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Apr 10

Opera in Bloom

Spring seems to be very shy this year. Its timing seems to be all out of whack; I’ve never seen forsythia bloom so late! Pellissippi Parkway is about to explode with redbud blooms, daffodils, and that other yellow stuff. Years ago there was a sign among the daffodils that said FINE FOR PICKING. It was a creative nuisance, wording the warning that way. A lawyer friend of ours (Bill Mason) challenged us to pick some, stating that our defense would be “It said they were fine for picking!”Even if spring is late, the Rossini Festival is right on time, and that time is this Saturday! The street fair on Gay Street, the countless performing and visual arts venues, the unsurpassed people-watching, the FOOD– and the operas. The Knoxville Opera Co. and the KSO will be performing Bellini’s Norma on Friday night at 8 and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre. UT’s Opera Theatre will be performing Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at the Carousel Theatre on the UT campus in four performances starting Thursday night.We’ve just put the finishing touches on Norma. The two very demanding female leads are being sung by J’Nai Bridges and Rochelle Bard, who, to our delight, feel no need to “mark” during rehearsals. This is the “Cadillac” of opera seria duet singing. The aria Casta diva is a storied workout for the soprano and a dramatic challenge for the Stage Director.My guess is that many opera-goers will go out for drinks after the show, and one or two may order a Bellini, thinking they are being relevant. In actuality, the Bellini is named after the Italian Renaissance artist, Giovanni Bellini. The drink’s concocter, Giuseppe Cipriani, thought the Bellini’s color resembled that of a toga worn by a saint in one of the artist’s paintings. So, know your Bellinis! And call a cab.The name of the soprano in the premier of Norma was Giuditta Pasta. Pasta diva. Yes, the Rossini Festival is right on time...

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Apr 3

Principal String Quartet Concert Approaching

The Principal String Quartet of the KSO will be performing this coming Sunday at 2:30 at the Bijou. We will open with one of the most well-known of Haydn’s 83 string quartets, his op. 64 no. 5, The Lark. The second movement of this work is the basis for the song I’m in the Mood for Love, which has been recorded by no less than 120 different artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Chaka Khan to the Sex Pistols. I personally am playing this quartet again for the first time in 34 years. I know, it’s scary. Jimmy Carter was president then, and our first violinist, Gordon “Go-go”  Tsai, was just a twinkle in his momma’s eye.Fast forward a century and a half, cross both the Atlantic and the equator, and you’ll find the roots of the second work on the program, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ 1st String quartet. Really more of a six-movement suite, this work was recently performed on our “Q Series” concert nine days ago at the Emporium Center. For a piece with Brazilian origins, it sure uses a lot of impressionistic musical language. It’s no wonder, considering Villa-Lobos spent four years in Paris.The grand finale of the concert will be Franz Schubert’s magnum opus for the string quartet, the d minor Death and the Maiden quartet. The quartets Schubert composed as a teenager are definitely youthful works compared to this; he himself dismissed them as such. A more mature quartet was composed concurrently with D&TM, his op. 29 Rosamunde quartet.Schubert’s lot was an unhappy one during the year this was composed (1824); incredibly, at the time of its composition, he was younger than any of the members of the KSO’s Principal Quartet. He was broke and sickly, and his publisher Diabelli was ripping him off royally. Perhaps he had some inkling that he would only live four more years. This work’s mood, especially its tonality, reflects his frame of mind at this time, but it is by no means morose.The first movement has a hook that is challenged only by the opening phrase of  Beethoven’s 5th symphony for the title of  “Most Dramatic Musical Phrase Ever Written.” The subtitle of the quartet is derived from his 1817 lied of the same name, the theme of which is treated with a set of variations that make up the second movement. After a syncopated, dramatic scherzo (with a mood swing into D Major during the trio section), the tarantella finale brings it all home. Its theme is surely the inspiration for the Civil War era song When Johnny Comes Marching Home (aka The Ants Go Marching), although there is no earthly way that either Johnny or the ants could march as fast as this tarantella’s breakneck tempo.

