Nougaty Goodness

by Dwight Newton

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Scaling Heights

For sheer entertainment value, it’s hard to beat a good university, especially one with a stellar Fine Arts college like UK. After years of having a solid, but fairly ordinary reputation in Music, the UK School of Music has leapt ahead in most areas to become one of the outstanding music schools in the nation.

Clearly, this thrust was begun over the last several years with the effort of UK Opera impresario Everett McCorvey. This year McCorvey is bringing to UK another amazing achievement. UK Opera Theatre has partnered with the prestigious Merola Opera Program, an intensive training program for young artists at the San Francisco Opera. Together, they are producing a new opera by Thomas Pasatieri called Hotel Casablanca. This comic opera is Pasatieri’s nineteenth opera and was premiered by the Merola Program in San Francisco in August. The sets for the production were built here in UK’s scene shop by David Steinmetz of the UK Theatre Department. When the production comes to the Lexington Opera House in October, UK Opera will use our sets and the entire production will then be owned by UK, to be rented out to other universities or opera companies for future productions.

The faculty and students of UK’s opera program traveled to San Francisco to watch the dress rehearsal and to attend the opening night performance of Casablanca. They also participated in master classes with the artists at San Francisco Opera. This collaboration with a major opera company is a very important milestone in the ballooning reputation of UK Opera. The local production in October of Hotel Casablanca promises to be one of the highlights of this year’s performing arts season.

The dynamic leaders in this school are taking the university and its students into ever more interesting, challenging and, ultimately, rewarding adventures. As the reputation of UK Opera has grown, the other areas of the school have also developed. The number of important, high profile events at UK this year is remarkable.

The arrival of UK Symphony Orchestra Conductor and Music Director John Nardolillo in 2005 has put that ensemble on the fast track to fame with several high-profile prestigious recordings and culminating in the upcoming performance with Arlo Guthrie at Carnegie Hall in New York on Thanksgiving Weekend.

The UKSO performs six major concerts this year in addition to providing the pit musicians for UK Opera’s productions. Arlo Guthrie will reprise of his sold-out 2006 UK concert on November 2 in anticipation of the Carnegie Hall performance on November 24 with the UKSO. The CD, titled “In Times Like These,” is now available at UKSO concerts, in local outlets, and online.

The first opportunity to hear the orchestra is Friday, September 28, at 7:30 PM in the Singletary Center. This is the first of only two free concerts by the orchestra this year and features Beethoven’s great Fifth Symphony. In February, the UKSO will perform with world renowned cellist Lynn Harrell as he plays the great Elgar Cello Concerto in a concert on the Singletary Center’s mainstage series. And in April the orchestra will perform with the UK choirs and guest artists in the annual UK School of Music Scholarship Benefit gala, this year featuring great Russian works, including Prokofiev’s Aleksandr Nevskiy and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms.

As each major project is completed with great success, it opens more opportunities for each ensemble. Cody Birdwell, director of UK Bands has produced several award-winning recordings of new music with the elite UK Wind Ensemble. As a direct result of these efforts, the UKWE will be traveling to China the summer of 2008 by invitation of the United States–China Cultural and Educational Foundation to perform is several venues in anticipation of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

UK Jazz director Miles Osland continues to gain attention for the UK Jazz Ensemble from national conferences and trade magazines with their brilliant successes in recording and major competitions.

Among the lesser-known jewels in UK music program is Professor Skip Gray’s remarkable success in his tuba studio. His students consistently rank among the top tuba and euphonium players at national competitions. Most recently, Gray announced the dazzling achievement by one of his younger students. Beth McDonald is a sophomore at UK and has already been winning or placing highly in major wind competitions around the country for the last year or so. On August 13, McDonald won first place in the 2007 Artist Division Tuba Solo Competition at the Leonard Falcone International Tuba-Euphonium Festival. Beth, a native of Fairfax County, Virginia, is by-far the youngest winner of the competition’s Artist Division. The Falcone Solo Competition is the premiere annual tuba and euphonium solo competition in the world and the Artist Division is its highest level.

Also from UK’s College of Fine Arts, UK Theatre is following the powerful success of last season’s Black History Month production of A Raisin in the Sun with the Obie-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, by Ntozake Shange, paired with the intense A Soldier’s Play, by Charles H. Fuller; a story of racial alienation and balance of power. If UK Theatre’s production comes close to the level of emotional intensity and audience engagement of last year’s, these plays are not to be missed.

Also on the boards this season are Betty’s Summer Vacation, a light-hearted comedy by Charles Durang; Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and a new play to be determined from the James W. Rodgers Playwriting Competition.
Tickets for most performing arts events at UK are available now from the Singletary Center box office (859-257-4929 or

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