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Jul 31

Apprentices and Assistants: An Overview

Since my arrival here in 1986, the KSO has had a succession of apprentice and assistant conductors who have brought new approaches and twists to the podium while learning the tricks of the trade.  I thought it would be interesting to dig a little bit to see the achievements these folks have made.  I can't tell you how much easier the internet makes this task.Sergio Bernal was the apprentice conductor during my second season with the KSO, 1987-88.  His easy-going manner and Latin charm won over the musicians, who claimed him as “one of us.” He has been busy ever since- from 1997-2001, he was employed by the National System of Orchestras in Venezuela (aka El Sistema),of which our Principal Second Violinist Edward Pulgar is a product.  Since 2001, he has been the Music Director of the Utah State University Symphony Orchestra in Logan, UT.Sergio Bernal before... (center, with shades, at a bad taste party in 1989)and today.Russell Vinick was the first musician I met in Knoxville who came from the same central Connecticut primordial soup as me.  It was such a relief to finally be able to go get a grinder (known as a “sub” or a “hoagie” most everywhere else) with someone and reminisce about the 1978 Hartford Civic Center roof collapse.  Today, Russ lives in Chicago and is the Music Director of (among other things) the Chicago Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, “Chicago's original community orchestra.”Russ VinickUp until the mid-90s, the presence of an apprentice conductor was solely at the discretion of Maestro Trevor, but starting in 1995 (I THINK), the KSO instituted an official apprentice conductor position.  Tuba player Sande MacMorran was the official assistant conductor, whose job was to conduct rehearsals in the Maestro's absence, or to take to the podium so that the Maestro could hear orchestra balance from out in the house to check balance.  This situation was inherently awkward, since an orchestra member's part would then be missing from the mix- and the tuba is an important element in that mix.  I am a little sketchy on the exact dates the apprentices were in town, but I'm petty sure they are as follows. A native of Dawson Creek, BC, Charles Demuynck is currently a composer and conductor heard throughout Canada and the US.  My stand partner at the time (1995-96), Carey Cheney, was also a Canuck, and the two of them were always reminiscing about good times in the “old country.”  Charles is now Music Director of the Oakville (ON) Chamber Orchestra, and is in heavy demand in the Toronto area.Charles DemuynckConductor-violinist Navroj “Nuvi” Mehta came to Knoxville for the 1996-97 season.  Nuvi had the distinction of having the longest arms I have ever seen on a conductor (rivaling Leif Seigerstam), and his performance of David Diamonds Rounds for String Orchestrawas an exciting experience.  He has been the Director of Educational Outreach for the San Diego Chamber Orchestra since 1999, and continues to be involved with the San Diego Symphony.   He can be seen here in a podcast interviewfor a performance of Beethoven's 5thby the SDSO.Nuvi MehtaTara Simoncic was here for the 1997-98 season, another apprentice who the musicians could relate to and bond with.  Her current activities take her all over the world, but she is probably most well-known as the long-time conductor for the Louisville Ballet's annual Nutcrackerperformances.Tara SimoncicOur apprentice conductor for 1998-99 was Rufus Jones, Jr.  Rufus was a studious conductor with a passion for the music of African-American composers such as William Grant Still and Samuel Coleridge Taylor.  After his stint with the KSO, he went on to guest conduct near and far, including the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino(Musical May) in Florence, Italy, but his major focus has been on research in the area of African-American conductors and composers.  You may have seen him on PBS's Tavis Smiley just a couple weeks ago, on which he plugged his new book entitled Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad.  The book explores the fascinating yet tragic life and career of Dean Dixon, the first African-American conductor to lead the New York Philharmonic. Here is that interview.Rufus Jones, Jr.Daniel Meyer was enlisted as the KSO's apprentice conductor for the 1999-2000 season.  The orchestra's strong financial condition fostered the creation of a new Assistant Conductor position, with former Assistant Sande MacMorran now Associate Conductor.  Dan's confidence and ability on the podium were such that he was hired in that capacity.  I will always remember his performances of the Young People's Concerts, in which I played The Swan from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. When Maestro Lucas Richman was selected as Music Director of the KSO in 2003, he essentially traded places with Dan, who assumed the Assistant Conductor position with the Pittsburgh Symphony which Maestro Richman had vacated to come here.  Currently the Music Director of both the Erie Philharmonic and the Asheville Symphony, Dan somehow found the time in March of 2011 to return to Knoxville to conduct the KSO in Holst's The Planets.Daniel MeyerSwiss native Cornelia Laemmli Orth brought a refined European style, an effervescent sense of humor, and an unflagging, sincere smile to the podium in 2002.  Her tenure here tided the orchestra over during the transition between Maestro Trevor's and Maestro Richman's Music Directorships.  In the years since her appointment, Cornelia has been Music Director of the Oak Ridge Symphony and the Symphony of the Mountains (formerly the Kingsport Symphony) in upper East Tennessee.  Since the apprentice conductor post was discontinued during Maestro Richman's tenure, her proximity to Knoxville has fortunately resulted in repeat engagements with the KSO on Pops concerts and run-outs.Cornelia Laemmli Orth

