The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Last year, when John Nardolillo scheduled the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra‘s presentation of Benjamin Britten’s massive War Requiem for Friday night, he had no way of knowing how appropriate its timing would be. And certainly he and the others involved in the performance would have preferred it wasn’t so timely, coming on the heels of a tragic week.
While Boston did not go to war this week, it certainly experienced some of its hallmarks, including improvised explosive devices, a suicide bomber, and shelter-in-place orders. And there were casualties: Officer Sean Collier Thursday night, and at the Marathon Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell, and 8-year-old Martin Richard, famously seen in a photo holding a sign that said, “No more hurting people.”
That was essentially what pacifist Britten was saying with Requiem, albeit with hundreds of musicians and in a composition that might be more appropriately called inspired than brilliant, though it is both.
Because of the 300-or-so musicians required to do the Requiem right, it is not presented often. Friday’s performance was at the very least the first Lexington rendition of the 1962 composition in recent memory, if ever.
It somewhat ironically requires the organizational skills of a general to pull the orchestra, massive choir, chamber orchestra, children’s choir, and soloists together in a performance of the Requiem. At the podium Friday was Nardolillo, who conducted the Boston Pops in December and has forged a relationship between his orchestra and the Boston group. Friday, he elicited an exceedingly sensitive performance from the powerful forces at his disposal.
The biggest evidence of how powerfully UK presented the work came in silence: the several “pin drop” moments, particularly at the end of the performance, where well over 1,000 people were left in near-perfect silence.
While Britten designated an overwhelming ensemble, some of the highlights of the Requiem are small moments or how all those musicians can be focused on an exquisite pianissimo moment.
The Requiem is a mix of the Latin requiem mass and war poetry by Wilfred Owen, a British soldier who died in World War I.
On stage, the large chorus — a combination of the Lexington Singers and the UK Chorale — and soprano Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, delivered the Latin text while a small chamber orchestra, conducted by Marcello Cormio, and tenor Justin Vickers and baritone Thomas Gunter sang. Located at the back of the Singletary Center for the Arts, Lori Hetzel conducted the Lexington Singers Children’s Choir in heavenly interactions with both stage ensembles.
UK alum Vickers made the most of his return to campus, with moments like his portrayal of Isaac in the story of Abraham and Isaac where you could see the child in his face as he asked, “where is the lamb?” He and current UK voice student Gunter created a haunting, “strange meeting” between enemy soldiers in the final movement, and throughout they were accompanied by the baker’s dozen chamber group, something of a UK orchestra all-star team. There never seemed to be a diminishing of forces when the focus shifted to them, though the larger ensemble had plenty of moments of its own. The fourth movement, Sanctus, was particularly stunning in its interplay between the soprano and the percussion, UK’s nationally revered percussionists shining all night.
Catherine Nardolillo was a strong vocal star through the evening, in part because she carried an appropriately serious demeanor at center stage.
As the forces combined for the finale, powerfully-gently singing, “Into paradise may the angels lead thee,” it seemed that after several turbulent and deadly days, including the tragedy in West, Texas, there could be no more appropriate end to the week — except, of course, walking out of the Singletary Center and reading the second bombing suspect had been captured.
University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra conductor John Nardolillo was in Boston last weekend to conduct two performances of the Boston Pops Orchestra. He was filling in for Maestro Keith Lockhart, who was with the Pops Esplanade Orchestra at some run out dates in New England.
The Pops’ holiday shows are a Boston tradition playing dozens of dates for thousands of patrons. In addition to making beautiful music, Nardolillo’s duties included leading the audience in a sing-along portion of the show and welcoming Santa Claus to the stage. His engagement was the latest chapter in a growing relationship between UK and the Pops. Here are few photos from the weekend, courtesy of the Boston Pops.
University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra director John Nardolillo will conduct two of the Boston Pops Orchestra’s holiday concerts in Boston’s Symphony Hall next month.
