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Apr 24

Final Chamber Classics Concert TODAY

The final concert of the KSO Chamber Classics series is TODAY at 2:30 at the Bijou Theatre!  And when I say “classics,” I mean it.  Like Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3, with Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz as soloist, Britten's Simple Symphony,and Dvorak's timeless Serenade for Strings. Britten composed the Simple Symphony in 1933-34, and dedicated it to his childhood viola teacher, Audrey Alston, using melodies he composed when he was as young as ten.  It is a very accessible, strings-only work that shouldn't be confused with Carl Nielsen's work of (roughly) the same title, which is anything but simple.  Each of the four movements has alliterative titles; Boisterous Bouree, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande, and Frolicsome Finale.  The second theme of the Pizzicato movement bears a striking resemblance to Barnacle Bill the Sailorfrom that old Popeyecartoon. Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major is a happy romp for soloist Gabe.  The work is in G Major, aka “the people's key.”  It is a staple on the audition circuit, and reveals a lot about a player's abilities.  After a brief intermission, we will finish our concert with the Dvorak's 1875 Serenade.  It's one of the “big 4” works in the genre, joining string serenades by late-Romantic heaviesTchaikovsky, Elgar, and (Dvorak protegé)Josef Suk.  I'm looking out at the sky right now and it'sbright blue and cloudless.  This is the musical equivalent of that sky.  The work's sunny disposition reflects obviously happy times in the composer's life.  Many themes reappear from movement to movement in a dignified, reminiscent way, and the waltzy second movement bears a strong resemblance to Chopin's Waltz in C# Minor, op. 64, No. 2.  Same key and everything, but definitely with its own grace and intention.

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Apr 14

Putting a Little English On It

The Knoxville Symphony's final Music Director candidate, Steven Jarvi, will take the stage with us Thursday (today) and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre at 7:30.  Adam Schoenberg's suite Finding Rothkowill open, cellist Susie Yang will solo in Dvorak's monumental Cello Concerto, and Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variationscloses the program.Finding Rothkois a quartet of vignettes depicting composer Adam Schoenberg's (pronounced SHOWN-berg) reaction to four of American expressionist artist Mark Rothko's works.  Composed 10 years ago, the work does not describe the paintings per se, as did last month's Pictures at an Exhibition.  The appeal of Rothko's “color field” paintings does not translate well to the computer screen, since an average canvas of his might be 6 feet square.  The composition has some captivating tone clusters, stunning percussion colors, AND… you get to see keyboardist Carol Zinavage use her ELBOWS.  This is in no way a “bleep-bloop” modern work, though; there are some beautiful harmonies and timbres.  In a sense it is valid to say that the Schoenberg is not the only American work on the program, since Dvorak's concerto was written in New York while the composer was Director of the National Conservatory.  There isn't really much about the work that is American, though; rather, it is pure Dvorak, pure cello, pure virtuosity.The concert ends in jolly good British fashion with the Enigma Variations.  Elgar, the premier British Romantic composer,characterizes himself and 13 of his friends with charming and memorable accuracy.  People over 45 or somayrecallthe oboe melody in Variation III from an insurance company commercial in the 80's.  Does anyone remember what company?  In Variation XIII, listen for the hushed tympani roll, suggesting the engine of an ocean liner-- the composer calls for a penny to be placed on the tympani for that extra industrial timbre.  And, besure to bask in the luscious beauty of Variation IX, Nimrod.  In a season of repertoire filled with beautiful moments, I guarantee this is the one that will transport the most people the furthest.

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Apr 9

Dancing Days Are Here Again

The KSO is presenting The Music of Led Zeppelin TONIGHT at 8 at the Civic Auditorium! The Civic will rock out to the likes of Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean (Ha! Last week we "Became Ocean"), Kashmir, andBlack Dog. To my utter joy, all of the signature guitar hooks seem to be assigned to the cello!!!Led Zeppelin's crunchy, high-energy sound has become a standard by which every other rock band is judged. Their 1975 tour included a stop at the Stokely Athletic Center on the UT campus, on March 2, although it doesn't appear that any other of their tours landed in Knoxville. A splinter group, “Page and Plant” performed at the Civic Coliseum on March 3, 1995 (wow, 20 years and a day later) and included many then-members of the KSO (mostly string players) who were hired free-lance. Vocalist Robert Plant has since become a darling of the Americana genre, touring for a spell with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss in one of the most unlikely yet satisfying pairings in rock n' roll history. He has made sporadic appearances at Bonnaroo, just a couple hours west of here. Drummer John Bonham's death in 1980 signaled the end for the band. He was said to use the longest drumsticks available, which he called “trees.” I had always thought that his volume was high because his tracks were placed way upfront in the mix, but no, it was because he was just playing THAT LOUD.Guitarist Jimmy Page got his start as a member of the guitar-heavy band the Yardbirds, which also boasted Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck as members at various times. Long story short, after that band dissolved in 1968, the original Led Zeppelin lineup was formed, and toured as “The New Yardbirds.” With some obvious copyright issues looming, (Who drummer Keith Moon suggested that the name would go over like a “lead balloon”), the name was changed to Lead Zeppelin, but the “a” in “Lead” was dropped in order to avoid mispronunciation. Bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones (no relation to the “Father of the American Navy”) was the utility man of the group, playing just about everything that was not drums, guitar or harmonica. His mandolin work on Going to Californiamakes that song the acoustic, down-volume gem that made our parents think that the band wasn't all that bad after all. If you were one of the lucky ones who saw the Dave Rawlings Machine concert a couple years ago at the Bijou, you witnessed Jones (now a cog in that Machine) playing that selfsame solo with Rawlings and Gillian Welch singing.

