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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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The Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will present a colorful concert of Latin-American music on Sunday, October 30 at the Bijou Theater at 2:30. We'll be featuring the music of Mexican composer Arturo Marquez (Danzon No. 4), Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Rivera (Fuga con Pajarillo), Aaron Copland (Three Latin-American Sketches), and Astor Piazzolla (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). The Piazzolla work will spotlight Principal 2nd Violinist Edward Pulgar as soloist. Edward is a seasoned performer and will definitely highlight the zestily-seasoned melodies of the Piazzolla "Seasons."
Perhaps you remember composer Hans Richter, and his “Vivaldi Recomposed,” which the KSO performed at the 2015 Big Ears Festival. Our project with him was a “realignment” of Vivaldi's own music, basically orchestrated “tape loops.” Piazzolla, on the other hand, has composed a thoroughly new piece, with just a few cleverly disguised quotes from Vivaldi's original. The work was originally composed in 1965-70 for violin, bass, electric guitar, piano and bandoneón, but was transcribed for solo violin and strings by Leonid Desyatnikov in 1996-98. I am very much reminded of Heitor Villa-Lobos' music with this piece-- the harmonic thickness and the rhythmic drive-- to the extent that I suspected that Piazzolla had studied with Villa-Lobos. Imagine my surprise to learn that while yes, he was born in Argentina, he moved as a 4-year-old with his parents in 1925 to (ready for this?) Greenwich Village! At age 9 he was studying music with a student of Rachmaninoff, and there's your Knoxville connection! The music sways between lush and explosive, but there will be moments where you will hear stringed instruments played in ways you have probably never imagined.
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Another new venture for the KSO involves the Principal Woodwind Quintet and one of Knoxville's “jazz hideouts,” the Red Piano Lounge. Called “Woodwinds After Work,” it is an opportunity to hear wind chamber music while sampling the fine tapas and cocktails on the menu. The inaugural WAW was last May, but the series continues next Tuesday, November 1 at 6:30. The Quintet will play three 20-minute sets and will mingle with concert-goers between sets.  It's a good opportunity to meet our new principal flutist, Johanna Gruskin, who comes to us from Duluth, Minn. via LA's Colburn School of music. Best of all, this performance is FREE, with food and drink available for purchase.  




10 months ago |
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This week's collaboration at the Tennessee Theatre with the Knoxville Opera Company on Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzancebrings us some well-needed silliness.  On the heels of the success of 2014's production of H.M.S. Pinafore,a “British Invasion” of an entirely other sort will “capture” the fancy of young and old alike.  Featured will be UT voice faculty member, bass-baritone Andrew Wentzel, who for 20 years now has been singing the National Anthem at UT football games.  He will be performing INDOORS this weekend...
I remember listening to Gilbert and Sullivan growing up, on LPs on our Sears SILVERTONErecord player.  We didn't have room in the living room for one of those console or credenza stereo, but we did have the lovely, “portable” desktop machine pictured below.  It was strictly forbidden to put records on the little shelf on the right side.  Every once in a while, the lid would come down like a guillotine and slice that sucker in half like it was a graham cracker.


At first I was fascinated with the machinery, but by the time I was 6 or so, I started to become intrigued by the music itself.  I was taken by the verbal agility.  I understood what they were saying, but why were they saying it that way?!  I was left with the impression that, wow, England must be an awfully cheerful place if even the pirates were this happy!

Just as Wagner's name is intimately associated with the opera house in Bayreuth, Gilbert and Sullivan's heyday came to be because of a tight coalition of the composers (actually the music is by Arthur Sullivan and the libretto by W. S. Gilbert), the venue (the Savoy Theatre, thanks to which, their body of work has come to be known as the Savoy Operas), and the opera company (the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company).  I just wanted to make sure, so I looked it up-- it's pronounced DOILY Cart.


