Category Logo

Aram Demirjian to conduct Knoxville Symphony in ‘Appalachian Spring’ program, including Mandolin Concerto ‘From the Blue Ridge’

November 7, 2016

In less than two weeks, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will continue its Moxley Carmichael Masterworks Series with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, conducted by KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian. The concert will take place on Thursday, Nov. 17, and Friday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Theatre and is sponsored by KSO Circle of Friends. Tickets start at just $15.

The program begins with Charles Ives’ Variations on America (with the familiar tune found in “My Country, Tis of Thee” and “God Save The Queen”), which was arranged by William Schuman and premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1964. Following the theme of American composers, next is the uplifting Symphony No. 1 known as “Afro-American” by Mississippi-born composer William Grant Still, who, through combining his blues-oriented material with a traditional symphonic ensemble, integrated black culture into the classical forms.

Jeff Midkiff

Jeff Midkiff

The second half of the program includes Jeff Midkiff’s Concerto for Mandolin and Orchestra, “From the Blue Ridge,” and in a rare treat, the featured soloist is also the composer. The program concludes with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite, an orchestral suite originally written as a ballet. The story tells of a spring celebration of the American pioneers of the 19th century, after building a new Pennsylvania farmhouse. The Suite is divided into eight sections, performed without pause.

About his Mandolin Concerto, “From the Blue Ridge,” Midkiff said: “My love for playing the mandolin, and a lifetime doing so, began to take on new meaning and motivation just a few years ago. After decades of performing as a clarinetist in an orchestra, I felt a deep-seated desire to bring my favorite instrument in line with that experience. I truly enjoy the color, language and structure of the symphony orchestra, and my many years as a clarinetist made me very familiar with it. At the same time, I enjoyed a highly improvisational approach to the mandolin that was uniquely my own. Deep down, I wanted to bring my most natural companion to the orchestra — two seemingly different worlds, together.”

Demirjian was appointed as the KSO’s eighth music director in June 2016 and began his tenure by conducting the KSO 32nd Annual Free Pilot Flying J Independence Day Concert on July 4, 2016, with patriotic music, where he was welcomed by East Tennessee audiences with fervor. Originally from Boston, Aram joins the KSO family after a four-year tenure as associate conductor of the Kansas City Symphony. Aram Demirjian was one of only two conductors in the inaugural class of the distinguished Orchestral Conducting program at New England Conservatory, where he earned his Master of Music. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, in music and government from Harvard University, where his conducting journey began with a two-year appointment as music director of the Harvard Bach Society Orchestra. Demirjian’s goal is to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, background or circumstance, has access to great symphonic music.

Midkiff is a mandolinist and fiddler raised on bluegrass music, as well as a professional clarinetist who feels at home playing fiddle tunes or with a professional orchestra. Given his first mandolin at the age of 7 by a neighbor, he moved quickly into the world of fiddlers’ conventions and contests, winning his first mandolin competition before reaching his teens. He earned his master’s degree in clarinet from Northern Illinois University while continuing to perform with an Illinois bluegrass band, Bluegrass Express. Midkiff’s concerto for mandolin and orchestra, “From the Blue Ridge,” was composed in 2011 in a commission from Music Director David Stewart Wiley and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and was premiered on opening night of their fall 2011 season.

Patrons can attend pre-concert chats at 6:30 p.m. in the concert hall before each performance. Guest performers will offer their personal perspective and audience members will have a chance for Q&A with the artists.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 865-291-3310 or visiting our website. Single tickets range from $15-$85. Groups of 10 or more can purchase tickets at a discounted rate by calling 865-521-2337.

About the KSO

Established in 1935, and now under the leadership of Music Director Aram Demirjian, the KSO has contributed to the cultural life in East Tennessee continuously for 80 years, providing excellence in musical and educational programs. The Orchestra consists of 80 professional musicians and performs 250 programs throughout the region each season, reaching audiences of more than 200,000 people. The KSO performs in traditional venues such as the Tennessee Theatre, Bijou Theatre and the Civic Auditorium as well as non-traditional places like hospitals, schools, city parks and churches. For more information regarding the KSO, please visit or call 865-291-3310.