The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Program notes at orchestra concerts almost always tell you where a work was premiered, usually well over a century ago, and we can only imagine what it was like to be there and here a work by, say, Ludwig Van Beethoven or Franz Schubert for the first time.
For the classical music fan, the experience of hearing a fresh new work can seem like something for generations past as we now just take in museum pieces.
That is changing though in Lexington, and Friday night’s Lexington Philharmonic concert was the biggest evidence yet that this is becoming a community interested in hearing new classical works by composers who are still with us, sometimes even in the same room. Commissions and world premieres have been rolled out by other organizations in Lexington, notably by the University of Kentucky’s ensembles and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.
But it is a powerful statement when the area’s flagship arts organization says it is going to prioritize new music and perform it on its major concert series.
Friday night we were treated to the world premiere of Daniel Kellogg‘s How Radiant the Dawn, and the operative word there is treat. The piece, the first in the Philharmonic’s Saykaly Garbulinska Composer-in-Residence program, is Kellogg’s musical interpretation of the sunrise. He said in Thursday night’s Kicked Back Classics event, a prelude to Friday’s concert, that it wasn’t a programatic piece, but it was easy to see it that way.
Dawn opened with fluttering flutes that recessed into a steady tone before resuming flight. Soon, other colors were streaking across a developing meoldy, somewhat discordant but working toward a blazing unity. Among the many pieces of Kellogg’s sunrise were moments like a glissando in the lower strings, like birds crossing the horizon, and a short violin solo by Daniel Mason that was reminiscent of the orange shaft of sunlight that fired across pink clouds Wednesday morning.
Soon the sun was up, and we were in Gershwin’s bustling city or Copland’s west, Kellogg’s marriage of lush strings and proud brass giving this a distinctly American feel.
Feb24Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Reviews, Singletary Center for the Arts; Tagged as: Aaron Copland, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2, Hugh Wolff, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Marin Alsop, Maurice Ravel, Michael Daugherty, National Symphony Orchestra, Route 66, Singletary Center for the Arts, Suite from Appalachian Spring, Symphony No. 4, The Star-Spangled Banner
Hugh Wolff bounded onto the Singletary Center for the Arts’ stage Wednesday night and started the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert not so much with a downbeat, but a lightning strike of his baton toward the percussion, igniting a majestic rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.
In case anyone missed it, the opening number declared this is the United States of America’s National Symphony Orchestra. Yes, we have some great orchestras across the land from New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco to Philadelphia, and don’t forget Chicago. But the Washington D.C.-based National Symphony is the orchestra that accepts the charge of being the American orchestra, and Kentucky has seen how the ensemble takes that charge for the past week.
The National Symphony’s Kentucky Residency, the 22nd state visit in its annual American Residency program, has largely been a micro story of small groups or individual orchestra musicians interacting with musicians and music lovers across the state. But there are also six macro events on the schedule: full orchestra concerts in each of Kentucky’s congressional districts.
Wednesday night was Lexington’s turn to hear the full – and we do mean full – orchestra in a performance that should reinforce the message to any musician that worked with these folks individually that they really know their stuff.
The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra launches its post-World Equestrian Games Season Friday with a concert that is part of a new cultural exchange.
Shanghai violinist Sha will be the featured soloist on the concert performing the The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto, a famous 1950s piece by Chen Gang and He Zhanho. Her appearance is part of the launch of the new Confucius Institute at UK, a language and arts exchange program with the Chinese government.
In addition to the Chinese piece, the orchestra will also perform two very familiar pieces from the classical canon: Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Graduate conductor Dan Chetel will make his conducting debut with the UK Symphony on the Egmont.
The downbeat is at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 29) in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall. Admission is free.
May22Filed under: Classical Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Podcasts; Tagged as: Astor Piazolla, Centre College, Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David Finkel, Escher String Quartet, Franz Schubert, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Jakor Koranyi, Joseph Silverstein, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Memorial Day weekend, Music@Menlo, Norton Center for the Arts, Orion String Quartet, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Stephen Collins Foster, Wu Han, Yura Lee
Click play to hear a podcast of our conversation with Wu Han and David Finkel.
The unplayed tune that has colored the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic: Getting to Know You.
For the fourth consecutive Memorial Day weekend, the festival will bring together members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Central Kentucky classical music fans at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
“I could feel there’s a sense of trust that’s been building up on the reputation and the quality of the music,” says pianist Wu Han, who co-directs the festival with her husband, cellist David Finkel.
