Most Memorable Classical Music Performances of 2022 – Arts Knoxville |

Most Memorable Classical Music Performances of 2022 – Arts Knoxville |



Somehow, it just feels encouraging to say that we have “returned to normal” following the Covid-19 pandemic. But the fact is,  the Knoxville art and music scene has not “returned” at all. Rather, we have “evolved” in much the same way that reacting to our health risks in public has evolved. While performance attendances have been inching back, most organizations agree that their audience demographic and attitudes have changed, requiring a re-thinking of how to market. Organizations that once relied on the time-tested solidity of physical tickets have embraced the idea of the e-ticket and smartphone wallets, a practice that will inevitably become common. Replacing the physical “program book” with access to a webpage for content information has met with a reluctant acceptance, although most agree that there are both pros and cons with the practice. And, audiences now make the decisions of whether to mask up—or not—given their individual needs and personal precautions.

Independent of pandemic-induced changes, there has been an evolution within performance organizations as well, reflecting the inevitable—perhaps natural—changes in management and leadership. New organizations have been testing the performance waters and existing ones have both scaled-up and scaled-down their public performances as they adjust to new realities.

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An unexpected and sad reality this year was the November death of actor, bass-baritone, librettist, and Managing director of Marble City Opera, Brandon Gibson. Beloved in the Knoxville music and theatre community, Gibson was a kind and gentle soul coupled with an inimitable professional presence. That presence will be irreplaceable on the Knoxville music scene.

Brandon Gibson (1986-2022)

Marble City Opera: Powerful Theatre in I Can’t Breathe

Gibson was the librettist for I Can’t Breathe, an opera (music by Leslie Burrs) that was co-commissioned and premiered in February, 2022, by Marble City Opera.

“With a music score by Leslie Savoy Burrs and a libretto by MCO’s Managing Director Brandon J. Gibson, the opera explores through vignettes the life and tragedy of six generic, fictional characters—characters that suggest and symbolize participants in the tragic, real-life incidences of police conduct gone horribly wrong—incidences that should have otherwise been an innocent interaction between law enforcement and African Americans…or no interaction at all.”

“In the staging by Jonathan Clark, the six singer-characters represented a cross-section of life and the issues of living, just as did the real-life characters they resembled. In “The Mother”, soprano Jayme Alilaw brought crisp diction and a marvelously lyrical voice to her character: a mother looking back on the deciding events in her life while she is busy folding the family laundry—only to receive the always dreaded phone call. Tenor Breyon Ewing was “The Athlete”, a swaggering Everyman coming from a game with a soda and snacks in his pocket. The powerful bass-baritone Jacob Lay was “The Thug”, a guy challenged by his past and lack of early parental support. Tenor Benjamin Burney was “The Scholar”, a new homeowner carrying boxes into his new abode. Baritone Maurice Hendricks was “The Father” packing the family car for a two day trip with his young daughter and his “The Lover” sung by mezzo-soprano Laura Thomason, who must deal with the aftermath—the anger and the helpless feelings of guilt.”

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The remainder of the Most Memorable Performances of 2022 list will avoid specific categories, offering instead our admittedly subjective list in reverse chronological order from most recent to earliest in the Knoxville music scene. To read the full reviews, if available, click on the link at the end of each.

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Knoxville Opera’s The Merry Widow

Any mention of 2022’s evolution within arts organizations must include the obvious one—Knoxville Opera. With the 17-year tenure of Artistic Director Brian Salesky ending in June, the company, under Executive Director  Jason Hardy, has indicated its intention to pursue different angles in its goal of expanding its audience. The new KO creative team included Dean Anthony as KO’s producing director, Elizabeth Moore as music coordinator, and Keturah Stickann as artistic advisor.