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Jul 25

Pops, Pops and More Pops! (corrected)

While the KSO Masterworks Series has a lot to offer with its all-star repertoire and its parade of guest maestros, the Pops Series packs a wallop, too, with six concerts that run the gamut of popular culture and music.Starting with a bang is the “Classical Night Fever,” a 70s disco revue that will whisk you away to the days of dance floor derring-do, platform shoes and disco balls. Our guest ensemble, Motor Booty Affair, keeps a busy schedule around their Maine home base, but they will board their flying funk machine to the Tennessee Theatre on FRIDAY, Oct 2nd at 8:00. (Please note that except for this one, all of the subsequent Pops concerts will be Saturday nights, and will start at 8:00 at the Knoxville Civic  Auditorium).1940 was a great year for movies, with The Great Dictator, The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story and Foreign Correspondent all capturing the imagination of adult viewers, and Pinocchio  and The Blue Bird  charming the kids. One movie was released, however, that won over movie-goers of all ages, and that was Fantasia,  celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.  On January 16th, 2016, the KSO will be providing music to scenes from Fantasia, including Mickey Mouse's ever-popular Sorcerer Scene. IMDb has a lotto say about this wonderful film, and also provides some interesting trivia.As a prelude to Valentine's Day, the KSO will present songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein on February 13th. Wouldn't It Be Loverly if you took your sweetie to the Civic to hear love songs and songs you love? (Say yes). Tunes by other Rodgers collaborators, such as Lorenz Hart and Jerome Kern, will also be performed, adding up to what will surely be Some Enchanted Evening.The Fifth Dimension will grace us with a return engagement on March 12, 20 years after their first appearance with us in May of 1995. Their 60s and 70s hits are baby-boomer anthems, hearkening back to a pre-Auto-Tune era when what you heard was what you got.In 1975, I bought my first stereo, and was thus indoctrinated into the world of record collecting. My first purchases were Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, by Elton John, and Led Zeppelin IV. I wore out that Led Zep album, trying to unlock the secrets of Jimmy Page's guitar playing, while my parents wondered when I would unlock my cello case. On April 9, Windborne (who brought us The Music of Queen this past April) will be back, this time with a program of Led Zeppelin's music. This very first of Windborne's productions is now in its 20th year, and features gritty Classic Rock hymns such as Kashmir, Black Dog, Stairway to Heaven, and Good Times, Bad Times. I don't need to add that this will be a GOOD time.For the grand finale of the News-Sentinel Pops Series, we will be hosting none other than Kenny G! OMG!   If songs like Yakety Sax and Junior Walker's Shotgun helped put the saxophone on the pop map, Kenny G built an entire empire based upon the sax. Songs like The Moment, Songbird and Forever in Love are staples in a genre that really only includes him.  This smooth jazz feast will take place on May 7th.

