A visit from the principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic would seem like a once-in-a-lifetime event for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. But Walter Seyfarth's stay on campus this week is actually part of what appears to be a growing relationship.
Seyfarth was at UK last year with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet in a visit organized by director of bands John Cody Birdwell after he met the group at a workshop.
The quintet performed in the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall and conducted a master class in a visit Seyfarth remembers fondly.
"It was an incredibly good audience, such an intense audience," Seyfarth recalls. "It was such a good response from the public; many young students were coming, so we enjoyed playing for them a lot."
And that is when UK Symphony director John Nardolillo started talking to Seyfarth about working with the orchestra, a collaboration that started in June, across the Atlantic Ocean.
"He invited me to come to Prague to play the Mozart concerto," Seyfarth says, noting the orchestra's European trip in the summer. "It was right in the same theater where it was first performed for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart."
That heady experience was a prelude to the current visit, which culminates Friday night in a performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major with the orchestra during a concert that also will include the overture to Mozart's Magic Flute and Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2.
Performing with a student ensemble might seem like a piece of cake to someone who has risen to the principal chair in what is arguably the world's best orchestra. But Seyfarth takes Mozart very seriously.
"It is like a diamond that is so clear and so fine, and you always have to clean your Mozart," he says of the composer's music.
"I always tell my students with this concerto, polish it. Playing Mozart means the absolute essence of music because it's the most clear, and for this reason, you are completely naked because every note is so fine and outstanding ... we have to work on this the most. He is the most difficult composer."
In addition to Friday's concert, Seyfarth played a Thursday chamber concert at First Presbyterian Church with a lineup that included a rare performance by Nardolillo on violin, and he conducted a master class and did other work with students and classes.
Seyfarth also has been squired around Lexington by his hosts to stops such as Keeneland and Lexington's surrounding horse country, which he says "is like a painting."
As he took the stage for his first rehearsal Tuesday afternoon, the student musicians stomped their feet in welcome — it's hard to clap with an instrument in your hand — and he had a grin on his face.
Seyfarth says, "I only saw part of the students in Prague, so I am looking forward to working with the whole orchestra."