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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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This weekend brings the twenty-somethingth annual Clayton Holiday Concerts to the Civic Auditorium! I believe the inaugural Clayton was my first season here, but now I’ve even lost track of that tally. Okay, twenty-eighth, says my abacus. This year’s shows will be given a Highlands treatment, with appearances by local specialists in all things Celtic. Go! Contemporary Dance Works, Boyd’s Jig and Reel house band Four Leaf Peat, Knoxville Pipes and Drums, and the Knoxville Choral Society will all “throw down” this Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3:00.

Go! Contemporary Dance Works has appeared with the KSO on numerous occasions, and you will be seeing dancers who are veterans of previous years’ Nutcrackers. It will be a treat to have fine ballet grace the Civic stage for the second time in three weeks. A quick stroll down Google Lane found this article in Maryville’s Daily Times about one Go! dancer’s experiences. The article isn’t about these concerts per se, but it’s still a very honest and engaging look into the ballet life.

Four Leaf Peat is the band you are most likely to want to hear if you are walking in the Old City craving a jig or a strathspey. Winners of the Del Rio Days’ Band Contest, the Peat have recently been seen at The Square Room, the Laurel Theatre, and Tennessee Shines, and they opened for Jean Redpath at the Rugby Village Festival in May. Their drummer, Jason Herrera, is also known to us Symphony players through his work as wigmaster for the Knoxville Opera Co. It’s always nice to see his smiling face at work!

I can’t picture a Clayton concert without the Knoxville Choral Society. I’m listening to them right now on their website. They have mellowed like fine wine under the watchful ear of Eric “Doc” Thorson, and the young artists’ competition that they endow is one of the essential young musicians’ contests in East Tennessee. Knoxville Pipes and Drums will bring it all home with the timeless sound of Celtic bagpiperie. You, the audience, will be featured in the singalong, and maybe... just maybe, tuba player Sande MacMorran will wear a kilt...
1 year ago | |
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As our Nutcracker run reaches the halfway mark for 2013, it bears mentioning that one of our players, 2nd trumpet Marc Simpson, has a daughter in the ballet! 13-year-old Julie Ann dances a soldier and a sugar-plum attendant in three different scenes, and has danced with Amy Morton Vaughan’s Appalachian Ballet Company for several years now. It is a source of great pride to create performing art with one’s child; it’s a pity, though, that the orchestra’s presence below the stage prevents seeing the action. Julie Ann’s eldest sister Valerie also danced in the Nutcracker in the late 90's. I am wracking my brain trying to remember if their have been other KSO players with children dancing the Nutcracker and have asked around; it may be that the Simpsons are unique in their participation. Anyone who knows otherwise should chime in, please!

In the pit for the Nutcracker this year there are several new players; bassoonists Aaron Apaza and Garrett McQueen, principal trumpet Chase Hawkins, and French horns Gray Ferris and Sean Donovan. Their assimilation into the sound of the orchestra has been quite seamless, and the new personalities within their individual sounds lend a new dimension to the characters to whom they link on stage. The remaining performances will be in Maryville at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Another new feature of the Nutcracker this year is the presence of new parts to play from! If there were any bumps in the road to preparing the ballet this year, it was the correcting of some wrong notes, which inevitably get printed in a new edition, although the old edition was frighteningly inaccurate. I’ve been told that wrong notes in some editions are printed intentionally, so as to allow copyright extensions (I’m not totally clear on that). In any case, some of the old parts got recycled into parts to use on “run-outs” (like the one the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra is playing at the Athens City Middle School at 7:30 tomorrow night). I’ve included some artwork from these old parts. There have been some accomplished doodlers who have left their mark over the years during the inevitable downtime that occurs during rehearsals...



This rendition of former Concertmaster Marc Zelmanovich was done by a violist who has since left town...

My stand partner, a native of Turkey, explains the difference between the name for his homeland and what his family has just eaten for Thanksgiving...

I have often wondered if there were numbers to call for help with other works by Tchaikovsky...

This is the piccolo part from which Cynthia D'Andrea has been playing since who knows when. The drawing of Kilroy was done when she was hired (?) to play, at age 13, for a production done by WATE.







