The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra opens its 2017-2018 concert season Thursday and Friday evenings, Sept. 21-22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Theatre, with a program called Knoxville Postcards.
“I knew we should begin this season, the first with my finger prints all over it, by exploring the history of Knoxville through music,” said KSO music director and conductor Aram Demirjian. “This first program is one tiny half step down that path.”
“We also wanted it to be a musical realization of Knoxville writers. Two of the pieces that we are doing were inspired by James Agree,” Demirjian said. The current Knoxville Poet Laureate, R. B. Morris, also will appear in the concert.
One of the pieces is Samuel Barber’s 1947 work for voice and orchestra “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” based on James Agee’s short prose piece written in 1938. Only excerpts from Agee’s text are used, but the sense of Agee’s story that isn’t captured in the text is conveyed in the music.
As a child, Agee had been affected by the death of his father. Agee’s story had personal meaning to Barber, who was enduing his own father’s deteriorating health while he was composing the music for “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” The story is written from the perspective of a young boy. It is often sung by a soprano, but can also be sung by a tenor. Soprano Joelle Harvey will sing in the KSO performance. Morris will read the spoken word part of the composition.
The Agee connection to the concert appears again in Aaron Copland’s “Suite” from his opera “The Tenderland,” inspired by the book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” written by Agee, with photographs by American photographer Walker Evans. Joining the KSO for the performance of Copland’s “Suite” will be the Carson-Newman A Capella Choir.
The concert will begin with gifted young composer Michael Schachter’s world premiere of “Overture to Knoxville,” commissioned by the KSO for these opening pair on concerts. “I think Michael is on the verge of his career really taking off,” Demirjian said. “We are really fortunate to commission this before that happens.” The composition features the UT Symphony brass section, who will play from various positions around the auditorium.
The concert will close with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dance,” the final composition Rachmaninoff wrote before his death, by which time Rachmaninoff had become an American citizen. Rachmaninoff, too, has a connection to Knoxville. Though gravely ill and advised by his doctors to cancel his performance, Rachmaninoff insisted on performing at Alumni Gym on the University of Tennessee campus on Feb. 17, 1943.
A statue honoring Rachmaninoff’s final concert, given to the city by sculptor Victor Bokarov, stands in a grove of trees on the southwest corner of World’s Fair Park, close to the steps that go down to the street at the intersection of 11th St. and Cumberland Ave.
Concert goers are advised to allow plenty of time to find parking. Downtown Knoxville is alive with activity almost every night of the week.