It’s practically impossible not to sense the optimism and anticipation that precedes the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-16 season. It seeps into conversations and drifts through the musings of both audience members and musicians. It is in this season that candidates for the job of the KSO’s eighth music director in its 80 year history will walk on stage and make their claim. Six of the candidates will conduct Masterworks concerts from October to April with a decision announced next May. The balance of the season will be under the baton of KSO resident conductor, James Fellenbaum—including the season opener on Thursday and Friday, September 17 and 18.
Optimism, too, pervades Fellenbaum’s programming of American composers for this opening concert, a concert that will be an enticing chronological glimpse of Americana. One can practically smell and feel the optimism of turn-of-the-century America in George Whitefield Chadwick’s four movement Symphonic Sketches, the first of which—“Jubilee”—will be the opening work. Chadwick wrote verses to convey the tone of each movement in a gentle suggestive sense. The verse for Jubilee:
No cool gray tones for me!
Give me the warmest red and green,
A cornet and a tambourine,
To paint my Jubilee!
For when pale flutes and oboes play,
To sadness I become a prey;
Give me the violets and the May,
But no gray skies for me.
Pianist Sean Chen will join the orchestra for George Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, a work from 1925 that not only drips with the jazz and blues flavors of the 1920s, but also with a compelling rhythmical backbone that captures and holds the listener.
The second half of concert begins with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings from 1937, a work that is loved in the concert hall and as suggestive flavor in a number of motion pictures. To conclude, the concert moves to mid-century and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
“The Bernstein was always a piece that I loved,” Fellenbaum explains, “so I jumped at the chance to be able to conduct it. The Gershwin followed that, too, because we wanted to have a concerto on the concert. When it comes to American concerti that are engaging and interesting, but also won’t drive people away, you come back to Gershwin pretty quickly. It’s a piece that a lot of our audience really loves.”
“The Chadwick ‘Jubilee’ is a piece that I played, maybe 20 years ago, at Northwestern, and knew it would be a great concert opener…the Barber ‘Adagio’ is such an iconic piece, and I really wanted audiences to hear the full strings–what our KSO strings sound like, this massive, beautiful sound with so many emotional connections for everyone.”
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series
7:30 p.m. September 17 and 18