1 year ago | |
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I’m learning a lot about Christmas carols tonight. For one thing, I had simply no idea that the most popular setting (but by no means the only one) of In the Bleak Midwinter is by Gustav Holst! A setting by Holst’s countryman Harold Darke is lavish and pristine all at once.

Their settings of English poet Christina Rossetti’s text are equaled by that of Katherine Kennicott Davis, no doubt, as Ms Davis is the composer of The Little Drummer Boy. It sure is fun to play that with Mannheim Steamroller, I tell you what. I couldn’t find her setting of Midwinter on Youtube, but I know some choral directors who might steer me towards one; stay tuned and I'll see what I can find. I’m curious about it because it is SSA; the tessitura, or range, is higher than a standard choral scoring. (SSA is soprano-soprano-alto, for those unfamiliar with choral music lingo, as opposed to SATB, for instance). She studied at Wellesley College in Boston, and also with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, I earnestly HOPE I don’t need to tell you how many composers studied with Madame Boulanger... Copland, Carter, Piazzolla, Menotti...

Later in her life, Ms Davis taught at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia, but she probably missed by a few years late the organist Lewis Redner. Mr. Redner played at several churches in Philadelphia and dealt in real estate. In his spare time, somehow, he came up with the tune for O Little Town of Bethlehem, somehow hooking up with that carol’s lyricist, Phillips Brooks.  A great-grandson of the founder of the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. Mr. Brooks was a Rector in the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and is known for having introduced Christianity to Helen Keller during his tenure in Boston. The name of the tune for O Little Town is St. Louis. The irony here is that Katherine Kennicott Davis’ birthplace is... St. Louis, MO.

It is likely that one or more of the afore-mentioned was at least aware of an event that occurred in 1906. The first music to be broadcast on the air, from an AM “station” near Washington, DC, included a solo violin/voice performance of O Holy Night by Canadian-born Reginald Fessenden. It was on Christmas Eve,1906. 20 years before my father’s birthday, to give you some perspective. O Holy Night was written by Adolphe Adam, a Frenchman who studied composition against his father’s wishes in the 18-teens with Ferdinand Hérold, the composer of Zampa. (Here is a link to the overture to that opera). Nadia Boulanger’s father also studied with Hérold. Yikes.

Wow, now I get why people go into academia. You can’t make this stuff up.
1 year ago | |
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We at the Blogger household are having a fine Thanksgiving, hosting my in-laws, Mary and Tom Gover from Minneapolis. The last thing they expected to see in Knoxville was snow. With sons Thomas and Richard home for the short week, there is a lot of catching up to do. Yesterday was, as a matter of tradition, taken up with turkey roasting and total kitchen engagement. My contribution through the day was to fry some green tomatoes for breakfast, (yes, they were from our garden), bake a pecan pie, and prepare broccoli tonkatsu (broccoli with sautéd onion and pecan in applesauce and tamari). Everything came out great, especially the pie..... nom nom nom...

Facebook seems to have taken a detour down Quiz Street. I try to avoid such diversions, as I tend to not disconnect from them easily. As a measurement of musical nerdhood, this “checklist” quiz of composers you’ve heard covers a lot of the early-music ground, but many present-day composers are left off. Sure, I’ll grant that Leonin and Perotin are legitimate, important composers, but mon dieu, how could you not include John Williams? Georges Enescu? Emil Reznicek? Lee Hoiby? Furthermore, who is this Barbara Strozzi with her wardrobe malfunction? My score of 201 rated me at “kinda nerdy,” but I could think of at least a dozen composers which weren’t on the list, which would boost me up in to the “nerdissimo” category, by this website’s measure.

Below are some musical moments for which to be thankful.

Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, turned 110 on Wednesday. Her vitality and vigor in this video, as well as her story, is simply amazing to watch.

The Toccata from Charles Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5 in f for organ is one of the most grandiose and joyous musical compositions PERIOD. Someone with a lot of free time has committed to performing the piece on the electric guitar.

I picked up an LP at a junk store last week by “Mrs. Miller.” I had heard about her, but not been experienced. It led me to further research, and lo and behold, there is a video of she and Jimmy Durante singing one of Jimmy’s signature tunes...

