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May 2

Maestro Richman's Final Bijou Concert

It must be May, because music is flying at me and out of me in all directions. Between last Sunday (Il trovatore) and this coming Sunday's Chamber Orchestra concert, I will have had six completely different performances of various genres. I am happy just to have brought the right music, the right instrument, and the right attire. Next week is much easier, only three different performances...And now more about that Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra concert, 2:30 Sunday at the Bijou. Maestro Lucas Richman's Bijou Theatre farewell will be a concert of masterpieces from the chamber orchestra and wind band literature; Richard Strauss' Serenade in E-flat for 13 Winds, William Schuman's Symphony for Strings,and Brahms' Serenade No. 1 in D. On the surface the program appears to be all-German, but remember this is mid-20th-century American composer WilliamSchuman, with one “N”, not Robert with two. The Strauss Serenade holds a special place in my heart, because I don't have to play it! But seriously, if you take Mozart's Wind Serenades and kind of give them a small dose of complexity, you'll have an idea of what to expect here. It's an early work, nestled between the Cello Sonata and the momentous First Horn Concerto. It's always a rare treat to LISTEN to a piece of music at work, and our winds ROCK! Next comes the William Schuman. Although his music has been more in the mainstream in the past, it has for some sad reason become less frequently heard. Known for his orchestration of Ives' Variations on “America”for organ, his Credendum: Article of Faithwas performed here under Kirk Trevor in October of 1992, oddly enough coupled with ROBERT Schumann's 2ndSymphony. Wow, tough night for the violins. ANYway, the striking harmonies and excitable rhythms of this String Symphony should wipe away any doubt of Schuman's presence in the upper echelon of 20th-century American composers. Brahms' op. 11 Serenade (like the Strauss, a youthful work) which closes the concert, is pure bliss. A symphony in all but its title, you can literally hear him develop as the work progresses. The first Scherzoforecasts the theme of his 2nd Piano Concerto's Scherzoin an eery way, but all six movements are drop-dead gorgeous and iconic. I played this work before I played any of the Brahms symphonies, heck, I thought they were all this good! Fusing together the separated camps of woodwinds and strings that performed on the first half of the concert is an ingenious programming touch that is typical of the classy details for which Maestro Richman will be missed. We hope YOU are not missed on Sunday afternoon, come on out!

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Apr 22

Let the Festivities Continue!!

Spring weather's firm foothold on us here in East Tennessee reminds us that the time has come for the Knoxville Opera Company's 14th annual Rossini Festival! The centerpiece collaboration between the KSO and the KOC this year is a work not by Rossini, but Verdi: Il trovatore(The Troubador). Curtain times are Friday night, April 24 at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon the 26th at 2:30, at the Tennessee Theatre, while the street fair will be Saturday between the performances. Verdi composed 30 operas and only the first (the rarely heard Oberto)and the last (Falstaff)are comedies. So while there is much triumphant music and some light moments in each of his works, the math works out that if you attend a Verdi production, most likely someone is going to die. (In the opera, I mean!) Act II starts with the celebrated “Anvil Chorus,” a tune which no one could mistake for anything but Verdi, but throughout there are beautifully composed tunes that illuminate the characters' feelings in a way that artfully transcends any language barriers. (There will be “operatitles,” but still, that's no excuse for not learning Italian in the two days you have until the curtain goes up Friday night). The Rossini Festival itself is the third major arts and culture festival weekend in a row, recommending Knoxville for the title of “Festival City.” Two weekends ago it was the Rhythm and Blooms festival, and last weekend (and ongoing throughout April) it was the long-running Dogwood Arts Festival. Here is a link to the schedule for all of the 55 acts, and here is a link to the Opera Company's Festival website. Next week sees the strings of the KSO traveling to Maryville to mix it up with the Maryville High School orchestra, April 28that 7:00 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. (Note to KSO players: our call is at 6:00 PM). Beloved works by Bizet, Saint-Saëns, and Sibelius will be offered at this free concert. That is by no means all that is going on next week, but all that I have time for at this juncture. Hope to see you downtown on Saturday!

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Apr 14

Springing for the Classics

For our April Masterworks concerts this coming Thursday and Friday the 16th and 17th, we are privileged to have with us guest maestro Vladimir Kulenovic leading us through a program of Smetana, Rachmaninov and Beethoven. Vladimir is the Associate Conductor of the Utah Symphony, and Resident Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic. That is quite a commute! The repertoire on this concert pair approximately brackets the 19thcentury, with the Beethoven dating from 1808, the Rachmaninov from 1891 (but revised in 1917), and the Smetana from somewhere in between.Bedrich Smetana was a Czech composer who lived and worked roughly 20 years earlier than his more celebrated countryman, Dvorak, and the first Czech opera composer of substance. The Bartered Bride(admittedly a highly mockable title), from 1866, is the only one of his eight operas still performed on an international scale. The composer's name is apparently being pronounced incorrectly, as it is widely pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. One source has his name pronounced to rhyme with “piranha.” There is no small amount of gypsy flavor in Smetana's music, and the Bartered Bride Overtureis a wild ride from stem to stern. There are actually two different fugues in the work, a fast, perpetual motion deal at the beginning, and a more choppy, syncopated one in the middle. I'm going to be frank here; there are a lot of notes in this piece! In my auditioning heyday, the appearance of this work's excerpts on a repertoire list was a signal for me to steer clear of that audition. So many opportunities (about 12 per second) to sound like a squeaky Greyhound Bus seat! Here's where the beauty of playing in an orchestra, where there is safety in numbers, is evident.Finnish pianist Antti Siirala will join us for the Rachmaninov First Piano Concerto. There may still be some alive who heard Rachmaninov's final performance right here in Knoxville in 1943, but through the magic of Youtube, we can now hear (but unfortunately, not see) Rachmaninov performing this concerto.Finally, we get to Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, #6. This is not to be confused with the Pastoral Symphony from Handel's Messiah,which all too often serves as nap music in performances of that oratorio. I am just amazed at how beautiful Beethoven's music is, considering what a complete mess his manuscripts look like, as you can see below. Hard to make out heads or tails from what he left us!

