Classical Music Buzz > Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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It's a scary situation in a string player's life when the instrument buzzes. Just the words “bass-bar crack” send violinists' and cellists' blood pressure soaring. I don't know how it happened, but my “good” cello, “Brigitte,” caught a bad buzz at the beginning of the summer. I tried to wait it out, thinking that the humidity might help squelch the buzz, but no. Every F# I play still sounds like a snare drum or kazoo. So, it's time to visit the “cello whisperer.” In its absence, what I am left with is this machine-made “beater” instrument that really doesn't belong on the Masterworks stage. An untenable situation.
Enter James Fellenbaum. Our resident conductor also happens to be a cellist. (You heard him if you attended the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Classics concert from January, 2012, when we last performed Bach's 6thBrandenburg Concerto). So, remembering this instrument, and with my fingers crossed that he wouldn't be needing it, I took a bold step and laid bare my soul before him, and he was generous enough to allow me to borrow it for the next month or so. It's a departure for me, to play on an instrument that is younger than I, “(Birgitte” was ALLEGEDLY built around 1800 in England), but I look forward to teaching his instrument some new tunes. (Jim allowed that he had played the Kodaly Duoin college, so the instrument already “knows” that work. Gabe Lefkowitz and I will be playing a movement from it on the Concertmaster Series early next month.).

I arranged to meet Jim at the UT music building to pick his cello up yesterday, and on the way there it dawned on me that this is not just “the UT Music Building,” but the BRAND SPANKING NEW, Natalie Haslam Music Building. It still has that “new Music Building smell,” and luckily a class was just letting out and I was able to get a glimpse inside the recital hall. Here are a few snapshots of the interior of the building.
Main Lobby

Here are front and rear of the Recital Hall


I though these translucent stairs were way cool.




1 year ago | |
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The 78th season of the Knoxville Symphony starts off tonight with the annual Ijams Nature Center benefit. The lawn of “Knoxville's most natural place” will be filled with Ijams' benefactors and the sounds of Mozart, Rossini, and Sousa, among others. Noted Nashville singer-songwriter LoganBrill will be gracing our stage with renditions of her songs and La vie en rose, the tune which put Edith Piaf on the map. A Knoxville native, Logan Brill belongs to a Nashville songwriting posse called Carnival Music. Her voice evokes Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow, and her album Walking Wires is due to be released October 15th. Interesting to me, alone, (perhaps) is that she is the niece of a classmate of mine from the Hartt School of Music. The weather for these concerts has been perfect every time, I see no reason why it shouldn't also be perfect today.

This production at Ijams has been, traditionally, the herald of the new season. Everyone has stories of their summer, there are new faces to get to know, and the string players have a fun time playing “moth tennis” with their bows. (The stand lights attract the bugs and divert them a way from our faces). The list of featured guests at the Ijams concert over the years reads like a “who's who” of movers and shakers in the Knoxville community, whose varying degree of talent has been a source of much amusement. Former Mayor Victor Ashe once did battle with the triangle in a Strauss waltz, Senator Lamar Alexander played some wonderful old-time country tunes on the piano, Vols sportscaster Bob Kesling beautifully performed a Vivaldi cello sonata, etc. The trend lately has been to feature talent from Knoxville's rich music scene, such as Christa DeCicco (from Christabel and the Jons), jazz singer Kelle Jolly last season, and Ms Brill this year. Tickets are available through the Ijams Nature Center.
1 year ago | |
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There are new family members in the KSO. July auditions provided new second and fourth horns, and principal bassoon. Previous to that, our new principal trumpet was chosen from 30-odd applicants; you’ve heard Philip Chase Hawkins if you attended the 4th of July concert, leading the brass through the rain in an 1812 Overture that made us forget about the weather.

Our new principal bassoonist is Aaron Apaza, and he comes to us via Interlochen, UPenn, The Curtis Institute and Yale University, where Ellen Connors, our principal bassoonist from 2009-2012, also studied with Frank Morelli.

Our new permanent 4th horn is Sean Donovan, who hails from Murphreesboro, TN. He attended MTSU and UMKC, and is currently on the faculty at MTSU.

The correct term for referring to a player of this instrument is “horn player,” although “hornist” is a somewhat distant second in acceptability. When I type “hornist,” a red squiggly line appears under it, so I’m just going to say “horn player.” I have a problem with calling a person a “horn.”

For the 2013-14 season our 2nd hornist will be Gray Ferris, who studied at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Arizona. (My mom went to UNH, just after the war. She didn’t play horn, though). This season, Gray will be handling the duties of our usual second horn player, Jennifer Crake Roche, who will be taking a year off, because.......

she has given birth to a new baby girl!!! Jacqueline Marie Roche, the youngest symphony member, was born on August 23rd, to Jen and hubby Sam. Congratulations!!!


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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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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