Nardolillo will step in for the Pops’ superstar conductor Keith Lockhart, who will be conducting tour concerts in New England by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra Dec. 15 and 16. The concerts are part of the Boston Pops’ regular holiday shows, which are a Boston tradition said Dennis Alves, director of artistic planning for the orchestra.
He said the engagement is part of the Pops’ enduring relationship with Nardolillo, which started when he was music director for folk music legend Arlo Guthrie, who has performed with the Pops. That relationship reached a high point when Lockhart and the Pops came to Lexington in October 2011 to present a concert in conjunction with the UK Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Keeneland. During that performance, Nardolillo conducted the Pops in one number and Lockhart conducted the UK orchestra for a piece. Both conducted the combined orchestras for the evening’s grand finale.
“We’ve liked John so much over the years,” Alves said. “We really saw him work when the Pops were down in Lexington and thought he deserved a shot.”
Nardolillo is the only guest conductor scheduled to conduct the holiday shows.
Alves said in addition to conducting holiday favorites, Nardolillo will be chatting with the crowd and talking to Santa Claus, “the real Santa Claus,” he added.
“Lexington is really lucky to have John with all he has brought to the orchestra and the outreach programs in Appalachia,” Alves said. “And we’re lucky you’re loaning him to Boston.”
Prior to that, Nardolillo will be conducting the UK Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 29) in a free performance of Claude Debussy’s La Mer and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The UK Symphony opened its current season with a performance by violin legend Itzhak Perlman in September and will end with a tour of China in May.
Lightning has struck twice for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra.
A couple years ago, when university representatives contacted violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman’s management to see about getting him to come play with the student orchestra, they were told it would never happen. On Sunday night, has happened for the second time in as many years.
After bringing a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto to the Singletary Center and the UK Symphony in March 2011, Perlman returned Sunday night with a stunning performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, rivaling even his recordings of the work, which generally are the first to appear when you search the Internet for the concerto.
The man is an icon of his instrument, and that was lost on no one in Sunday night in the Singletary Center for the Arts. Graduate student concertmaster Jessica Miskelly and her stand partner, William Ronning, had smiles during Perlman’s solo passages that were visible all the way back to row W, and giddy student fans snapped curtain-call photos on their cellphones and iPads. The really impressive thing was how Perlman, 67, handled the adulation.
He took the stage on crutches, which he has had to use since contracting polio at age four, and received a whooping, hollering ovation. He turned first to the student musicians and then acknowledged the applause from the audience with a small nod and wave. He took his seat on a podium, laying a crutch on either side of him, accepted his violin and bow from conductor John Nardolillo, threw a cloth on his shoulder, tucked the instrument under his chin and went to work.
If you were going to hear Perlman play only one piece live, the Tchaikovsky concerto would be an excellent choice. Written in 1878 from both a state of depression over a failed marriage and zeal for the instrument, it offers the musician a chance to show a wide range of emotion, and it carries the legend of being declared unplayable by some of the finest violinists of Tchaikovsky’s day.
Perlman certainly had no problem offering the interpretation of an artist who mastered hitting the notes decades ago but approaches the piece as fresh each time he plays it. The solo passages at the end of the first movement were flurries of inspiration and technique that drew the first standing ovation between movements that I have ever seen. Despite what some traditionalists say, applause between movements is fine when it is earned, although generally it is best to keep your seat until the end. In this case, the impulse was hard to argue with. Perlman’s work was that stunning.
He then turned to the second movement, Canzonetta: Andante, offering a performance reminiscent of his aching work on the Schindler’s List score. This was the point where we could see that if the concerto is Tchaikovsky’s story, Perlman was telling it to us through his instrument.
Throughout the performance, he was supported by an enthusiastic, well-prepared orchestra.
And since Perlman was the soloist in an orchestra concert, the UK players did have other pieces to offer. The concert opened with Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, which seemed to be driven by enthusiasm for the man waiting in the wings.
