When Nathan Cole graduated from Tates Creek High School and left for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he thought he would never be back in Lexington in any regular, professional capacity. But this week, the Lexington native is celebrating five years of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, all with him as artistic director.
He balances that duty with his own burgeoning career. Immediately after the festival, which is Friday through Sunday at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion, Cole and his wife, violinist Akiko Tarumoto, will leave for Europe to tour with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That will be the couple's last hurrah with the CSO before they move to Pasadena, Calif., where both are joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Cole as the first associate concertmaster.
That puts Cole in a key position in arguably the hottest orchestra in the country. The L.A. Philharmonic is under the direction of in-demand young conductor Gustavo Dudamel, 30.
"It's a really exciting time for them," says Cole, 33, of the L.A. Phil. "It's great. There's a real rock-star reception when he comes out onstage, and some orchestras might be annoyed by that or think, 'They're only here to see him.' But in L.A., I think they have the proper attitude, which is, 'Hey, this is what people want to see, and we have him.'
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"And he does inspire the orchestra to play wonderfully, which, from the musician's point of view, is the most important thing. People really talk about him, and everyone knows who he is."
Cole says that kind of familiarity with an orchestra and its conductor has "not been the case anywhere else that I have played."
And in his new role, Cole will sit in the glow of Dudamel's star. He is essentially the second-chair violin, next to concertmaster and fellow Curtis alum Martin Chalifour. And when Chalifour is away, Cole will be the lead musician, interacting heavily with Dudamel.
"With Dudamel. it's passion, enthusiasm, energy, creativity — those are the brainstorming words I associate with him," Cole says. "He definitely wears his youth as an asset. He's not ashamed of it."
Cole's festival in Lexington also has also marked by youth, with a quintet of his peers who have returned each August for the event. This year's guests are:
■ Composer-in-residence Daniel Kellogg, whose Look Up at the Sky will receive its world premiere Saturday night.
■ Joseph Conyers, assistant principal bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, who will be featured in several works.
■ Celeste Golden, an award-winning Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra violinist who will be sitting in for Tarumoto, who was unavailable due to her and Cole's impending move west.
Returning this year are pianist Alessio Bax, violist Burchard Tang and cellist Priscilla Lee, who, with Cole, will have played the festival all five years.
"We've been pretty lucky as far as schedules working out and people being able to get out of orchestra commitments for at least a week," Cole says.
The first year, Cole says, he was simply hoping things would go well, and he had planned as was needed for the event. Since then, he has been pleasantly surprised to watch how quickly the festival has grown; how it has forged partnerships such as a commissioning project with the Lexington Philharmonic, which is signified by Kellogg's appearances this weekend and in February with the orchestra; and the festival's increasingly challenging programming. Moving forward, Cole says, he would like to see the festival expand in duration and depth.
"We're looking to have a bigger presence and a more pervasive presence so that chamber music is something people will think about and want to see all year," which they can with presentations by the Chamber Music Society of Central Kentucky and other groups, Cole says.
Essentially, Cole wants the festival to affect Lexington the way Dudamel affects Los Angeles.