somewhere around K. 65, and who could blame him? Some composers have had other catalogers for their works, with the first letter of the cataloger’s name as the index. Two examples are Bach, whose works were cataloged by Wolfgang Schmieder, and Haydn, some of whose works were cataloged by Anthony von Hoboken.

The Woodwind Quintet is quite busy these days. They will be performing at the Tennessee Theatre’s Mighty Musical Monday on February 3rd at noon. In addition to the quintet, Bill Snyder and Freddie Brabson will play selections on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. Guest MC for the program will be Hallerin Hill. A lunch consisting of a sandwich, chips, and a dessert may be purchased in the lobby for $5.00. In addition several snacks may be purchased at the concession stand such as soft drinks, bottled water, popcorn, candy. There is no charge for the program. The MMM is a long-standing, uniquely Knoxvillian institution, with a very different sort of audience than you would find at a typical KSO concert.
8 months ago | |
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