Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra: Frankenstein!!
Aram Demirjian, conductor
Haydn: Symphony No. 60
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (Classical Symphony)
H.K. Gruber: Frankenstein!! A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier & Ensemble
Sunday, October 1, 2017, at 2:30 PM
Bijou Theatre, 803 S. Gay Street
Tickets and Information
During the recent music director search and audition process by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, one of the characteristics I looked for in a conductor as an audience member was a wry sense of humor. While I haven’t had the opportunity yet to test the KSO’s new maestro Aram Demirjian, signs seem to indicate that he enjoys a good dose of irony at classical music’s expense — at least, if you judge by the programming of the first Chamber Classics concert of the year this coming Sunday afternoon at the Bijou.
Demirjian has centered his concert around humor for the most part, specifically around a 1977 work by the Austrian composer, H.K. Gruber, entitled Frankenstein!! and subtitled A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier & Ensemble. In it, orchestra players are asked to double on a number of toy objects that make sound, such as car horns, toy musical instruments, melodica, swanee whistle, kazoos, and even bursting paper bags.
The chansonnier, in this case, is a singing narrator of sorts, but in exaggerated styles that alternately suggest opera, cabaret, and German lieder. In this concert, the chansonnier will be baritone Scott Bearden, a face and a voice very familiar to Knoxville Opera audiences.
Clearly, any work with “Pan-Demonium” in its title is spelling out its intent to amuse with chaos. The musical Frankenstein!! (and with TWO exclamation points) is joined by Batman and Robin, Superman and Lois Lane, John Wayne, a vampiress, a werewolf, and Goldfinger of James Bond fame, all pictured in unusual situations.
Gruber, himself, has had an interesting history. As a child, he sang with the Vienna Boys Choir, later becoming a double-bass player in the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The work originated as Frankenstein Suite, a collection of improvised music numbers and dances he performed with some fellow new music colleagues. Removing most of the improvisation later in the 1970s, Gruber produced the fully scored Frankenstein!! with Simon Rattle and the Royal Liverpool Orchestra (with Gruber as chansonnier) giving it a premiere in 1978.
Demirjian is filling out the afternoon concert with the humor theme in mind: Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 60, nicknamed “Il Distratto” (“The Distracted”) and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony (Symphony No. 1).
It was, in fact, by conducting a Haydn symphony that influenced Prokofiev in his first symphony. “Until then,” Prokofiev offers in his autobiography, “I had always composed at the piano, but I noticed that the thematic material composed away from the piano was often better.”
“So that is how the project for a symphony in the style of Haydn came about. I had come to understand a great deal about Haydn’s technique from Tcherepnin and thought it would be less scary to embark on this piano-less journey if I were on familiar stylistic ground.”