Updated Sept. 13, 2011 with additional information
Amidst the national turbulence buffeting U.S. symphony orchestras, some organizations seem to be leaning into the wind and surviving quite nicely given good leadership, manageable overhead, and enthusiastic audiences. However…while musician confidence usually flows from orchestra stability, personnel turnover is inevitable. But turnover is not always necessarily a bad thing.
The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is one of those orchestras weathering the storm, perhaps even benefiting from it. In the last half-decade, KSO concert attendance has at least held steady, perhaps even seeing incremental increases depending on what factors are considered. Musically, the orchestra’s performance level (under current music director Lucas Richman) has never been higher, placing it in a category with orchestras of much larger cities. This 2011-12 season, following last year’s 75th anniversary, may well turn out to be a turning point as the organization edges higher in the echelons of American orchestras.
Personnel changes for the KSO this year are rather significant–but there is something to be said for the energy and focus that comes with new blood and fresh faces. The changes are:
The KSO’s new Concertmaster is Gabriel Lefkowitz, who joined the orchestra for the final concert of last season. In that concert, Lefkowitz turned in an emotionally stunning performance of the violin solos in Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherazade. My review in Metro Pulse of that concert is here.
Originally from Newton, MA, Lefkowitz received a Bachelors degree from Columbia University. In May of 2010, he received his Masters in Violin Performance at the Juilliard School studying with Masao Kawasaki and Joel Smirnoff.
Violinist Gordon Tsai, joining the KSO in January of 2012, will be filling the Associate Concertmaster position left vacant by the resignation of Miroslav Hristov.
Tsai is a native of Taiwan who moved to San Jose, CA at the age of 16. At the age of 18, he entered the San Francisco Conservatory and later received a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Oregon. In 2010, he earned a Master of Music degree from the University of Nevada- Reno, studying with Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio. Prior to coming to Knoxville, Tsai has been residing in Cleveland, OH, where he served as the Associate Concertmaster of the Ohio Philharmonic.
Also joining the violin section are Sara Matayoshi, Ruth Bacon, and Diane Zelickman.
Matayoshi holds a B.M. from Northwestern University and M.M. and G.P.D from the Longy School of Music. She has performed previously as a member of the Chicago Civic, Madison Symphony, and Atlantic Symphony Orchestras. Recent work includes performance with the Juventas New Music Ensemble and SKY piano trio.
Bacon is a native of New Mexico and received her Bachelor of Music from the University of New Mexico. She followed that with a Master of Music degree in violin performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Bacon has served as Concertmaster of the Ashland (OH) Symphony and most recently has been guest concertmaster of the San Juan Symphony in Colorado. She has also held positions with the Canton Symphony, Santa Fe Symphony, the New Mexico Symphony, and Santa Fe Pro Musica.
Zelickman received her Bachelor’s Degree in violin performance from Indiana University studying with Mauricio Fuks and Mark Kaplan. In 2009, she earned a Master’s Degree from Arizona State University, where she studied with Katie McLin. She has spent this past season as a member of the Tucson Symphony.
Several KSO principals in the woodwinds are taking leaves-of-absence. Principal Clarinet Gary Sperl, who is teaching in Africa this season, is being replaced this year by Peter Cain. Cain was at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music for his undergraduate studies, followed by master’s degree work at the University of Minnesota studying with the Minnesota Orchestra’s Burt Hara. Most recently, Cain pursued doctoral work at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, studying with Richie Hawley. Currently, he is the clarinet instructor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN.
KSO Principal Flute Nadine Hur, also on a one year leave of absence, is being replaced by flutist Ebonee Thomas. Thomas hails from Plano, TX, and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance at Southern Methodist University. She later received her Master’s Degree at the New England Conservatory of Music where she studied with BSO Flutist, Fenwick Smith.
Auditions for Principal Horn, following the untimely death of Calvin Smith in May, resulted in a one-year appointment as Principal Horn for Jeffery Whaley. Originally from Sevierville, TN, Whaley is currently on faculty at East Tennessee State University. He also holds the Principal Horn position with Symphony of the Mountains. After graduate work at Wichita State University, he held positions with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Wichita Grand Opera, Wichita Brass Quintet, and Omaha Symphony Orchestra.
The KSO’s season opens on September 22-23 with an all-Beethoven concert featuring the Coriolan Overture, the Third Piano Concerto with pianist Alon Goldstein, and the Eroica Symphony.