ARAM ARRIVES: New Musical Director of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra to Debut July 4 | Entertainment

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Nine months before taking the stage as a potential candidate to conduct the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Aram Demirjian undertook an undercover mission in eastern Tennessee.

As associate conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, he found the job offer for the Knoxville Symphony director job online after former director Lucas Richman announced his decision to resign. he threw his name in the hat and was told he was one of a handful of candidates who would audition as guest conductor during the 2015-2016 season of the symphony. Rather than wait nine months to find out about a city he could settle in, Demirjian decided to find out about the field first.

And so, in March 2015, he flew to McGhee Tyson Airport and started exploring.

“I wanted to start getting a feel for the city undercover, before anyone knew who I was or why I was there,” Demirjian – pronounced “Deh-MUR-jun” – told the Daily Times this week. “I just wanted to be there, to walk around, to soak up it. So I came about nine months before I came to the guest conductor, and that was in March. The weather was wonderful and I really fell in love with the place. I walked around the market square on a Saturday afternoon and sat on a bench and people watched. I just started to feel like I was a part of this place, and this journey started to sow the seeds of my connection to the community before I even knew I was going to have the chance to be a part of the community. That’s when Knoxville started to be real to me.

On Monday, Demirjian will take the stage to lead the KSO – for the first time as a permanent conductor – for the Pilot / Flying J Independence Day concert at World’s Fair Park. It’s a fitting start, he said, given that he plans to create fireworks during his tenure as head of the organization.

“It’s quite fitting, in fact, that my debut as Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony is going to be festive, and that is that there will be fireworks both on stage and in the sky. , and that it will be a free concert for everyone in the great Knoxville community, “he said.” I say all of these things are appropriate because, first and foremost, I believe – and we believe in Knoxville Symphony – that symphonic music is for everyone and that everyone should have access to it. We will do everything possible to make classical music and make the symphony the most inviting and welcoming place for the artistic entertainment in the community, and we’ll remind everyone that symphonic music is so much fun.

He occupies the captain’s chair at a successful time in the 81-year history of the Knoxville Symphony (his first performance in 1935):

When Richman took over in 2003, the organization was operating in the red; Through working with the board, staff, and orchestra and community members, the past nine seasons have been played out in the dark, and there is no accumulated deficit that has been left for account. That’s not to say the board hired a Richman clone; in fact, the differences between the two conductors are glaring, starting with Demirjian’s young age. Richman was thoughtful, reserved and measured; Demirjian is bold (but not brash), effervescent and gregarious.

The ties between them, however, are inextricably linked with the Knoxville Symphony’s long tradition of providing music and entertainment to the entire community and not just the bow tie and evening dress ensemble.

“I know so many people my age who love classical music, but they might feel a little intimidated by the experience of coming to a concert,” Demirjian said. “We want everyone to come to the symphony and come to the music on their own terms. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy great music. Personally, I want to open gateways to music for everyone, so that everyone can have their own personal connection and, through this unique personal connection, share the common experience. As performers we will be your guide as we want there to be a seat at the Knoxville Symphony table in Knoxville for everyone.

Prior to accepting the position with the Knoxville Symphony, Demirjian spent four years in Kansas City, where he helped develop the city’s nationally recognized “Classics Uncorked” series that featured classics from the symphony. with “new progressive and accessible perspectives in relaxed contexts”. He has also programmed and conducted original performances for more than 40,000 elementary students each year and has regularly conducted the Kansas City Youth Symphony. As guest conductor, he stepped onto the podium in front of a number of other organizations, including the Minnesota Orchestra; the Boise and Fresno Philharmonic Orchestras; and the symphonies of Omaha, Memphis and Illinois. Prior to his post in Kansas City, he was on the faculty of the New England Conservatory Preparatory School.

In claiming the baton of conductor in Knoxville, he was one of nine candidates considered for the post. There were around 160 applicants for the position, and the search committee – which included board members, 10 KSO musicians, representatives from the Knoxville Symphony League and staff and community members – reduced the field at 30. Three were invited to lead guests during the 2014-15 season; the other six in the final season, and Demirjian conducted the symphony in his January Masterworks performances at the Tennessee Theater, which included performances of Bruch’s “Violin Concerto” and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7” .

“Knoxville in particular caught my attention because it wasn’t a city I had never been to, but it was a city I knew; I have a number of friends from Knoxville, who are all musicians, so it’s a city that I associated with music because it had produced colleagues that I respected so much, ”said Demirjian. “I felt like it was a city with an artistic spirit and a strong value for the arts, and that was supported by everything my friends had told me. The more I researched the symphony, and the city itself, more confirmed that this was the type of place I want to work and a type of music community that I would like to be a part of.

After his visit in January, he came out even more convinced; the musicians themselves, he said, impressed him as “a group of excellent, enthusiastic and dedicated musicians who are all very accomplished individually in their own right”, and he felt that each of them desires to bring the ensemble to greater artistic heights – a trait reflected in the young conductor’s own musical desires. The support staff from the KSO offices, the enthusiastic support from the KSO board of directors and the appreciation from the organization’s core group of supporters, he said, all confirmed what he initially suspected. – East Tennessee has something special about the Knoxville Symphony, and he wanted to be a part of it. When the phone call arrived, he added, he hit the ground running.

The 2016-17 season, which officially begins in September, was largely in place before his arrival; it works in his favor, he says, as it allows him to settle in the city and work with a preconceived framework before spreading his own wings and helping to shape the seasons to come. Make no mistake about it, however, it will bring its own twist to many works.

“There is a classic Top 40 hit in every program for the coming year, whether it’s Rachmaninoff’s ‘Third Piano Concerto’ or Beethoven’s ‘Fifth’ or one of my pieces. on the deserted islands, Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, ”he said. “But the whole season is not scheduled, and this allows me to build around these pillars already in place and to breathe my own personality into the orchestra’s programming while thinking of the 2017-18 season, which will be the first in which I will be involved. in.”

On Monday, everything the symphony does well and the values ​​a conductor holds dear – innovation and tradition – will be fully on display. Some of the pieces on the program are an old hat for anyone who has ever played or conducted symphonic music: “Stars and Stripes Forever”, “America the Beautiful”, “The Overture of 1812”. But there is an East Tennessee staple that the KSO plays every Fourth of July that will be a bit outside the Demirjian wheelhouse, he said with a chuckle.

“If you attend, you will be able to see my maiden voyage with ‘Rocky Top’,” he said.

He gives the impression that not only will he master the fight song fairly quickly, but that he will embrace it with as much enthusiasm as the legions of local symphony lovers who see themselves as patrons of both music. classic and Big Orange. Because in the end, said Demirjian, that is the goal of himself and the organization of which he has been appointed leader: to make the symphony a welcoming place for all.

“I just want everyone who loves music to know that I want to be there for them,” he said. “No matter their background, age or level of experience with classical music with the symphony, I want to share this beautiful art form with them, because I think it’s something that everyone can fall for. lovers. And for those already passionate about the symphony, we will continue to play the music you love, and we will do it from new perspectives. “


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