ET Native Composes Sequel To "Knoxville: Summer of 1915"

Oct 26, 2015

Composer Ellen Reid

 Samuel Barber's musical interpretation of the James Agee prose poem Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is considered one of Barber's master works and is especially popular here in East Tennessee.  

Prepare for the sequel.

This Friday, the University of Tennessee Symphony Orchestra will debut Knoxville: Summer of 2015, composed by Oak Ridge native Ellen Reid. 

Reid says there are some thematic and instrumental similarities between Barber's piece and her composition.  "What I wanted to make sure," she says, "is that you could start the Barber, and finish it and immediately start my piece, that it would come out of the tonality of the Barber."

But don't assume Reid's interpretation is simply a rehash of Barber's composition.  "It's a very different piece," Reid says.  "It has more thrust, it has more energy, it has a wider variety because I think that's the world we're living in right now and it reflects that."

The libretto was written by Royce Vavrek.  Knoxville: Summer of 2015 tells the story of a Knox County native who returns to the area to celebrate a great-grandfather's 100th birthday, all the while attempting to reconcile the difference between childhood memories and the reality of Knoxville in 2015.  

Reid says it was important that the Canadian Vavrek spent some time in East Tennessee so that he could capture the cultural nuances that define the region.  "Royce and I came to the University of Tennessee last year and we took a lot of time to interview people who had lived here for a long time, who walked various paths of life.  And the portrait is a quilt of some of those people."

Reid says her experiences growing up in Oak Ridge helped her capture some of the subtleties of living in this part of the country.  And she says that kind of familiarity should be a requirement for anyone attempting to update the piece a hundred years from now.   "It should be someone involved deeply who understands the region", she says.   "It could be the librettist, or it could be a dramaturg, or the composer, but somebody who has spent significant time in the region to understand the nuance within the nuance."