Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Commissions 24 Solo Works

September 7, 2021, 10:44 AM · The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO) has seemingly created a trifecta of musical marvels that magically brought together an artist, a composer, and a patron. It was a match, or in this case, 24 matches, made in heaven.

Dubbed the KSO1x1 Project, a donor was asked to commission a composer to write a short solo piece for a specific KSO musician. A total of 24 pieces were commissioned and digitally premiered weekly between February and August 2021. Composers were found not only in KSO’s own backyard, but also from Belgium, Tanzania, and other locales around the globe. In a truly wonderful touch, the sponsor got to attend the work’s premiere at the recording session and received a score autographed by the composer.

Composers who wrote pieces for KSO1x1.

KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian said the project started "as a creative way to feature the individual talents within our orchestra, and then sparked enthusiasm among our musicians, supporters, and followers beyond anything we could have imagined."

When all was said and done, the project yielded a piece for nearly every instrument in the orchestra, stemming from composers representing a wide range of backgrounds, musical styles, and years of experience, including Grammy-winning composer/bassist John Clayton, pianist/NPR personality Lara Downes, and (proud to say) East Tennessee’s own Jennifer Higdon.

Smoky Mountain Air...
Clearly one of my favorites, here is KSO violinist Rachel Loseke performing "Smoky Mountain Air," composed by Jennifer Higdon, commissioned by Jenny and Randy Boyd. Composer’s note: "Dedicated to Rachel Loseke for beautiful Aram Demirjian for vision...and to the Knoxville Symphony for enriching the community."

My top picks…
While going through the KSO1X1 Project playlist, I had a Sophie’s Choice moment when trying to select my favorites. I narrowed the field by finding those pieces where both the performance and the work were equally compelling. But lest you take my humble opinion too seriously, I could listen to that playlist tomorrow and make completely different choices. The point is, KSO1x1 was fun. It was engaging. It provided much-needed work for artists and composers. And it introduced a group of donors to the world of commissions.

I hope you enjoy these selections.

KSO pianist Emi Kagawa performs "Within" for Solo Piano, composed by Lara Downes, commissioned by John & Nancy Stewart. Composer’s note: "This piece is just about how I feel at my piano, in my room, with my magnolia tree outside the window and the world so far away."

KSO violinist I-Pei Lin performs "One Miniature," composed by Yi Yiing Chen, commissioned by Mary Ellen & Steve Brewington. Composer’s note: "At the very beginning, the pizzicato harmonic imitates how the sound of a standing bell or a temple block resonates and begins the morning chanting in the temple. In this piece, I hope to share the smell of burning incense, how the winds blow through these temples, and the sound of the divination blocks being thrown on the floor to all listeners."

And for a rousing finish, KSO bass clarinetist Victor Chavez performs "Ten Children #13 for Bass Clarinet and Tape," composed by Michael Lowenstern, commissioned by Zane & Teresa Scarlett. In this case, the composer's notes are actual, in that he is performing on the pre-recorded tape.

The final word…
I’ll close with Demirjian’s own words, as they sum up the project beautifully. "I am so grateful to the composers for their inventiveness and collaboration, our musicians for their artistry, our staff for their extensive behind-the-scenes work, and our donors – many of whom were commissioning new music for the first time – for their generosity."

Videos of all the commissioned pieces are available to view here. The complete listing of KSO1x1 Project pieces, composers, and performers are:

“Impromptu” by Kinan Abou-afach
Performed by D. Scot Williams, cello

“Majarete” by Efrain Amaya
Performed by Edward and Mary Pulgar, violins

“Free Verse No. 1” by Olivia Bennett
Performed by Jessica Petrasek, flute

“Muted Prayer” by Dirk Brossé
Performed by Stacy Nickell, cello

“Petrichor” by Alexandra T Bryant
Performed by William Shaub, violin

“One Miniature” by Yi Yiing Chen
Performed by I-Pei Lin, violin

“Reflection and Groove” by John Clayton
Performed by Steve Benne, double bass

“Half Full” by Viet Cuong
Performed by Andy Adzima and John Winemiller, percussion

“Within” by Lara Downes
Performed by Emi Kagawa, piano

“Yellow Poplar with Birdsong” by Amber Ferenz
Performed by Zach Millwood, bassoon

“Obsidian” by Douglas Hedwig
Performed by Phillip Chase Hawkins, trumpet

“Smoky Mountain Air” by Jennifer Higdon
Performed by Rachel Loseke, violin

“Nowhere to Hide” by Alice Jones
Performed by Kelsey Bentley, French horn

“hill and valley” by Mary Kouyoumdjian
Performed by Hillary Herndon, viola

“O-O-O” by Yaz Lancaster
Performed by Claire Chenette, oboe

“Ten Children #13” by Michael Lowenstern
Performed by Victor Chavez, bass clarinet

“Ping-Pong” by Dosia McKay
Performed by Sande MacMorran, tuba

“Marble City Rhapsody” by Gary Powell Nash
Performed by Brian Winegardner, trumpet

“Tucheze Sote (Let Us All Dance)” by Emmanuel and Megan Ndale
Performed by Garl Sperl, clarinet

“Four Haiku” by Jason Overall
Performed by Sarah Ringer, violin

“Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Lucas Richman
Performed by Sean Claire, violin

“The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: anemoia” by Annika K. Socolofsky
Performed by Bob Adamcik, vibraphone

“Last Boomsday” by Jorge Variego
Performed by Kyle Venlet, violin

“A Day in the Life of a Psychonaut” by Dana Wilson
Performed by Jeffery Whaley, French horn

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September 7, 2021 at 07:46 PM · Great story, and nice pieces, thanks for the reporting!

September 7, 2021 at 08:16 PM · Jean, you are so very welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read and listen.

September 8, 2021 at 01:31 AM · This whole idea is marvelous! I love how musicians, composers and donors were brought together in a way so much more than they would be at a concert.

I don’t know how you can pick which is the best of all of them. Each is so different from the others and they’re all wonderful in their own ways. I did especially like Ten Children #13 performed by Victor Chavez because of the wonderful music, the marvelous tech in the recording and because I loved seeing the inside of the gorgeous Tennessee Theatre all lit up in its glory.

Knowing some of the musicians and some of the donors made this even more special! Thank you, Diana for sharing this with us. So much that’s good has come out of the pandemic. Nothing stops music.

September 8, 2021 at 10:41 AM · Joe, thanks so much for your lovely comment. And I'm very glad the article gave you an opportunity to see some of your friends and be back in the Tennessee Theatre for a few minutes! Looking forward to your return!

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