A pleasant surprise was that even though Perlman’s evening was done by intermission, most of the audience hung in for the second-half performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.” It seemed that a lot of the preparation for the evening went into the Tchaikovsky concerto, because the New World Symphony needed work. The performance stumbled hardest in the second movement, Largo, which demands nuance and succeeded in the most bombastic passages, including the cinematic final movement.
Ultimately, it was the unlikely story of a student orchestra in flyover country making beautiful music with a violin legend who carried the night, and it’s a story that the student musicians will tell their children and grandchildren for decades to come.
University of Kentucky violinist Megan Lineberry was chatting with a friend online Wednesday night when she signed off saying, “I’ve got to get some rest. I have a concert with Itzhak Perlman Sunday night.”
“Not many university orchestra musicians get to say that,” Lineberry said.
The 23-year-old graduate student also had gotten to say she’s had to rest up for concerts with Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, Marvin Hamlisch and numerous other marquee stars of classical and contemporary music who have performed with the UK Symphony Orchestra.
Sunday’s performance by Perlman will be his second appearance in as many years with the UK Symphony. This one is a collaboration in part with the Henry Clay Foundation, which will award the violin legend its Henry Clay Medallion while he is here. Recipients of the medallion, awarded to those who exemplify Clay’s ideals of “statesmanship, compromise and peaceful resolution,” have included Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, media mogul Ted Turner and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who received it two months before his death in 2009.
“Obviously it is super exciting to have him coming again,” said graduate student Jessica Miskelly, 26, who was the concertmaster when Perlman played with the symphony in March 2011 and will occupy the same chair Sunday. “I never expected him to come back so soon. He must have enjoyed himself the first time.”
UK Symphony director John Nardolillo notes that Perlman has had a busy month, including performances with the Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic. The latter was broadcast Thursday on PBS. He also has been busy promoting his new album of traditional Jewish music, Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul, with Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot.
“He didn’t have to come here,” Nardolillo said. “He could have easily said, ‘I want to take Sunday night off.’ But he’s coming.”
Like many of the UK Symphony’s recent big gigs, including last year’s concert with jazz and pop ensemble Pink Martini, the Singletary Center for the Arts is the driving force behind pairing the orchestra with the major players.
In the grand scheme of great Christmas presents for young opera singers, a rave review from The New York Times would have to rank pretty high. And that is what the UK Opera students in the world premier production of Thomas Pasatieri’s God Bless Us Everyone are enjoying, as Times critic Allan Kozinn declared the show the rare A Christmas Carol-based opera that might just succeed.
The co-production with Dicapo Opera Theatre opened Thursday in New York and runs through Sunday. It was supposed to come to Lexington for performances next week, but those shows at the Lexington Opera House were cancelled due to expenses that exceeded original estimates and low ticket sales. No doubt, the Times review may have helped goose sales a little.
“… this one-act work has ample charms, including an efficient, singable libretto, by Bill Van Horn and Michael Capasso, and an invitingly melodic score, with shapely vocal writing, lively choruses and trim, colorful orchestral writing that never gets in the way of the singing.”
Several singers were individually cited:
“Catherine Clarke Nardolillo sang Elizabeth’s music, particularly her reconciliation duet with Tim, exquisitely. Julie LaDouceur played a sweet-toned Fan to Nicholas Provenzale’s Beau.”
UK Symphony Orchestra director John Nardolillo also got a good notice for his conducting.
UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said he hopes to bring God Bless Us Everyone to Lexington on a future season.
Mar12Filed under: Classical Music, Music, Opera, Reviews, slide shows, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Amanda Balltrip, Angelique Clay, Barbara Bailey, Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, Cynthia Lawrence, Daniel Koehn, Die Fledermaus, Dione Johnson, Gregory Turay, Hansel and Gretel, Joahann Strauss II, John Nardolillo, La Bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor, Michael Friedman, Nicholas Provenzale, Pam Miller, Reginald Smith Jr., Richard Kagey, River of Time, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Who knew these UK Opera kids were so funny?