Knoxville Opera's 'The Merry Widow' Photo: Courtesy of Knoxville Opera
Sean Anderson as Count Danilo in Knoxville Opera’s ‘The Merry Widow’

Its November performance at the Tennessee Theatre, the bubbly Franz Lehar operetta, The Merry Widowwas a co-production of KO and the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre. Led by director Dean Anthony, the cast included soprano Susannah Biller as Hanna Glawari, baritone Sean Anderson as Count Danilo, baritone Gary Simpson as Baron Zeta, soprano Donata Cucinotta as Valencienne, tenor John Riesen as the Count Camille de Rosillon, and tenor Gregory Sliskovich as Njegus.

Review: Knoxville Opera’s Effervescent ‘The Merry Widow’

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The Amadeus Chamber Ensemble Expands Its Presence

Under the auspices of the Cathedral Concert Series at Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Amadeus Chamber Ensemble has filled an important niche in the Knoxville classical music scene—large scale choral and orchestral works— with two obviously popular and well-received concerts this past fall.

From the Arts Knoxville review of the October concert, “Verdi in the Cathedral”:
“Under conductor Brian Salesky, Sunday’s large scale performance of Verdi selections featured soloists, a full orchestra, and a 17-member Men’s Chorus. Soloists for the program were a quintet of singers, most of them familiar to Knoxville audiences through opera productions: soprano Rochelle Bard, mezzo-soprano Diana Salesky, tenor Aaron Short, baritone Christian Bowers, and bass David Crawford.”

Amadeus Chamber Ensemble with Orchestra and Chorus; Howard Skinner, conductor

In late September, ACE with chorus and orchestra offered up a program of Mozart choral works from the composer’s Salzburg days. In addition to Mozart’s ‘Coronation Mass’ (Mass in C Major, K. 317),  Maestro Howard Skinner conducted Regina Coeli K. 108, with a nod to the later, more sublime Mozart via the motet Ave Verum Corpus.

“Verdi in the Cathedral” soloists: bass David Crawford, tenor Aaron Short, mezzo Diana Salesky, soprano Rochelle Bard

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KSO Concertmaster Series: “William Shaub and Friends” – Shostakovich Piano Quintet

KSO Concertmaster William Shaub, Chamber Classics Series – Photo: Trianne Newbrey

Although I am at a loss to explain it, the pandemic—or the recovery from— has been especially hard on attendance at chamber music performances. A perfect example of this would be the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Series which continues to offer superlative performances of major chamber music works at the Knoxville Museum of Art. In October, concertmaster William Shaub—along with with pianist Kevin Class, violinist Kyle Venlet, violist Katy Gawne, and cellist Andy Bryenton, presented a sublime take on Dmetri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet.

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Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra: Caroline Shaw’s The Mountain That Loved A Bird

Maestro Aram Demirjian and the KSO was joined by narrator Laura Beth Wells in a poignant performance of Caroline Shaw’s The Mountain That Loved A Bird.

Laura Beth Wells, narrator, and Maestro Aram Demirjian with the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra – Photo: Trianne Newbrey

“…this cleverly orchestrated version of the now-classic children’s story by Alice McLerran succeeded in both dramatic storytelling and in musical performance, leaving many in the audience visibly moved by the story and music.”

Review in Brief: KSO and Laura Beth Wells Bring A Sunday Afternoon Audience To Joy and Tears

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Marble City Opera: The Copper Queen

For its 2022 season-closer in June, Marble City Opera mined operatic gold with the stage premiere of The Copper Queen, music by Clint Borzoni and libretto by John de los Santos.

Soprano Kathryn Frady as Julia Lowell in ‘The Copper Queen’

This intriguing work that featured parallel timelines in the past/present old west starred soprano Kathryn Frady and mezzo-soprano Sara Crigger, along with tenor David Silvano, Graham Anduri, baritone Daniel Spiotta, and bass-baritone Jacob Lay.

Marble City Opera’s ‘The Copper Queen’ – (L) Daniel Spiotta ;(R) Graham Anduri


Review: Marble City Opera Finds Operatic Gold in ‘The Copper Queen’

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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra: Grieg Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4

There always seems to be an air of excitement around the first concert of the KSO’s Masterworks season—and this one was no exception.

