The middle of October for the KSO brings repertoire that highlights the extremes in scope of musical performance. Opening tomorrow, (October 9th at 8:00; Sunday, October 11th at 2:30, Tennessee Theatre) the Knoxville Opera Company's first production of the year will be Arrigo Boito's crowning achievement, Mefistofele. Unless you are an opera aficionado, you've probably never heard of Boito. His musical output amounts to this opera, another opera entitled Nerone which, in spite of 38 years of work, remained unfinished, and an unpublished symphony in A minor. This meager oeuvre is augmented by his valuable contributions as a librettist, having written libretti for Ponchielli's La gioconda(under the anagrammatic pseudonym “Tobia Gorrio”), and Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Otello, and Falstaff. Boito's collaboration with Verdi led to a very close friendship between the two; Boito was at Verdi's bedside when he died. Mefistofeleis, of course, based on Goethe's Faust,and out of the many operas to be derived from that work, Boito's is considered to be the most faithful to the spirit of the play.Such dramatic subject matter deserves a sumptuous production. While the pit is usually the orchestra's domain, scenery will be rising therefrom instead, and the orchestra will be onstage behind a scrim. The orchestra is not confined solely to the stage, though; brass will be stationed backstage and even in the balcony. Highlights often excerpted from Mefistofeleare the Prologue, the Epilogue, and two tenor arias. Although the KOC website states correctly that the opera was premiered in 1868, the premiere was considered a failure, owing to dislike of its avant-garde (for its time) musical style, its sprawling length, and the cast's inability to bring off the many complexities of the score. Revisions over the next dozen years slimmed down the production by one third, and largely due to Wagner's success, the opera-going public had grown to tolerate Boito's quirky musical language. The final version produced in Milan in 1881 has remained popular to this day, but note that the KOC's performance is a Tennessee premiere! Check out this YouTube“video,” from the Victrola era, of legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing the aria Ave Signore!-----------------------------------------------**************-----------------------------------------------On the other end of the spectrum of musical dimension, the Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends series will have its opener at the Knoxville Museum of Art next Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00. This series has really blossomed in its new, more spacious home at the KMA, and while it is now easier to snare tickets for these, they are going fast. Pianist Kevin Class and I will join Gabe for the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D Minor. Violin giant Fritz Kreisler's Variations on a Theme by Corelli starts the concert, and Beethoven's legendary KreutzerSonata closes it. Although Leo Tolstoy's novella of the same name is morbid and somewhat ribald, (the Russian government censored the novella just days after its publication, and Theodore Roosevelt called Tolstoy a “sexual moral pervert”), Beethoven's 9th violin sonata is nothing but chamber music joy, pure and intimate. And speaking of pure, intimate joy, here is a vintage recording, an actual video from the 40's, of Jascha Heifetz, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and pianist Anton Rubinstein performing the first movement of the Mendelssohn trio.Kreutzer and Kreisler might understandably be confused for one another, so here is a little explanation. Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831, pronounced “Kroy-tser”) is one of the “Big 3” founders of the French school of violin playing. His 42 Etudes is considered to be one of the most important violin pedagogy books ever written. (Jack Benny could often be heard playing Etude #1 in some of his comedy routines). In spite of the dedication of the sonata to Kreutzer, he never performed it, claiming it was unplayable and incomprehensible. Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962, pronounced like “Chrysler”) was also a giant of the violin world, although his compositional legacy is a multitude of short, tasteful encore pieces for violin. Liebeslied (Love's Sorrow) and Liebesfreud(Love's Joy) are a matched pair of such pieces often performed together. So remember, Kreisler may have been alive during your lifetime, but Kreutzer definitely was not.
It's time to get funky with the KSO. Our first Pops concert of the season is Classical Night Fever, with, you guessed it, we'll be "Stayin' Alive," as we head to the "Car Wash" and end at the "Y.M.C.A." We will groove back into the 1970's with classic TV medleys and more. The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, October 2 at the Tennessee Theatre.The Orchestra, conducted by James Fellenbaum, will be joined by Motor Booty Affair, a 4-piece funk band who came to groove.They welcome you to come dressed in the style of the hip and groovy 1970's with bell bottom jeans and platform shoes. Get your photo made with John Travolta from the Saturday Night Fever era. Classical Night Fever, indeed!Tickets can be purchased on www.knoxvillesymphony.com or at the door and range from $20 - $60. What a funktastic way to get our KSO Pops Season off to a groovy start!
On Sunday September 27th, the Chamber Classics series will open at the Bijou with guest clarinet soloist Victor Chavez and Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is currently celebrating its 80th season, but a more intimate branch of the organization, the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra, will be starting its 34th season. The embryonic stage of the group and its founder, Zoltan Rosznyai is detailed on the KSO website's history page. Since it is rather hard to find, I've excerpted a paragraph… In summer 1979 Mr. Rozsnyai almost single-handedly pulled together the Knoxville Chamber Orchestra, later called the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra, by convincing a number of KSO musicians and a few others (including David Van Vactor recruited as a flutist) – 34 in all – to perform without compensation a concert from the chamber orchestra repertoire on July 21, 1979 at First Christian Church on Fifth Avenue at which no admission was charged. It was a revelation. The performance was acoustically stunning and, at last, a Knoxville audience was able to hear just how good the KSO’s musicians had really become. With the 16-member professional core added in 1981, the orchestra’s five-concert Chamber Classics series was inaugurated by the Society for the 1981-82 season at the acoustically superior Tennessee Theatre, and then moved in 1983-84 to the more intimate Bijou Theatre where it remains today. The ready-made solution of an acoustically suitable venue for the KSO was now obvious; however, it was not until the 1985-86 season, following Mr. Rozsnyai’s tenure, that the orchestra was able to effect a move of its Masterworks series to the Tennessee Theatre. Anticipating this advancement to the slightly smaller-capacity venue, the orchestra began presenting its Masterworks subscription series in pairs for the 1983-84 season and continues to do so to the present day. Those were the days! First Christian Church is a beautiful venue for music; in fact, the KSO used to hold its auditions there. I did a recital there about ten years ago, and it all went very smoothly until the sun went down, and we realized the piano keyboard was in total darkness! A pianist's nightmare. All of the rehearsals had occurred during the day. It was one of those “note to self” moments. Mr. Chavez will be performing Carl Maria von Weber's pristine Clarinet Concerto No. 2 on Sunday. These days the multi-movement solo clarinet concerto genre has only works by Mozart and Stamitz (who wrote 11!) substantially representing it before Weber wrote his pair, but a life cut short at 39 by tuberculosis kept the world from knowing the untold riches that would surely have followed these works. Two other works by composers who left us way too soon flank the Weber. Mendelssohn's rich HebridesOverture opens the show, and Schubert's youthful Symphony No 2 closes it. These three works, all composed in a period of 20 years in the early 19th century, came from the pens of composers who were 21, 25, and 17 (in program order). The Bijou Theatre will be resounding with the (early) Romantic ideal this Sunday at 2:30.