She points out that in the festival’s first years, she and Finkel brought along other brand-name classical stars such as violinist Joseph Silverstein and the Orion String Quartet. This year, like last year, leans more on new faces. Last year’s fresh entry was the Escher String Quartet. This year, it’s some hot young soloists, including violinist/violist Yura Lee and cellist Jakor Koranyi.
That duo will play Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, which earned them flat-out raves when they played it in New York last month. In his review for the New York Daily News, Howard Kissel acknowledged it was not a piece he was familiar with, but he was completely taken with Lee and Koranyi’s performance.
Offering performances like that put the festival, presented by Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, on a trajectory it should be on, Wu Han says.
“This will be their last song,” I said, as The Who wound into “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” during their Super Bowl halftime performance on Sunday night.
“Why?” my daughter asked.
“Because it’s one of their biggest songs, one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history,” I replied, making a statement I firmly defend.
First off, it is a song that has everything going on. You initially hear it through the authority of Pete Townshend’s power-chord lead guitar and the pulsating synthesizer that are trademarks of the song. But imagine it without the late John Entwistle’s intricate bass roll, particularly in the chorus, or the late Keith Moon’s train-wreck drumming that sounds random until you focus on it and see the wonderful rhythm in it.
And then there’s Roger Daltrey. Yes, 90 percent of the vocals are more valuable in the actual lyric than the performance. But that “YEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAH!” coming out of the bridge — gotta tell you, I was praying for that on Sunday night, because The Who song lives or dies on that word being delivered with force, authority and passion. I put it up there with — I know to some, I am committing blasphemy here — the baritone “Freude!” in Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” It must be there, it must be perfect, or else, why bother? Really? Go home. Fortunately, Daltrey nailed it Sunday.
But back to those lyrics. This 1971 song sprang out of a time of pretty wide-eyed idealism that was starting to realize change wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Hmmmmm. Some people may find that a little relevant today, judging by what you read in progressive media. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” is the key lyric in this song that the National Review named as the No. 1 conservative rock song of all time in 2006, and liberal provocateur Michael Moore wanted to use as the lead-off track in his 2004 anti-Bush polemic “Fahrenheit 9/11″ — his request was rejected. One form of authority ain’t much different than the other, Townshend said, and seems to continue to say. How rock ‘n’ roll.
Pair that with one of the most exhilarating performances in history, and a deceptively simple sounding song, and you have one for the ages.
Were the kids alright with it?
Well, I didn’t hear grumbling about how old The Who looked like I did in 2006 when the Rolling Stones played the halftime show. I’d credit that to them for not trying to act like they were still in their 20s while showing that these days, the mid-60s rock – Daltrey is 65 and Townshend is 64. In fact, my son picked up his Guitar Hero controller and played along, and my daughter was vigorously defending the band against charges of lip syncing some of her friends were texting around.
The Who may not trump Green Day — Who-like in spirit, I’d say — or Lady Gaga among their faves. And there was some grumbling of why can’t a current chart-topper play the Super Bowl half time show. But this year’s did provide a moment of music appreciation.
May22Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Arlene Hutton, As It Is in Heaven, Centre College, Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Claude Debussy, David Shifrin, Erin Keefe, Escher String Quartet, Fred Sherry, J.S. Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, Meadow View Barn, Norton Center for the Arts, Robert Schumann, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, University of Kentucky Theatre, Wu Han
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill doesn’t necessarily need music.
The lush, green grounds of the community are a sustained pianissimo passage, frequently augmented by the songs of birds, whistling of the wind and rhythm of rippling water.
Leave your iPod behind.
But that does not mean that music cannot enhance the Pleasant Hill experience.
The Shakers, after all, are known for their songs – Simple Gifts, anyone? The University of Kentucky Theatre has been bringing some of those tunes to the stage of the Meadow View Barn the past two weekends with its production of Arlene Hutton’s As It Is In Heaven.
That production, which has its final performances today through Sunday afternoon, begins and ends with the women of the play strolling through the field adjacent to the barn raising songs to the tops of the trees.
The music does not stop there, though.
Next weekend brings the third annual Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, and if you are trying to come up with a more perfect marriage of music and venue in Kentucky, you have some work to do.
