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"Murphy was an optimist!"

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Blogger Night Success! January 16, 2009 2:18 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Blog, Music, Of Interest, Publishing
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Last year the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra tried something bold and invited 50 bloggers to come to the symphony for free in exchange for writing about their experiences good or bad. It was the KSO‘s first Blogger Night. Noah and I went and really enjoyed ourselves so when Frank Murphy announced that the KSO was doing it again, I was quick to respond. I was so stressed yesterday that I almost canceled but I am glad we went! Last year 27 bloggers responded. This year 43 r.s.v.p.’d (I don’t think all 43 showed up). The KSO is already planning next year’s blogger event as one of their performers is now also a blogger.

Last year I learned that despite having an affinity for the theater and enjoying performances throughout my entire life in places like the New Orleans Saenger Theatre, The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, The Bijou, The Tennessee Theatre, and The Clarence Brown, to name a few, I have an overwhelming lack of knowledge about orchestra. Last year I found my hands nearly slapping together at the end of a piece but stopped soundlessly when I noticed no one else in the audience clapping. Stephanie Burdette explains:

At the beginning of the concert, the concertmaster will come onstage. The audience claps as a welcome, and as a sign of appreciation to all the musicians. After the orchestra tunes, the conductor and soloist will come onstage. Everyone claps to welcome them, too. The audience doesn’t usually applaud again until the end of the piece, but this can be a little tricky because many pieces seem to end several times — they have several parts, or "movements." These will be listed in your program. Or you can just … wait until people around you begin applauding and then join in…

I was also under the impression that one dressed to the hilt for the symphony and became a little stressed when we discovered all of Noah’s dress clothes were at the grandparent’s house. Stephanie put my mind at ease:

This is usually everyone’s biggest worry, male or female. Here is the thing – there is no dress code. Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Most people will be wearing business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, but you’ll see everything from khakis to cocktail dresses. Some people enjoy dressing up and making a special night of it, and you can, too. Still, evening gowns and tuxedos are pretty rare unless you’re attending a fancy gala.

Before the show we ran into some fellow bloggers and chatted in the hall in front of the sponsors poster. In the long list of names for the Diamond Sponsors, I could only read one – ImagePoint. That seemed both sad and ironic. Last year the entrance was crowded, had tables of cheeses and snacks, and drinks flowed from the bar. This year, the corridor seemed oddly vacant. Perhaps I arrived too early and missed the scene, or perhaps the economy has trimmed away at some tradition. The lights flashed, the chimes sounded, and we found our seats.

The symphony’s program opened with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. I was surprised that it was simply 11 strings and that Lucas Richman did not come out to conduct. The piece was beautiful! At the end of that piece, the grand piano was brought onto the stage and the Maestro made his first appearance and didn’t skip a beat even though his microphone was turned off. As truly great performer, the technical faux pas did not fluster Lucas Richman and he continued to address the audience until the sound tech fixed the problem. He even acknowledged the bloggers! He left and returned with piano soloist Navah Perlman and performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 4. After reading Frank Murphy’s review, I realized that she played for 31 minutes without sheet music! And had a cold so the one missed note was easily forgiven. Again, it was a well-executed piece! I was so caught up in the music that time flew by. After a brief intermission we returned to find the grand piano was gone and no longer blocked our view of the energetic conductor Lucas Richman. The KSO performed Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, "Italian" and the Maestro was so into his work that at times he would pop up on his toes as if about to jump into orchestra itself. His full body worked the direction of the score. Several times in the evening I felt as though I had slipped into Fantasia with the two most compelling moments being the first tuning of the evening and the second watching Lucas Richman conduct this Mendelssohn Symphony.

Noah appeared to enjoy the music. I think he may have been uncomfortable about his clothing. At times his finger conducted along with Richman but Noah has a time of evening when he just shuts off. We exceeded that and I wondered if the finger conducting wasn’t an attempt to stay awake. During Mendelssohn, Noah reclined in the seat and closed his eyes. He claims he stayed awake but at one point his head tilted over to me and I had to elbow him before he snored or fell out of his chair. I feared he might be heading toward a migraine. With his interest in percussion, I think Noah would have enjoyed seeing more percussionists. I was surprised that the KSO was so heavily inclined to strings. I only counted two percussionists and I am not really sure about the second. I thought I heard some brass but I had difficulty finding any winds on the stage. My instrument in middle school was the clarinet. I am a very big Pete Fountain fan and would like to see more wind instruments.

Afterwards we met the Maestro, musicians, KSO blogger Katy Gawne, KSO podcaster, and other KSO staff in a reception with wine and cheese and good laughs. I got to talk to both Lucas Richman and Navah Perlman about how much of his gesture and body movements work into conducting and Navah shared just how important the movements are to the musicians and how dramatically different one conductor can be from another. There were so many bloggers and musicians in the reception that I left feeling like I barely got to talk to anyone despite non-stop gabbing.

Stephanie Burdette shared with me information about Family Concerts. Family Concerts is a creation of Lucas Richman’s intended for children 3-8. I laughed at the thought of Evan the Terror sitting still for one hour of classical music in teh Tennessee Theater. "They are not allowed back and someone contact the contractor and see how quickly we can repair that kid’s damage!" After hearing the details, I actually think it would be perfect! After the one hour show, they have an instrument petting zoo for the children to get a closeup experience with the instruments. They also setup a room specifically for the children to do their own performance. This includes a ticket window, costumes for the appropriate jobs, a variety of toy instruments and a conducting opportunity. The children sell tickets to their show and have a blast. For people with transportation issues, I believe she was saying that busing can even be arranged. I think the family has to do this on March 26 at 9:30am!

As we left, I told Noah not to sweat my shoe. During intermission he stepped on my heel and ripped 3/4 of my sole off (I tweeted heal and soul for deeper meaning). To make sure he’d done a good job, he stepped on the same heel again as we entered the Glenn Miller room for the reception. The reception had wine, cheese and water. Noah doesn’t eat cheese and turned down the water and is not old enough for the wine. Lucas Richman’s son did not attend this year. Last year he and Noah played together and I think Noah was looking forward to that. As we left, I inquired, "Did you have a good time?" He responded, "Yes." then paused and added, "And when I threw up, I got it all in the toilet!" After recovering my chin from the floor, I confirmed Noah was okay and that I didn’t have any damage control to do. Don’t worry KSO; that’s just Noah. He was either overtired or stressed out. Nothing contagious. I asked Noah if he would want to go again and he responded yes.

The biggest thing I learned last night is that my iPod is severely in need of some classical music. My special thanks to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for putting on this event! We really did have a great time!

I’ll update this post later with a roundup of bloggers who attended. For additional information, listen to the Mozart-Mendelssohn podcast, Maestro Richman’s interview with pianist Navah Perlman, Read the Program Notes, Read Navah Perlman’s Biography, read the KSO blog, see pictures from last night, and subscribe to the KSO podcast. And if you like theaters, you’ll enjoy Cinema Treasures. Be sure to schedule an evening with the KSO!

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1. Steve Skinner - January 16, 2009

Is sounds like you two had a near perfect evening! Thanks for sharing.

2. Doug McCaughan - January 16, 2009

I really enjoy getting to have one on one time with the children. And Noah is always good company.