Nougaty Goodness

by Dwight Newton

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Not Just Another College Orchestra

by Dwight Newton, Nougat Magazine, September 2006

A comment I hear frequently from the Music faculty in the halls of the UK Fine Arts Building is, “Have you heard…?” referring to some amazing student who is blowing everyone away with their talent. The quality of students coming into UK's Music programs keeps getting higher and higher. The preparation of music students on the elementary and high school levels, with children beginning music training almost from infancy, is showing up as a remarkable generation of college-level musicians with amazing skills and several years of good ensemble and solo experience already behind them. Admission to UK’s music performance degree programs is becoming highly competitive. Some of the applied music programs are turning away excellent prospective students because they just can’t handle the numbers wanting to get in. When they get here, students are immediately put into a pretty rigorous schedule of rehearsals, performances, and recordings.

John Nardolillo, Music Director of the UK Symphony Orchestra, begins his third year this fall. Nardolillo, who has conducted major orchestras across America, came to UK in 2004 on a temporary appointment, but he was so impressed with the caliber and work ethic of the students that he applied for and received the permanent position. In the last year the already strong orchestra has bloomed into a first rate professional level ensemble.

The UK Orchestra is a hard-working group. Nardolillo has had them play some of the more challenging works of the classical repertoire, such as Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique and the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony, as well as the monumental Mahler Second Symphony with full chorus and soloists. Add to that a full season of UK Opera productions and you might get a sense of how hard these young people work. It seems no matter what they’re asked to do, the student musicians handle it with grace and remarkably mature technical expertise.

The Mahler was the culmination of a year of landmark events for the orchestra. Among the highlights were two major recording projects. The Keeneland Foundation sponsored a CD recording, “Music of the Horse,” featuring many popular equestrian-themed pieces such as the “Light Cavalry Overture” of Von Suppè and the “William Tell Overture” of Rossini, all geared to the classy Keeneland horsey set, replete with original cover art by Lexington artist Marjorie Guyon. The concert performance of selected works from the CD last fall featured the amateur conducting debut of Keeneland president Nick Nicholson as he kept time with the orchestra on the “Toreador March” from Bizet’s Carmen. Nicholson worked with John Nardolillo in the preceding week and almost looked like he knew what he was doing until he turned his head to grin at the audience. Proceeds from the sale of the CD will be split between the UK Orchestra program and the Keeneland Foundation, a charitable organization which provides support to many local causes.

Anything you want …

The other CD project was, perhaps, a bit more glitzy. Folk legend Arlo Guthrie made a stop in March for a sold-out concert on his “40th Anniversary Alice’s Restaurant Massacree Tour.” The concert capped off the artist’s weeklong residency at the UK School of Music. Guthrie and the UK Symphony Orchestra directed by Nardolillo, presented a concert of American music and song, featuring a reprise of the infamous “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” — the saga about Guthrie’s arrest and trial for littering and the largely fictional consequences with his draft board.
Nardolillo has been working closely with Guthrie since 1997 on presenting orchestral arrangements of American folk music spanning more than 75 years of American folk history. It was Nardolillo's vision that caught Guthrie's attention and, ultimately, brought him to UK for this project. The orchestral arrangements of Guthrie’s songs by English arranger James Burton are lush, sensuous and musically very engaging, adding another dimension to the songs rather than just being an accompaniment.

Guthrie was in residence for a week as a guest in seminars and classes where he talked and answered questions about growing up with his famous parents – his father was folk singer and activist Woody Guthrie (“This land is Your Land”) and his mother was Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a dancer in the Martha Graham company – and the changes in the music business over the last 40 years. The CD is expected to be released later this year by Guthrie’s recording company, Rising Son Records. The performance was a benefit concert with proceeds going to the UK School of Music’s orchestra program.

What’s Next …

So how do you follow such an eventful year? Perhaps by focusing more on depth than on glamour. The upcoming season for the UK Orchestra may have a bit less flash, but will certainly have the dazzle.

First up is a straight orchestral program, without gimmicks, on September 29 including Respighi’s lovely Pines of Rome and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

In November there are two concerts:  November 3 will feature Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. On November 30 the orchestra welcomes two brass soloists for an interesting pair of concerti. UK’s own trumpet professor, Mark Clodfelter, will perform the Concerto in E-flat for Trumpet and Strings, by Johann Baptist Georg Neruda (ca.1707-ca.1780). While Neruda is less known among the great Baroque and Classical era composers, this concerto is considered a standard of the trumpet repertory. In fact, this is one of the pieces Clodfelter played in his audition for his position at UK five years ago. He also played it this summer at the International Romantic Trumpet Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. Clodfelter says, “I suppose in a way this piece has become a musical path for me not only across the Appalachian Mountains, and in my career, when I auditioned here, but also across continents and cultural barriers as well…”

The other concerto on the program will be performed by guest artist Matthew Vaughn, Associate Principal Trombone of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Vaughn will play the Trombone Concerto by Italian film composer Nino Rota (8 ½ , La Dolce Vita). The full evening of music will finish up with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Other renowned guest artists coming to UK this year include master classes with David Kim, Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, on April 19th, and David Goldblatt, cellist with the San Francisco Symphony, in February.

In what is becoming a classical music tradition in Lexington, the UK School of Music’s Scholarship Benefit gala concert on April 20 will feature the orchestra with combine UK Choruses and soloists an all-Bernstein program. To mark the 50th anniversary of West Side Story, the orchestra and chorus will present some of Leonard Bernstein's best loved works, including music from West Side Story, the Mass, the Chichester Psalms, Fancy Free and others. This is expected to be a fun and inspiring contrast to last spring’s deeply moving Mahler Second, and the previous years’ Carmina Burana, and Beethoven Ninth.

The orchestra continues this year to find new recording projects as well. In February, they will record Epoch, a work by twentieth-century American composer George Frederick McKay (1899-1970), on the prestigious Naxos classical label. This is the first of what is hoped to be several projects for Naxos. And as usual, they will also perform with the UK Opera Theater for La Traviata in the fall, Carmen in the Spring, and Grand Night next June.  This promises to be a challenging schedule for UK’s students and a tremendous opportunity for the community to hear great music by an outstanding orchestra.

-Dwight Newton is a musicologist and is the Marketing Coordinator for the UK School of Music. His web sites are at and

© 2006 by Dwight Newton