Let's take a glance back at some of the things we saw in the KSO's September Masterworks concerts. There was a violin section playing their instruments like guitars in the bluesy slow movement of Gershwin's Concerto in F, most of the orchestra snapping their fingers on offbeats and shouting “Mambo!” in Bernstein's West Side StorySuite, and if you went Friday night…. you may have seen me in the audience. I feel I should explain why. About a month ago I was working in my garden, staking a tomato cage that had fallen under the weight of the tomatoes it was supporting. A glancing blow from a hammer struck my left index finger and caused a small, simple fracture that has pretty much healed by now. Luckily no knuckles were involved and no surgery was necessary. I am now able to play some things without pain, but not with abandon. My return is most likely be the Symphony Night Fever Disco Pops concert on October 2nd. All the while I have been thinking about how many close calls there have been over the years, what can be done and what shouldn't be done. True, gardening isn't the sort of activity that should break fingers, but hey; a Notre Dame football player blew out his ACL while celebrating after breaking up a touchdown pass. And don't even get me started about how composer Ernest Chausson died. I'd like to thank Dr. Robert Ivy and his staff at Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic for the very fine care I have received in this “manual crisis,” and to Kimberly at Ortho Tennessee for the physical therapy. The challenge now that the bone has healed is to restore the tendons in the knuckle, which sort of froze up when the cast was holding it still. So I attended a Knoxville Symphony concert last week, for the first time in 27 years. People were surprised to see me, to say the least. I was so proud of the job “we” did on four American classics! And the Champagne toast before the start was superb. I can hardly wait to get back into the swing of things, the fingers are back on the strings. There's a fresh batch of music to learn. And a fresh batch of tomatoes to pick.
The comings and goings of orchestra personnel sometimes proceed at a dizzying pace, as happened three or four years ago with several violin and woodwind positions turning over. I haven't gotten dizzy yet, but I hate to see anyone go. Violinist Ani Bermudez and her husband, violist Louis Diez are moving to the Washington, DC area, where Louis has accepted an Assistant Director of Development position at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. We are sure their buoyant personalities will be a huge hit in their new town, and that their toddler, Thomas will prove to be a fine social asset as well. BEST WISHES, GUYS!!!!photo courtesy Meade ArmstrongBest as we know, violist Nina Missildine isn't going anywhere per se, but on August 8, she and her husband Matt Mikos welcomed their second child, Henri Arthur Mikos into the world! Nina has a golden touch with the kids in her KSO Youth Orchestra ensemble and in the Maryville Public Schools, and as a violist, she is everything you could want. Look, Henri even has a violist's left hand! Congratulations!!! Our second trumpeter, DJ Creech, added a lot to our sound, if only for a brief spell. Presently he is off to Japan, to participate in the renowned Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra. Hyogo is one of just a handful of orchestras worldwide that have tenure and age limits; I hesitate to use the term "training orchestra" because it makes it sound like it's "minor league," but no one would call the Chicago Civic Orchestra or the New World Symphony in Miami minor league, either. Best wishes to you, mate!For many years, I would come into a rehearsal or concert, take my seat and listen for the "A" that we orchestra musicians tune to. Almost without exception, that "A" would be played by Phyllis Secrist. I knew Phyllis before I came to Knoxville; we had played in the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds in 1985. Her teaching studio at UT has been the center of Knoxville's oboe realm since 1981, and her students regularly play with the KSO, and continue to advance in the classical world. Phyllis, her husband, Joe Grubb, and their lovely daughter Rachel have all contributed their talents with the orchestra. Well, after playing Principal Oboe for over 40 seasons, Phyllis has decided to retire from the orchestra. Her many years of beautiful leadership will be recognized at this Thursday and Friday's Masterworks concerts.
RT @TNRockWriter: The new album by @JillAndrews is so, so good. Jaw-droppingly so. She plays Sunday @KnoxBarleys; read: http://t.co/lhRZC4T…Thu, October 8, 2015
RT @TNTheatre: If you purchase tickets from a 3rd party, we can’t guarantee authenticity. Please only purchase tickets from our box office …Thu, October 8, 2015
RT @ClassicHits931: Special Knoxville Opera discount for 93.1 WNOX listeners! 25% off select seats for Mefistofele this Friday or Sunday! h…Mon, October 5, 2015
Did you enjoy this beautiful fall day? Gingie sure did. Only 75 days until #ksoclayton holiday concerts! #symphony http://t.co/UTXkNQGvXRSun, October 4, 2015