The last few years, they haven’t had much of a chance to show it. They’ve been dealing with subjects like slavery (River of Time), murder (Lucia di Lammermoor), pretty young things dying of loathsome diseases (La Boheme and River of Time) and childhood abandonment issues (Hansel and Gretel).
Oh, where’s an operetta with a ridiculous little plot when you need one?
That’s what the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre is offering up through Saturday with its production of Joahann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, a show as silly as its title sounds.
This may sound like an easy assignment, but ask anyone who’s tried to make an audience laugh and they’ll tell you, comedy is tough. Die Fledermaus needs the laughs, because without them, the show is nearly three-hours of memorable melodies strung together by the thinnest of plots.
Three residents of a house, Eisentein and Rosalinda and their maid, Adele, are invited to the same party, but they each think they are sneaking out on the others. It’s all part of an elaborate prank by Dr. Falke to get back at Eisenstein for a humiliation in the past. This is one of those plots popular in opera and Shakespeare that depends on intimate acquaintances suddenly not being able to recognize each other in close proximity.
You need to be laughing to maintain your suspension of disbelief.
Fortunately, we discovered Thursday night that the ranks of UK Opera include several gifted comic singer-actors.
Mar8Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Opera, UK; Tagged as: Aaron Copland, Albany Records, Die Fledermaus, Everett McCorvey, Johann Strauss II, John Nardolillo, The Hotel Casablanca, The Tender Land, Thomas Pasatieri, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
In the past 10 years, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre has recorded Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land, creating one of the few complete records of the work, and the world premier of Thomas Pasatieri’s The Hotel Casablanca. This year, UK Opera will offer a new take on a much more familiar work, Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus.
The opera, which is UK’s current production, will be recorded after spring break and released later this year, according to a note from UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey to the group’s supporters. All three of UK’s recordings have been for New York-based Albany Records. Like Casablanca, this recording will include the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Nardolillo. The UK Symphony has its own burgeoning catalog of CDs, independent of the UK Opera.
I have to give credit for the headline on this post to the event posting on Facebook for Thursday night’s University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra concert — I couldn’t improve on the self-deprecating humor. Yes, as we have covered in stories over last weekend, we will get Gustav Mahler’s “‘Titan’ Symphony” as well as the Concerto Competition Winners playing Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy.
But there’s also a world premier in the offing: UK doctoral candidate Lorne Dechtenberg’s “Token of Affection.”
It’s the latest composition by Dechtenberg, a UK Symphony assistant conductor and director of the experimental Bluegrass Opera, whose other works include an opera titled “Sex, Drugs and Aliens.”
With his piece on tonight’s show, I asked Lorne to share a little bit about “Token,” which he will conduct. Here are his notes:
Just before the start of the Fall semester, (UK Symphony director) John Nardolillo expressed interest in having the orchestra read a new piece of mine. I was already planning to write an orchestral work for my doctoral thesis this year, but since John didn’t know my writing style very well, he asked if I would start by writing something shorter. He gave me a few guidelines (how long it should be, how many instruments I should include, etc.). I finished the piece last month (shortly after our concert with Mark O’Connor) and gave it to John, and I guess he must have liked it because he slated it for performance almost immediately. This week’s performance is also an honor because, as I understand it, mine is the first student-composed work that John has programmed during his time at UK.
I tried to tailor the piece to the orchestra’s strengths (in some cases, to individual players’ strengths) in hopes of creating an enjoyable experience for the musicians — it’s always been my firm belief that if the performers are having a good time, then the audience will too. To this end, “Token” is full of singable melodies and warm harmonies, and the orchestra has done excellent work on it so far, so I’m confident that Thursday’s performance will be a great one.
Nov28Filed under: Classical Music, Music, Singletary Center for the Arts, UK; Tagged as: 1st Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Claude Debussy, Concerto Competition, Franz Liszt, Intermezzo for Piano and Orchestra, John Nardolillo, Michael Lawton, Pikeville College, Tamara Bustamante, Totentanz, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
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.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich