Knoxville Symphony Orchestra opens season with works by Vivaldi, Elgar and Valerie Coleman – Arts Knoxville
BY ALAN SHERROD
Masterpieces of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra – “The Four Seasons”
Valerie Coleman: Umoja (Hymn to unity)
Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons with violinist Robyn Bollinger; spoken poetry by Rhea Carmon and the 5th woman
Edouard Elgar: Variations of the enigma
Thursday and Friday September 23, 2021 – 7:30 p.m.
Tennessee Theater, 604 S. Gay Street, Downtown Knoxville
Tickets and information
OOne of the twists and turns of the English language is that the word beginning— Meaning a beginning or a beginning — often refers to a final ceremony in which a phase of life is completed and begin another. In a sense, this is the situation for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra because their Masterworks concerts have a new start this week – the opening concert for the 2021-22 season and a return to full capacity at the Tennessee Theater for the first time since February 2020.
While I’m sure it’s a total coincidence, Edward Elgar, the English composer heard quite ubiquitously in his early days in the US, is also featured on the KSO program with his Variations on an original theme, Op. 36, which is popularly known as Variations of the enigma.
Although a veritable cottage industry developed in an attempt to “solve” the riddle, the creation of the work began quite simply. As Elgar was lazily doodling at the piano one evening, a peculiar tune caught his wife’s attention. The composer began to play with the air, adapting it into musical caricatures to represent some of the couple’s friends. Each variation was then titled with the friend’s initials, starting with “CAE” for Elgar’s wife, Caroline Alice, and ending with the 14th variation, “EDU” for the composer himself.
Elgar’s own explanatory note only added to the mystery of the puzzle.
“The riddle, I won’t explain – its “black saying” is not to be guessed, and I warn you that the connection between Variations and Theme is often of the slightest texture; moreover, through and on the whole, another larger theme “goes”, but is not played … “
Although many historians (and others) have claimed to have the solution to the puzzle, there has never been a solution that seems conclusive or satisfactory to the majority of those concerned.
One riddle that will be solved during the concert is what Maestro Aram Demirjian calls a “reimagination” of Vivaldi Four Seasons using original oral poetry, created by Knoxville poet laureate Rhea Carmon and her poetry collective The 5th Woman. Vivaldi’s guest artist will be violinist Robyn Bollinger.
Bollinger was last heard with the KSO three years ago in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto that electrified audiences at the Tennessee Theater. Devil Arts Knoxville exam in October 2018—
“If Tchaikovsky must bear a large part of the responsibility for this virtual kidnapping, he is assisted on this occasion by the violinist Robyn bollinger which, frankly, stunned audiences with an unmistakably brilliant performance. Bollinger, playing a violin built in 2017 by Brooklyn luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz, took listeners on a captivating jaunt through Tchaikovsky’s changing musical landscape. The young violinist kept her performance fresh – and the audience captivated – through passages brimming with crisp detail and delicious rhythmic and melodic take, while displaying razor-sharp technique.“
Demirjian will open the concert with Umoja (hymn to unity) by American composer Valerie Coleman. Umoja is the Swahili word for Unity and the first principle of the feast of the African Disspora Kwanzaa. The work began in 2001 as a wind quintet performed by Imani Winds, Coleman’s own chamber music ensemble. The orchestral version to be heard at this concert was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2019, her performance by this orchestra being the first classical work by a living African-American composer.
Critic Peter Dobin wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Let’s start by calling Umoja, Hymn for Unity exactly what it is other than who wrote it. It’s a great job. The play – umoja means unity in Swahili – goes from a peace. serene to racing tension before emerging into sunny joy.
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