Tag Archives: UT Symphony

Sunday: UT Symphony, “Haydn”

A bit of a preview of Sunday’s UT Symphony concert can be found in my new companion blog, Arts Knoxville.


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Review: UT-SOM’s Concerto Competition Concert

One of the understated satisfactions of writing about music in a college town with a university-level School of Music is the opportunity to see and hear musicians that may be on the cusp of noteworthy careers. Such was the case in Knoxville with the UT School of Music’s annual  Concerto Competition Concert on Sunday, March 17. (The UT-SOM Concerto Competition is a juried competition open to all students enrolled in performance instruction.) After UT Orchestra’s music director James Fellenbaum opened the afternoon with Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March, the winners in four categories (vocal, piano, strings, and non-strings) joined the UT Symphony Orchestra for a performance of their winning entry.

Without doubt, percussionists are the least heralded members of orchestras, yet their work requires as much, if not more, consummate musicianship and accuracy as any other section. Percussion soloists are an even rarer breed—those who must, with little repertoire in the classical world, somehow draw life and descriptive emotions out of instruments that seem to texturally resist it. Marimbist, and Masters of Music candidate, Kevin Hanrahan, the winner in the non-strings category, did just that in the second movement from Casey Cangelosi’s Concerto for Marimba and Orchestras No. 2, a work clearly aimed at contemporary virtuosos on the instrument.

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide certainly gets a lot exposure in concert versions these days; and one of the jewels—pardon the pun— among the operetta’s many is Cunegonda’s aria “Glitter and Be Gay.”  The number is a real showcase for a soprano with coloratura power and ability, assuming that the soprano also knows a thing or two about comic delivery. Those qualities came together brilliantly in Jenna Weaver, a senior vocal performance major, who really wowed the audience in the Bernstein.

The final two winners in the strings and piano categories chose material from two Russian composers who, ironically, didn’t really care much for each other and who had dramatically different life experiences in the year of 1917. Sergei Prokofiev was finishing up his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 (although it wasn’t premiered until 1923). The work avoids virtuosic showmanship for a more integral structure, requiring a top-of-form violinist with the musical maturity to understand Prokofiev’s sense of textural balance. Anileys Bermudez was just such a violinist, taking the third Moderato movement and weaving a gorgeous silken fabric with the orchestra. And those subtle,  final trills, high above the orchestral line, were quietly impressive.

While Prokofiev was having a banner compositional year in 1917, Sergei Rachmaninoff was preparing to flee Russia under the duress of the Russian Revolution with his family. Before his exodus, though, he managed to extensively revise his Piano Concerto No. 1, written first as a student in 1891. Pianist Carson Hayes, a junior in Piano Performance, chose the opening movement for his entry. This turned out to be a brilliant conclusion to the afternoon’s program. Hayes is a remarkably talented pianist, one that we shall, no doubt, be hearing a lot about in the future.

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Filed under From the Balcony, Performance Reviews

In Metro Pulse: Knoxville’s Resurgent Classical Music Scene

In this week’s issue of Metro Pulse (9/13/2012), I take a look at the Knoxville classical music scene and the possible reasons for its growing success. Read it online here.

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Violist Hillary Herndon and UT Symphony To Perform Forsyth Concerto

Outside of viola players and, possibly, music theory and orchestration students, the name Cecil Forsyth does not ring that much of a bell. Forsyth was born in Greenwich, England, in 1870 and studied at the University of Edinburgh and later at the Royal College of Music. He worked as a violist in various orchestras, one being the Queen’s Hall Orchestra–and wrote his Viola Concerto in G Minor for a September, 1903 premiere with soloist, Émile Férir.

Forsyth’s association with Hubert Parry, director of the RCM, probably contributed to his other area of specialization, musicology. Forsyth published Orchestration in 1913 before moving to New York City to work in the music publishing business. He died there in 1941.

Violist Hillary Herndon will be performing the Forsyth concerto with the UT Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening, February 18, 8 pm, in Cox Auditorium on the UT campus. The concerto is grouped on the evening’s bill with a Gerard Schwarz arrangement/orchestration of Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz, followed by a work that, most definitely, has not languished in obscurity, the Ravel-orchestrated version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. James Fellenbaum conducts.

The performance is free. (A lecture by Maestro Fellenbaum on the Mussorgsky/Ravel precedes the concert at 7 pm)

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Knoxville’s Best of 2011 in Classical Music

2011 has certainly turned out to be an interesting year for a lot of reasons. Since Metro Pulse‘s print coverage of classical music was scaled back by corporate mandate beginning in November, Classical Journal will be taking up the slack, at least in the short term until a more permanent solution can be created. Needless to say, the best-of-the-year lists have always been one of the most popular classical music articles in Metro Pulse over the last several years, so what would the end of December be without one? Here’s my list of the most memorable performances for 2011 in Knoxville.

