I am spending the afternoon and evening in Louisville today to see the first few hours of the National Symphony Orchestra‘s Kentucky residency. The orchestra will be in the Bluegrass State through Feb. 25 performing a total of seven full concerts around the Commonwealth, including Wednesday night at the Singletary Center for the Arts, and offering scads of smaller performances, workshops and the like.
We’ll be seeing them as they arrive in Louisville, go to their first workshops and perform their first in-state concert at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, tonight, under the baton of Hugh Wolff. We also plan to talk to some players and officials with the Symphony about the residency and what their hopes are for it. I will try to post here as time allows.
2:15 p.m. – Downtown Marriott Hotel, Louisville
The NSO landed at Louisville International Airport just after noon and took familiar Bluegrass Tour Buses to the Marriott on West Jefferson Street. There, the musicians and maestro Hugh Wolff were greeted by the band from Male High School which played a fanfare for their arrival.
Following the musical welcome, deputy secretary of the tourism arts and heritage cabinet Lindy Casebier read a proclamation from Gov. Steve Beshear declaring today National Symphony Orchestra Day in Kentucky and Wolff accepted a greeting from Louisville mayor Greg Fischer as well.
“We’ve never had a reception like this before with the band and everything,” Richmond native and NSO principal bassist Robert James Opplet said.
Of the 21 prior state residencies, Wolff said, “This is the most intense and exciting reception I think they have ever had, and this is one of the most intense residencies ever scheduled. That is a tribute to the people here, the arts council here and the desire and demand for the orchestra, and it’s a tribute the orchestra and musicians and their desire to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
One thing that was sort of amusing from a Lexington perspective: Louisville TV reporters asked a couple times if the National Symphony would be working with the Louisville Orchestra to which Wolff replied, “We’re doing stuff with the university orchestra in Lexington.”
After their greeting, the orchestra musicians went to get settled in the hotel before some went off to conduct clinics and master classes at the University of Louisville.
5 p.m. – University of Louisville School of Music
National Symphony musicians from brass to woodwinds to strings filled the halls of the University of Louisville’s School of Music for master classes that all seemed to have one common theme: basics.
“I’m not using that much bow because it’s my preference,” bassist Paul DeNola said to Sidney King’s double bass orchestral repertoire class.
“He’s covering some complex things, but talking about them in simple terms,” King said, as DeNola led his class.
In his tuba masterclass, Stephen Dumaine used very simple terms to describe the nature of the instrument.
“You remember that tree in Charlie Brown that used to eat kites?” he asked his students. “That’s what the tuba does to all the notes.”
To help emphasize expression, he encouraged senior Bryen Warfield to exaggerate his expression, blasting quick, deep bleats from his instrument’s massive bell.
Eugene Mondie, assistant principal clarinet for the NSO, worked on subtleties of intonation and talked about breath control in terms of singers, recalling how Luciano Pavarotti would give each note just the right amount of air.
Still, there were the basics.
“Rhythm is more important than pitch,” DeNola said to his students. “God himself could come down and play in perfect pitch, but if the timing is off, it’s going to sound bad.”
He also emphasized a light touch saying, “You don’t want your bass to implode while playing it.”
The classes were a treat for the students said King, noting U of L musicians do routinely work with players from the Cincinnati Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, and Louisville Orchestra.
“It’s all part of the mission of creating great musicians,” said Doane Chris, dean of the school of music.
7 p.m. – Kentucky Center for the Arts
At the pre-concert reception, NSO executive director Rita Shapiro itemized the next eight days for the orchestra: six concert and 125 other events from chamber ensemble performances to master classes and other events. Shapiro credited the Kentucky Arts Council with keeping the group so busy.
“It’s clear they understood the intention and they have gone well above and beyond to make this happen!” she said. “What we need the arts council to do is get the word out around the state, and that’s what they have done.
“We have tried to accomodate any request,” she added.
The overall intent of the residency is, “To promote orchestral music and music education around the country. When we hear stories like a farmer hearing about one of our performances while he’s on his tractor – which happened in North Dakota – and saying, ‘I have to get a ticket to see that, it makes it all worthwhile.'”
The Kentucky residency of the NSO didn’t just bring the national orchestra to Kentucky. It brought the residency back to papa. Kentucky Center director Stephen Klein started the residency when he was executive director of the orchestra.
The benefit for the program is in its original intention, he said. While the usual modus operandi for an orchestra on tour is to fly in, go to a hotel, go to the concert hall for the show, go back to the hotel, and fly out the next day, the residency is designed to make connections.
“They will get to know people in Kentucky, and Kentuckians will get to know these marvelous musicians,” Klein said.
Hugh Wolff and the Orchestra took the stage and went in to a most obvious and appropriate start for an orchestra: The Star-Spangled Banner, with all the musicians who could standing.
They went on to a program that will be presented around the state: Michael Daugherty’s Route 66, Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and Maurice Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe.