KSO Revives the Program for Its First concert to Celebrate 75th Anniversary

It really should be no surprise that some of the more unique and adventuresome offerings by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra can be found in their Chamber Classics series—Sunday afternoon concerts that feature the core players making up the KSO Chamber Orchestra and its various ensembles. However, a rich musical adventure doesn’t necessarily mean new music. In the case of this Sunday’s concert, in fact, something old will definitely be new again. As part of the celebration of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary season, Maestro Lucas Richman has programmed a recreation of the works found on the very first KSO concert of Sunday, Nov. 24, 1935.

The KSO founder, and its first conductor, Bertha Walburn Clark, programmed two works by Mozart for that initial concert: the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543, and the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. These Mozart works may have presented challenges for that early orchestra, just as they can today. Underneath Mozart’s facade of structural simplicity lie layers of complexity that require technique, stamina, and precision.

On that 1935 concert, Clark chose the young 26-year old Evelyn Miller as her soloist for the Mozart concerto. Miller went on to a lengthy career as a pianist and teacher, and was the founder of the Knoxville piano recital series that still bears her name. Jumping ahead 75 years, Richman has also chosen as soloist a young Knoxville pianist, Slade Trammel. Trammel is currently on the faculty at Roane State Community College and was a student of David Brunell at the University of Tennessee. He later went on to study with the late virtuosic pianist and transcriber Earl Wild.

The other Mozart work on the bill, the Symphony No. 39, was one of the final three symphonies (along with Nos. 40 and 41) written by the composer in a period of six weeks in the summer of 1788, three years before his death. It is not known whether the symphony was ever performed during Mozart’s lifetime, but it has become a regular in contemporary concert halls. One notable, and likable, feature of the work is the humorous finale, based on a simple theme, that balances the almost regal first movement.

Richman will open the concert with Prélude from Trois Morceaux, op. 49, no. 1, by Alexander Glazunov. This little-known work has been performed by the KSO on only one other occasion since the inaugural concert. Something new indeed!

That 1935 concert was filled out with a work by the then-still-living Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The Valse Triste was a part of incidental music Sibelius composed for the play Kuolema. Different parts of the score were later adapted for the concert hall; the first selection became the Valse Triste, or “Sad Waltz.” This little gem seems to evoke the bittersweet memories of waltzes from one’s youth in days gone by.

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Still in its first year of operation, the new Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus has had its share of operational kinks and growing pains, but they have at last begun to offer some major classical music artists with national reputations. With the assistance of the Adams Foundation, an organization whose goal is to bring top pianists to perform in chamber music settings in America’s small towns, the center presented the pianist Jon Nakamatsu last week.

Nakamatsu sprang to acclaim with his Gold Medal win at the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He now enjoys an extremely busy touring schedule, often making two or three appearances each week throughout the United States.

Nakamatsu performed one of his two set recital programs on this occasion—works by Clementi, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin. It was obvious from the outset that these are works he has performed hundreds of times. As a result, it was gratifying to hear not just mastery of the material, but real glimpses of a pianist’s focused inner voice.

Oddly, I was perhaps most surprised by the Beethoven Sonata in C-sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 2, (“Moonlight”). This work is so familiar to most that it comes with far too many preconceptions. I was admittedly startled by Nakamatsu’s finely gradated dynamics that provided intricately separated lyrical phrases.

Also notable was Franz Liszt’s “Tre sonetti di Petrarca,” which owes much to its origin for voice and piano. Nakamatsu’s contribution was a feast of pianissimo delicacy that maintained the solidity of song.

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