Gabe Lefkowitz is at it again, bringing violin encores (with pianist Kevin Class) and a Brahms Sextet to Knoxville’s Old City, this Wednesday and Thursday at 7:00 at Remedy Coffee, 125 West Jackson Ave.Starting the program will be Riccardo Drigo’s Valse Bluette, arranged in 1906 by the great Hungarian violin pedagogue Leopold Auer. The original provenance of the work, however, is as a pas de deux, Drigo’s contribution to a collectively composed 1903 ballet entitled La tulipe de Haarlem. In his younger years, Drigo was a favorite accompanist of virtuoso violinist Antonio Bazzini, composer of Dance of the Goblins, which Gabe and Kevin performed on last March’s concertmaster series show. If you are still unconvinced of Drigo’s worth to the music world, just be satisfied in knowing that he conducted the world premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. ‘Nuff sed.Gabe and Kevin will also be playing Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs, the March from Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, and Introduction and Tarantella by the great Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. You know why all of those French composers wrote so convincingly in a Spanish musical idiom? It’s because they were exposed to the playing AND compositions of Sarasate. Lalo’s Symphonie Esapgnole, Bizet’s Carmen, and Saint-Säens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso are just a few pieces that owe their Spanish-ness to knowledge of Sarasate’s work.The concerts will conclude with the Brahms Sextet in B♭, op. 18. Chamber music is well-served by the “op. 18" moniker; Mendelssohn’s op. 18 is a viola quintet, Dvorak’s is a string quartet, and Beethoven’s is SIX string quartets, which are considered the “Old Testament” (perhaps the Book of Psalms?) of string quartet playing. Richard Strauss’ op. 18 is the Violin Sonata, played by Gabe and Kevin on the Remedy Coffee concerts this past October.The Brahms is a favorite of string players, always kept in mind whenever pairs of cellists, violists, and violinists are having a glass of wine together. While the music is not easy, the spirit and mood of the work are. The second movement, Andante, ma moderato is a set of “torch song” variations that epitomize the term “Romantic music.” Principal violist Katy Gawne says the variations remind her of La Folia by Corelli. The Scherzo third movement is quirky, and its Trio is in a faster tempo than the Scherzo proper; a very unusual occurrence. The Rondo finale is rich like the first movement, but ends with a snowballing accelerando which is edge-of-your-seat exciting. Early Brahms is a very different animal than mature and late Brahms, and beyond this Sextet, next season will include two essential early works, the Piano Concerto No. 1 on the September 18th and 19th Masterworks pair, and Maestro Richman’s Chamber Classics farewell next May will be the luscious op. 11 Serenade, a symphony in every aspect except its title.
I am crossing paths with two old friends these days, Mssrs. Bach and Brahms. An all-Baroque Chamber Classics concert this coming Sunday boasts two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti (# 4 & 5), and next Wednesday and Thursday’s Gabe Lefkowitz and Friends concert will close with Brahms’ Op. 18 String Sextet. In the realm of “big chamber music,” here are some real treasures.When you play Bach’s music, you live it. The tunes, the rhythms, the logic, the fingerings... I first encountered the Brandenburg Concerti as a freshman at Newington (CT) High School. We worked up these SAME TWO concertos and traveled to Washington for a competition. I believe we actually performed one of them in the Senate Rotunda as well. A cellist from back in the day eventually become principal cellist of the Charleston (SC) Symphony, and a violist AND an oboist would later play with the Chicago Symphony. My best friend John Eckhardt played the concertato (solo) violin parts, and there were in fact three or four flutists who could really do a nice job with the solo flute parts. John would later become friends in Chicago with KSO Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum, who will be conducting Sunday’s concert...That’s whack enough, but beyond that spectacle of coincidence, I’d have to say that Bach’s miraculous alloying of beauty and structure are never so vividly on display as in these two Brandenburgs. It is fitting that we will be playing them on this month’s Masterworks concerts because they are undisputed masterpieces. Here is a chance to hear harpsichordist Michael Unger putting John Brock’s harpsichord through its paces, and Gabe Lefkowitz taking on what is considered “the tail of the dragon” for violinists. All of the harpsichord and violin solos are riveting outbursts which will leave you wondering what hit you. You’ll also hear our flutists Ebonee Thomas and Jill Bartine team up in #4 for some of the most beautiful duet writing. Ever.As is that wasn’t enough, we will perform a Handel Concerto Grosso, Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins op. 3, no. 11, featuring Gabe and principal second violinist Edward Pulgar as soloists. Sunday, March 2 at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre. Gotta go practice. I promise I’ll get to the Brahms later...
