Nougaty Goodness

by Dwight Newton

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Classic Arlo

The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra has made a mark on the music world in the last couple of years since the arrival of conductor and music director John Nardolillo. The young maestro came to UK in 2004 on a temporary assignment following the sudden departure of the orchestra’s previous director. During his first year here, and while a national search was going on to find a permanent replacement, Nardolillo was given the task of presenting several full orchestra concerts as well as conducting UK Opera’s main productions.

A conductor doesn’t just walk out on stage the evening of a concert and receive the accolades of the audience. There is a lot of work to being an orchestra director, especially in a university where he has no paid staff. He has had help from several outstanding graduate conducting assistants, but he was responsible for contract with guest artists, booking facilities, renting parts, teaching conducting, auditioning soloists for the annual Concerto Competition, auditioning new players for the orchestra and new string students for admission to the School of Music, overseeing publicity and programs, creating the musical programs, rehearsing the orchestra, and finally, conducting the performances. Nardilillo has done an extraordinary job of not only doing the drudge work that is part of the task, but especially of bringing maximizing the level of artistry of the musicians and the level of exposure to the public. During his first year here, he was so impressed with the work ethic and musicianship of our young artists he decided to apply for the permanent position.

After three seasons, Nardolillo has brought national attention to UK’s orchestra through three extraordinary recordings. The first was a CD project in 2006 sponsored by Keeneland called Music of the Horse. It features a grand selection of equestrian-themed music, from Keeneland Horn Blower George Sallee playing “Boots and Saddles” to the “William Tell Overture.” Early this year the orchestra was contracted by the prestigious classical music label Naxos to record Epoch, a major, but seldom-heard, ballet by the important American composer George Frederick McKay (1899-1970).

Nardolillo has had a musical relationship with Arlo Guthrie since 1997. He cornered the folk legend after a concert and talked to him about performing his songs with orchestra on programs that also featured music by the great American composers such as Bernstein, Copland, and Gershwin who all worked with folk musical themes. This led to a number of performances around the country including the television program “Evening at Pops” with the Boston Pops Orchestra, a concert that has been broadcast on PBS stations nationwide periodically since 1998.

Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie (“This Land is Your Land”), is best known for his narrative song “Alice’s Restaurant Masacree.” He has toured every decade on the anniversary of the 1966 song saga. During last year’s Alice tour schedule, Guthrie spent a week at UK, talking with students and working with Nardolillo on a CD recording of his songs accompanied by the UK Symphony Orchestra. The performance here was completely sold out and Guthrie fans have been anxiously anticipating the release of the CD ever since. It finally hit the stores in July to rave reviews (available at UK Symphony concerts, online and at local outlets).

The CD, called “In Times Like These” (Rising Son), is an exploration of both emotional depth and lightness, as Guthrie displays his talent for sentiment, narrative, and humor. Along with driving classics like “St. James Infirmary” and Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” are his own personal, introspective songs like his “Darkest Hour” and “Last to Leave.” The orchestra in all cases does not overwhelm the simplicity of Guthrie’s style, but adds the depth and drama. Nardolillo and the arranger, composer James Burton, deserve much credit for serving the artist in a sensitive and esthetically supportive manner.

Guthrie is a tireless performer. He tours often—not just on the decennial anniversaries of “Alice”—and has made many recordings over the years. This year, in celebration of his 60th birthday, he is on his “Solo Reunion Tour” with dozens of performances (ironically, with just him and a guitar or piano), slated throughout the country promoting the CD.

The highlight of his tour promises to be two concerts in November. First, on November 2, he returns to Lexington for a reprise performance (tickets available from the Singletary Center box office). The May 2006 concert was enthralling, but it was also somewhat refined, with recording equipment everywhere and the knowledge that it was being captured for posterity. This should be a more relaxed and fun concert. Those who attended the last one will not want to miss it.

On November 24, Arlo Guthrie and the UK Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Nardolillo will perform in the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. This is Saturday night on Thanksgiving weekend. The city will be filled with holiday shoppers from all over and there is little doubt that the concert will be a sellout. This will certainly be the highlight of the orchestra’s season.

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