What would Thanksgiving be without a 2-part “invention” by Red Green, the patron saint of handymen...

Happy Thanksgiving! And Happy Hannukah! From the whole KSO family.
1 year ago | |
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Our new Q-Series makes its debut at 7:00 pm Thursday night at Pellissippi State! The KSO Woodwind Quintet will perform music of Bizet, Gunther Schuller, Dvorak and others at PSTCC’s Clayton Performing Arts Center in a FREE concert.

I know better than to expound upon a subject that I, a string player, really know very little about (woodwind quintet repertoire). I’m much more qualified to tell you what marvelous people our principal Quintet are. Flutist Ebonee Thomas and horn player Jeffery Whaley have only been on the scene for a couple years, and bassoonist Aaron Apaza only a couple months, but they have already improved Knoxville’s quality of life in beautiful ways. By comparison, I knew oboist Phyllis Secrist and clarinetist Gary Sperl before I moved here (Spoleto ‘85). They and I have been playing in the KSO for a combined 103 years. We have seen it all.

The works to be performed will be the Passacaille by French composer Adrien Barthe, Bizet’s suite Jeux d’enfants “(Child’s Play),” Paul Valjean’s 1955 Dance Suite, and Gunther Schuller’s Suite for Woodwind Quintet.  The concert will conclude with arrangements of three Gershwin piano preludes and Dvorák’s “American” String Quartet.

The Dvorák is, of course, a staple in the string quartet literature, as well as one of the earliest nods by a major composer to the United States. Those who know the score will be interested to hear who gets to do what.

American composer Gunther Schuller was a guest conductor for my undergrad orchestra at the Hartt School in Connecticut. We performed a large-scale work of his whose title I forget, but it was outrageously complex. The way he stored his baton in his hair was quite amusing, as was his music. I remember one day, it was a Wednesday.....

I drove an orange and white VW bus back then. (This was in Hartford, I know, but it was 1979, before the big basketball rivalry started). I needed to practice Mr. Schuller’s music; it was all over the cello, and still is, but I couldn’t find a practice room. Luckily my bus had the middle seat removed and I was able to shed some riffs in it. But in the meantime a storm had gathered, and right as rehearsal was supposed to start, sheets of rain and frequent cloud-to-ground lightening all around me caused me to choose between education and death. I stayed in the bus, and was a little late to rehearsal, but come to find out later that the Bradley Air Museum– and many area homes and businesses as close as  five miles away– were destroyed by what has been called “the 9th most destructive tornado in American history.” A link to some photos of the damage can be found here.

I haven’t performed any of Mr. Schuller’s music since then, but with this memory, I am happy to leave such a performance to others this time around. I’m going to leave it to the WIND players...
1 year ago | |
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"Does it not seem as if Mozart's works become fresher and fresher the oftener we hear them?"
   ~ Robert Schumann

"In my dreams of Heaven, I always see the great Masters gathered in a huge hall in which they all reside. Only Mozart has his own suite."
   ~ Victor Borge

"Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it-that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed."
   ~ Albert Einstein

Take it from these authorities, Mozart is the standard by which all composers are judged. Profound simplicity, simple complexity. You don’t know this until you have heard other composers and how they fall short of, or laughably overshoot, Mozart’s example. The Knoxville Symphony will be playing his Overture to Idomeneo, Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, A Musical Joke, and Symphony No. 31, Paris on Thursday and Friday nights, November 14 and 15 at the Tennessee Theatre. Violinist Lara St. John will be the soloist for the Concerto.

In Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Mozart is written into the story as a part of the Magic Theater, a venue in which a saxophone player, Pablo, experiences the fantasies that exist in his mind. Mozart says to (the protagonist) Harry Haller, “Look, there’s Brahms. He is striving for redemption but it will take him all his time.... Too thickly orchestrated, too much material wasted.” [I know this will raise the hackles of some Brahms freaks].... “Thick instrumentation was in any case neither Brahms’ or Wagner’s failing. It was the fault of their time.”