Picardy Penguin is back! Look fast, because he’ll only be here this morning at the Tennessee Theatre at 9:30 a.m., and at the Clayton Center in Maryville Wednesday at 9:30, then he’s off for more cyber-journeys. He’ll be accompanied by the Go! Contemporary Dance Works and singer Katy Wolfe Zahn in a program that will explore dance traditions from across the globe. We’ll be playing a Dvorak Slavonic Dance, the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet, Shall We Dance? from The King and I, a Piazzola fugue- tango, and maestro Richman’s Tango á la Picardy among others. For a few minutes, The Hokey Pokey will be what it's all about for Picardy.It’s interesting that the piece Picardy is dancing has a French title, for France is from whence the name “Picardy” comes. This isn’t to say that Picardy Penguin is French, just his name. I don’t think the Normandy has quite the right climate for penguins. Musically speaking, the name Picardy refers to a compositional technique called “Picardy thirds.” That’s what happens a when a song, or “piece,” or whatever, which has been in a minor key all along ends in that key’s major mode. Something that immediately comes to mind is Coventry Carol which, in spite of its English origin, is a definitive example. In volume 1 of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, only one of the 24 minor-key movements does NOT end with a Picardy third.The origin of the term seems to be somewhat vague, perhaps due to the fact that performers would add the Picardy third ad libitum, but the manuscript would end in the minor mode just to be compositionally consistent. It was probably just these two or three guys back in the 16th century, Jean-Pierre Smith and Guillaume Jones, who would just get tired of playing in the minor mode and end a section of music with a MAJOR third above the tonic instead of a MINOR third. Eventually composers took to finishing multi-movement works with an entire movement in major. Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto are good examples of this. Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, which starts in A Major but whose last movement is in A minor, is an example of a “backwards Picardy third.”The Picardy third has been described as “turning a frown into a smile” musically, and that is just what the KSO’s “cyber-penguin” will do. See you there!
I am moving to Music of the Spirit this week. Diverse musical, spoken, and spiritual languages are converging on the Tennssee Theatre stage this Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30. Music by Armenian-American composers Richard Yardumian and Alan Hovhaness will precede Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s choral masterpiece Sacred Service.Yardumian’s Veni Sancte Spiritus is based on an ancient plainsong and starts with a soulful clarinet solo. The harp also has a major solo passage, and the work as a whole has a contemplative tonal language. I am pretty sure that Nino Rota had heard this work before composing A Time for Us (Theme from Love Story) in 1969.Alan Hovhaness was a free-thinking American Original. His music was influenced by that of many different cultures; Armenian, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, just to name a few. He wrote some 67 symphonies, but we will be performing his 2nd, Mysterious Mountain symphony. Right at the start, the wall of string sound envelopes you and you swear you are listening to Vaughan Williams. All three composers represented on this concert wrote magnificently for the individual instrument families of the orchestra, but Hovhaness plays the families off against each other with stunning results.Bloch’s choral writing uses the same tonal language as Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and many others, but the sung language is Hebrew. Bloch uses the orchestra in a much more dramatic, unhingedly passionate way than Schubert or even Mendelssohn, as the confines of the Classical period had long been rendered passé. The giant wall of vocals provided by the UT Choral Ensembles is brings youthful power to a work that is just as vital as any of the great Masses and Requiems. Our baritone soloist, Nmon Ford (pronounced “En-mon,” in case you were wondering) brings a commanding presence to the role of Cantor.In philosophy circles, there is another Bloch. Ernst (only one “e” in his first name) Bloch was considered a leader in utopian thought. You can see where there might be some confusion there, especially since Ernst’s and Ernest’s lifetimes overlapped by 74 years. A certain KSO member is related, not to the composer Bloch, but the philosopher Bloch. (Uncle Ernie)?
The Knoxville classical scene is bursting at the seams with events to please a variety of tastes in spite of Mother Nature's efforts. First up is Valentine’s Day, whereupon the Knoxville Opera Company will produce Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love at 8 at the Tennessee Theatre. If your date looks good in galoshes, then I’d say he or she is a keeper. A Sunday matinee will happen at 2:30, for those who will inevitably forget Valentine’s Day– again. Details here.Speaking of romantic music, in between the two opera performances, a giant among romantic-period symphonies will be performed on Saturday at 7:30 at the James R. Cox Auditorium on the UT campus. Director of UT Orchestras (and KSO resident conductor) James Fellenbaum will lead the UT Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, as well as a pre-concert lecture in Rm. 210 of the Alumni Memorial Building at 6:45. This powerful work is full of tunes you will never stop humming.The Knoxville Symphony’s Youth Orchestra program is 40! When people hit 40, they tend to wax morose and use terms like “over the hill” and “out to pasture” to describe their lives, but at 40, the KSYO is bigger and more vital than ever, boasting 5 ensembles and 275 young players. There will be two separate concerts; the Preludium, Philharmonia, Sinfonia, and Youth Chamber Symphony will perform on Monday, Feb. 17th at 7:00 at the Tennessee Theatre, and the Youth Symphony will present its Concerto Competition winners on Feb. 23 at 2:30, also at the Tennessee. This year’s winners both are violinists: Ben Parton, who will be playing the finale of Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto, and Daniel Choo, who will perform the first movement of Wieniawski’s 2nd Concerto. (Btw, that’s pronounced “veen-YOF-ski).”Music of the Spirit will be the guiding light in the February KSO Masterworks concerts, (Thursday and Friday, Feb. 20 and 21, Tennessee Theatre, 7:30) with David Yardumian’s Veni Sancte Spiritus, Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness (pronounced ho-VAH-ness), and Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service. Veni is a short orchestral work inspired by the 13th-century plainchant. Hovhaness’ work includes in its finale a “musical tidal wave” evoking Indian raga, and Bloch’s work is the quintessential setting of the Jewish Sabbath morning service. The UT Choral Ensembles and baritone Nmon Ford will combine with the KSO for the Bloch.
RT @becomingcliche: @mmcornelius @Indigo_Girls @knoxsymphony Looks like I know where my husband is taking me for his birthday!Wed, March 5, 2014