Most Memorable Orchestral Performances

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Lucas Richman became something really new, fresh, and different this fall–and exciting. New personnel in the orchestra—among them the new concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz and season substitutes Peter Cain, principal clarinet, Ebonee Thomas, principal flute, and Jeffery Whaley, principal horn—have had a substantial impact on the orchestra’s already fine performance. The October and November concerts contained my two choices—Dvorák’s New World Symphony in October and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra in November. The level of individual performance in the Bartok was especially stunning. Richman brought a satisfying mix of American flavors and European tradition to the Dvorák.

For honorable mention, I must choose last season’s April KSO performance of Beethoven’s Ninth with the KSO and the Knoxville Choral Society.

Most Memorable Concerto Solo Performances

I have two selections in this category. Cellist Zuill Bailey appeared with the KSO in the Dvorák Cello Concerto in a magnificent performance in November. From my review—

“[Bailey’s] ultra-relaxed stage persona oozing confidence and charisma seems to be genuine and sincere—a style that seduces the audience with a refreshing transparency. What shone through that transparency, and what made this such a rewarding listen, was a gorgeously rich cello tone with just enough edge wrapped in a judicious vibrato.”

For a number of solid reasons, my second choice is trombonist Jeremy Wilson, who appeared with the University of Tennessee Symphony Orchestra last February in Launy Grøndahl’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra. Wilson, a UT alumnus, is currently a trombonist with the Vienna Philharmonic, and one of the few American players in that orchestra. In my review I stated:

“This concerto asks of a trombonist—and Wilson delivered unforgettably—not just virtuosity and mastery of the trombone’s extreme range, but delicate, subtle tone one might expect from a woodwind instrument combined with the energy of a powerful, but controlled, brass instrument.”

Most Memorable Small Ensemble Performances

Perhaps this category should be titled “Perseverance in the face of Zeus-knows-what-obstacles.” For perseverance and dedication alone, the Knoxville Early Music Project certainly deserves this recognition. Now in its 20th year of existence, KEMP is the model for small ensemble performance to which the Knoxville classical music scene should be paying more attention. And, it seems they are.

KEMP’s concert in February, “Sacred Music of the Italian Baroque,” was as intriguing as it was eye-opening. KEMP also deserves thanks for being the only classical music ensemble with the willingness to appear at Metro Pulse‘s 20Fest in August. The group performed this month at St. John’s Cathedral downtown and they are scheduled to appear on New Year’s Eve as part of Downtown’s First Night celebration.

My other choice in this category is the Principal Woodwind Quintet of the KSO and their performance last season of Samuel Barber’s Summer Music. (part of the KSO’s Chamber Classics series at the Bijou)

Most Memorable Operatic Performances

Last year, my choice was obvious—soprano Rachele Gilmore for her 2010 Lucia in Knoxville Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Her appearance last April in I Puritani for KO was no less memorable, but I have decided to choose baritone Daniel Mobbs from that production. From my Metro Pulse review:

“Equally impressive was bass Daniel Mobbs, singing an outstanding performance as Giorgio, Elvira’s uncle. Mobbs’ voice has a strong, rich warmth at the low end, yet is marvelously focused and clean. This supported his elegant dramatic portrayal of the solemn Puritan that was, nonetheless, sympathetic and complex.” 

My second choice was another baritone, Mark Womack, who sang Germont in KO’s La Traviata in October. From my review:

“Once again, baritone Mark Womack, who turned out a marvelous Sharpless in last season’s Madama Butterfly, opened eyes and ears in the role of Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father. Not only is his voice warm and rich, but he clearly knows how to deliver conflicted but sympathetic characters.”

Most Memorable Vocal Performances

This year, this category belongs to an entire concert—Knoxville Opera Goes To Church.

“the program of gospel soloists and choir numbers, Broadway tunes, and opera arias was a bit incongruous, but that is definitely its charm and draw.”

The concert featured (among many) soprano Joyce El-Khoury, tenor Zach Borichevsky, bass Kevin Thompson, as well as Knoxvillians Denisha Ballew and tenor Boris Van Druff.

Most Memorable Surprise Performance

Without a doubt, the UT Symphony Orchestra, under Maestro James Fellenbaum, continues to surprise me. However, their performance of the Brahms Symphony No. 1 last February literally took my breath away. From my review:

“…the Brahms which filled most of the second half of the program—the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, op. 68—seemed to take the evening into new and unexpected territory, at least for me. Let me be clear, this performance from the mostly-student/some-faculty orchestra was not perfect, but in terms of having the soul of musicality, it was sublime.”