Composers in Mozart’s day were governed by strict rules which governed phrase lengths, scoring, and keys into which they could venture, given any specific beginning key. A lot of the humor in the Musical Joke is subtle and derived from the abandonment of these rules. By the time neo-classical composers such as Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Casella were composing, it was understood that those rules would be routinely broken. The results were just as comic, but about 150 years too late. Mozart got the jump on them. There are some horn notes in the Minuet that will elicit belly-laughs, (hopefully not from the hornists themselves), as will the cadenza of the third movement Adagio cantabile, and the entire Presto finale. As for the closing three chords... Katy bar the door.
1 year ago | |
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Personally, I am finding it hard to put on the brakes this week after the last was so action-packed. Kiddie concerts and Chamber Orchestra, plus a whole lotta Halloween celebrations. It’s a good chance to catch my breath and notice what’s on my calendar and that of others in the group.

On a journey that has actually already started, one of our core quartets will be touring the Knox County Public Libraries on the “Dig Into Reading” tour. Violinists Rachel Loseke and Yin Wu, violist Bill Pierce and cellist Ildar Khuziakhmetov started Tuesday at the South Knoxville branch. They will hit Fountain City on Friday at 10:15, Karnes on Nov. 13 at 11 am, downtown Thursday the 14th at 11 am, and Murphy, Farragut, Burlington, Norwood, Powell, and Cedar Bluff the week of Nov. 18th.

The Saint John’s Cathedral Monday Noon Recital series is a fine Knoxville classical music institution that brings chamber and solo repertoire to a downtown audience. I have performed many times in this series, and not merely for the free (for performers) lunch that follows each concert! On November 18th, KSO board member Dr. Frank Gray will be teaming up at the piano with Emi Kagawa in a program of piano four-hands music. There will be music of Schubert, and Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes. The concert is free of charge, but the lunch afterwards is $5 for guests. Ms Kagawa will be joining the KSO Principal Quartet in January for a show on the new "Q" Series, in Schumann’s Piano Quintet at American Piano Gallery in Turkey Creek.

The Fall Youth Orchestra concerts are less than a week away! The 40th season of KSYOA starts off on Monday Nov. 11 at 7:00 pm at the Tennessee Theatre. All five groups will perform, starting with the Preludium orchestra, directed by Erin Archer. Her cool sister Megan Tipton will be conducting one of the pieces. Katie Hutchinson’s Philharmonia will present selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Wired by Lauren Bernofsky. Kathy Hart-Reilly will lead her Sinfonia ensemble through music of Yukiko Nishimura, Beethoven and J.C. Bach. Wesley Baldwin’s Youth Chamber Orchestra will be focusing on music of Scandinavia, with Arvo Pärt and Carl Nielsen in the spotlight. The Youth Orchestra proper will close with a Suppé Overture (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, with cello solo by Daniel Hong), and the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s 3rd symphony. A big thank you goes out to UT-Battelle for their generous support.
1 year ago | |
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The 2013-14 KSO season rolls along this week with Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) Wednesday through Friday and Chamber Classics on Sunday afternoon, all under the baton of Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum.

This year’s YPCs have a game show theme. Several orchestra members will try their hand at acting, answering musical questions in games modeled after The Price is Right, Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and Family Feud. Musical selections by Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and many more will be played in a show that is highly interactive. A talented young local pianist, William Crowe, will solo on Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue after a little skit based on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. The shows are geared toward 3rd through 5th grades.

On Sunday, November 3 at 2:30, an Italian-themed Chamber Classics concert will take place at the Bijou Theatre. UT piano professor David Brunell will solo in Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with us, and three works with Italian flavor will be served. Rossini’s exuberant Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri, Respighi’s elegant Ancient Aires and Dances, and Stravinsky’s effervescent Pulcinella: Suite round out the program.

Mention Pulcinella to orchestra musicians and you will hear “Aaaahhh....” It is a quite accessible work, yet still has that unmistakable Stravinsky glint in its eye. Based on music originally thought to be composed by the Italian composer Pergolesi, this suite pulled from a full ballet score is considered to be a harbinger of Stravinsky’s neo-classical style period.

