Actors often talk about the emotionally exhausting task of taking on roles such as Shakespeare's King Lear or Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
It's a task that requires the performer to embody, to an extent, the harrowing situations their character is in and live them for several hours onstage.
People don't necessarily think of orchestral music, essentially an impressionistic art form, in the same context, but Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra music director Scott Terrell says he is handing his musicians a similar task Friday with the "Human Spirit" concert.
"This is the program I've sort of had on my calendar," Terrell says of the concert, which features Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, Edward Elgar's The Enigma Variations and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem. "It just has such enormous emotional depth. ... There's really no relenting in the emotional requirements of the evening."
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Adagio for Strings is well-known as music of tragedy (it was widely played in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001). The Nimrod movement of the The Enigma Variations is often used at funerals and other solemn events. And Vaughan Williams' work for orchestra and chorus, in this case the Lexington Singers and University of Kentucky Chorale, is a reflection on war, cautioning the listeners about future battles.
To Terrell, the concert has a key role in the Philharmonic's 50th anniversary season because it asserts the power of the orchestra.
There will be different emotions at work earlier in the evening as the Lexington Philharmonic Guild honors the major figure of its last five decades. Maestro George Zack, music director of the Philharmonic for 37 years until his retirement in 2008, will be honored with a bronze plaque that will be installed in the lobby of the Singletary Center for the Arts.
The guild's president, Marlie McRoberts, says the idea of a tribute to Zack started forming in his retirement year, "because we have had such a close relationship with him over the years."
"There are so many things I have been rewarded with already, and the biggest one was having the symphony under my charge for 37 years," Zack says. "Being here for 37 years was the greatest honor for me that I have ever had, besides my family. Then they add this."
The guild commissioned Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell of the Prometheus foundry in Central Kentucky to create the plaque, and Zack posed for Matthews. The plaque will be displayed in the corridor between Singletary's recital and concert halls, across from where artist and organizational display tables are set up.
"I've been on billboards and I've been on the sides of buses, and I've had one of those flier things behind an airplane," Zack says. "But that was all for publicity. This is not for publicity at all, and I'm not sure how I'm going to feel."
Zack is happy to have his event be part of the evening of the Human Spirit concert.
"Anything that is in celebration of the human spirit is the greatest part of it all," Zack says. "It's overwhelming. There's the combination of the music, the art piece and then there's me."
It will be an emotional evening however you look at it.