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Mar 30

Big Ears, Big Knees, Big Fun

Here I am on a Saturday night with nothing to do. It’s inconceivable, given the rate at which KSO performances have been whizzing by, but totally welcomed. This weekend in Knoxville the Big Ears Festival is in town. Big Ears is a new music showcase founded by Ashley Capps in 2009, now in its third incarnation. This years Ears will be headlined by Steve Reich and will also feature (among many more) the So Percussion ensemble, John Cale (an original member of the Velvet Underground), The Wordless Music Orchestra, Ensemble Signal, and Nils Frahm.As I stare out of my window (Sunday morning now), choosing the next words to type, I see runners. Running by our house. Lots of them. In 45-degree weather. In shorts. Oh yeah, it’s the Knoxville Marathon! I’m sure that some KSO members are running in it, although maybe only the half-marathon. I swore off distance running in my twenties; for whatever reason, my knees would stiffen up after about a mile of running, or about eight miles of hiking. It’s weird, I can play soccer or basketball pain-free until I pass out from exhaustion, but just straight running is too much of a muchness for my knees. I know that violinist Sean Claire doesn’t have that problem. He outlined his weekend schedule for me at the Tellico Village runout the other night. He was to play Carmina Burana with the Symphony of the Mountains in Kingsport last night, returning from that ‘round midnight, then awaken at 5:00 (AM) to warm up for the marathon. I feel like such a slacker. GO SEAN!!!! Here are some other KSO folks who were up way before me today. Left to right, Gordon Tsai, Rachel Loseke, Gray Ferris, Gabe Lefkowitz, Stacy MillerThe Knoxville scene continues to evolve next weekend, when the Dogwood Arts Festival unfurls its petals for the 52nd  time. This all-encompassing showcase of blooms, music and the arts in general will last throughout April and kick off in a big way next weekend with a festival within a festival, Rhythm and Blooms, which does for Roots and Americana music what Big Ears does for avant-garde music. Nine venues will host a who’s who of local and national talent, including Logan Brill, who, accompanied by the KSO, graced the Ijams Nature Center stage with her presence this past September, Four Leaf Peat, the house band of this past December’s Clayton Holiday Concerts, Knoxville’s own Black Lilies, who are taking the country music scene by storm, and cellist Ben Sollee, who I hope does not need any introduction.The weekend after that, (April 12) will be the Knoxville Opera Company’s 13th annual Rossini Festival, which will take place at its original downtown venues. (There was talk of moving the Festival to World’s Fair Park, but KOC and City officials hammered out a deal to keep it where it has always been). The theme of this year’s festival will be sunshine, avenging last year’s day-long downpour which scared away quite a few (but by no means all) patrons.The onslaught of upcoming festivals and events rolls out like this, although this list is far from thorough:Earthfest, at World’s Fair Park, April 26Market Square Farmer’s Market, starting May 3 and every Saturday morning through October60th Annual Cosby Ramp Festival, May 4Bloomsday, UT Trial Gardens, May 10Vestival, May 10International Biscuit Festival, May 15-18Bob Dylan Birthday Bash, June 6Bark in the Park, June 14Pride Fest, June 21

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Mar 24

A FETE-- and Q-TETS!

