The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition may be a big deal, a rare opportunity and all that, but wearing a couple of hats at Pikeville College and pursuing a doctorate at UK didn’t leave Tamara Bustamante much time to practice.
“The main part of my success has to be coming from my mind and my heart, because my fingers weren’t there,” Bustamante says of her audition performance of Franz Liszt’s “Totentanz.”
Her success was being one of the two winners of the Concerto Competition and therefore getting to play as a soloist with the full orchestra, not a privilege every performance major gets to enjoy.
Often, Bustamante says, competitions of this sort are won by feats of impressive prestidigitation. But between her and clarinetist Michael Lawton, her fellow winner, Thursday night’s presentation of competition winners is probably as much a much a testament to interpretation as technical facility.
Now, if either felt ill prepared, UK Symphony director John Nardolillo didn’t notice.
“Both of the winners were extremely well prepared, and both are very good performers,” says Nardolillo, who wasn’t a judge for the competition that attracted around 20 participants. “Tamara’s playing was polished, and her presentation of the Liszt was dramatic and exciting. Michael played with tenderness, style and musicality.”
For Lawton, Claude Debussy’s “1st Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra,” was hardly love at first listen.
“I didn’t like it,” Lawton says. “But its use of color captivated me and brought up images from my childhood and things like that. It’s hard to explain.”
After the initial hostility, Lawton has come to like the Debussy enough that Thursday will be his second time performing it.
The only other time Bustamante was a soloist with an orchestra she was performing a piece by Tamara Bustamante with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra in her native Alaska.
“It was in high school,” says Bustamante, 32, going on to explain that she had a piano teacher who also encouraged her to work in composition, and she entered her “Intermezzo for Piano and Orchestra” the Anchorage orchestra’s composition competition. “It was a time in my life when I had no self awareness or shame,” she says, with a laugh.
From that diverse start, Bustamante has gone on to earn a masters from UK and become a multifaceted assistant professor of music at Pikeville College where she teaches music theory, appreciation (of classical and rock ‘n’ roll), piano and she conducts the concert choir.
Lawton, 23, is at a much younger stage in his career, currently pursuing a masters after getting a bachelors from Illinois Wesleyan University.
Winning the concerto competition, he says, is a huge opportunity, and he also likes the piece he has selected because he says it gives back to the orchestra.
“Sometimes, when you are accompanying soloist, it’s very boring, because that’s the way the old, dead European guys wrote,” Lawton says, pointing out they really allowed the soloist to have the spotlight. “In both of these pieces, the orchestra still has a very creative part.”
And ultimately, they say they are indebted to the orchestra for the opportunity to spotlight their work.
“It’s amazing that they give their stage to us,” Lawton says.
And he and Bustamante plan to return the favor with passionate performances.