In my effort to expand my downtown horizons to include events which would normally be outside my typical experience, I’ve attended a performance of Knoxville Opera and a performance of the Broadway at the Tennessee series, thanks to kind donations by readers. This weekend I didn’t manage much, given that by Friday evening I was exhausted and I had to work all day Saturday. By Sunday I wanted something different, and decided to attend the Knoxville Symphony’s Chamber Orchestra concert at the Bijou.
The weather might have discouraged some people as the temperatures never got much above freezing, but inside the Bijou was warm and inviting and crowds built until probably 90% of the 700 seats were filled. I got a front-row, center seat, which I learned isn’t the best seat in the house. The sound is excellent, but which corner of the Bijou doesn’t have magical sound? The view is difficult with the performer’s knees prominently displayed. As a result, I stood in the balcony for the first movement and sat on the side for the remaining pieces. Particularly for the orchestra, I’d recommend front row of the balcony if you can get it.
As I entered I was greeted enthusiastically, as was everyone, by Ms. Rachel Dellenger, communications director for the orchestra. I asked her if I could take photographs, which she graciously allowed. I really appreciate this because, of course, some of your friends only look at the pictures and would be lost if I filled the page with only words.
I wish I knew more about classical music in order to give a detailed, technical review of the performance. I don’t, so I can’t. The conductor was James Fellenbaum and the musicians, a small group by definition, ranged in number from the upper twenties to the lower thirties depending on the piece being performed. I find that I prefer the smaller sound. My friend Alan Sherrod, classical critic for Metropulse, suggested a chamber concert might be a good place for me to start, and he was right. I prefer quieter, more delicate pieces and this, largely fit the bill.
The first half of the show was devoted to the first two concertos of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto. I happen to have both on my ipod and I really enjoy them for the reasons noted above: They are largely quiet, intricate and beautiful. I also very much enjoy hearing a harpsichord and its addition to the orchestra offers visions of what might have been a hundred fifty and more years ago. I find that sort of time travel suits me.
Gabriel Lefkowitz served as violin soloist and if his performance had a flaw, I missed it. His playing was exquisite on his nearly 150 year old violin. His grandfather and father were also professional musicians and the violin belonged to his father before him. He also delivered solo performances of two Bach fugues between the two portions of the concert. The fugues were to have been part of his smaller series at Remedy coffee, but snow prevented most people from attending the last concert there. The next installment of these intimate shows will be in two weeks.
The concert concluded with works by Handel, starting with the Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, No. 2 in F Major, HWV320. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like “Stairway to Heaven,” does it? Maybe that’s one tiny reason classical entourages have to fight for audiences: even the titles of the pieces sound intimidating to those of us without a musical background. I’ve never been the biggest Handel fan, as his music often has a very large sound, but this concerto did not seem so overpowering.
The final work performed, also by Handel, gave the show its name and it was a large, splashy piece entitled “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” At least that name is informative: You know pretty much that this will not be a quiet piece. It featured a small brigade of French Horns and the largest group of performers for the day. I actually have this on my ipod, as well, and listened to it as I wrote this article. The performance from this afternoon seemed every bit as good as the recording, to me. It’s not my favorite piece, but it was done very well.
After the show, both the conductor and the soloist sat at the edge of the stage and talked about the music and answered questions. I suspect it’s an effort to make the music more accessible and to grow the audience. KSO is also giving concerts for young people and making other efforts to win a younger audience. For all the support the orchestra gets, and it is substantial in Knoxville, the audiences are not young. Gray was easily the most common hair color at the show and I felt young, which says something. Obviously, if younger listeners don’t become involved, the future will be difficult. I spotted less than a dozen young couples or teenagers.
There are two remaining concerts in this series – each the first Sunday of the months of April and May – and each starting at 2:30 in the afternoon. The first will feature works by Beethoven and the second, “American Masters.” I would strongly encourage you to give it a try. I found it to be a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Tickets are $35 for good seats, although some are discounted in the back of the balcony. Why not try something different?