Last night, there was an event in the Old City feting Lucas and Debbie Richman in honor of their involvement with the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School. The venue was a relatively new one, called The Standard. A whole host of KSO fans, KJDS supporters and friends were in attendance, and a number of presentations were made, including a very charming PowerPoint collage of interviews with current KJDS drama students. Radio personality Hallerin Hilton Hill gave a short keynote testimonial, and introduced the Principal String Quartet’s performance. We performed three compositions by Maestro Richman, an arrangement of the Jewish Hymn Hine Mah Tov, his Gerhardt Variations, from the score of the film Four Faces, and a set of variations based on Music Can Make Your Life Complete, the theme song of Picardy Penguin. Debbie Richman sang Pure Imagination from the musical Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with the Maestro accompanying her on piano.It was an interesting venue, to say the least. For years and years, the Standard Wilson Glass Company was headquartered in the building, but they moved to Morgan Street in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood a few years back. I’d bought a variety of windows and screens for our home and had glass installed in a couple of our cars there over the years, but never did I expect to be performing music there, let alone in a tux. Unsure of the exact location, I consulted Google Maps, but the Street View photos they provided showed a pretty abysmal, blighted looking property, obviously taken before the building was renovated! Dewhirst Properties has done a wonderful job with the transformation of the building and I hope to perform there again.------------------------------**********************-----------------------------Just down the street, at the Emporium Center for Arts and Culture (home of the KSO office) at 100 South Gay St., another instalment of the new "Q" Series will take place Tuesday at noon. The Principal Woodwind Quintet and String Quartet will bring an eclectic program to a lunchtime crowd.The String “Q” will perform Heitor Villa-Lobos’ String Quartet No. 1, which is drawn from his 1946 Suite Gracioso. Its six movements are in various moods, ranging from lyrical to impish. The melody of the finale, Saltando como un Saci (Jumping like a jumping bean), bears an uncanny resemblance to Glinka’s Kamarinskaya, frequently played on KSCO runouts. The Woodwind “Q” will present three works, Shostakovich’s charming Polka from the Age of Gold ballet, Henri Tomasi’s colorful Cinq Danses, and Justinian Tamusuza’s Abafa Luli. The concert is free. See you there!

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Mar 19

Happy (Branden)Birthday, Mr. Bach!

I played all six Brandenburg concerti yesterday. I don’t feel exhausted, just... enlightened. It really was a Brandenburg-athon; I used that word last week and didn’t realize that the Tuesday double rehearsal was ALL SIX. Two of the slow movements were tacet for me, (honestly, what could I add?) but except for that, 17 movements involved me. It's a different sort of program for the Tennessee Theatre stage, contrasting the orchestration chops of Leopold Stokowski channeled through Bach with the ultimate in Baroque ensemble composition. As you remember from our last episode, Thursday night’s concert will conclude with Brandenburg Concerti 4, 3, and 1, while numbers 5, 6, and 2 will be played Friday, which is Bach's 329th birthday.The orchestrations were considered quite daring at the time; the combination in No. 2 of flute, violin, oboe and trumpet is like the Free Bird of Baroque concertante music. Gabe Lefkowitz (violin), Phyllis Secrist (oboe) and Ebonee Thomas (flute) are joined by guest trumpeter Ryan Beech, who is playing notes I didn’t even know existed on the trumpet. Brandenburg 6 in particular is a lush, intimate snapshot of the potential beauty that Bach knew was dwelling within all of those old European string instruments. Violists Katy Gawne and Eunsoon Corliss are reprising their awesome performance of a couple of years ago. Most of his contemporaries relied on formulas and templates for their compositions, but Bach took on the challenge of writing pieces that employed the Fibonacci sequence in a beautiful way.Speaking of chops, you will be amazed to learn (if you don’t know already) that all of the notes we play in the Toccata and Fugue and the Chaconne were originally intended to be played by one person. An organist or a violinist, specifically. True tests for their respective soloists, for sure, but in their orchestrated forms, they are somehow not much easier to play. Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum is right on top of things, leading the full orchestra through these dramatic, iconic tours de force.I’m not sure if this book was on the syllabus or not, but Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach would be a good thing to take a gander at before either (OR BOTH) of the concerts this week. If you can’t find that, just look at some fractal art, or even a map of the coast of England, then look at some Escher prints, and then take in the concert. You will gain some understanding of what sets Bach apart from the rest of the Baroque crowd.

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Thanks to Maestro and his wife Debbie for stopping by the #KSOShowhouse to hear the flute/piano duet… http://t.co/AnqnIMHw0OThu, April 17, 2014

A sweet listening treat to anyone who visits the #KSOShowhouse today, duet by Rachel Ford & Tom Shaw.… http://t.co/r6h9dtr35qWed, April 16, 2014

Address, directions & parking info for the KSL Show House can be found at http://t.co/aey6EDj69H. Come check out work by local designers!Mon, April 14, 2014

The KSL Show House is open daily from 10-4 (Sun 1-5). Enjoy beautiful decor & sweet sounds of the symphony! http://t.co/K35MUzYoMUMon, April 14, 2014

We hope everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather this weekend, especially the Rossini Festival - Knoxville, TN and... http://t.co/5ScaNmYNdESun, April 13, 2014