I was startled by a tweet last week that said something like “Mercury News Re-Assigns Classical Music Critic.” After a nanosecond of confusion and a minute of investigation, I realized the reference was to the San Jose Mercury News and the reassignment of their excellent and long-time jazz and classical-music writer, Richard Scheinin, to cover “other, broader topics.” Of course, those were merely the usual management code words for a print newspaper cutting arts coverage to save money. That same newspaper, as the pattern often goes, will later scratch its head and wonder why it continues to lose arts readers and advertisers.
On the other hand, the Knoxville Mercury launches with the apparent opposite realization—that arts coverage not only explains and documents the work of individual musicians, artists, and arts organizations but also acts as community glue in the complex intermingling of commerce and culture. At no time in Knoxville’s history has that integration been more important than today, a time when our art and music scene approaches new thresholds and demands its rightful place in our economic future.
Quite coincidentally, my final column for Metro Pulse, in October, included a review of the season’s first Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Series chamber-music concert, featuring Gabriel Lefkowitz and colleagues at the Knoxville Museum of Art. How better, then, to begin our new coverage than by mentioning last week’s third and final concert of the season in that series—a series that has substantially grown in popularity since its inception.
As he has done on some previous occasions, Lefkowitz began with a set of short, encore-like violin pieces, among them selections by Fritz Kreisler, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré, and an ear-tingling, finger-cramping Perpetuum Mobile by Franz Ries. KSO audiences have learned, to their joy, that Lefkowitz, in addition to being a brilliant concertmaster and a friendly and charismatic symbol of the orchestra, can knock their socks off as a virtuosic soloist. Suffice it to say that last week’s audience went to intermission sans hosiery.
Lefkowitz’s string friends—violinist Gordon Tsai, violist Kathryn Gawne, cellist Andy Bryenton, and bassist Steve Benne—joined him on the second half of the program for Dvorak’s String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77, a work that adds a double bass to the usual string quartet instrumentation. In contrast to the soloist sensibility of the first half, the second half illustrated the essence of solid ensemble playing in a performance that successfully plumbed both the work’s energetic outbursts and its lush in-motion harmonies, made even more lush by the depth of the double bass.
Although the Concertmaster Series still has some staging and illumination issues to address for the sake of its audience, the move of the series to the KMA has been overwhelmingly successful—not just for the performances, but in drawing real links between the visual arts and music.
One of the thresholds I mentioned earlier is the now active process to select the replacement for KSO’s music director and principal conductor, Lucas Richman. Six candidates have emerged from the list of applicants and will each conduct a pair of concerts in the Masterworks Series at the Tennessee Theatre next season.
Richman’s finale concert comes in May, with what promises to be an emotion-charged event highlighted by a truly intriguing lineup. Lefkowitz will be the soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, followed by Gustav Mahler’s uncompleted 10th Symphony and Ravel’s La Valse.
Preceding the season’s final concerts in May, notable guest conductors will have the stage this month and next. The March concert pair next week will feature conductor James Feddeck in a program that will open with Rossini’s infectious William Tell Overture, follow with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, with pianist Conrad Tao, and conclude with Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony.
Opera, too, plays a huge role in the remainder of the 2014-15 season. Knoxville Opera brings its Rossini Festival back the weekend of April 24-26, featuring two performances of Verdi’s Il Trovatore and, of course, the International Street Fair on downtown streets all day Saturday.
And the University of Tennessee Opera returns to downtown and the Bijou Theatre the weekend of April 10-12 with a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, directed by James Marvel, with Kevin Class conducting.
Alan Sherrod has been writing about Knoxville’s vibrant classical music scene since 2007. In 2010, he won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts—the Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera—under the auspices of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also operates his own blogs, Classical Journal and Arts Knoxville.
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