Knoxville Symphony's French music concerts includes dissimilar favorites

'A touch of France'

What: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra performance

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 17 and 18

Where: Tennessee Theatre


Mention either Claude Debussy or Maurice Ravel and the name of the other one comes to mind. As late 19th/early 20th century French composers, they seem to be tied together in the general musical imagination.

Best known of Debussy's orchestral music is probably "La Mer."

With Ravel's music, two works come to mind: his orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and "Bolero," a composition Ravel once described as a piece for orchestra without any music.

"People tend to think of them together because they are both French, but they are very different composers," said pianist Martina Filjak, who will join the Knoxville Symphony this week for performances of Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G."

"Debussy's music is all about emotion," Filjak said. "Ravel's music is more about pulse (rhythm) and motion."

Filjak performs a broad range of piano works from the Baroque period to the 20th century music of Gyorgy Ligeti and others.

Asked what attracted her to Ravel's "Concerto in G," Filjak said, "The slow middle movement is the centerpiece. The slow movement is the essence of the concerto. There is a long piano solo at the beginning of the movement that is so beautiful. It's a meditation, a nocturne. It's pure love. It's the only concerto I know that has the slow, middle movement as the most important, instead of the first movement."

Aside from the period or style of composition and the popularity of a concerto, Fijak also has other important criteria for selecting what she chooses to play.

"Music is very much like a chemical reaction," she said. "Some music consumes energy and is completely draining for both the pianist and the audience. Some music creates energy. Ravel creates energy. It leaves the audience asking for more."

Also on the program for this week is Ambroise Thomas' "Overture" to his opera "Mignon" and the "Overture" to Edouard Lalo's opera "Le roi d'Ys."

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