The 2013-14 KSO Pops line-up is gonna be something to behold. A wide variety of acts that will make it very difficult for me to keep my eye on the conductor. My orchestra conductor in undergrad, Charles Bruck, said that with one eye you watch the conductor and the other you watch the music, but I am going to have to grow a third eye somehow, maestro Bruck.Starting on January 11, I Can’t Wait for the music of ABBA as performed by Arrival. This Swedish quartet is in constant demand, bringing hits like SOS, Waterloo, Fernando and Knowing Me, Knowing You to life. OH YEAH, and Dancing Queen. I remember as a middle-schooler the big splash ABBA made on the Pop scene, putting Sweden on the Anglophile musical map- along with Blue Swede. At the height of their success, ABBA was second only to Volvo as Sweden’s top export earners.In the Valentine’s season, Feb. 8, I Can’t Wait for Dancing and Romance to bring a swing revue a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the Civic Auditorium with Kirby Ward and Joan Hess. Mr. Ward has a lot of irons in the fire. As an actor, he has been seen on General Hospital, Law and Order/SVU, and PBS’ One Good Turn. I am hoping he can recreate the “chair walk.” Joan Hess will bring her many talents as well; she was Tanya in Mamma Mia on Broadway and Jessica on Flight of the Conchords.I have always enjoyed The Indigo Girls’ soulful folk music (soulk?) The song Hammer and a Nail contains one of my favorite motivating lyrics ever; “don’t you know a refuge never grows/from a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose.” Their vocal chemistry is straight from the vine. I Can’t Wait for them to take our Civic Auditorium stage March 15, 2014 at 8:00.If you have any breath left to take away, I Can’t Wait for Cirque de la Symphonie to take it in a return engagement on May 10 that should not be missed, need I say more? Graceful, death-defying, dazzling, insert adjective here.Why wait?
Hoo-wee!! I thought I was on vacation, but boy, nothing could be further from the truth. All of my students are continuing to study through the summer, my bands are evolving like never before, (check out Norwegian Wood, with oboist Ayca Yayman and I at the 9th annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash on Market Square, Friday, June 7th at 5:30) and weddings and such are coming out of the woodwork. I will be attending a gypsy jazz workshop at Smith College (my wife Helen’s alma mater!) in a couple weeks, a “giant step” for me and my gypsy jazz colleagues here in town.There is of course, the July 4th concert in about a month, but it’s a mistake to think that that is all there is going on at Symphony HQ. Coming up June 17-21 is the KYSO String Camp, held at Bearden High. The final concert for that will be on the 21st at 2:30. I have a few students who will be taking part in this fine program, and they are psyched! It is still not too late to sign up your young Casals, Heifetz, or Kashkashian, but it WILL be too late on Saturday. A link to all the necessary info is HERE.Did you think I was being cheeky? No, notice I didn’t say “Kardashian.” Back in February, at the Grammys, violist Kim Kashkashian received a Grammy in the category of “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for her recording of viola music by Hungarian composers Kurtag and Ligeti. You can imagine the confusion among Grammy fans who may have thought that Kim Kardashian had embarked on a second career. A force in the viola world for more than three decades, Ms Kashkashian’s name is THE first to come to mind of people in the know when considering the pinnacle of modern viola achievement, up there with Casals and Heifetz on their respective instruments. If you Google “Kashkashian Grammy,” you will find a bevy of articles with painful misspellings and ditziness, written by people who really just should not have gotten out of bed the day they wrote them. One brief article, posted by Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR, includes a picture of Kim that shows the ubiquitous “chinrest hicky,” omg, definatly not something Kim Kardashian would countenance.