A cart full of Doilies

D'Oyly Carte
Anyway, my lame attempt at humor here can't hold a candle to the level of hijinks that will be achieved at the shows, this Friday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30. See you there!!
10 months ago |
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The KSO's Masterworks series will continue its musical travels across Europe this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, under the direction of James Fellenbaum. This week's focus will be the music of three Italian composers.  I'm being careful not to describe it as “Italian music” in an ethnic sense, since each of the three composers-- Vivaldi, Rossini and Puccini-- were active in such different eras, and bound by those eras' conventions.  The great Italian vocal tradition is the binding force in the repertoire, as all three wrote operas, with Puccini's and Rossini's fame, at opposite ends of the Romantic Era, relying almost exclusively on opera.
Rossini's Overture to Semiramide (“sem-ee-rom-a-day”) exhibits structural formula and transparent textures left over from the Classical period.  The concitato, or agitated style of rapidly repeated notes, took root with Monteverdi in the 1640s, lived on in the Vivaldi Four Seasons from 1723, and the Rossini from 1823.  Later in the Romantic period it was no longer uniquely Italian and was largely abandoned by the time the grand scale and vocal sweep of Puccini's music made the scene in 1884.
The Capriccio Sinfonico is Puccini's thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory, written at age 24 in 1883.  It includes material from three of his first four operas; Le villi (“The Fairies”), Edgar,and La bohème.  The Intermezzothat opens Act III of his third opera, Manon Lescaut, supplies the second work by Puccini on the concert.

The Four Seasons by Vivaldi is the solo work on this concert, with violinist Giora Schmidt as soloist.  (His first name is pronounced “Ghee-or-a,” with a hard “g” sound as in “guitar”).  It will be easy to notice Vivaldi's operatic tendencies in the Seasons, because of the highly picturesque portrayal of the four seasons as “characters-” it's program music at its finest and the stile concitatois everywhere.  Vivaldi employs major keys for the bulk of the Spring and Fall segments, expressing joy in the more temperate seasons, and minor keys for Summer and Winter,reflecting the harshness of the extremes of weather.  Listen carefully to the second movement of Spring, where the (muted) violas portrayfar-off barking dogs on a cold early spring night. The concerti will be separated, with Spring and Summer on the first half followed by the two Puccini works (split by an intermission), and ending with Fall and Winter.
11 months ago |
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Knoxville turned 225 the other day-- no better excuse for another party in downtown Knoxville! The founding year of 1791 makes Knoxville older than Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, and lots of bigger and uglier towns. In fact, on that date it was declared “the capitol of the Southwest Territories,” and one of 17 state capitols. Georgia encompassed most of Mississippi and Alabama then, with the lower third of those states AND New Orleans AND everything west of the Mississippi River still under Spanish control. The exact date is October 3, 1791, just three months after the Treaty of the Holston.
Before there was a Knoxville Symphony, it seems classical music was largely imported. A major center for the performing arts was Staub's Theatre, which stood on the current site of the Plaza Tower, home of Club Leconte. There were also outdoor performances at Chilhowee Park on the east side of town. Here are a couple images of Staub's, built in 1872 and known subsequently as Lowe's and The Lyric Theatre before it was razed in the early 60s. Wow, just... wow. (Photo courtesy of Will Dunklin).



Although little is known of classical music's influence (if any) in Knoxville at the time, any music aficionado knows that 1791 is also the year of Mozart's death.  In a dual celebration of these occasions, the KSO Principal String Quartet included in their performance Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, from his final year, in Knoxville's Krutch Park this past Saturday morning.  Mild weather and receptive crowds heard us play other Mozart and a special set of variations on Happy Birthdaywhich led into an awesome Bill Pierce arrangement of Rocky Top, and your weekend was off to a great start, WASN'T IT??  (By the way, I hear it is supposed to be pronounced KROOCH Park). Tympanist Michael Combs was in the audience, and shared a snapshot with me.


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On July 10, 1966, I turned 5. My family (my parents, 3 sisters and a brother, all older than me) had set off in a Chevy van from Connecticut to many Western points; Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon… 50 years ago. I remember some of it like it was yesterday. I also remember some of the tunes the radio played; Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago, Roger Miller's King of the Road, and some Beach Boys songs which captivated my musical siblings and I in a different way than any of the Boys' previous hits had. The Pet Soundsalbum that came out in May of that year has influenced everyone from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to 2017 Big Ears Festival headliners Wilco. The Tennessee Theatre is the perfect venue to hear Brian Wilson's creation come to life, with a surf music chaser this Friday at 7:30. Wouldn't It Be Niceto see y'all there?
11 months ago |
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The KSO Board of Directors voted at its annual meeting on September 8, 2016 to add two new board members: Mrs. Becky Paylor, community volunteer and past president of the Knoxville Symphony League, and Mr. David Colquitt, Chief of Staff at Pilot Flying J. Photos and biographies of the new board members are included below. The KSO Board of Directors is chaired by Cynthia Moxley.

