Of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s five major concert series, the Chamber Classics series at the Bijou Theatre occupies its own eclectic corner. These days, the series’ name has become somewhat inaccurate. While the series is built around the smaller Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra and its core orchestra members, its programming has expanded far beyond the classics—and so has its appeal to committed audiences. The sublimely executed Sunday performance, led by KSO resident conductor James Fellenbaum, was fresh and energetic and demonstrated how a different perspective can invigorate a receptive audience.
The title, “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” was a reference to the concluding work on the program, by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, but more generally to the concert’s Latin American theme. The title also connected to KSO’s October Masterworks concert, which featured Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
A word of explanation: Piazzolla wrote his original Four Seasons of Buenos Aires for his tango quintet (piano, bandoneón, violin, electric guitar, and double bass) as incidental music for the play Melenita de oro, later expanding it into a suite of four “seasons.” In 1999, the violinist Gidon Kremer commissioned an arrangement of the piece—the version heard at this concert—from the Ukranian composer Leonid Desyatnikov. Desyatnikov adapted it for the same strings-only complement as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but also added musical references and shaded textures from Vivaldi and the Baroque period, as well as his own twists, that were not in Piazzolla’s original.
Edward Pulgar, KSO’s principal second violin, gave a sensational performance as soloist, presenting focused statements of theme and background and delivering precise and colorful tonal details. The ear-opening cadenzas added by Desyatnikov were consummately conveyed by Pulgar and cellist Andy Bryenton.
The three pieces that preceded the Piazzolla/Desyatnikov work were equally important to the concert’s themes. Danzon No. 4, by contemporary Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, was rendered with a wealth of woodwind and percussion color, beautifully performed, all in the context of dance rhythms and instrumental textures that paint specific images for north-of-the-border audiences. A slightly different sort of dance rhythm came in Fuga con Pajarillo, a rich and energetic 1990 work for strings by the late Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero that blends modernism and the Baroque.
Absorbing the flavors of other cultures has been a common theme in music history. The American composer Aaron Copland borrowed regularly, and with relish. His Three Latin-American Sketches brought the KSO woodwind and percussion players back to the stage for an American’s take on the subject, one painted with similar Latin colors and rhythms, but perhaps with a different brush.
KSO’s next Chamber Classics Series concert will be on Sunday, Nov. 27, with Aram Demirjian leading the Chamber Orchestra in “A Classical Christmas.”
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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