Classical Music Buzz > Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
289 Entries
I was on Facebook yesterday, scrolling through the day’s postings, when I noticed an item about a cyclist who had suffered a fatal heart attack in the middle of a bicycle race, in the first leg of the 3-day Courage Classic near Vail, CO. I thought to myself, “what a shame,” but as more and more musicians that I knew to be local “shared” this story, it became clear that this was not only someone I knew, but someone who meant a lot to the Knoxville Symphony.

William “Rick” Lester was the KSO’s General Manager in the mid-90's, following Connie Harrison’s and preceding Mark Hanson’s tenure. As a part-time GM, splitting his time among the KSO and several other consultancies, he turned around a financially foundering KSO with bottom-line-based strategies that weren’t always popular due to their austerity. The rapidly evolving music scene in Knoxville and the rising tide of alternative music sources (the internet) demanded new methods for selling the KSO’s product, and Rick was not afraid to make bold changes. His conservative leadership was one link in the chain that has kept the KSO in business while many other orchestras faltered or went completely under.

Here is a link to the story on the (Colorado Springs) Gazette’s online obituaries. For a more in-depth look at KSO events under Lester’s watch, here is a link to a 1997 Weekly Wire online newsletter. It is unfortunate that some will focus on the way he died, losing track of the true tragedy of his passing. We in Knoxville remember and mourn, and are thankful for his work here.
11 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
It invariably comes up when I am talking to a concert-goer, the question of why the cellists do not stand up while playing the Star-Spangled Banner. Although I have never been accused of being an anarchist because of this, I am sure some people must wonder if the cellists as a team are protesting something.

It varies from orchestra to orchestra, but from a very unscientific poll I took on Facebook (I have about 150 friends who play orchestral instruments), the consensus is that the cellos sit to play, as this is the way that the instrument should be played. Some opined that it is respectful to the flag to perform in the most technically correct way possible, in order to serve the music to the utmost. In some orchestras NOBODY stands, since if one section must sit, then all should. No one in this poll admitted that the cellists stood up for the Banner, and no one believed that we should.

I have been known to play standing up. When I played in-school concerts, we often featured something called the “Fugue Game.” We would perform a Mozart fugue, from the “Easy Mozart” quartet book, and a quarter of the kids in the room would be assigned to each quartet member. When your player played the fugue subject (theme), (s)he would stand up. The game was to count the number of times your player would stand up, and although it was mayhem sometimes, it was always a lot of fun. Sometimes we would throw them a curveball and stand up and stretch during a rest, then we would have to warn them that we had to stand up AND PLAY. Since this was all in fun, sacrificing a little technical correctness was "good for the game," but the Star-Spangled Banner is not child’s play.
11 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
It’s been a couple of years since I linked to some other bloggers, yet I am no more savvy about the blogosphere than when I started doing this. Tonight, somehow, I am sharing a few more and although they aren’t specifically symphonic music-related, they are interesting and amazing enough that they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Violist Julie Goodale and I met while playing in the Lake George Opera Festival orchestra in 1995. The orchestra was comprised of players from many states, but mostly free-lancers from Boston, Philly and New York, which is where Julie is from. For several summers in a row she would regale us with tales of treks on the highest peaks in the world, and of marathon runs. I wasn’t aware early on that she was a breast cancer survivor, but when I learned that, my mind just boggled. Her website, Life-Cise, and her blog, Fitness for Survivors, give profound insight into the world of someone who is not merely a survivor but a fitness pacesetter who makes the average “fitness nut” look like a couch potato.

Kimberly Simpkins is a KSO violinist who left town a few years ago, but has returned to pursue a degree at UT. The ins and outs of her life in music and parenthood are detailed in her blog, Mining for Diamonds.

An event that is probably not unique to Knoxville happens every June 7th, rain or shine (rain this year). It’s the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash, and this year I had the pleasure of performing on the Market Square stage with Norwegian Wood, a Beatles cover band. Sharing the stage with me were Ayca Yayman, (KSO second oboist), cellist Alexia Pantanizopolis, accordionist Tres Dogherty “(Tres Dog)”and violinist Seth Hopper. It was challenging, to do Dylan’s music, because his tunes often are more spoken than sung, sort of a folk-sprechstimme. Not great for an instrumental band, but we found some tunes that worked. A song that would definitely not have worked was Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. Someone has co-opted that song title and named their blog after it, Stuck Inside of Knoxville with the Urban Blues Again. Anything that happens in downtown Knoxville, and I mean anything, is recounted in this every-other-day blog that has won the MetroPulse Best of Knoxville 2013 award for local blogs. Some very timely documentation of the burgeoning downtown Knoxville scene can be found here.
1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
As summer finally dries out, I anticipate the 2013-14 season like a gardener anticipates the arrival of seeds that he has just ordered from a catalog. It will be my 27th season with the KSO. In dog years, it would be my 182nd. As is the case perennially, there is something on every concert that especially tickles my fancy, whether it be a work I am experiencing for the first time, something I haven’t played in years, or something I wish I could play every year.