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Mar 30

Thrillingly Diverse

The Big Ears Festival is here!  It seems that the average Knoxvillian knows less about the Festival than the world indie/avant-garde community does.  I will try to explain it.Think of Bonnaroo.  Four intense days of Pop and Rock music-making, about two hours west of Knoxville in Manchester, Tennessee; a 21st-century Woodstock, largely enabled by Knoxville's cultural ambassador to the world, Ashley Capps.  Now think of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC.  Two weeks of classical, jazz, and contemporary music, as well as drama, performance art and dance.  Big Ears, under the curation (again) of Ashley Capps, melds these two concepts into an urban interdisciplinary carnival, with some of the more cutting-edge acts from Bonnaroo, and the more progressive aspects of Spoleto.For the KSO's part, we will be performing three works on Thursday night at 7 p.m. that date from 2001, 2012, and 2013.  Philip Glass's Cello Concerto No. 2, Naqoyqatsi will open the program, with guest solo cellist Maia Beiser.  Bryce Dessner's Lachrymae, for strings, will follow, and the concert ends with John Luther Adams' monumental Become Ocean.  Guest conductor Steven Schick, from the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra in San Diego, will lead the orchestra through these classics-to-be.  It's interesting to note that Bryce Dessner, in addition to being a Grammy-winning composer, has also been nominated for a Grammy with his band, the National, with whom he is a guitarist.  He contributed music featured on the soundtrack to the film The Revenant.Too many great performances are approaching this weekend to mention in the space and time I have, especially given the intense preparation I feel is necessary to do justice to our portion of the Festival. Suffice it to say that as a Knoxvillian, I am thrilled that the eyes-- and Ears-- of the world will be focused on Knoxville once again this weekend.

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Mar 16

March Mix

Our March Masterworks repertoire provides a wide mix of styles, including works by two vastly different American composers. I'm really enjoying getting to know John Adams' The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestrafrom his 1985 opera Nixon in China.There's a fine complement of percussion that sets up a groove that you can't ignore. The machine like rhythms and the masterful use of orchestral colors will still be pleasantly on your mind in the days following the concert. Samuel Barber's Violin Concertois, hands down, the most beloved American violin concerto, despite a rather rocky beginning. It wasn't enough that Barber was forced to flee Switzerland because of the oncoming Nazi menace, delaying composition of the third movement, AND his father was ill. No, it seems the dedicatee's mentor found the work too “easy” and demanded revisions. After a big harangue, the work was finally premiered by someone else, exactly 75 years ago. The first and second movements are highly lyrical with sweeping orchestrations. The moto perpetuofinale is a rollicking romp; a typically Barber-ian mix of intricate virtuosity and cockamamie tunes that will keep you on the edge of your seat-- and on the verge of laughter. The tympani states the opening theme, for Pete's sake! Guest maestro Jacomo Rafael Bairos and violin soloist Elena Urioste have an endearing chemistry, and Elena is from Hartford, so naturally I'm a fan… Closing the concert will be Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The piece is filtered through the orchestrating lens of Ravel, who took an already legendary piano work in 1922 and turned it into one of the most memorable orchestra showpieces ever. It is somehow fitting that we are performing Pictureshere just a few days after the tragic death of British rock keyboardist Keith Emerson. His band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) performed a freely adapted version --including lyrics!-- of the work in the early 70s. His artistry brought Mussorgsky's tunes (and those of many others) to a whole new audience.  I hope you are in our audience, this coming Thursday and/or Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

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Congrats to all 32 graduating seniors in the Youth Orchestra who were recognized tonight at the spring concert!, May 2, 2016

What a wonderful KSYO spring concert at @tntheatre with talented young musicians. Bravo to…, May 2, 2016

KSO principal horn Jeffery Whaley is also principal Horn of the Asheville Symphony and Symphony…, May 2, 2016

RT @MusicAppConcert: Mon May 2, 7pm @knoxsymphony Youth Orchestra Spring Concert at @TNTheatre #supportthekiddos #supportclassicalmusic #FR…Mon, May 2, 2016

RT @AboutKnoxville: Thursday, May 5: Symphony on the Square, 7:30 pm, Market Square. Free admission. Bring a lawn chair. @KnoxSymphony…Mon, May 2, 2016