For reasons that often border on the illogical, if not irrational, the winter concerts of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra with guest conductors are often passed up by regular concertgoers, yielding sparser crowds than usual. Is it the weather? That certainly isn’t the case this winter. The reality is that these January and February concerts usually rank right up there as the best of the season in all categories, with an energy and an ineluctable charm that simply is a crime to miss.
To sum it all up, I’ve listed five reasons that one should definitely plan to catch the KSO concerts this week. You’ll thank me later.
ONE: Guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen
Ms. Chen has been music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta since 2011 and recently concluded six seasons as music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. This season finds her in high demand internationally with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra at the Concertgebouw, Sweden’s Malmo SymfoniOrkester, Austria’s Orchester Graz, Finland’s Tampere Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Tucson Symphony, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston, as well as both the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan (Taipei) and the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (Taichung).
TWO: Pianist Lise de la Salle
The 28 year-old pianist started playing the piano at the age of four and gave her first concert when she was nine. At the age of 13 she made her Concerto debut with Beethoven`s Concerto No 2.
Ten days ago, Ms. de la Salle stepped in for an ailing Andre Watts with the Philadelphia Orchestra, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Coincidentally, KSO maestro Aram Demirjian was there as cover conductor for Fabio Luisi.
With the KSO this week, de la Salle will perform the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major.
THREE: Composer Florence Price
Born in Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price (1887-1953) was a pianist and composer who became the first African-American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Showing talent from an early age, Price enrolled at the New England Conservatory in Boston at age 14, where she majored in organ and piano. After taking several degrees, Price eventually settled in Chicago where she would compose over 300 works. However, she is best remembered for her Symphony in E minor first performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. That orchestra also premiered her Piano Concerto the following year.
The KSO will perform an orchestral arrangement of her Dances in the Canebrakes.
FOUR: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major
As the more adventurous of Beethoven’s first two piano concertos, the composer chose to publish the C Major first, although it was written after the concerto in B-flat major (known as the No. 2). Listeners should easily be able to pick out the influence of Mozart and Haydn. In fact, some scholars indicate that the work was written in 1795 and first performed on a concert organized by Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher. Hold on for that surprise ending.
FIVE: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite
Stravinsky’s The Firebird ( L’Oiseau de feu) is a ballet written for the 1910 season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with choreography by Michel Fokine. Stravinsky made several arrangements of the music from the ballet into suites. His suite from 1919 is the version most often heard in concert halls today.
Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Masterworks: “Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1”
Thursday and Friday, February 16 and 17, 7:30 PM, Tennessee Theatre, Downtown Knoxville
Tickets and Information
Guest conductor: Mei-Ann Chen
Guest pianist: Lise de la Salle
• Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
• Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1
• Florence Price: Dances in the Canebrakes
• Stravinsky: Firebird Suite