In September, we are offering the Beethoven Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano with the Eroica Trio as guests. Those who have been here for a while will remember their appearance with us in the 1995-96 season (I think). It was a wonderful performance, although unfortunately what many remember is the fact that the pianist broke a heel as she walked on stage. Sigh. Those September 19 and 20 concerts will close with Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite. Kodály’s name is a departure for some to pronounce, (simply put, it’s “co-die”) but his music is “to-die” for; infinitely accessible gypsy-tinged impressionism. Háry János is his best-known orchestral work and features the cimbalom (pictured below), an eastern European hammered dulcimer that will be right out front on stage.

On October 17 and 18 we will hear Lucas Richman’s spanking-new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth with pianist Jeffrey Biegel (pronounced “beagle”). The work will be bookended by three staples of the 20th century American literature: Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal, Ferde Grofé’s Mississippi Suite, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris. I cannot say enough about the Barber overture; it is clever, bubbly and beautiful, but I will warn you that the Adagio for Strings it ain’t. The Grofé work was one of my first exposures to classical music; I eagerly await the revelation of what I was missing because my parents’ LP had so many skips in it.

In November, when it will undoubtedly be rainy again, we will welcome Lara St. John back to our stage to bring the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D to life. This sunny all-Mozart show will also feature the Overture to Idomeneo (“Ee-doe-men-A-O”), A Musical Joke, and the Symphony No. 31 (Paris). This pair of Masterworks will occur on November 14 and 15. All shows are at the Tennessee Theatre and start at 7:30.

Stay tuned for more...


1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
I had the good fortune of performing at this year’s Rossini Festival, which happened on a rainy day in downtown Knoxville. The rain wasn’t the source of the good fortune, of course, rather it was witnessing the spirit of those who braved the wet to see our performance. Aside from the extension cord plug (for the PA system) falling into a puddle and shorting out after every other song, the performance really went well. Advice I was given to always keep a towel in my gig bag paid off. At another Rossini Festival, 2009, I believe, one of my bands played just prior to Keith Brown’s UT Jazz group. The jazzers had to cancel their show because there was a TORNADO WARNING. Rain has also accompanied the KSO on some of our outdoor concerts in Maryville and Morristown, but it did not deter very many people from attending.

I’m not even sure what will happen if it rains so hard that we can’t play. I remember, about 4 years ago, in the middle of the concert on the 4th, a big ol’ storm rolled in and we had to evacuate to the Knoxville Convention Center for about an hour while the storm passed. But when the clouds and rain cleared, there was a fine fireworks display and the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture brought the house down, so to speak.

People pay hundreds of dollars to attend Bonnaroo and hear toxically loud music in the rain and mud. (And I bet they didn’t even play Rocky Top)! The smart money (which is to say, NO money- it’s a free concert) is on the KSO’s 29th annual Independence Day concert, starting at 8:00 at the World’s Fair Park South Lawn. Soprano (and KSO Director of Education and Community Partnerships) will sing music of Irving Berlin, Alfred Reed and Marvin Hamlisch, and several marches will raise the spirit. And trust me, hearing Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s Pioneer Dances will be the most pleasant musical surprise you have had in a while.

Bring an umbrella. And a raincoat. Because it did more than rain at Valley Forge.
1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Finally it feels like summer, so much traveling since the season ended! It’s a day off, the first REAL day off in weeks. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m blogging, but I always have a few minutes to spare y’all.

The KSYO summer Strings Camp was an unqualified success, with a record number of players (213!!) among four different ensembles. Each group prepared and presented a wide variety of music, collaborating on a soul-stirring final concert. KSYO staff Jim Fellenbaum, Erin Archer, Katie Hutchinson, Katie Middleton and Kathy Hart-Reilly each pack twenty pounds of potatoes into a ten-pound bag every day. Thanks to them, a fondness for orchestra playing is deep in the hearts of those kids forever. I have a couple students who were absolutely captivated by the whole experience. 


                       ------------------------*********************------------------------

Our hard-working administrative staff has been off in St. Louis, watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs... er, representing the KSO at the League of American Orchestras convention. Executive Director Rachel Ford and Director of Education and Community Partnerships Jennifer Barnett spent June 17-20 in St. Louis with close to 1,000 orchestra professionals, giving presentations and rubbing elbows with fellow “orchestrators” in the STL.





