Classical Music Buzz > Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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As you remember from our last episode, we had just celebrated Bach's birthday by performing all of his Brandenburg Concerti over two nights in March. When the smoke from all 329 of those candles clears, we will be left with just two months left in the season.
On April 24thand 25th, 2014, a trip to Scandinavia will be happening. We will musically travel to Denmark, where the Overtureand Cockerel's Dancefrom Carl Nielsen's opera Maskaradeoriginated. Pianist Andrew Staupe will perform the ever-popular Piano Concertoof Edvard Grieg, Norway's finest composer. We will close with Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5, a lesser-known but rich entry from Finland's symphonic native son.
May's finale, on the 15thand 16th, holds music by Beethoven and Shostakovich. The Fidelio Overture of Beethoven starts things off, followed by his Piano Concerto No. 4,with soloist Spencer Myer at the keyboard. I don't know if I've ever told you this, but the Beethoven 4this a “desert island” piece for me; of the five Beethoven piano concerti, I find it to be the most soulful and the most quirky, especially the responsorial middle movement. As infrequently as I have played it, I'm beginning to think of it as a “dessert island” piece.
The grand finale to the season will be Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10.Yet again, a work that only has a number to identify it, but it oozes true Russian soul which permeates so much of Shostakovich's defiant music. A highlight of this first symphony after his denouncing the communist party is the second movement Scherzo,a powerful maelstrom of a work which is a “musical portrait of Josef Stalin.”

All shows start at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.
11 months ago | |
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There is news of high achievement and good fortune recently in KSO management. Our fearless Executive Director, Rachel Ford, was named one of six YWCA Tribute to WomenHonorees. Such honorees are chosen from area businesswomen who are outstanding in their field and an inspiration to those around them, by an independent, out-of-town panel of judges. We knew all along the caliber of woman that we had running our show here at the KSO, but now there is undisputed proof and recognition of the quality work she has been doing here for several years. Way to go, Rachel!

A major part of that work is fundraising, and some major funds have recently risen. A grant by the Aslan Foundation to the tune of $1,000,000 has come our way, and will be used over a five-year period to establish the KSO's Woodwind Quintet as “core musicians,” to fund the Chamber Classics series, and to bolster ticket revenue for the Masterworks and Chamber Classics. For many years, the talk was that the Woodwind Quintet would become a core group of the KSO (just as there is a group of core strings), and now that day is finally here. The Aslan Foundation was founded in 1994 by Lindsay Young, for whom the downtown branch of the YMCA is named, and is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural beauty, assets and history of Knox County.
11 months ago | |
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In a business where downsizing and even capsizing seem to be the rule rather than the exception, it is refreshing to know that the KSO has been compelled to add a concert to its schedule. The popular new Concertmaster Recital Series has spilled over to a fourth show. Although some call this the "Remedy Coffee concert series," because of the venue where the concerts are held, this added show will happen in the Great Hall of the Knoxville Museum of Art. There will be only one performance (instead of the customary pair), on May 1, 2014 at 7:00.

The concert will take place in conjunction with the KMA's installation of a massive work by glass sculptor Richard Jolley. The concert will include music by Sarasate, Rachmaninov and Dvorak. ("What!? No Philip Glass?" you may ask). Tickets will go on sale August 19 and will be $25.
1 year ago | |
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As if Dvorak, Chopin and Puccini’s names didn’t already provide enough fodder for jokes, here are a few names that should tantalize your sense of humor.

 Arthur Frackenpohl (b.1924). I don’t know much about Mr. Frackenpohl, and neither does Wikipedia, but his Concertino for Tuba is a staple in the solo tuba literature. He is Professor Emeritus at SUNY, Potsdam, having studied with Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. The All Music website has a lot more information about his compositions, which are quite varied in their instrumentation.

Václav Nelhýbel’s (1919-1996, pronounced “Nellie-bell”) name caught my eye in junior high school, when our school orchestra delved into one of his many student orchestra compositions, imaginatively entitled Music for Orchestra. A Czech-American composer, his life’s work seems to be invested as much in the scholarly investigation of compositional techniques as in actual composition.

Claude Balbastre (1724-1799), keyboard composer from Dijon, France. I am not going to give a pronunciation hint here, the constraints of polite company dictate as much. Use your imagination. Balbastre's fame was so great that the archbishop of Paris had to forbid him to play at Saint Roch during some of the services, because the churches were overcrowded when Balbastre played.

Balbastre. Guess he played lute also.

Marcel Bitsch (1921-2011, pronounced “Beesh).” Another Frenchman, he composed for just about every wind instrument there is. His Études are so melodious that they are sometimes performed as concert-pieces, and they are often studied by instruments other than those for which they are written.

Otar Taktakishvili (1924-1989, pronounced “Tock-ta-quiche-vee-lee”) was a Georgian composer, best known outside Georgia for his Sonata for Flute and Piano. While still a student at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, he penned the official anthem of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. I hope I don’t need to mention that Tbilisi is not a suburb of Atlanta.

Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was arguably the most famous Polish composer after Chopin. His impromptu piano-duo concerts with fellow Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski in the Warsaw ghetto were undoubtedly welcome morsels of joy in that war-ravaged city. He had a very full musical life, about which Wikipedia provides a wealth of information that makes for fascinating reading. He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991.

Panufnik and Lutoslawski in 1990

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) was a Viennese contemporary and friend of both Haydn and Mozart, often playing quartets with them, and in those days considered an equally gifted composer. His concerti for viola and double bass are still standard repertoire pieces.

Dittersdorf
1 year ago | |
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After an undoubtedly well-deserved Christmas break, the KSO Masterworks series will fire back up again on January 16th and 17th  with a crowd-pleasing program of music by Mozart, Tchaikovski and Johann Strauss. Guest conductor Sean Newhouse will sandwich Strauss’ Overture to Die Fledermaus and the Emperor Waltzes around Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and Tchaikovski’s Suite from  Sleeping Beauty. The piano soloist for the Mozart will be Louis Schwizgebel.

February’s offerings, on the 20th and 21st, will be our choral concerts, with Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service topping the bill. This musical celebration of the Jewish Saturday morning service was written in, and inspired by, the Alps of Bloch’s native Switzerland on the eve of World War II, in a musical language somewhere between Moussorgsky and Vaughan Williams. Preceding the Bloch will be Richard Yardumian’s Veni, Sancte Spiritus and Paul Hovhaness’ 2nd Symphony, Mysterious Mountain. Although all three of these works were written in a 25-year span of the mid-20th century, there is a common thread of ethereal, gothic beauty which will transcend their composers’ relative obscurity and warm up cold February nights.

What better way to ring in Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday than to bring ALL SIX of his Brandenburg Concerti to the Tennessee Theatre stage! Over a 2-night period, March 20th (# 4, 3, and 1) and his actual birthday, the 21st (# 2, 6 and 5), the KSO will participate in a special Baroque edition of March Madness. Each Brandenburg Concerto has its own special orchestration and soloist configuration, and compositionally they are the quintessential Concerti Grossi which were so often imitated but never equalled. The famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and the Partita No. 2 and Chaconne, both orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, will launch the concert both nights.
1 year ago | |
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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.
1 year ago | |
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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.
1 year ago | |
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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 | |
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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 | |
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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 | |
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