Maestro Aram Demirjian and the orchestra were picking up where they left off last May with its musical plan—exciting, unfamiliar pieces from contemporary composers mixed in with classics of the repertoire made fresh by young guest artists and an orchestra performing at the top of its form.”

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, pianist Charlie Albright and KSO conductor Aram Demirjian – Photo: Trianne Newbrey

After Anna Clyne’s Masquerade, guest pianist Charlie Albright thrilled the audience in the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. Demirjian followed with a substantial and brilliantly detailed Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4.

Review: KSO and Demirjian Find Freshness in Grieg and Tchaikovsky for Season Opener

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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Pianist Tanya Gabrielian; Brahms Symphony No. 2

This March Masterworks concert was a feast of musical emotions. In addition to Tchaikovsky and Brahms, the audience heard the Overture to The Boatswain’s Mate by English composer, Dame Ethel Smyth and a tribute to Ukraine via Melody in A minor, by the late Ukrainian composer, Myroslav Skoryk.

KSO Conductor Aram Demirjian and pianist Tanya Gabrielian – Photo: Trianne Newbrey

Gabrielian’s performance in the Tchaikovsky concerto: “…a performance that was at once bold, powerful, and satisfyingly assertive, defying those who might believe that this very, very familiar work does not deserve a fresh sense of adventure.”

The Brahms Symphony No. 2 received an equally brilliant interpretation from Demirjian and the orchestra: “On this occasion, this oh-so satisfying work making up the second half of the evening was treated to a superb performance by Demirjian and the orchestra with a rich sense of texture and an ever-moving palette of dynamics. The tight ensemble of KSO strings (Concertmaster William Shaub) was joined in the lush ebb and flow of a sunlit musical river journey by beautifully rendered woodwind and horn assertions (oboe Claire Chenette, flute Devan Jaquez, clarinet Gary Sperl, and horn Jeffery Whaley).”

Review: KSO Honors Ukraine’s Struggle; Brilliant in Tchaikovsky and Brahms

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KSO’s Concertmaster Concert: Schumann Piano Quintet in E-flat Major

KSO Concertmaster William Shaub

This March concert at the Knoxville Museum of Art featured works by Carlos Simon and Debussy, but wrapped with a intensely satisfying take on the landmark Robert Schumann Piano Quintet in E-flat Major. Pianist Kevin Class joined violinist and concertmaster William Shaub with the ensemble consisting of violinist Sean Claire, violist Kathryn Gawne, and cellist Andy Bryenton.

“…it was in the third Scherzo movement that the ensemble found maximum fire and heat, characteristics that carried over into the finale and its magnificent wrap up of themes.”

Review in Brief: KSO’s 2022 Concertmaster Series Wraps with Splendid Schumann Quintet

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KSO and Violinist William Shaub in Barber’s Violin Concerto

The Masterworks concert for January featured KSO concertmaster William Shaub as concerto violinist in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto.

Violinist William Shaub with Aram Demirjian and the KSO in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, January 2022 – Photo: Trianne Newbrey, KSO


“Shaub’s sensational performance beautifully fulfilled the concerto’s Jekyll and Hyde requirements for a soloist: a deep sensitivity for the sunny, vocal-like Romantic lyricism of the Allegro and Andante movements and a passionate and energetic virtuosity for the third Presto in moto perpetuofinale. Shaub’s tone in the Allegro was both luscious and clear, the lusciousness never becoming too dreamy. Equally appropriate, Demirjian and the orchestra radiated lyrical warmth, rather than wallowing in it.”

The concert also included Respighi’s The Pines of Rome that was a “… feast of dramatic sculpting by conductor [Demirjian] and a showcase of instrumental textures from the expanded orchestra.”

Review: William Shaub and KSO Warm a Cold Evening in Barber’s Violin Concerto

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Best wishes for Happy Holidays from Arts Knoxville

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