You gain an hour this weekend. Why not spend it at the Bijou?
1 year ago | |
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The weekend whizzed by and stuff happened that I just totally whiffed on. I hope word got out about these events. Nestled in amongst Knoxville Opera’s Tales of Hoffman performances were a couple of orchestra concerts of note. And by now, a happy trio of violinists and a pianist have delivered some Beethoven to the UT campus.

The Oak Ridge Symphony performed on Saturday night, the 26th, with Maestro Dan Allcott on the podium. Wesley Baldwin, professor of cello at UT, and Wei Tsun Chang, professor of violin at Tennessee Tech., teamed up for Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello, op. 102. Around this centerpiece were arranged Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Schubert’s 2nd, and Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi. Some sweet tunes there.

Sweet tunes Sunday evening also, as hot on the heels of Hoffman was the UT Symphony Orchestra responding with a fine, varied program. Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, Wagner’s Siegfrid Idyll, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and Sibelius’ Finlandia in another orchestra concert conducted by a cellist!

No cellists were harmed in a concert just last night though, wherein KSO violinists Sean Claire, Ilia Steinschneider and Gordon Tsai continued the Beethoven violin sonata cycle in UT’s luscious new Recital Hall. Pianist Kevin Class went the distance with all three blokes for the keyboard victory.

AND the first frost came a little early this year, had to clear out the garden suddenly.

AND the World Series is on.

AND it’s Halloween.

Sigh.

Beethoven Boys!! Left to right: Ilia Steinschneider, Gordon Tsai, Sean Claire, Kevin Class.

1 year ago | |
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Although he composed a wealth of operettas, songs, ballet and chamber music, Jacques Offenbach’s current fame as a “2-hit wonder” is based on the “Can-can” from the opera Orpheus in the Underworld, and the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman, the Knoxville Opera Company’s current offering (Friday, Oct. 25 at 8:00; Sunday, Oct. 27, 2:30; both at the Tennessee Theatre). Mid-19th-century Paris was crawling with opera and ballet composers; Bizet, Delibes, Massenet, Halévy, Auber, Saint-Saëns, Gounod, etc, so to keep up with all of these composers’ accomplishments is a challenge. I will say, as a cellist, that Offenbach’s output in the area of cello duet repertoire is a vastly underrated and sadly neglected body of work. Hoffman stands out as a mature, robust anomaly; a serious opera from an era when comic opera was the order of the day. Sadly, Offenbach didn’t live to see its premier, which was completed by Ernest Guiraud and Offenbach’s 18-year-old son Auguste.

Soprano Talise Trevigne is featured in multiple roles, returning after her fine portrayal of the title role in Massenet’s Manon in 2011. Her hilarious Doll Song is a harkening back to Offenbach’s opera comique roots, and Ms Trevigne does not disappoint. Tenor Evan Bowers performs the title role, and Boris van Druff (Pirelli from last season’s Sweeney Todd; man, I still can't believe that was only last season) continues his merry pranks with a humorous falsetto aria.

My experience with the several different productions of Hoffman with which I have been involved has been enjoyable, but one particular performance can only be described as “scary as hell.” In the summer of 2005 the Des Moines Metro Opera produced Hoffman at the Simpson College home of that company. KSO violinists Edward and Mary Pulgar were also in the pit for this production.

The Blank Performing Arts Center has a proscenium stage which brings the action out in front of the orchestra, and is connected by two bridges to the main stage, similar to the Clarence Brown Theatre set-up. In this arrangement, some of the action occurs just behind the conductor.In the epilogue, a completely plastered Hoffman careens on stage and lands on a chair that is waiting for him. In this particular performance however, the chair was too close to the conductor, the floor was too slippery, the tenor was too rambunctious in his portrayal of a drunk, whatever. Hoffman slid in the chair, crashing into the wooden wall (bulkhead?) separating the orchestra pit from the proscenium stage, and the wall, weighing about 125 pounds, caved in- right on to conductor Dr. Robert Larson’s head! So while the principal cellist to my left scrambled to push the plywood wall away from the conductor, the show went on without missing a beat, although our hearts certainly did.

We at the KSO and KOC are not hoping for this kind of excitement at our Friday and Sunday productions. The talented cast is providing sufficient thrills, thankyouverymuch.
1 year ago | |
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