KSO Board President Ms. Cynthia Moxley is half-way through her two-year term as board president and says these additions will strengthen the board as a whole. “We are fortunate to work with an outstanding staff and board of directors during this turning point in the organization as we introduce our new Music Director Aram Demirjian. The Board plays a crucial role in upholding the organization’s mission, and ensuring financial sustainability.”
"My love of music began with my paternal grandmother who was a voice teacher and brought the piano into our lives.  Then a new resurgence when deciding whether to allow our new home to be a Symphony League Showhouse in 2002. When we learned how much music education was being presented by the KSO in the school system, it was the deciding factor for my husband and me and the new “eyeopening” journey began.  The KSO is the cog in the wheel for all the arts in Knoxville.  Can you imagine living in a town with no orchestra? Neither can I, and that's why I am so pleased to help raise awareness and assets for the KSO."
Becky Paylor served as President of the Knoxville Symphony League during the 2014-15 season. She currently serves as Board Chairman for The Restoration House, a ministry for single moms and their children, and is a member of the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation Board. She is a Merit Board member of the Knoxville Symphony League, a board member for Fostering Hope and a Board member for New Life Gathering, the church plant of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church where she has been a member for 35 years.

"Music- in all its forms- has been a great source of joy for our family. I am excited, and honored, to do what I can to help ensure that the KSO continues to be a thriving organization for East Tennessee."


David Colquitt serves as Chief of Staff for Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers in North America. Prior to his current role, David worked in operations for Pilot, serving as both a travel center general manager and a region manager. Prior to Pilot Flying J, David worked as an Associate for Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in its Houston, TX office. David has an AB in Politics from Princeton University and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law. David lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife, Annie, and 2-year-old son, Will. David currently serves on the board for the Cleveland Browns Foundation and is an active member of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church.

11 months ago |
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Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends are back!  Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:00 at the Knoxville Museum of Art, a fine new Knoxville tradition will carry on without a comma.  Two works will be on the show; Brahms first Violin Sonata and Schubert's charming “Trout Quintet.”  The Trout quintet has an unusual instrumentation into which only 3 other serious composers (Dussek, Hummel and Vaughn Williams-- hmm, note to self...) have strayed.  The “combo” is bass (Steve Benne), viola (Katie Gawne), piano (Kevin Class), violin (Gabe Lefkowitz) and cello (yours truly).
Gabe and Kevin will be opening the program with Brahms' G Major Sonata op. 78.  Brahms waited a long time before writing a complete violin sonata, first penning three for piano and one for the cello. Hot on the heels of his Violin Concerto as this is, it's part of one of the most fruitful winning streaks of violin composition.  Part of THIS complete breakfast.  Kevin's been keeping busy, having just triumphed with the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 at the Bijou with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra on Sunday.

Throughout the “Trout” there are aquatic themes; the fish jumping in the opening piano lick, the slowly ascending bubbles in the rising string chords in the Andante second movement, and the sinuous, arcing phrase that the cello and violin trade in the Finale.  The variation movement's theme is shared with that of a Schubert song, Die Forelle, a strange but beautiful little ditty about a “happy wanderer” who bonds with a trout by a brook, but suffers emotional duress when a nearby angler casts his line.  The variations are ingeniously conceived, giving all of the instruments a moment in the sun.  It's only at the coda that the leaping 6-note accompanying figure that dominates the song shows up.  The ultimate irony is that the figure follows the contour of BOTH the arc of the jumping trout AND the fishhook.  Oh, and by the way, Gabe and I both agree that a passage from the slow variation was fashioned by Paul McCartney into a phrase in Hey Jude.  Although not a short work, each of the five movements is diverse, concise and satisfying.  Hope to see you there!
11 months ago |
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Traffic isn't a thing someone usually wants to see on their way to work.  But walking up the hill behind the Tennessee Theatre last week on the way to the opening KSO Masterworks concert, I was very pleased to see a long line of cars behind the theatre on State Street.  Music Director Aram Demirjian's debut caused a stir, and the traffic didn't lie: a much bigger house than usual saw Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky come to life on opening night. This bodes well for the “Aram Era” here in Knoxville!  With all due respect and sympathy to the folks PATIENTLY waiting at the stop sign, I hope to encounter more such traffic at future Thursday and Friday night shows.
Chamber music is the next focus, with a Q Series concert happening tomorrow, Wednesday the 21st.  Reserve a seat (and a lunch!) for “opening noon” at the Square Room on Market Square!  The Principal Woodwind Quintet will present Gabriel Fauré's Dolly Suiteand Alexander Zemlinsky's Humoresque.  Fauré didn't customarily give programmatic titles to individual movements, but here are six vignettes inspired by Hélène Bardac, aka Dolly, the young daughter of his mistress.  (Sorry to disappoint those who thought it might be a dedicated to a certain Sevier County native).  The movements are Berceuse, Mi-a-ou, Le jardin de Dolly, Kitty-valse, Tendresse, andLe pas espagnol.  A couple of the movements' titles are cryptic, leading us to believe that the movements are about cats.  The truth is that Mi-a-ouserves to immortalize how toddler Dolly was (mis)pronouncing her older brother Raoul's name, and Kitty-valseis actually a musical portrait of the family dog, which for reasons unbeknownst was named “Ketty.”