Lots of links to our and other orchestra’s presentations are on the League website; to see Yadier Molina’s home run in the 6th inning at Busch Stadium, here are some photos.

1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
I believe it is time to begin working on next year’s repertoire, not the least of which is this violin and cello Duo by Zoltán Kodály that concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and I will be playing on October 2 and 3 at Remedy Coffee. It’s a piece I know well but have never performed. I remember witnessing performances of it in college and marveling at the exotic, gypsy-delic musical language and pyrotechnics, and thinking, “how am I, a suburban kid from Connecticut with a cigar-box instrument, going to sound like that)?!

Well, I like to believe that some of that gypsy business has taken root in me over the decades, but in case it hasn’t, something I did recently can only help. This past weekend I have been in Northampton, Mass. at Django in June, a gypsy jazz summit which has happened at Smith College every June for 10 years now. My affinity for and participation in this genre is fairly recent (about 8 years), but I made a splash in the gypsy jazz community this weekend and held my own with some scarily talented artists. What’s more, the source of the gypsy-flavored writing in Kodály’s Duo revealed itself to me in the person of one Tcha Limberger, a blind guitarist/violinist/vocalist whose every move embodied the spirit of gypsy music.

Since Django Reinhardt was a guitarist, there were a predominance of guitarists in attendance, but violins, mandolins, basses, and accordions were also there. An ensemble of 10 accordionists was one of the highlights of my experience there, as well as multiple groups of musicians jamming on the lawn and in various rooms on the Smith campus. I could go on and on about this; how it was somewhat of a homecoming for me, (although I went to nearby UMass-Amherst, my wife Helen went to Smith and the quartet we played in practically lived at Smith), and how Knoxville was one of the most-represented cities at the camp, but suffice it to say that I wished I didn’t have to leave and I am now charged up with new ways to tackle the playing of the Kodály.

Here are some videos of Tcha Limberger playing various gypsy instruments. Enjoy!





1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
The 2013-14 KSO Pops line-up is gonna be something to behold. A wide variety of acts that will make it very difficult for me to keep my eye on the conductor. My orchestra conductor in undergrad, Charles Bruck, said that with one eye you watch the conductor and the other you watch the music, but I am going to have to grow a third eye somehow, maestro Bruck.

Starting on January 11, I Can’t Wait for the music of ABBA as performed by Arrival. This Swedish quartet is in constant demand, bringing hits like SOS, Waterloo, Fernando and Knowing Me, Knowing You to life. OH YEAH, and Dancing Queen. I remember as a middle-schooler the big splash ABBA made on the Pop scene, putting Sweden on the Anglophile musical map- along with Blue Swede. At the height of their success, ABBA was second only to Volvo as Sweden’s top export earners.

In the Valentine’s season, Feb. 8, I Can’t Wait for Dancing and Romance to bring a swing revue a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the Civic Auditorium with Kirby Ward and Joan Hess. Mr. Ward has a lot of irons in the fire. As an actor, he has been seen on General Hospital, Law and Order/SVU, and PBS’ One Good Turn.  I am hoping he can recreate the “chair walk.” Joan Hess will bring her many talents as well; she was Tanya in Mamma Mia on Broadway and Jessica on Flight of the Conchords.

I have always enjoyed The Indigo Girls’ soulful folk music (soulk?) The song Hammer and a Nail contains one of my favorite motivating lyrics ever; “don’t you know a refuge never grows/from a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose.” Their vocal chemistry is straight from the vine.  I Can’t Wait for them to take our Civic Auditorium stage March 15, 2014 at 8:00.

If you have any breath left to take away, I Can’t Wait for Cirque de la Symphonie to take it in a return engagement on May 10 that should not be missed, need I say more? Graceful, death-defying, dazzling, insert adjective here.

Why wait?
1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Hoo-wee!! I thought I was on vacation, but boy, nothing could be further from the truth. All of my students are continuing to study through the summer, my bands are evolving like never before, (check out Norwegian Wood, with oboist Ayca Yayman and I at the 9th annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash on Market Square, Friday, June 7th at 5:30) and weddings and such are coming out of the woodwork. I will be attending a gypsy jazz workshop at Smith College (my wife Helen’s alma mater!) in a couple weeks, a “giant step” for me and my gypsy jazz colleagues here in town.

