Chopin and champagne: as elegant as it gets

Jim Haslam with Caraline Demirjian. She came to Knoxville from New York to visit her husband, Aram Demirjian, the music director of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

For a few idyllic hours on this past rainy Sunday, a couple dozen music lovers were transported from West Knoxville to a lovely salon in mid-19th century Paris by virtue of music, dainty nibbles and flowing champagne served in fine crystal flutes.

The occasion was one of the most elegant of the Knoxville Symphony League‘s popular  “Elegant Dining” series of fundraisers. The actual location was Dr. Frank and Anna Gray’s beautiful home on Lyons View Pike. But, gazing out the window at the Tennessee River, you easily could have imagined it to be the Seine, flowing through “the City of Light.”

The Grays generously offered their residence — and their Steinway D Concert Grand piano — to an afternoon of music by composer Frederic Chopin performed by the Knoxville Symphony’s principal pianist, Emi Kagawa. Dr. Gray, himself an accomplished musician, also took a few turns at the keyboard.

“This is the kind of setting for which Chopin composed his music,” Gray explained as everyone settled into chairs in the music room and living room. “Chopin and his friends, who included fellow composer Franz Liszt, spent a lot of time performing and attending performances by others in Parisian salons. This was a major form of entertainment at that time.” Continue reading

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Testerman for Council: Make the best better!

Knoxville City Council candidate Janet Testerman speaking last night in downtown Knoxville during a fundraiser in support of her candidacy.

It seemed like a good excuse for a party. Our friend Janet Testerman is running for an at-large seat on Knoxville City Council and needed a fun fundraiser. We have our new condo downtown that we haven’t yet occupied. (I swear we are going to move there one day!) We offered it for the festivities last night.

What a blast. More than 50 folks showed up in a mood for a good time and excited to support a positive, forward-thinking candidate. Her campaign slogan is “Make the best better!” Here are a few of the priorities she outlined during her brief remarks:

  • Knoxville is at a crossroads in its leadership. The county has a new mayor; the city will get a new mayor this year; the University of Tennessee has an interim president and is searching for a chancellor for its Knoxville campus; the Knoxville Chamber is in the midst of a search for a new president. The decisions we make about these positions and others — including four Council seats — largely will determine the future of our community.

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An enchanted evening: music, chocolate and wine

Janet Greer is enthralled by Michael Rodgers performing the Nat King Cole classic, “Too Young.”

How’s this for a clever idea? The Marble City Opera will be performing a Valentine’s show at Holly’s Gourmet’s Market on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week.

But on Tuesday of this week, the opera company allowed members of the Knoxville Museum of Art Guild to invite folks to a rehearsal — featuring chocolate desserts and wine — with proceeds benefiting the KMA.

It was a light and delightful evening. The music ran the gamut from opera and musical theater to standards, even including a little Elvis.

If the rehearsal was any indication, the real events will be breathtaking. So grab your honey and get over to Bearden for one of the shows. Tickets are $75 each and can be purchased here: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3569928.

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Next KSO season: Beethoven, romance and surprises

The folks from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra held a little reception downtown earlier this week to unveil some of the highlights from the upcoming 2019-2020 season. Let me urge you to get your tickets as soon as possible, because it’s going to be a great season.

Moxley Carmichael’s Katrina Roberts designed the “look” for the KSO’s upcoming season.

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian has programmed Beethoven’s masterpieces throughout the entire season’s Masterworks and Chamber Classics series. Continue reading

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Frivolity at the Fire and Ice Ball

Those crazy kids! Actually, this is Knoxville Opera’s new director of marketing and public relations, Beth Evans, with her husband, Jim. Yep, it was that kind of evening!

The Knoxville Opera called its annual fundraising ball “Fire & Ice.” Held last month at the Knoxville Museum of Art, it was a blast. But attendance was down, causing the Opera to do what the Knoxville Symphony did last year — move the big money-maker out of December. This year, the Opera Ball will be in October. The Symphony Ball will be in March.

Trust me. This is better for all concerned. After Thanksgiving, there are just too many holiday events going on. And if you aren’t attending a holiday event on any given evening in December, you are probably watching — or trying to keep track of — a football game.

The Fire & Ice Ball featured a performance by the Knoxville Opera Chorus. In particular, Don Townsend, chorus master and production manager for the Opera, received a shout-out. Continue reading

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Rain can’t dampen this happening New Year’s Eve!

