In a way, it feels like eons have passed since October 2012 when the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra launched its Concertmaster Series of solo and small ensemble music events under then-Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz. During those five seasons, much has changed: the KSO acquired a new music director, Aram Demirjian; a new concertmaster, William Shaub; and a host of new players. The Concertmaster Series itself changed venues, moving to its current location, the Knoxville Museum of Art in its third season.
A bit invisible in all that change has been the effect that the Concertmaster Series has had on the relationship between the orchestra’s musicians and its audience. Its up-close emphasis on chamber music and virtuosic performance, in a more informal setting than the concert hall, has not only opened up performance opportunities for the players, but has also allowed the personality of the musicians to reveal the humanity behind the music.
That fact was particularly obvious in last evening’s installment of the Concertmaster Series, “William Shaub and Friends,” a program that explored the intimacy and conversational intermingling of string duos. The concluding work on the evening, the Duo Concertante for Two Violins by contemporary composer and Juilliard School professor Kendall Briggs, took a lot of the audience by surprise, including this writer. And a marvelously welcome surprise it was. The 2012 work, performed with ear-opening virtuosity by Shaub and KSO violinist Zofia Glashauser, features an unrelenting drive and energy that supports the conversation between the two players. That energy seems to defy concepts of lyricism and dissonance, all the while vaguely hinting at folk and jazz idioms and punctuated by unapologetic swaths of tone.
Although it was obviously imperative that this piece be saved for last on the program, the works that proceeded it were ideal preparation for what was to come. Shaub opened the sonic arc of the evening with Mozart’s String Duo No. 1 in G major for violin and viola, K. 423, one of two duos wrote to assist Michael Haydn in completing a set of six for the Archbishop of Salzburg. Performed by Shaub and KSO principal violist Kathryn Gawne, the conversation explored the tonal differences of clarity and warmth between the violin and viola.
Works by father and son—J.S. Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach—followed the Mozart. First, KSO associate concertmaster Gordon Tsai joined Shaub for the Trio Sonata for Two Violins and Continuo in A minor by C.P.E. Bach, the fifth child of Johann Sebastian. Kevin Class provided the continuo part on electronic harpsichord.
As a teaser of what is to come next month, Shaub and KSO Principal Second Violin Edward Pulgar then performed the luscious and achingly beautiful Largo movement from J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043. The pair will perform the full concerto with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra on the February 4th Chamber Classics Series concert at the Bijou.
This Concertmaster Series concert repeats this evening (January 11, 2018) at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Tickets will be available at the door.