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Jul 12

Summer Reading List, Part 2

Where were we, I guess it was January! Personally, the bulk of next season's uncharted (by me) territory will be trod by the end of January. After that, the repertoire tends to be more familiar and includes some more of my all-time favorites. On the 21st and 22nd at the Tennessee Theatre, our guest conductor, Aram Demirjian, will lead the orchestra in an eclectic program that begins with music of John Adams and Gyorgy Ligeti. My favorite violin concerto, the Bruch, will follow, spotlighting violinist Philippe Quint, and what better way to get you over the January blues than Beethoven's radiant 7th Symphony? The 2ndmovement Allegretto is as perfect a piece of music as has ever been written; if you have seen The Fall, Mr. Holland's Opus, The Darjeeling Limited, orThe King's Speech, then you've heard it and know what I am talking about. There are probably three dozen movies all told that have sampled it. Another eclectic Masterworks concert comes along on February, 18thand 19th, this time with guest conductor Eckart Preu. The repertoire comes from Spain-via-Weimar (Strauss' Don Juan), Verona-via-Moscow (Prokofiev's Suite from the Romeo and Julietballet), and..... Seymour!? Yessiree, Heritage High graduate Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedralis the most-performed orchestral work written in the last 25 years. In the classical realm people say “Higdon” as they would “Strauss” or “Mozart,” especially now that she has won a Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto. Anyway, the wingspan of this repertoire will have us burning the midnight oil, for sure.Mention the words “Brahms Sextet,” around string players, and they will coo. Both of his sextets are lush and captivating earlier works of his that set the bar out of reach for their genre. Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends performed the B-flat sextet in March of 2014, and will complete the cycle on April 6thand 7that the Knoxville Museum of Art with the G Major Sextet. Coooo.... Gabe will return to the spotlight on the April 24thChamber Classics concert, soloing on the Mozart G Major concerto. This concert, directed by Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum, will conclude with Dvorak's Serenade for Strings. As radiant as the Beethoven 7thbut on a smaller scale, you can practically smell the kolachesduring the 2ndmovement Tempo di Valse. By May, we will mostly likely have chosen a new Music Director.  Many things will be learned and revealed about the candidates, and I am really looking forward to the process.  The final Masterworks concert on May 12thand 13thwill again be led by James Fellenbaum, and will feature Beethoven's longest (and IMHO, best) overture, the Leonore No. 3,with its cockamamie violin outburst and offstage trumpet call.  The concert (and the season) will end with a suite from Wagner's monumental Ring Cycle, music which always pushes the envelope on orchestral achievement.  It's fitting that maestro Fellenbaum gets the last word in on this season, a reward for his tireless, quality work piloting the orchestra between Music Directors, and for his capable and tactful handling of every duty with which the KSO has entrusted him in during his tenure here. We look forward to his continuing presence on the podium and in the community. Way to go, Jim!

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Jun 30

COME FORTH ON THE FOURTH!

It's just a few days away, the biggest Independence Day celebration and concert since... last year! Saturday night at 8:00 the KSO will take the stage on the Performance Lawn (formerly the South Lawn, apparently) of World's Fair Park to commemorate the USA's 239th birthday. There will be something for everyone at this party, starting at 4:00 pm with the Regal Cinemas' Kids Zone, and music from bands Handsome and the Humbles, Bantum Rooster and Misty River. As usual, there will be an impressive array of food vendors, a flyover at the start of the concert, and of course, those fabulous fireworks will pack a charge! Here is an official link to Festival on the 4th with more details, as well as a Go Knoxville article with many other attractionsThe KSO itself has some goodies up their sleeve. Anyone who tweets to @knoxsymphony, or uses the hashtag #KSOJuly4, will automatically be entered to win a pair of tickets to a KSO Masterworks performance of his/her choice. Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum will lead the orchestra in a program of festive favorites like Sousa's El Capitan and Stars and Stripes Forever, an Armed Forces Salute arranged by Bob Lowden, The Pledge of Allegiance, and John Williams' suite of music from The Patriot. Other great tunes you won't want to miss are Let It Go from Frozen, Ashokan Farewell, Selections from The Sound of Music, and a suite from Williams' landmark score to Star Wars. Our guest will be soprano Katy Wolfe, who will sing the Pledge and Gershwin's Summertime.Anyone who has attended the KSO's Very Young People's Concerts (where she is Picardy Penguin's charming sidekick), the Sound Company show choir (which she leads), or one of scads of productions involving her at the Clarence Brown Theatre, is acquainted with Katy's talents.The concert will be rain or shine, and free parking will be available at several area garages- although the 11th street lot, which is closest to the venue, has had some legendary post-concert traffic snarls. Garages on Locust Street, Walnut Street, State Street & Market Square are just a few blocks walk from the show, and there will be ADA Parking at the Fort Kid Parking Lot. Hope to see you there with bells on!

