Former Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras director Kayoko Dan returned to the Bluegrass Friday night, directing the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra in a cinematic concert that highlighted several of the group’s principal players.
Dan said Monday that the program was completely chosen by Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell, but it certainly played to her flair for the dramatic, evident from the first selection, Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, through actual film music in Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger Concerto for Cello and Orchestra and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2.
We first heard Dan conduct Tchaikovsky in 2007 — his Suite from Sleeping Beauty — when she was the first candidate to succeed George Zack as the Philharmonic’s music director. Even then, it was evident that she liked driving the big Tchaikovsky machine, a composer she returned to several times during her two-year tenure with the Youth Orchestras from 2009 to 2011. There were no hard feelings, as Dan says in reality she was not ready to take up the baton for a professional orchestra at the time.
The CKYO gig gave her grounding for her current post as music director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, just four hours south on I-75.
Looking at programs there, she has operated much like Terrell here when it comes to programming, mixing in contemporary work with classics. The Crouching Tiger Suite, culled from Tan Dun’s Oscar-winning score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was quite modern, employing amplified cello and frequently bombastic percussion. But was still a crowd pleaser with its mix of drama and fascinating technique from all players.
The Concerto is a fun piece to listen to. It’s even more fun to watch, particularly as soloist Benjamin Karp, the Philharmonic’s principal cellist, seemed to coax sound from his instrument in every way possible, including bowing, strumming, tapping, chords and amplifier effects such as feedback. It was a marvelous challenge for Karp, dressed appropriately in a silky red shirt for Valentine’s weekend, to take on in front of the hometown crowd. But he was hardly alone.
Principal percussionist James Campbell and principal flutist Pei-San Chiu were also featured in the work, Campbell at one point coming to the front of the stage and Chiu switching between flute and piccolo.
Chiu was a prominent player throughout the evening, somewhat appropriate as flute is Dan’s instrument; she in fact pulled out her flute in a January Chattanooga concert.
The one thing that seemed to be missing was an on-stage acknowledgement that the guest conductor was a returning former leader in the Lexington music community who has gone on to her own success. Granted, orchestra audiences tend to prefer playing to talking, but a greeting, introduction or some kind of acknowledgement from someone with the orchestra was in order. The evening felt a tad chilly without that.
But Dan’s direction was warm and empathetic, ending the evening with the early Tchaikovsky symphony, which relied more on the composer’s trademark charm than power. Dan had to head back to Chattanooga Friday night after the concert to conduct rehearsals for a Sunday Symphony and Opera concert. That meant driving well into the early morning, but she could probably ride off the energy of the Tchaikovsky symphony’s last few bars.