KSO Fails to Capitalize on Its Star Concertmaster

I suppose I could wax poetic on how I was stunned and surprised by the solo performance of Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz in Sunday afternoon’s Chamber Classics series concert, Beethoven and Bon-Bons. His featured playing in three works—Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 in F Major and two virtuosic showcase pieces, Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (“Gypsy Airs”), and the Rondo movement of Nicolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (“La Campanella”)—was stunning and exhilarating in both proficiency and musicality. However, I wasn’t surprised. Anyone who has followed the KSO for the last several years knows full well that Lefkowitz’s abilities extend from charismatic leadership to top-notch performance capability and on into the heady and entertaining realm of extreme violin virtuosity.

What was surprising, though, was that the KSO management had not found a way to capitalize on the presence of this amazing player in Knoxville and pack the Bijou Theatre to the rafters. A lot of Knoxvillians missed the chance of having their socks blown off by Lefkowitz and the orchestra.

In fact, the entire afternoon’s performance was somewhat indicative of this issue of progress and opportunities. KSO music director Lucas Richman opened the afternoon with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, a work that itself shows a definite progression from the composer’s first symphony in the use of instrumental character and away from classical-period flavor. The second Larghetto movement is a deceptively revealing movement due to its texture and tempo variety. Not only did it reveal Beethoven’s tonal voice in a completely fresh way, it has the capability of revealing the sophistication of conductor and orchestra. In this case, the journey the KSO has made since the Symphony No. 2’s last playing has obviously been a substantial one.

After a performance of his own work, a light-hearted and amusing Salutation No. 10, written, as were the previous nine, to honor the high-bidder in an annual fund-raising effort, Richman continued the afternoon with Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, a Viennese ballet choreographed by Salvatore Viganò for an 1801 performance. The orchestra had performed the work earlier in the week at their Symphony on the Square event, which had to be moved indoors to the Bijou due to the chilly weather, and this performance represented a substantial improvement.

The remainder of the afternoon concert was devoted to violinist Lefkowitz. While those in the audience knew the special nature of what they were experiencing and rewarded the soloist with several curtain calls, the fact that the concert had only moderate attendance made a couple of points glaringly apparent. KSO has made substantial inroads in the last several years in both establishing financial stability, through both individual and organizational support, and, most visibly and audibly, in actual performance pizazz. However, the days of preaching to the choir in terms of marketing and audience development must give way to the realities of the 21st century. Classical or alternative new music does not sell itself in a world where our musical attention is pulled in a hundred directions at once and competition comes from a multitude of media and musical styles. Knoxville’s own music scene is deliciously diverse, but the potential for new audiences to join the established ones simply cannot be taken for granted any longer.

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One of the newest, freshest, and brightest spots in the Knoxville classical music scene has been the KSO’s Concertmaster Series of chamber-music performances on an intimate scale under the title Gabriel Lefkowitz and Friends. Housed for two seasons at Remedy Coffee in the Old City, the series moves next season to the Knoxville Museum of Art for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that its popularity has demanded more audience space. A preview of how the series will work in the space comes on Thursday, May 8, at 7 p.m., with a special added performance in conjunction with the recently opened Richard Jolley glass art installation. Lefkowitz will be joined by pianist Kevin Class and members of the KSO Principal String Quartet in three works: Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor, a reprise of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (piano reduction), and Dvorák’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, the “American.” Call the KSO office at (865) 291-3310 for ticket availability.

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