UT Symphony’s Academic Premiere of “Knoxville: Summer of 2015” is October 30

knoxville-summers-1915-2015The UT Symphony Orchestra will present the academic premiere of Knoxville: Summer of 2015, a musical sequel to Samuel Barber’s famous Knoxville: Summer of 1915, on October 30 at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville.

The concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is a collaboration of the School of Music and the Department of Theatre. Tickets are available at the Tennessee Theatre box office, 604 South Gay Street, and at ticketmaster.com.

The program will include a welcome by Mayor Madeline Rogero, a description of Knoxville at the turn of the century by longtime East Tennessee historian and UT history professor Bruce Wheeler, readings from the works of James Agee and Nikki Giovanni, the reading of a piece written by local journalist and historian Jack Neely about Agee’s Knoxville, a performance of “Sure on This Shining Night” by the UT Chamber Singers, and a vocal and spoken performance of Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living.”

Knoxville: Summer of 2015 was written by promising young composer Ellen Reid, an Oak Ridge native, and noted librettist Royce Vavrek, who wrote the lyrics for the acclaimed opera Dog Days and the soon-to-premiere operas JFK and OColumbia. The piece was commissioned by the New York-based Beth Morrison Projects and VisionIntoArt.

“This piece will eventually be performed on a national stage, so it’s thrilling for us to get to present it first,” said Katy Wolfe, a voice instructor in the Department of Theatre, who is producing the Knoxville performance. She also will sing the new work.

Wolfe was Reid’s voice teacher when Reid was in high school—a relationship that brought the academic premiere to UT.

“For our students to be part of the creative process on a musical piece that could become a new classic—this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Wolfe said.

Knoxville: Summer of 2015 was composed as a follow-up to Knoxville: Summer of 1915, composed by Barber in 1947. Barber’s seventeen-minute piece sets to music excerpts from Knoxville native James Agee’s prose poem “Knoxville: Summer 1915.” That piece, which is Agee’s account of a childhood memory of Knoxville, was used as the preamble to Agee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book A Death in the Family.

After Reid and Vavrek came up with the idea to write the musical sequel—which seemed like a perfect notion, given the 100-year anniversary and Reid’s ties to the Knoxville area—they visited East Tennessee and spent some time interacting with the UT Symphony and its conductor, Jim Fellenbaum.

In late September, Reid returned to work with the UT Symphony as they rehearsed her piece. As she listened, she made adjustments to the score—something a composer doesn’t usually have the luxury of doing.

The two pieces are similar in word count, format, and instrumentation.

Both pieces are about an adult reminiscing about family, life and East Tennessee. The new is about an adult returning to Knoxville in 2015 to celebrate a great-grandfather’s 100th birthday.

“It has been an exciting and challenging process to bring his new work to life,” Fellenbaum said. “The orchestra has responded tremendously and is performing this work at a very high level now, through their own individual parts and the interweaving of the orchestral tapestry with Katy Wolfe Zahn’s soprano. The storytelling is really taking shape.

“Also, it’s thrilling to be taking part in a work that will serve as a musical landmark for our city at this point in time, and our concert will be a fantastic celebration of both past and the present,” Fellenbaum said.

Reid has said that she hopes the new piece, like the old, becomes a favorite and that 100 years from now, someone will want to write Knoxville: Summer of 2115.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)