Wow. A transforming weekend. (Last weekend) Without going into too many details, since the last entry I’ve been to New England, where our son Thomas received his B.A. in Art History from Middlebury College in Vermont. Moving him from his dorm happened in a driving rain, which started Thursday night and never stopped pouring even as we left on Sunday afternoon. The high temperature while there was 45. I also attended a graveside service in New Hampshire for my Aunt Nell, my dad’s brother’s widow; she was 94. It was 65 years ago Thursday that she and Uncle Earl stood up beside my parents, who are both still up and about and went out to dinner that night. It being Memorial Day, it was appropriate that my parents and Richard and I should visit our ancestor’s graves; my roots run deep in the Granite State.While waiting FOUR HOURS for a late plane in Charlotte, I had time to flip backwards through my calendar, in hopes of collating a “top ten” list of great moments from this past season. I got to about 7 when our flight was cancelled, at which point there was nothing to do but freak out. But I’ve narrowed it up and so here it goes, in no particular order.6. Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the “deep end” of the January Chamber Classics concert, featuring principal horn Jeffrey Whaley and tenor Cody Boling. Deep, rich tonalities from England’s most fertile musical mind.3. Verdi’s Requiem. Thrilling choral music by one of the masters of drama. “Surround-sound” brass and a cornucopia of wonderful tunes, all with a distinct Italian accent.8. Dvorak’s Piano Quintet. I had never performed this work until January, at Remedy Coffee with concertmaster Gabe Lefkowicz. It was like a late Christmas present.4. Sweeney Todd. It’s hard to believe this was part of the ‘12-‘13 season because it started so long ago- the earliest start to a KSO season ever. Sondheim’s score still scares me.1. The Rite of Spring. Not much needs to be said here, a tour de force for the orchestra. Although it was my fifth time performing the Rite, the individual performances were the best this time, adding up to a totality that was waaaaay more than the sum of its parts.2. Principal quartet concert in April. I had only performed the Beethoven op. 95 quartet before; the Debussy, Borodin and Richman works were all new to me. The Debussy especially was a challenge, having heard so many good recordings of it and wondering just how we would put it together. At the end of the day, though, I was just as likely to be humming tunes from Lucas’ work as from the others. Written more than half of his lifetime ago, Movements for String Quartet left me hoping that more quartet music would be forthcoming from him.9. La fanciulla del west. I enjoyed revisiting Puccini’s strangest opera, having done it almost 30 years ago at Spoleto. There were big giant déjàvus that left me feeling like Buddy Hackett running through the big “W” in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.7. Bernstein’s Candide. This was only a suite from the opera, but it came out of nowhere to win over players and audience members alike who were unfamiliar with it. The overture is just the tip of the iceberg here; Make Our Garden Grow (the closing chorus representing the other end of the iceberg), gets me every time, and Bernstein’s sense of humor carried the show all the way with fine singing by Boris van Druff, Jeff Austin and Karen Nickell.10. Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Although we hear Korngold’s music (and that of his countless imitators) a lot, it is usually in movies. Here was a work that featured concertmaster Gabe as soloist, and he really knocked it out of the park. The concert finished with Brahms’ 4th, (maestro Richman’s audition piece from ten years ago), inviting reflection on ten great years.5. The May Chamber Classics featured Within the Quota, music for a ballet by Cole Porter. A somewhat obscure but very charming period piece, some of Porter’s musical effects were just laugh-out-loud funny.
May concerts, more than those in any other month, can have an especially emotional tinge to them, as it is the last time we see some of our colleagues for a while. If someone retires, it might be that we don’t see them ever again, in the orchestra at least. It is with that emotional tinge that we say goodbye to principal trumpet Cathy Leach. Her grace, class, and chops set the pace for the KSO’s brass family for more than 30 years. She will remain a faculty member at UT, and continue to perform with the Stiletto Brass Quintet.One of my favorite memories of Cathy is of my first year here, 1986. I found out quickly that she was from Vermont, one of the states in the Red Sox Nation, from which I hail. That was the year, you may recall, when the Red Sox snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at the hands of the NY Mets. During the World Series we were rehearsing Verdi’s Rigoletto, with then-maestro Robert Lyall on the podium. During breaks, I made a beeline to the trumpet section, where Cathy was watching the games on the world’s smallest portable TV, about a 4" diagonal measure screen. This was way before the advent of Smartphones. I was just so tickled that here in Dixieland, there would be anyone who cared about the Red Sox enough to bring a Watchman to work.After the Friday night Rite of Spring concert, there was a small reception backstage for Cathy. Here are a couple snapshots.Here is Cathy and violinist Norris Dryer, no doubt giving her some sage advice.The Rite of Spring trumpets, from left Tina Erickson, Sarah Chumney Fellenbaum, Sean White, Marc Simpson, Cathy, interloper Sam Chen (aka principal trombone, here playing bass trumpet).
While the focus of our concerts this week have been Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, I am really enjoying getting to know Lucas Richman’s Three Pieces for Cello and Orchestra. For a body of work (concerti for cello generally) that seems to be becoming weirder and weirder, Lucas’ piece is a breath of fresh air. The musical language is somewhere between Tchaikovsky and Ernest Bloch, and there is a lot of soulful cello singing. The work closes with a vigorous klezmer-like passage, wherein clarinetist Gary Sperl bends notes like a drunken glassblower. Another KSO member has also suggested that one of the themes of the Freilach is derived from the chase scene at the end of Some Like It Hot.Meanwhile, back in the Rite, I am really loving performing this monumental work, with its thickly colorful orchestration, mind-boggling meter changes and sheer power. At first a seemingly random barrage of orchestral sound, it is a barrage that performers, conductors and aficionados have come to own. These passages are the bedrock of polytonal, polyrhythmic and atonal composition that to this day inspires composers across the board. Whether it be new orchestra repertoire (Lucas Richman’s Three Pieces, performed tonight!) movie scores (Starwars), TV music (Star Trek), the inspiration is unmistakably audible. Every time you hear or perform it, you hear something new.Here is something to look out for. The theme that starts the Rondes Printanières, (in part 1) in the E-flat clarinet and bass flute (I think) is widely known as the “Nyaah-nyaah-ni-nyaah-nyaah” motif, which is said to be a musical phrase that instinctively “hard-wired” into the human brain from birth. No, Stravinsky is not the originator of this motif, of course, but it is heard in so many genres of music. Here are some more well-known appearances of it: We Are the Champions by Queen Beethoven 6th Symphony, finale. Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone There’s a bit in the Star Wars soundtrack that uses the motifThese are just a few I could think of off the top of my head.