Putting together a concert about tragic love is no problem for Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra music director Scott Terrell.
"That idea has played very well in music, particularly in opera composers," Terrell says. "Verdi, Puccini — they have had a lot of success with that theme."
Leonard Bernstein, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Richard Wagner have had their successes with tragic love, too, and some of those pieces make up the orchestra's season-opening concert Friday night at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
The reasons that composers return to tragic, forbidden love over and over are fairly obvious to Terrell, who is entering his second year as the Phil's artistic chief.
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"As a listener, you can hear it in the music," Terrell says. "It starts so pensively and builds, and there is enormous passion in the music — tension and resolution."
Those are common to each of the pieces that the Philharmonic will play Friday, Terrell says, but each of the works on the concert is distinct.
Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture "is more of a beating heart, with a passionate breathiness in the music," and Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde is marked by "a dissonance — those are not pretty chords — and things are not resolved." Bernstein's music for West Side Story is, well, West Side Story. It's one of the most recognizable musical theater scores in history but has earned solid respect in the classical music world.
"The love theme is, of course, Maria," Terrell says. "But there is a tension and unsettled nervous energy throughout it."
In West Side Story, Terrell says, the audience will hear echoes of the Wagner and Tchaikovsky works.
Talking about the season opener, Terrell speaks quickly and seems a bit jittery — like a nervous teenager in love. That is in part because he is entering his second season on the podium, and the first year of programs completely of his own making.
Although he Philharmonic performed several concerts in connection with the just-ended Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Terrell says Friday night's show is the official season opener. It is a very different season, liberally mixing pop and classical elements, and breaking the traditional overture-concerto-symphony mold for orchestral music concerts.
"We've seen an uptick in subscriptions," Terrell says. "We have a very loyal subscriber base, and they seem excited to see the orchestra grow and evolve."
Terrell and the orchestra's new executive director, Allison Kaiser, emphasize the word evolve over change, saying evolve is what the orchestra needs to do to serve its established audience while attracting younger audiences who don't necessarily come with a set of expectations for the orchestra.
In addition to a themed evening with some popular music as its centerpiece, Terrell says, Friday's concert is representative of new directions for the orchestra. It features two community groups with whom the orchestra has not worked previously: the chorus from Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky's AcoUstiKats vocal group. "Thinking about the chorus, it works better with a younger chorus about the age of the protagonists in the show," Terrell says of the high school group and college group that will perform the music from West Side Story. "There is a grittiness and attitude in this music that younger singers pick up on."
For soloists, Terrell has hired a group of up-and-coming singers from across the United States, reflecting his idea of booking people who appear to be on their way to big careers.
Overall, he says, it will be a big night for the orchestra, with Tchaikovsky and Wagner, composers known for their large-scale compositions, and Bernstein, whose score requires the Philharmonic to bring in non-traditional instruments.
That will be in stark contrast to next month, when the Classics concert will be a night of Mozart, with pianist Inon Barnatan.
"We'll go from a night of excess to less is more," Terrell says. Mozart's works generally require smaller forces to perform.
But Friday night, it's all about big love — big, sad, tragic love.