The faculty members of the University of Tennessee School of Music may be feeling a bit like homeless waifs these days. The spot where, until this spring, their 1960s-era Music Building home stood on Volunteer Boulevard is now just a hole in the Knoxville clay waiting for the new Natalie L. Haslam Music Center to rise on the site. In the meantime, the faculty and students have been scattered about the campus into temporary offices, classrooms, and studio spaces in multiple far-flung buildings.
But the show must go on, and it doesn’t seem as if anyone on the faculty is missing a beat. The first of three concerts on this season’s Faculty Chamber Music Series takes place on Sunday, and in a new venue—the performance space in the Knoxville Museum of Art. The more intimate space of the museum should benefit the works and small ensembles featured in the series immensely. And the venue change will also eliminate the frustration of their audiences losing campus parking privileges to orange-clad basketball spectators in the winter and spring.
In a refreshing twist, this first concert of the series will feature works by two contemporary composers, both of them local to the Knoxville area. The afternoon will open with the U.S. premiere of La Pioggia nel Pineto (“The Rain in the Pine Forest”), a two-movement work for soprano, piano, and percussion by UT faculty composer Brendan McConville. The performers will be soprano Lorraine DiSimone, pianist Patrick Harvey, and percussionist Alfredo Guzman. The text of the work is an excerpt from a 1903 poem of the same name by Italian author Gabriele D’Annunzio. McConville says he chose the excerpts for their musical qualities and their ability to support textural shifts, percussive effects, and melodic contours.
“My wife, Annachiara Mariani, introduced me to the poem several years ago,” McConville explains. “I was taken by imagery of D’Annunzio’s enchanting Abruzzese coastal pine forest, where the falling rain surrounds lovers with sounds, senses, and emotions.”
Also on the program is a work by another local composer, Greg Danner: Serengeti, for brass quintet and percussionist. Danner, who is a horn player with the Brass Arts Quintet and a professor of theory and composition at Tennessee Tech, has described Serengeti as an illustration of three regions in those vast plains of east central Africa. The curious addition of percussion sounds to the sonority of brass instruments seems to promise a rich sonic environment evocative of the magnificent grassland landscape. The faculty performers will be Cathy Leach and T.J. Perry, trumpets; Calvin Smith, horn; Daniel Cloutier, trombone; Sande MacMorran, tuba; and Shaun Schuetz, percussionist.
The program will be filled out with a little Handel, courtesy of soprano Cecily Nall and pianist Judith Bible. The duo will be performing three arias from Handel’s Semele: “Endless Pleasure, endless love,” “O sleep, why dost thou leave me?” and “No, no I’ll take no less.”
If it seems like UT faculty cellist Wesley Baldwin is everywhere these days, that just may be true. Baldwin had a full summer of solo performance gigs, including the Hot Springs Music Festival in Arkansas, Wintergreen Performing Arts in Virginia, and the Michigan City Chamber Music Festival. Already this fall, he has performed a series of violin/cello duos with violinist Jennifer Carsillo at Church of the Ascension, as well as the Rainbow Concerto of Jacob ter Veldhuis with the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra.
Baldwin also has a few commercial recordings under his belt, including a CD release from last May, Alan Shulman: Works for Cello on Albany Records (Troy 1187). Unless you are a cellist, Alan Shulman (1915-2002) is probably not a familiar name. He did have a notable and varied career, though, as a teacher, arranger, composer, and cellist, playing in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. The eight works on the CD cover both a lifetime of composition and a range of styles, from the harsh, manipulative, and personal Suite for Solo Cello (1951) to the gentle and lyrical Serenade (1941). I was particularly fond of Homage to Erik Satie, (1938) in which Baldwin skillfully navigates an ironically droopy cello and piano parody of that eccentric French composer. An excellent Kevin Class, Baldwin’s UT faculty colleague, is the pianist on the album.
A notable presence on the recording is Shulman’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, performed by Baldwin and the Hot Springs Festival Orchestra and conducted by Jean Reis. Baldwin has done the music world a real service by getting this concerto recorded. It deserves to be heard.