The Principal String Quartet (minus one) will open the show with Beethoven's early String Trio in G Major, op. 9, no. 1.  Here is a rare chance to hear one of Beethoven's early forays into the string chamber music territory.  (He wrote all five of his string trios before he published any string quartets).  Why the minus one?  Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai has been given the afternoon off for a very beautiful reason; he and Meghan Ware are, as of September 14, the proud parents of Olivia Ellen Tsai!  All are doing well.
  
1 year ago |
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In honor of Arts Education week, local music educator Tracy Ward has shared with us how she became involved in making music and sharing her passion with students for almost three decades.

 It is not difficult to explain the impact arts education has had on my life. Arts education IS my life! 
I had a lot of support and encouragement from my parents, who were artists in their own right, although they were not musicians. I began taking piano lessons in third grade, and Dad would mute his football games just to listen to me practice. I’m sure I thought I would become a concert pianist. Then a family friend suggested to my parents that I might enjoy attending the Sewanee Summer Music Center. Sewanee changed everything for me! I had never really been around an orchestra, and instead of spending as much time in the practice room as I should have, I sat and listened to orchestra rehearsals, absorbing the wisdom of conductors like Hugh Wolf, Amerigo Marino, Henri Temianka, and Karel Husa. I developed a real passion for orchestral music and also for chamber music. We were expected to learn and perform a new chamber work with a new group of people every week, and the give and take of performing with other musicians became much more interesting to me than performing by myself ever was.

I did not become a great pianist, but that’s okay. I have spent 28 years sharing my love of music with my elementary-age students. My school choir even sang with the Knoxville Symphony in a performance of Carmina Burana. More recently, the musical pieces of my life have come together in a delightful way: I help to create the teacher’s guide for the Young People’s Concerts that the Knoxville Symphony presents every year. I hope my students grow to love the orchestra as much as I do.

My arts education is continuous, though, because I never want to stop learning! I have recently earned my Kodaly Certification, and I am learning to play the dulcimer. My husband (a wonderful baritone) and I have decided that we want to begin doing recitals of art songs together, so I’m sure you’ll understand if I excuse myself now. I need to go practice...