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Jun 24

Summer Reading List Part 1

Ok, enough lollygagging. It's time to peruse the repertoire for next season for new and challenging (to me) works. I am not including every work from every concert, just the most prickly ones, so refer to the calendar and you won't miss a thing.I first played the Mendelssohn Overture to the Hebrides (September 27thChamber Classics) as a freshman in high school. I found it super difficult then, but very rewarding to finally get it right. The BSO used it as background music to Tanglewood's advertisements on TV back then, showing a car (I guess) driving up the twisty, conifer-lined road leading to the Tanglewood Center. The transcendence of this piece compelled me to mention Mendelssohn in my high school Yearbook write-up. Only once since then have I performed it, in February of 1990 with the KSO. I'd say it's about time, and maestro Jim Fellenbaum thought so, too.October has a trio of new works for me to Starting with the Concertmaster Series shows on the 14thand 15th, it's Mendelssohn again! And it's a trio. This time, the D Minor piano Trio. How I have missed this gem so long escapes me. I have actually performed the slow movement a couple times, but never the whole thing. Shostakovich's brilliant 1stSymphony, with guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger, comes the very next week, bringing with it a monster cello solo that takes some “living with.” This concert concludes with Resphigi's Pines of Rome,which is no, umm, walk in the park. On the first of November, “October 32nd,” it's the HaffnerSymphony. Every string player's audition nightmare. Mozart's most challenging symphony caps off a lush Chamber Classics concert that also features Mozart's timeless Eine Kleine Nachtmusikand Wagner's tender Sigfried Idyll.The other end of November brings guest conductor Shizuo Kuwahara, with two works that I doubt many of our current corps of players have performed; Rachmaninoff's 3rdSymphony and Rodion Shchedrin's 1963 Concerto for Orchestra No. 1(aka “Naughty Limericks”). Run, do not walk to youTube (here, let your fingers do the running) and check this work out, it's a hum-dinger in the best sense of the word and probably some of the jazziest Russian music ever. These two works will be sandwiched around Tchaikovsky's immortal Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring pianist Stewart Goodyear. After Christmas, chamber music will be my mantra for a couple weeks in January. While last year's Principal Quartet concert came five months earlier than it had the year before, just after Halloween, this coming season's show rides into town hot on Santa's heels. Three new-to-me (but loved-by-me) works will appear on the January 10thprogram: Schubert's Quartettsatz“(Quartet Movement),” Prokofieff's 2ndQuartet, and Brahm's 3rdQuartet. Three amazing works whose dry, unassuming titles sadly give no clue to the brilliance that lay within. A scant four days later, Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends (pianist Kevin Class, violist Katy Gawne and I) will collaborate on Dvorak's rollicking Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat. This is a late work of Dvorak that I have been waiting a long time to play. The time has come to break it out of hiding, because that cello part is a BEAR.You know what else is a bear? Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Our Independence Day Concert is fast approaching and I know that camera is gonna be on me... So I'll finish out the season in a future post. Goodnight!

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Tune to @WUOT at 8 pm to hear the KSO play music of Verdi, Mozart, and R. Strauss' Alpine Symphony from our November 2014 performance.Mon, July 27, 2015

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