When Ingang Han first visited the Brevard music festival, he aced the audition, earning a sweet spot sitting behind the Cleveland Orchestra's concertmaster.
"When I was playing solo parts, I was tearing, because it was so impressive, and I never heard that sound as a person before," Han says. "It was really life-changing for me, and in the future, I really want to play with that kind of player."
Han takes a huge step in that direction Friday night, when he steps in front of the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra to perform Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, a wicked tightrope of a work that gives Han plenty of chances to show off some technical flair.
It will be part of a concert that also includes the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's Symphony No. 2 and Maurice Ravel's Bolero. (UK Symphony director John Nardolillo assures fans that the 7:30 p.m. performance will be over shortly after 9 p.m., before the start of the Kentucky-Louisville NCAA men's basketball tournament game.)
Han, a junior in the UK School of Music, got the soloist gig by winning the school's annual competition for a coveted spot, playing a concerto with the orchestra, a privilege few students get to enjoy.
Rehearsing the Prokofiev on Tuesday morning in Nardolillo's studio, Han was still adapting to the idea of being the soloist.
"It has to be a give-and-take," Nardolillo says. "If the soloist just plays without paying attention to the orchestra or listening to them, that doesn't work. But if the soloist only functions in a completely collaborative way and never steps into the lead, that doesn't work either. ... It's some combination of both, and it's a little hard to define when it is and where it is."
Han picked the technically demanding Prokofiev because it's a chance to show off virtuosity. But his heart and career aspirations are in the orchestra.
He has one more year left at UK and then hopes to go to graduate school or work with a world-renowned training orchestra such as the New World Symphony in Miami or the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
A native of South Korea, Han says one of the things that attracted him to UK was the atmosphere of collaboration, not competition.
"They try to share and enjoy the music," Han says. "I want to go to a big graduate school and get in a great player's studio, but I don't want a competitive atmosphere."
As he will experience Friday night, however, competition has its rewards.