It's nothing new for violinist Ittai Shapira to be playing brand new music at a symphony concert.
Shapira, who will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 20-21, at the Tennessee Theatre, has played the world premiere performances of 18 new violin concertos. In fact, new music makes up almost half of the concerts Shapira plays, and he gets involved in the compositions much more closely than many soloists do.
"I actually work in a non-standard way," Shapira said during a conversation about the world premiere of American composer Theodore Wiprud's "Violin concerto (Katrina)," which Wiprud wrote for Shapira. It will be performed with the KSO.
Shapira describes the concerto as a "personal, charismatic, large scale epic."
When Wiprud, who is also heavily involved in music education as director of education at the New York Philharmonic, learned that Shapira was scheduled to perform with the Knoxville Symphony this month, he offered the world premiere of his new concerto to KSO music director Lucas Richman, a longtime friend.
Richman jumped at the opportunity.
"When Ted and I first started talking about the concerto, we took our time in deciding as to the way we should go," Shapira said.
"We wanted it to be something that we both cared about. When the idea of Hurricane Katrina's effect on New Orleans came up, we knew it could become something very interesting."
"Hurricane Katrina's devastation of a major U.S. city, one of the great disasters of recent times, has many stories to tell," Wiprud wrote in the program note for the completed score.
"At the end of first movement a big wave of sound washes out the soloist," Shapira said. "It's a reaction to something very real."
In the second movement lots of the musical sounds of New Orleans come into play. "It's a tale of Katrina from a ghost perspective," Shapira said.
"It's rhythmic and a little eerie at times, but very captivating."
"The third movement is Ted's take on the hymn "I'll Fly Away." It's very ceremonial because "I'll Fly Away" is played at most of the jazz funeral processions in New Orleans."
"There's a hint of Cajun, a hint of jazz and a hint of classical," Shapira said.
Also on this week's all-American, or American inspired music is Aaron Copland's music for his ballet "Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes." Written in 1942 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which was in residence in New York for the duration of World War II, the ballet is a depiction of a Saturday holiday on a Texas working ranch. It begins with a spontaneous mid-day rodeo contest and ends with a late-night hoedown.
The second half of each of the pair of concerts will be Anton Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor," Op. 95, ("From the New World"). The popular symphony is Dvorak's musical portrait of America based on his three-year stay. Dvorak was struck by the spirit of America and the engaging music he heard in Negro spirituals and Native American music. The symphony was an immediate, overwhelming success and has maintained its presence on concert stages around the world.
KSO MAsterworks concert
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Oct. 20 and 21
Where: Tennessee Theatre
Tickets: 865-291-3310 or www.knoxvillesymphony.com