During intermission of last evening's added performance of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra's Concertmaster Series, "Gabriel Lefkowitz and Friends," in the Great Hall at the Knoxville Museum of Art, I couldn't help overhearing a conversation behind me.
"I'm embarrassed to say this," a man told some friends, "but [my wife and I] have never been to the museum before. This is terrific."
That offhand remark sums up quite completely many of the reasons that the move of the popular KSO Concertmaster Series to the KMA next season should be a really important one on several levels. While the backroom space of Remedy Coffee in the Old City--the site for the first two seasons of the series--oozes charm and intimate warmth with old brick and wood, it also presented a number of issues for even the most dedicated listeners. The small plastic chairs were horribly uncomfortable and creaky, herds of elephants on the floor above competed for the audience's attention, and the room's sightlines were poor despite its severely limited capacity. Parking in the Old City was an issue for some.
The KMA, as a space and facility, answers all those concerns. But, perhaps the most important asset of the museum space is its ability to tie several art experiences into one package, while offering concert-goers a pleasant comfort level. The fact that an attendee (with an art appetite whetted) might be induced to return to view the museum's collection is significant. And, regular events will go a long way toward addressing one of the museum's struggles, that of integrating itself and meshing with the everyday arts and entertainment life of Downtown Knoxville.
[Read the April 24th Metro Pulse story by Matthew Everett on the KMA and the Richard Jolley installation, "Cycle of Life"]
Photo: Knoxville Museum of Art
Last evening's concert drew a substantial audience of 225 or so to the museum's Great Hall, a space of tall floor to ceiling windows on the east, north, and south--and the site of Jolley's installation. The hard surfaces do result in a bright sound for string instruments, and a reverberant one for piano, but the presence of a full audience does an adequate job of taking the edge off and enhancing the warmth of tone. I'm guessing a riser platform for all the performers, including the piano, will find its way into the series next fall. This would fix some of the sightline issues for listeners in the rear and provide a nice enhancement of bass tones.
Lefkowitz and colleagues (Kevin Class, piano, and Andy Bryenton, cello) opened with Sergei Rachmaninoff's Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor, an early-career piano trio from 1892. Lefkowitz followed with a repeat performance (in a piano reduction version) of Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, a performance that brought down the house in a recent Chamber Classics concert with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra.
What really made this evening was a fabulous performance of Dvorák's String Quartet in F-Major, the "American." Like many of the ensemble performances in this series, this ensemble (Lefkowitz and Gordon Tsai, violins; Kathryn Gawne, viola; and Andy Bryenton, cello) worked brilliantly together. That ensemble strength produced those enchanting layers of tone and rhythm that Dvorák used to portray--at least from his limited, arm's length experience in the Czech community while on vacation in Spillville, Iowa--the American west, native American-esque motifs, and turn-of-the-century sensations of movement. Dvorák gave the viola some wonderful exposures in initiating themes and Gawne played them beautifully with a luscious tone.
If these performances are an indication of what may come from next season's Concertmaster Series, chamber music fans can only rejoice.