Best wishes to all for a happy 2012!

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Briefly noted: Relentlessly Good Performances

I’m really becoming quite weary of constantly having to rave about the miraculous progress that the UT Symphony Orchestra has made in the last five years or so. This season, in particular, it has become rather tedious having to sit through concert after concert awaiting student mistakes that never come, sloppy entrances that are instead crisp and clean, performance fatigue that has been replaced by ebullient energy and focus, and compromised interpretations, dynamics, and tempos that are anything but. Give me something to write about—a curtain falling, a string breaking, a horn splaat—something, please!

Unfortunately, the orchestra had to really rub salt in my wounds on Sunday by taking on Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis with guest conductor Anthony Parnther and turning out a stunning performance. The work is a performance minefield for almost any orchestra, yet this turned into a bright and bold feast for both the orchestra and the listeners. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some excellent woodwind work, and, notably, the torturous flute passage taken by principal flute Kathryne Salo.

UT music alumnus and bassoonist Steven V. Ingle returned to take the featured role in Carl Maria von Weber’s Andante e Rondo Ungarese, a showcase for bassoon amidst  ever-increasing elaborations…and difficulty. Ingle’s bassoon tone is rich and velvety, matched by an amazing dexterity.

Following last month’s performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Music Director James Fellenbaum wanted to finish off the Mahler tribute by programming the deleted movement from that symphony, now called Blumine. This lyrical, somewhat un-Mahler-like piece, features a lovely solo trumpet line (Emily Whildin) that was as soothing  as it was impressive .

Guest conductor Parnther is also a bassoonist, so the three available ones (Parnther, Ingel, and UT bassoon faculty member Keith McClelland) closed the concert with Three’s Company by Steven Amundson, an amusing showcase for three bassoons, strings, and drum set. Not being a woodwind player, I never get to hear three bassoons play in harmony—that was fun.

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Review: UT Symphony with Jeremy Wilson (and Brahms)

There were a number of things I expected going into last Saturday evening’s concert by the UT Symphony Orchestra. I expected to hear a great trombonist in the Vienna Philharmonic’s Jeremy Wilson (a UT alum) performing in a work one won’t hear every day, Launy Grøndahl’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, and I wasn’t disappointed. This concerto asks of a trombonist—and Wilson delivered unforgettably—not just virtuosity and mastery of the trombone’s extreme range, but delicate, subtle tone one might expect from a woodwind instrument combined with the energy of a powerful, but controlled, brass instrument.

I was pleasantly surprised by the concerto itself which dates from 1924. Grøndahl seems immersed in his own brand of Romanticism that simultaneously suggests, in the orchestral part at least, a 19th Century lyricism (almost Verdi-esque) and a visually descriptive 20th Century melancholic pessimism. What Wilson was able to add to the background sound painting was stunning. He managed both delicacy and rich musical imagery in a solo line that came very close to being truly vocal, something to which he obviously aspires.

What I wasn’t necessarily expecting—but perhaps should have—was that the remainder of the evening’s program would prove to be equally admirable and exciting. Maestro James Fellenbaum opened the concert with Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, and I instantly knew this could be a special evening for the orchestra. Mozart has the uncanny ability to show up weaknesses in an orchestra’s infrastructure, but Fellenbaum would have nothing of it. Entrances were mostly clean and solid, and all sections were playing with a professional confidence that was noticeable.

However exciting the Mozart overture, and however thrilling Grøndahl’s cleverness and Wilson’s virtuosity, the Brahms which filled most of the second half of the program—the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, op. 68—seemed to take the evening into new and unexpected territory, at least for me. Let me be clear, this performance from the mostly-student/some-faculty orchestra was not perfect, but in terms of having the soul of musicality, it was sublime.

Brahms came to the symphonic form somewhat late saying “You have no idea how someone like me feels when he keeps hearing such a giant marching behind him,” of course referring to Beethoven. One can almost hear the giant’s steps plodding through darkness in the bass and tympani in the opening. Yet, it is the breath of Brahms, the surging and ebbing dynamics, punctuated by clashes, that define this work and that defined this performance.

There was noticeably excellent work from the woodwinds, especially from principal oboe Bonnie Farr who had a number of gorgeous thematic opportunities. In the Andante movement, the quintessential statement of Brahmsian serenity, the theme first introduced by the oboe and later taken by the trio of oboe, solo violin, and horn was gorgeous. (from the program I assume the violinist was Any Bermudez and the horn, David Jacobs) Equally poignant was the beautifully balanced section harmonies that remind one of Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem, completed a few years earlier.

Special performances aside, it was clear that Fellenbaum and the orchestra have grown as one—and that was a real gift for Knoxville orchestra lovers…exactly what we needed for Valentines weekend.

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