We tend to think of classical music as something to seal in a perfectly quiet concert hall, supposing that one obscured note would obliterate an entire work. Of course, perfect silence is rarely achievable in a hall full of people, with walls that aren’t impervious to honking horns and sirens.
Yes, Meadow View Barn is susceptible to the sounds of its environment, but a violin mixes so much better with a bird or a breeze than a candy wrapper or screeching tires.
In the natural setting, at last year’s festival, the music seemed to open, with the instruments so close to their source materials.
And these are musicians to make the most of the environs.
All three years of the festival, the Norton Center for the Arts at Danville’s Centre College has engaged the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to oversee its artistic direction. Pianist Wu Han has been the constant, and this year she brings violinist Erin Keefe, cellist Fred Sherry and clarinetist David Shifrin. If you pay attention to classical music, each is an internationally known practitioner of his or her instrument.
For the second year, the festival has engaged a second group, this time the Escher String Quartet, to play in its own right and mix with the Lincoln Center musicians in the festival’s four concerts.
Those combinations, like Robert Schumann’s Quintet in E Flat Major for Piano, Two Violins, Viola and Cello, scheduled for next Sunday night, are the real treats of the event.
The morning sessions, in the village’s Meetinghouse, focus on Ludwig van Beethoven on Saturday and J.S. Bach on Sunday. The evenings include music of Beethoven, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.
Debussy and nature? — makes sense.
As does trying to take the arts out to environments such as Pleasant Hill.
So often we try to hype the natural beauty of the Bluegrass, but then when it comes to presenting the beauty of the arts, we retreat to the city like everywhere else.
The Heaven performances, chamber music festival and other outdoor events show an arts community trying to get more in tune with our surroundings.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Choral” is one of those works everyone has heard, at least in part, whether they know it or not.
If you’ve ever hummed the tune Ode to Joy — in your church hymnal, it may be Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee — you have the basic theme.
And portions are scattered everywhere. Most recently, MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann co-opted a bit of the second movement as the theme for his show Countdown.
People who really know the piece tend to characterize it in lofty terms.
“This is one of the great works of man, one of the great achievements of civilization,” says University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra director John Nardolillo, who will conduct the orchestra in the Ninth on Friday night. “For us to get to play it, for many of these students, it’s the first time, and that’s an incredible discovery. It’s really extraordinary.”
Like any great work, the appeal is multifaceted for students, from the intricacies of Beethoven’s score to the sheer mood of the piece.
“It’s the Ode to Joy,” says John-Morgan Bush, 22, a senior from Madisonville who plays French horn. “It really is a message of joy and fulfillment or inner fulfillment. When we play it, and we come to the main theme in the fourth movement, it really is a culmination and inner resolution. You can’t play that melody and be sad.”
Now, playing it can be a whole other matter.
“I grossly underestimated my part,” says trumpeter Julian Kaplan, 21, a senior from Charlotte, N.C. “We play an incredible amount of time, and when you listen to it, it doesn’t seem like that much, but when you sit down to play it, it’s very taxing physically.”
When it rains, it pours in Lexington’s classical music world.
Friday, we heard Scott Terrell was taking the baton for the Lexington Philharmonic. Monday, we learned Kayoko Dan will ascend the podium for the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras. Today, we can report on a new guy will be conducting the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, and he already has a job at UK.
Head football coach Rich Brooks will borrow the baton from orchestra director John Narolillo to conduct the UK Symphony for a performance of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever at the beginning of Friday night’s otherwise all-Beethoven concert.
The guest conductor gig is part of the University of Kentucky Symphony’s status as the beneficiary of this year’s Maker’s Mark commemorative bottle for UK athletics. The bottle features Brooks likeness, in recognition of his UK Symphony-like success the last three seasons, and proceeds are going to the orchestra’s educational efforts.
The idea came up, Nadolillo said, when he and Brooks were dipping the bottles in blue and white wax.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you come conduct the orchestra,’” Nardolillo recalled. “He said, ‘OK, what do you want me to conduct?’ I said, ‘How about Beethoven’s Ninth?’ He said, ‘Fine. And you can coach the LSU game.’”
For those unfamiliar with both professions, those would be comparable tasks.
Nardolillo, by the way, will conduct the rest of Friday’s concert, which will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Choral,” featuring the UK choirs directed by Jefferson Johnson and Lori Hetzel, and Symphony No. 1.
