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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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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!
6 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)?
6 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.
6 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.
7 months ago | |
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I haven’t mentioned this in the blog even though it was revealed in September, but you surely must have heard that Maestro Lucas Richman has decided to step down as Music Director of the KSO. There has been a lot to write about, and it didn’t seem appropriate to include this news as a mere side item to a subject on which I was writing. In better words than I can summon, here is Lucas in a press release video talking about his announcement.

The KSO has been fortunate to have Lucas Richman as its seventh Music Director for these last eleven years. I have found the maestro to be a winning combination of personable, knowledgeable and approachable. During his tenure here the orchestra has thrived in new areas, such as Music and Wellness and dramatic collaborations. The orchestra's budget has been in the black for six consecutive years, almost unheard of in these times and in this field. Concurrent with that has been his own personal successes in the commercial music realm. The GRAMMY award he won a couple years back is now accompanied by acknowledgment for his contribution to Golden Globe-winning film Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace biopic that premiered on May 21, 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival, then on HBO five days later.

Lucas was in LA some time in 2012 when this film was being made, and was asked to step in for Marvin Hamlisch conducting parts of the score to this film. Marvin was ill, and passed shortly thereafter. Lucas conducted what would've been Marvin's last appearance, and therefore is in the credits for his involvement. Here is Lucas’ account of the experience in the studio, and his words to the Pittsburgh Symphony audience at a Pops concert there in September of 2012 where he stepped in– again–  for the late Marvin Hamlisch.

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At the beginning of August in 2012, I was in Los Angeles to lead the 15th installment of my BMI seminar, Conducting for the Film Composer.  We had also scheduled the first live performance of Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project on August 3rd with an orchestra and chorus made up of incredible professional musicians who were all donating their services in order to raise over $120,000 for Haiti relief.  I received a phone call on the morning of August 2nd (the one rehearsal for the concert was to be held that evening) from my dear friend, David Low, who asked if I could get myself to Warner Bros. studio in order to conduct a whole day of recording sessions.  It turned out that the sessions were for the pre-records on an HBO film entitled, Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.  Marvin Hamlisch had done the arrangements and had even written a new song for the movie—but he was in the hospital and was unable to lead the sessions.  Pianist Randy Kerber was featured in these recordings reproducing, with incredible facility and dexterity, many of the original tunes as recorded and played by Liberace.  Later on, during the film’s shooting, Michael Douglas, as Liberace, would pretend to be playing the piano to these pre-recorded tracks.  Coincidentally, Marvin had also been one of the 25 contributing composers to the musical woven thread that had become Symphony of Hope, so my day and evening was touched by Marvin’s musical magic.

At the end of the day’s sessions (before I ran downtown for rehearsal), I asked the film’s music supervisor if he would pass on our best wishes to Marvin for a speedy recovery.  He had said, of course, that he would be happy to do that but, as these things go, he ultimately was unable to deliver the message.  Unbeknownst to all of us, I had just inadvertently conducted the last recording session that Marvin, himself, was ever scheduled to do—because, sadly, he passed away over the weekend.  At the time, I was unaware of this until the following Tuesday when, back in Knoxville, I received a phone call from Bob Moir, Vice President for Artistic Planning at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  He informed me of Marvin’s passing and asked if I would do them the honor of stepping in for Marvin that September in order to open the PSO’s Pops season on four concerts with Matthew Morrison (from the T.V. show, Glee).

The following are the remarks I said to the audience on that weekend in September, as we were all still reeling from the aftershocks of Marvin’s passing:

Good afternoon and welcome to the PNC Pops with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  I’m Lucas Richman and I’ve got some very big shoes to fill—a huge void created by the tragic loss of our dear friend, Marvin Hamlisch.  I had the honor of conducting for him several times when he would be at the piano playing music from his various projects, such as his first film, The Swimmer.  The stage set-up you see here has affectionately become known as the “Marvin position” because of the many musical moments over the years that he led from this very piano.  We miss you Marvin.

Marvin was already a well-known award-winning composer, songwriter and musician when he came to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  But this was where he began as a principal pops conductor, a post he maintained and loved for 17 seasons with the PSO.  Marvin may have been a New Yorker, but he often said that Pittsburgh was his second home because he loved this city, this wonderful orchestra, the people here and, you, the audience.  I think that Marvin touched more people with his music than even he realized because everyone here seems to have a story about him.  When I was being brought here the other day from the airport, the driver told me about a time when he was in a restaurant and, when he went to the Men’s room, he realized that Marvin Hamlisch was there.  The driver knew that it might be uncomfortable to shake hands at that point but, somehow, he wanted to let Marvin know how much he appreciated his music.  So, as the two men were standing there, facing the wall, the driver cleared his throat…and began to sing.  “Memories, like the corners of my mind,” to which Marvin responded (as only Marvin could), “Thank you, sir…that’s one memory I will never forget.”
7 months ago | |
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The KSO will be performing on the Night With the Arts in Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sunday Jan. 19th at 6:00 p.m. at the Bijou. This annually presented event will diverge from its usual concert format and feature a drama of conversion entitled The Greatness Within, written by Sherineta Morrison. The orchestra will partly be in a supporting role for the actors of Ms Morrison's Sché Productions, the company presenting the drama. TGW is sprinkled with classic soul numbers such as Lean on Me, Billie Holiday’s timeless God Bless the Child, and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

Also incorporated into the drama will be Åse’s Death from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, and the first movement of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons, with Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai as soloist, and interpretive dance by Brittany Woodfin. The Celebration Choir under the direction of Aaron Staples will add their unique gospel touch with some classic spirituals.

And now for something completely different, the KSO’s new “Q Series” will take a trip out west to the American Piano Gallery, 11651 Parkside Dr, Farragut, for another eclectic chamber music program, Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Woodwind Quintet will present music of John R. Barrows, Irving Fine, (Maryville native) Jennifer Higdon, and Endre Szervánszky, after which the Principal String Quartet will finish with Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Joining in the Higdon and Schumann will be pianist Emi Kagawa.

Both of these concerts are FREE OF CHARGE and show off the musicians of the KSO in non-traditional ways. Hope to see you at one or both.
7 months ago | |
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