Kirk Trevor ended his 18 seasons as music director and conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in 2003, but many Knoxville concertgoers still remember his tenure with the KSO for producing exquisitely detailed, emotional, energetic performances with a distinct stylistic point of view. Trevor returned last week for a guest stint with the orchestra—and, based on those performances, he appears to have picked up where he left off, particularly in terms of an entertaining and passionate musical viewpoint.
Trevor took full advantage of progress made under the current director and conductor, Lucas Richman—notably some strengthened sections of the orchestra. He did return to his favored arrangement of the strings: first and second violins together to the left, and violas and cellos together to the right in the orchestral semi-circle. There is a subtle but remarkable tonal difference in the arrangement, one that lends itself to a particularly satisfying orchestral balance.
Trevor didn't return to Knoxville alone. He was accompanied by violinist Chloé Trevor, who last appeared with the KSO as a 14-year-old prodigy in 2002, in a performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Now, at the age of 23, the younger Trevor's performance occasion this time was the expansive Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 61.
From a barely perceptible four-note timpani opening that gives way to subdued woodwinds introducing thematic material, Trevor's hand was obvious as he built detail upon texture up to the solo violin's entrance, alternating Beethoven's moments of strength with moments of tenderness. As Chloé Trevor entered, two more things were obvious: her honed and effortless technical skill and the combination of golden warmth and smooth, focused projection from her instrument, a 1771 Landolfi. The two Trevors combined for a performance that dutifully painted the Beethoven details with clean, sharp lines, and the textures and dynamics with emphasis.
If the Beethoven concerto has a flaw, it is its length. At 40 minutes or so, the piece unwittingly and unconsciously makes the honest demand that the soloist continually introduce a developing personality into the violin line. The final Rondo movement helps in this regard with its cheerfulness, which practically begs for a display of character and detail. If the concerto begins to seem too long—and in this performance, it did, to a degree—it is because that developing character just isn't making it across the footlights.
The highlight of the evening, and a really thrilling one at that, came in the second half of the concert, with Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. This work, which premiered in Moscow in January 1945, is unabashed in its celebration of the spirit of optimism that pervaded Soviet life as their army pushed German troops back toward defeat in the final days of World War II. That infused spirit cannot mask the composer's characteristic wry sarcasm, elements that are Prokofiev at his best. Admittedly, Trevor, too, seems quite at home with the musical opportunity to communicate a bit of understated sardonic wit.
The thrilling aspect of the performance, though, was Trevor's careful arc and the distinctive point of view that manifested itself in textural details, brilliantly revealed through balance and Trevor's deliberate efforts to accentuate moments of Prokofiev's lyricism.
The brilliant finale movement was a joy—the pensive opening gave way to ever-increasing, erratic emotional energy, driven by a relentless cinematic rhythm and punctuated by expressionistic outbursts from the clarinet and by percussion effects. Trevor toyed with the audience's emotions, pulling back dynamically before surprising us with a final and energetic explosion.
Trevor opened the evening with another 20th-century work, and a new one for the KSO, English composer Arnold Bax's Overture to Adventure. This work was a wonderful showcase of tonal expressionism, full of simmering emotions and mysterious shadows.