UK Symphony Orchestra conductor John Nardolillo conducted the National Symphony Orchestra with Arlo Guthrie earlier this month in the same program the UK Symphony recorded last year. Photo courtesy of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Friday night is the season-opening concert by one of Lexington’s most active recording artists: the University of Kentucky’s student orchestra.
The student designation for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra seems like a mere technicality as it has made several world premier recordings in the past year that have made it to the desks of influential critics.
“Playing Pasatieri’s skillful orchestrations under the assured leadership of conductor John Nardolillo, they sound more like a professional orchestra than a student one,” Opera News critic Joshua Rosenblum wrote in a review of the UK Opera Theatre and UK Symphony’s recording of Thomas Pasatieri’s Hotel Casablanca.
Recommending the same recording, “with enthusiasm,” FanFare magazine critic Henry Fogel wrote, “It is wonderfully encouraging that this production is from a university’s opera program, and that their student orchestra plays at such a high level as well.”
In 2006, it seemed like a pretty huge deal when the UKSO recorded Music of the Horse for Keeneland.
Since then, the orchestra has recorded three more albums: In Times Like These with folk legend Arlo Guthrie, the world premier recording of Epoch: An American Dance Symphony by George Frederick McKay, and the Hotel Casablanca recording, also a world premier.
Discussing an upcoming project -- a production of George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess to be presented during the World Equestrian Games in 2010 -- UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey called Nardolillo, “My soul mate in big ideas.”
Indeed, the University of Kentucky Symphony director is pursuing the same sorts of projects that helped the opera programs’ star begin to rise in the late 1990s and early 2000s:
■ Bringing in big name talent to work with students.
■ Pursuing high profile projects.
■ Getting the group on stages outside of Central Kentucky.
■ Getting the group recorded, so even if I’m in some far-flung locale with Bill Kurtis, as long as I have a wi-fi connection, I can listen to UK’s musicians.
Even without UK’s musicians in tow, Narolillo can get their name in the conversation. Earlier this month, he was in Washington D.C. conducting the National Symphony Orchestra with Guthrie. A Washington Post article mentioned this was the same music Guthrie and Nardolillo had recorded with – cue timpani roll – the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra.
Talking to students during the recording of Epoch, they all said they never thought when they came to UK they’d be recording an album, say nothing of four.
Now granted, it is a lot easier to record at a professional level than it was a few decades ago. But the operation that moved into the Singletary Center for the Arts in 2007 to record Epoch was hardly a guy with his handheld digital recorder. It was a fully professional team with crates of recording equipment that resulted in a sumptuous production for Naxos, the largest classical music label in the world. That recording, by the way, has been hanging around near the top of the download charts at ClassicsOnline.
These discs have become calling cards that can help open other doors for the orchestra. This academic year, the symphony will be performing with world renowned violinist Gil Shaham and traveling to the Kennedy Center for the Arts to present the Our Lincoln program that was presented in Singletary last February.
So, if you look at UK Symphony in a concert listing and shrug the group off as a student orchestra, you’ll be missing something quite a bit more substantial.