Tracy Ward is a Music Specialist who works with elementary school students ages K-5th grade at Sequoyah Elementary. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Ed. from UT-Knoxville, full Kodaly Certification from UT-Chattanooga, and Orff Level I Certification from Belmont University.  She continues sharing her passion for music by singing in the choir of St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.
1 year ago |
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It's that time of year again when the kids are back in school, walnuts are falling onto the tin roof of my neighbor's garage at all hours, and the KSO is playing the annual Concert in the Park at Ijams Nature Center. This Sunday, Sept. 11 at 5:30, Ijams opens its gates for a benefit for the Center, with Aram Demirjian making his Ijams debut! Special guests for this year's event will be local keyboard rocker Ben Maney, and Electric Darling vocalist Yasameen Hoffman-Shahin. I've had a blast sharing the stage with Yaz and Ben at various times in the recent past in Knoxville's jazz scene, and now they'll have us as the most awesome back-up band. We'll sandwich works by Elgar, Holst, Copland and Rossini around three of Ben's songs, arranged by the righteous Warren Clark.
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New maestro Aram Demirjian will conduct his first Masterworks concert as such next Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. Two monumental Russian works will make up the program, but to call this an “all-Russian” program is to discount the universality of each work's appeal.
Sergei Rachmaninoff's statue stands in World's Fair Park, a short walk from the Sunsphere and the Tennessee Amphitheater. I often ride by it on my bike, as it lay on a relatively hill-free route from my house in Parkridge to the Third Creek Greenway. The statue, by Victor Bokarev, could be much more visible; out in the sun, or even on an island in the small lake there. But no, it is tucked away in a shady corner of the park, and it is a fitting location for a tribute to a man who, despite a brilliant performing and composing career, had real issues dealing with the public. In a letter to the poet Marietta Shaginyan, he described his personality to be fraught with “criminal internal timidity.” Well, I assure you there is nothing timid about either his 3rd Piano Concerto, or the playing of our guest pianist, Orion Weiss, who played Rachmaninov's 2nd concerto with us in 2012.
Tchaikovsky, in an 1888 letter to the Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich, complained of some composers using remplissage,or the “padding” of the music with extraneous material, however melodious. He also stated: “I shall go to my grave without having produced anything with really perfect form.” Really, dude?? I have played the Nutcracker Ballet several times annually for the past 30 years, and I can't think of anything in that score that is not formally perfect. The same could be said for the Violin and Piano Concerti. Take his 5th Symphony, which we will perform next Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre. The 2nd movement, Andante cantabile,has the most gorgeous horn solo ever, and the triumphant finale, which quotes the first movement, will bring you to your feet. 

Come see what's new with the KSO for our 81st season!
1 year ago |
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In the world of retail classical recordings, evolving technologies have spawned a rapidly changing business climate whose trends have been hard to predict. The onslaught of live streaming and online sources like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon have rendered brick-and-mortar stores rarities, because the actual thing you hold in your hand that has the music on it is no longer necessary for 90% of listenable music. One change for the worse is about to take place on October 1st when the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway closes its doors. Since 1991, lovers of music from all genres have been descending on the Exchange to feed their hungry ears. A West Knoxville location was also open from 1993-2008. The current issue of the KnoxvilleMercury has a lovely article about the Disc Exchange, with reminiscences by former and current employees.
Time was, buying NEW records (lps) of any kind was a pilgrimage. You could buy them at drug stores, at Sears, Target, or at a “record store,” but you had to GO AND GET IT. It was no mere keystroke and mouse-click. Once in possession, it was then up to you to make sure that it didn't warp or melt in your car. Growing up in Hartford, as in any medium to large city, there were a couple stores (long gone now) that had complete classical catalogs of all of the major and many of the minor labels on their shelves, arranged by catalog number. If they didn't have it, then those four dreaded words would be uttered by the salesman; “We can order it." At that point, it was customary for me to curse my procrastination, since I doubtless needed a title in just a day or two-- in time for someone's birthday or soon enough to learn something really quick.
And then there were the mail order “clubs,” like Columbia House, where you could get 13 albums for $1! (provided you bought a large number of records for a large sum of money per record over the next three years-- many consumers' first brush with debt entrapment). Their classical selection was limited to the most popular titles; you weren't going to find any Ysaye or Crumb. C House's recorded music branch went under in 2009, but there are rumblings that suggest they are going to try a comeback selling resurgent vinyl.
By 1990. the compact disc had totally supplanted the lp as the dominant recording media, with cassettes bringing up the rear but fading fast. On Knoxville's classical front, Disc Exchange had a classical listening room wherein you could try out recordings. They followed the example of Lynn's Disc and Dat, another record outlet in town which fell to the online axe in the 90s. Former KSO clarinetist Heidi Madson was an employee at Lynn's back then, and way before my time, a horn player with the KSO and "veritable vinyl junkie" named Charlie Morris worked there. Whether the store was named after the emerging, short-lived Digital Audio Tape (DAT) technology, or it was just trying to sound like Popeye and then that technology just happened to emerge, is up for discussion. The big record store chains, like Cats, Strawberries, and those places in the mall like f.y.e. had just a token representation of the classical realm.
The Disc Exchange's Rock and Pop selection is by now depleted to the point where I don't recognize ANY of the artists, and that classical-only listening room is now given over to new Pop and Indie vinyl issues. Their classical selection is still fairly strong, though, and I saw some of the 2016 Big Ears repertoire for sale there today. They have a wealth of used lps, the better to compete with McKay's Bookstore and Raven Records-- as well as most Goodwill stores-- in that niche.
So take a trip back through time and pay them a visit! Dig through some crates!  
1 year ago |
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