Nardolillo says the orchestra stands to receive $1.2 million from the project, sponsored by Maker’s Mark and the Keeneland Foundation, which will go into an endowment fund for educational outreach programs.
Alastair Willis looked at the group assembled in the Presidents Room of the Singletary Center for the Arts, and for a moment, he looked like he might have no idea what to say to the people.
Then, pre-concert chat moderator Joe Tackett asked him to tell the audience about himself.
“I always got the report cards that said, ‘He could be good, if he practiced,’” Willis, the ninth candidate to succeed George Zack as music director of the Lexington Philharmonic, said to knowing laughter.
And he was off, delivering one of the most relaxed, entertaining, and simultaneously insightful pre-show gab session of the conductor search. He told the crowd about his days in the Bristol University Music Society (you do the acronym), his big sister Sarah who plays French Horn in the Berlin Philharmonic, and even parried with Tacket over the infamous bass concerto question longer than any other candidate — he could program all six bass concertos Tackett deems worthwhile in one season . . . could.
But the Seattle man — via Cincinnati, via Houston, via England, via Russia, etc. — wasn’t all droll humor, as he thoughtfully considered questions like the roll of the orchestra in a community: “There’s not one set answer for what the role of an orchestra in a community is, because the community determines that.”
Onstage in the Singletary Center concert hall, Willis opened the concert telling the audience Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, which was on the program, contained, “all the weather conditions you have recently had here.” Introducing Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round, he noted that Golijov has been called the “Beethoven of this generation,” and reminded the crowd that Beethoven was once a contemporary composer.
Discussing his current career as a full-time guest conductor, he told the pre-show audience that the No. 1 goal of a guest conductor is, “to get invited back, because you’ve got to put food in your refrigerator, right?”
Come to think of it, being invited back was sort of his goal here, too.
Your thoughts?: Click here to tell the Philharmonic what you thought of Willis.
Review news: Due to deadline constraints, Loren Tice’s review of last night’s show could not be ready for Saturday’s paper. But it is already up on LexGo.
More music: If you liked last night’s concert, or feel like you missed something and want to make up for it, there are two real good opportunities this weekend:
- Gil Shaham and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra perform at 7:30 tonight.
- To get more of the Latin flavor of the first half of last night’s show, you may want to catch the La Catrina String Quartet at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Singletary Center recital hall.
Alastair Willis’ résumé reads like a world tour. He started playing piano when he was a boy in Russia, took up trumpet and then conducting while he was living in England, continued his conducting studies in Houston, toured Japan and other foreign lands with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and held posts with orchestras in Cincinnati and Seattle, where he lives now.
This week, Willis, 37, who speaks with a British accent, has set his sights on Lexington, where he is the ninth candidate to succeed George Zack as music director of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
“Every conductor needs an orchestra, and every orchestra needs a conductor,” Willis says when asked what attracted him to Lexington. “My research of this area and this orchestra has showed wonderful support for the arts and wonderful potential for future growth here, and I don’t know any conductor who’s currently not got a music director position who wouldn’t be interested in that.”
After one rehearsal, on Monday night, Willis had a good impression of the Phil, saying, “The orchestra seems open to what I have to offer.”
On Tuesday, he threw the players a bit of a curve ball, rehearsing Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round, the opening number of Friday’s concert. It requires the violins and violas to stand as opposing orchestras, with the basses and cellos seated in the middle. After some initial confusion, he pulled a fairly flowing rehearsal out of the players.
Willis had no hesitation about coming in and shaking things up a bit.
“Why have we always played in the form we always play in?” Willis asks, referring to the Phil’s traditional seating arrangement. “Because it works. Because it’s how orchestras historically sound best, for most of the repertoire. No one’s ever going to change that, but I love to find the variety.”
Willis has experienced a lot of variety in the past few years. He was in Cincinnati in the late 1990s for a year as assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras and director of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra.
He says he loved the experience working under symphony conductor Jesús López- Cobos and pops conductor Erich Kunzel, but Cincy didn’t offer what he thought he really needed: “podium time.”
So Willis moved to Seattle, where as assistant and then resident conductor he was able to direct more than 100 performances in three years.
In 2003, he went the free-lance route, guest-conducting around the world and hanging out, when he could, with leading orchestras. He has a particular in with the Berlin Philharmonic, where his sister, Sarah Willis, plays fourth horn.
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