The liveliness of Knoxville Symphony Orchestra resident conductor James Fellenbaum’s performance of the music of composer John Williams, with the KSO and the Knoxville Choral Society, Saturday night at the Civic Auditorium could have easily led one to believe he was performing for a room full of children.
Considering many of us in the post-70 age group aren’t far from our second go-around at childhood, it was a pretty good approach.
Fellenbaum, who programmed the music for the concert, was all in from the beginning. The result was one of the best KSO Pops concerts in recent memory.
After a brief violin solo of music from Williams’ first Oscar-winning score, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and a medley of great marches from his movie scores, the universally recognizable music from “Jaws,” the second film that won an Academy Award for Williams, took over.
That was followed by a trumpet solo, gorgeously played by KSO principal trumpet Chase Hawkins, that began the orchestral suite from Williams’ score for “Born on the Fourth of July,” the Vietnam film about permanently paralyzed veteran Ron Kovic, in which Tom Cruise played Kovic.
Williams’ emotional music was a big part of what made the film such a lodestar in highlighting the Veterans Administration’s uncaring attitude toward veterans in Kovic’s position.
Next, 10-year-old Henry Jay guest conducted “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.” Young Henry’s parents won the conducting prize in a KSO auction. A musician in the KSO Youth Orchestra, Henry knew exactly what he was doing, keeping excellent tempo for the orchestra.
The Knoxville Choral Society next joined in the musical celebration of Williams in singing “Somewhere in My Memory” from the film “Home Alone.”
The first half concluded with “Adventures From Earth,” from the film “E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial,” with Henry Jay playing the role of Elliott, riding his bike across the front of the stage with E.T. in his basket, to the audience’s delight.
After performing Calvin Custer’s arrangement of themes from “Jurassic Park,” there was an audible gasp of approval from the audience when Fellenbaum introduced associate concertmaster Gordon Tsai, who movingly played the “Main Theme” from Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Schindler’s List,” the film that transformed Spielberg from an entertainer to an interpreter of history.
For music from “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” Fellenbaum transformed into Professor Severus Snape, complete with a wig, cape and clipped German accent. His command of “Ascende” brought the choral society members to their feet to sing “Double Trouble” from “Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Harry’s Wondrous World” from “Sorcerer’s Stone.”
Music from “Angela’s Ashes,” Frank McCourt’s story of the poverty and struggles of his childhood in Ireland, brought a completely different sensibility to Williams’ music. A beautiful oboe solo, played by Claire Chenette, and an oboe and piano duet with Emi Kagawa added poignancy to the presentation.
Of course, more music from “Star Wars,” with everyone on stage – orchestra and chorus – involved, brought the concert to a close.
This may well be the best pops concert in my memory. The response of the near-sell-out crowd seemed to confirm it.
The Knoxville Symphony will present its January Masterworks concerts, with Dvorak’s popular “New World Symphony” and violinist Tessa Lark playing Korngold’s wonderful “Violin Concerto,” this Thursday and Friday at the Tennessee Theatre.
Tickets may be purchased by calling 865-291-3310, or online.