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Apr 5

Happy Easter!

Now that spring is surely here to stay, it's no longer necessary to worry about whether concerts will be canceled-- due to snow, at least. I do remember a couple of snowy Easters from the past, but those were up north in Connecticut, where no weather is considered unusual. We will now concentrate our hopes for dry weather for our evening outdoor concerts on Knoxville's Market Square May 7th, and in Maryville's Theatre in the Park May21st. Although our Ijams Nature Center concert in September has NEVER been rained out in 28 years, springtime weather can be much touchier. Last season's Maryville concert saw both audience and orchestra members bravely ignoring the elements until a big honkin' downpour put an end to it. There is a rain date for the Maryville show, (the next night), but mark my words, WE WON'T NEED IT.People don't usually think of Easter music the way they do about Christmas music, but in general it is a much more staid style. Haydn's Seven Last Words from the Cross is a very appropriate choice, with several different arrangements available. Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Overture is a bit more grandiose. Rachmaninov's Vespers, written on the eve of Rachmaninov's departure from Russia, is THE most beautiful a capella choir writing ever. Collections of music for this holiday (here is one) often include Dvorak's Stabat Mater, which was performed here in February. I feel lucky to have been introduced to this work.Easter. And Queen. There's not a lot of overlap there, I am specializing in awkward segues today. From the 70s to the 90s Queen specialized in smooth segues (like the ones in Bohemian Rhapsody, the third largest-selling single in British history), creating a body of work that isn't served well by either the “prog-rock” or the “classical rock” label. Their sonic palette was gigantic, and their harmonies were cartoon-like in their complexity and precision. All of this is to say that THEY WERE REALLY COOL. Who am I fooling, you know what I'm talking about. Like Elvis Costello said, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This “Night at the Races” will be THIS SATURDAY April 11th at the Civic Auditorium at 8:00. The production, The Music of Queen! is the creation of Windborne Music, an entity which has in their stable of productions geared towards symphonic audiences not just Queen, but in addition the music of Whitney Houston, U2, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and Pink Floyd. Their schedule is full, with each of these shows criss-crossing the continent.

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Mar 28

We Have the Technology...

There have been a whole lot of notes flying by my eyes in the past couple of weeks, but one somewhat extra-musical thing has happened in the KSO system that is quite noteworthy. For the third year in a row, the KSO has received aGetty Education & Community Investment Grant from the League of American Orchestras. This grant has enabled the KSOto purchase tablets for reading music. The future of music reading has arrived, and the KSO's Music and Wellness program reaps the benefits of this new technology. A task that used to involve setting up a stand, arranging music in the correct order (sometimes with huge, bulky notebooks and new books which reFUSE to lie flat and stay open) and searching for opportunities to turn pages, is now cut down to a single device which can store hours of music. Here is a shot of violinists Sean Claire and Sara Matayoshi, violist Eunsoon Corliss, and cellist Stacy Miller (and their tablets!) in action.This weekend's Big Ears Festival collaboration with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble will bring the music of Max Richter to the Tennessee Theatre on Sunday, March 29 at 8:00. Mr. Richter is known for his score to the HBO series The Leftovers,excerpts from which will be performed along with his reworking of the Vivaldi Four Seasons.Phrases and motives are looped and stacked, giving Vivaldi's virtuoso concertia techno-minimalist feel. Just in time for warm weather's return, the orchestra will be taking a week off. I'd say we've earned it. While the KSO proper won't be performing this week, some members will be busy this coming Monday, the 30thwith pianist Kevin Class as he wraps up his complete cycle of the Brahms Piano Trios. The concert is in the sumptuous new Powell Recital Hall at the UT Music Department. Details on the works can be found on my Feb. 16thpost.

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Symphony on the Square THIS Thursday 5/7! Free concert, great music in Market Square, bring chairs. @CityKnoxvilleTN http://t.co/PtROtI9EQeTue, May 5, 2015

Great job to all the young musicians who performed tonight! @TNTheatre http://t.co/lveW9Nd7ppMon, May 4, 2015

Tonight! The Youth Orchestras present their Spring Concert and celebrate 32 graduating HS seniors. Free, 7 pm at @TNTheatreMon, May 4, 2015

We like today's Google doodle of Bartolomeo Cristofori, Italian instrument maker credited with inventing the piano. http://t.co/LeOrWsp6G2Mon, May 4, 2015