Dr. Deborah Franklin at midnight at Rebel Kitchen.

New Year’s Eve 2018 in downtown Knoxville was unseasonably warm, in addition to being windy and rainy. It was the last night, in fact, of the rainiest year Knoxville has seen in decades. But no one’s spirits were dampened in the least.

There were traffic jams on Gay Street in the early evening as folks poured into downtown from who knows where. We dared not move our car for fear of losing our parking spot, so we summoned an Uber to take us and our friends, Bruce and Monique Anderson, the few blocks from our condo at the J.C. Penney Building to Rebel Kitchen in the Old City.

We could have run into friends at almost any of the fabulous downtown eateries, though. We got a text from Judith and Michael Foltz inviting us to join them at J.C. Holdway on Union Avenue. We heard Peter Acly and Ellen and Nora Robinson were at Emilia on Market Square. My buddy Diana Condon was holding down a table at Kefi, also in the Old City. And Lisa and Steve Skinner were at Lonesome Dove for the five-course New Year’s Eve special. Continue reading

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Greenery gussies up gathering at Blount Mansion

Pretty mantel decorations beneath a portrait of George Washington in Blount Mansion. (Photo by Vaiden Taylor.)

As we celebrate the end of 2018, here’s one last post about a sweet Christmas tradition: The Knoxville Garden Club‘s annual decoration of Blount Mansion with seasonal greenery. Martha Kern, the owner of Strong Stock Farm in East Knox County, was in charge of gathering all the greenery for the decorators to use for their task.

“Martha, where do you get all the materials? Does it all come from your farm?” I asked her at the dinner during which the decorations were unveiled. “You don’t even want to know the answer to that!” she laughed. “Trust me. You don’t want to know!” Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Historic preservation, Knoxville | 5 Comments

Holiday Homes Tour hypnotizes!

I loved the dining room of this fabulous home in west Knoxville.

I don’t know why we enjoy looking in other people’s homes so much. But, we sure do! The Knoxville Museum of Art took advantage of that and, in just two days, sold out its annual Holiday Homes Tour. For the 24th year in a row.

I hired a driver, grabbed a friend, threw some refreshments in a cooler and hit the trail! We toured five fantastic homes, enjoyed lunch at Cherokee Country Club and had a blast. So did 440 other folks.

Congrats to the event’s chair, Mimi Turner, and to the home selection committee: Barbara Apking, Carol Coode and Susan Hawthorne. Great job, everybody.

Here’s a recap of the fun day.

First, there were a few rules. The organizers didn’t want folks posting photos on social media while the tour was taking place to keep others from crashing the tour. They allowed me to take photos for this blog post with two caveats: I could not name the owners of the homes, and I could not publish the addresses. Seemed reasonable to me. Continue reading

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Knoxville Symphony Board: many reasons to celebrate

Knoxville Symphony Board Chair Russ Watkins and his wife, Holly, at the party last night.

In addition to the holiday season, the Knoxville Symphony Society’s board of directors had much to celebrate last night when members gathered at the Historic Middlebrook mansion for a little conviviality.

Hosts Rick Fox, a KSO board member, and Ralph Cianelli put out a sumptuous cocktail spread and wine for every taste as board members listened to Mike Benjamin perform Christmas carols on the piano while they admired Fox and Cianelli’s 10 over-the-top decorated Christmas trees. And that’s just counting the trees that were inside the historic estate!

KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian and his wife, Caraline, rushed into the party straight from the final of four performances of the popular Clayton Holiday Concert at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. This was the 32nd year for the seasonal favorite. Continue reading

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Another year, another million calorie cookie event!

Margaret Rodgers brought thumbprint cookies, which were a big hit. (Especially with my husband, Alan!)

It was year 16 for the cookie exchange, and this year we moved it to a bigger venue — our new condo in the J.C. Penney Building on Gay Street downtown. Yep, the one we haven’t moved into yet. We call it our “event center” because we mostly entertain there. But, I swear, we ARE moving in. Maybe in January.

Anyway, it was a lot less crowded. Nobody had to sit on the floor and, because we have a bigger table there, we didn’t have to use window sills to display the cookies. But, despite the larger venue, the volume was just as high as always.

This is a fun event and one that many of us consider to be the unofficial launch of our Christmas seasons.

I will put the invitation at the bottom of this post. It contains all the “rules” that you can use if you’d like to host a cookie exchange yourself. Cheers! Continue reading

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