There is of course, the July 4th concert in about a month, but it’s a mistake to think that that is all there is going on at Symphony HQ. Coming up June 17-21 is the KYSO String Camp, held at Bearden High. The final concert for that will be on the 21st at 2:30. I have a few students who will be taking part in this fine program, and they are psyched! It is still not too late to sign up your young Casals, Heifetz, or Kashkashian, but it WILL be too late on Saturday. A link to all the necessary info is HERE.

Did you think I was being cheeky? No, notice I didn’t say “Kardashian.” Back in February, at the Grammys, violist Kim Kashkashian received a Grammy in the category of “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for her recording of viola music by Hungarian composers  Kurtag and  Ligeti. You can imagine the confusion among Grammy fans who may have thought that Kim Kardashian had embarked on a second career. A force in the viola world for more than three decades, Ms Kashkashian’s name is THE first to come to mind of people in the know when considering the pinnacle of modern viola achievement, up there with Casals and Heifetz on their respective instruments. If you Google “Kashkashian Grammy,” you will find a bevy of articles with painful misspellings and ditziness, written by people who really just should not have gotten out of bed the day they wrote them. One brief article, posted by Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR, includes a picture of Kim that shows the ubiquitous “chinrest hicky,” omg, definatly not something Kim Kardashian would countenance.
1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Wow. A transforming weekend. (Last weekend) Without going into too many details, since the last entry I’ve been to New England, where our son Thomas received his B.A. in Art History from Middlebury College in Vermont. Moving him from his dorm happened in a driving rain, which started Thursday night and never stopped pouring even as we left on Sunday afternoon. The high temperature while there was 45. I also attended a graveside service in New Hampshire for my Aunt Nell, my dad’s brother’s widow; she was 94. It was 65 years ago Thursday that she and Uncle Earl stood up beside my parents, who are both still up and about and went out to dinner that night. It being Memorial Day, it was appropriate that my parents and Richard and I should visit our ancestor’s graves; my roots run deep in the Granite State.

While waiting FOUR HOURS for a late plane in Charlotte, I had time to flip backwards through my calendar, in hopes of collating a “top ten” list of great moments from this past season. I got to about 7 when our flight was cancelled, at which point there was nothing to do but freak out. But I’ve narrowed it up and so here it goes, in no particular order.

6. Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the “deep end” of the January Chamber Classics concert, featuring principal horn Jeffrey Whaley and tenor Cody Boling. Deep, rich tonalities from England’s most fertile musical mind.

3. Verdi’s Requiem. Thrilling choral music by one of the masters of drama. “Surround-sound” brass and a cornucopia of wonderful tunes, all with a distinct Italian accent.

8. Dvorak’s Piano Quintet. I had never performed this work until January, at Remedy Coffee with concertmaster Gabe Lefkowicz. It was like a late Christmas present.

4.  Sweeney Todd. It’s hard to believe this was part of the ‘12-‘13 season because it started so long ago- the earliest start to a KSO season ever. Sondheim’s score still scares me.

1. The Rite of Spring. Not much needs to be said here, a tour de force for the orchestra. Although it was my fifth time performing the Rite, the individual performances were the best this time, adding up to a totality that was waaaaay more than the sum of its parts.

2. Principal quartet concert in April. I had only performed the Beethoven op. 95 quartet before; the Debussy, Borodin and Richman works were all new to me. The Debussy especially was a challenge, having heard so many good recordings of it and wondering just how we would put it together. At the end of the day, though, I was just as likely to be humming tunes from Lucas’ work as from the others. Written more than half of his lifetime ago, Movements for String Quartet left me hoping that more quartet music would be forthcoming from him.

9. La fanciulla del west. I enjoyed revisiting Puccini’s strangest opera, having done it almost 30 years ago at Spoleto. There were big giant déjàvus that left me feeling like Buddy Hackett running through the big “W” in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

7. Bernstein’s Candide. This was only a suite from the opera, but it came out of nowhere to win over players and audience members alike who were unfamiliar with it. The overture is just the tip of the iceberg here; Make Our Garden Grow (the closing chorus representing the other end of the iceberg), gets me every time, and Bernstein’s sense of humor carried the show all the way with fine singing by Boris van Druff, Jeff Austin and Karen Nickell.

10. Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Although we hear Korngold’s music (and that of his countless imitators) a lot, it is usually in movies. Here was a work that featured concertmaster Gabe as soloist, and he really knocked it out of the park. The concert finished with Brahms’ 4th, (maestro Richman’s audition piece from ten years ago), inviting reflection on ten great years.

5. The May Chamber Classics featured Within the Quota, music for a ballet by Cole Porter. A somewhat obscure but very charming period piece, some of Porter’s musical effects were just laugh-out-loud funny.

1 year ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
61 - 70  | prev 34567891011 next
InstantEncore