March Forecast: KSO Goes to Washington

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will travel to Washington, D.C. in March 2020 to participate in the ‘SHIFT: Festival of American Orchestras’- where only four American orchestras will perform.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington Performing Arts have announced the four orchestras selected to participate in the third SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras, taking place at the Kennedy Center and other locations around D.C. from March 23–29, 2020. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was one of just four orchestras selected to perform a concert during the festival as well as present community residency programs in the D.C. area.


Chosen from a pool of applicants from across the country, the Knoxville Symphony joins three other selected orchestras—the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (NY) to perform during the 2020 SHIFT Festival.

Let’s do a quick-fire Q&A with Maestro Aram Demirjian to get the facts:

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Aram Demirjian.

How did the Knoxville Symphony get selected?

The SHIFT Festival is a week-long celebration of the vitality, identity, and extraordinary artistry of North American orchestras. Its dual emphasis on artistry and transformative community engagement aligns so well with our mission at the Knoxville Symphony, and when we learned of a call for applications from the League of American Orchestras, we were eager to be considered.

How will the symphony prepare for the performance?

This will be the furthest afield of Knoxville that the KSO has ever traveled, so it will be a new experience for all of us! Most of the initial preparation will happen on the administrative side. The musical preparation will begin during the weeks leading up to the trip, with a normal cycle of rehearsals as we would prepare for a typical Masterworks series concert, plus a public “send-off” concert in March 2020 here in Knoxville, which you can attend!

Along with the SHIFT festival, where else with the symphony perform and what else will you do, if you know?

In addition to a full symphonic performance on the Kennedy Center mainstage, each invited orchestra will provide one or more community programs in the D.C. area. It is likely that KSO musicians will take our award-winning Music and Wellness program to local hospitals; this takes musicians into healthcare settings such as cancer wards, neonatal units and hospital waiting rooms to provide live, therapeutic music to the patients, visitors and staff. More details will be ironed out as we get closer to the festival.

KSO Violist Eunsoon Corliss plays softly for an infant receiving treatment in the UT neonatal intensive care unit while Music Therapist Alana Dellatan Seaton records the infant’s vital signs and observes changes during live music.

Why have you chosen the “Knoxville: Artists at Home” program to be performed at the festival?

We wanted a program that represents both our organization and our community, and it seemed right to shine a spotlight on Knoxville’s regional character through the medium of its classical music legacy — an art form those from outside of Knoxville don’t necessarily associate with East Tennessee!

The title of the program, “Artists at Home,” is drawn from the text of Barber’s iconic “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” — one of two pieces featured that is inspired by the work of Knoxville author James Agee (the other being from Copland’s Suite from “The Tender Land”). Knoxville Poet Laureate RB Morris will link these pieces with dramatic recitations of Agee texts. Knoxville’s musical future is represented by Michael Schachter’s Overture to Knoxville, the first piece the KSO commissioned during my time as music director, which appropriately incorporates a student brass ensemble from University of Tennessee. And as many Knoxvillians know, Rachmaninoff’s last public performance before he died was at UT (hence the statue in World’s Fair Park), so we close the program with his final composition, “Symphonic Dances.” Rachmaninoff and his wife had become American citizens just months before that fateful UT performance, so this program is truly one of American music.

(We have actually presented this program before, as our 2017-18 season opener, and it was one of the highlights of the year for me, so I am very excited to take it on again!)

What does the symphony’s invitation to the festival say about KSO and its accomplishments?

Only four orchestras nationwide were selected for this honor, and it is a credit to the accomplishments of every single member of our team at the KSO. We were selected both for our performance on stage and for our community engagement, none of which would be possible without our talented musicians and their dynamic artistry, our devoted staff behind the scenes, the passionate leadership of our board, the support of hundreds of volunteers in the Symphony League, our beloved audience and the community as a whole for their enthusiasm about what is going on at the KSO. This is something that everyone in Knoxville can be proud of.

How do you personally feel being involved with the festival?

First and foremost, I feel very honored to be going and proud that the amazing year-round work by our KSO team is being celebrated on a national scale. I am also excited to spread the word about the KSO and the city of Knoxville to a much broader audience. On a very personal level, this will be my first time performing at the Kennedy Center, which is particularly meaningful for me because I have family in Washington, D.C.

Comments are closed.