Ben Sollee dipping his toes back in classical music at Lexington festival
Since 2007, Lexington native and Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Nathan Cole has brought a festival of world class chamber music home each summer with colleagues from around the country and guest soloists.
Somewhere along the way, he started thinking about growing up in Lexington and playing in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras.
“I got to play concertmaster for the first time, concurrently in my school orchestra and CKYO, and there were so many pieces that I first discovered in CKYO that I play all the time now, like Mahler’s first symphony, Shostakovich fifth symphony, the Barber ‘Adagio for Strings,’ ” says Cole, who serves at the first associate concertmaster of the L.A. Phil.
Last summer, reminiscing ramped up with guest artist Zack Brock, now a well-renowned jazz violinist who also grew up in Lexington and whose time in CKYO briefly overlapped with Cole’s. Brock is a few years older.
“We were talking about it quite a bit last summer, mostly just remembering good times, and we thought, yeah, wouldn’t it be great if we could actually do some playing with some of the CKYO folks, because we were thinking back about how fun it would have been to play some chamber music,” Cole says.
Not to mention playing it with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra, who make up the core ensemble of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, the festival that Cole co-created that has its 12th edition Aug. 16 to 26 at various venues around Lexington.
Taking that inspiration, CKYO members will be involved with most of this year’s festival, starting with Thursday night’s kick-off at the Henry Clay Estate with this year’s guest artists, and another CKYO alum, Ben Sollee.
That concert will feature a group of CKYO musicians who attended this summer’s Governor’s School for the Arts playing before Sollee, but the rest of the student performances will be true integrations with the pros, including CYO wind players joining ensemble-in-residence Windsync for Charles Gounod’s “Petit Symphonie” Aug. 20 and a quartet of string players joining the fest’s core ensemble for Felix Mendelssohn’s “Octet” Aug. 22.
In the past, the festival has presented open master classes with area students, and Windsync has worked with CKYO’s Musicworks outreach program. But this is the first time CKYO musicians have joined the festival musicians on stage.
“To get our most advanced students performing on the same stage as these extremely accomplished musicians who are also so giving and so interested in giving back to these young players is really, really exciting,” CKYO executive director Amelia Groetsch says. “All of the professionals are more than happy to lend their time and their talents and their help with mentoring these young players, so it’s really exciting for them.”
Cole says, “It’s been wonderful that CKYO has taken care of getting them parts and some coaching before we arrive.”
The performances will give the musicians a real professional experience with quick, intense rehearsals, he said.
Groetsch notes that there are numerous CKYO alums — the group is going into its 71st season — who have gone on to successful music careers, and it is really meaningful to have former members like Cole interested in giving current students experiences like this.
“To have musicians at their level and at their notoriety come from Lexington and from our programs as a feather in our cap is huge,” she says.
Cole says that CKYO really taught him how to be in an orchestra and be a leader as the concertmaster. After graduating from Tates Creek High School, he went to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he says, “I was not the most accomplished violinist there, by a long shot ... but I was easily the most experienced orchestra player. That was nice for me to have something where I was at the top of the pile, because in so many other respects, I had to look up to everyone else.”
But while Cole has gone on to a traditional symphony career, Sollee and Brock have blazed their own paths: Brock as a rare jazz violinist and Sollee as a singer-songwriter, while still playing the cello.
The diversity of their careers is attributable to being raised in Central Kentucky where they were influenced by a variety of culture, Sollee says.
“They’re raised with a Kentucky mindset, which is ‘cook with what’s around you,’” Sollee says. That mentality, “which is rooted in our food, our music, mixing all these immigrant musics together, it’s a story that we’ve been telling in Kentucky for a long time.”
And even if they are not playing in orchestras now, Cole sees the CKYO training laying the groundwork for their success.
“”The reason a lot of garage bands sound pretty bad is they are made up of kids with no guidance as to how things go except recordings,” Cole says. “There’s a place for that, and a lot of great things have come out of garages ... In general, you need a little bit of structure, a little bit of guidance to get the ball rolling, and it can be tough to get that training without an orchestra.”
And for the three of them, and many others, the common denominator was CKYO.
IF YOU GO
Chamber Music Festival of Lexington
What: Festival featuring core ensemble (Nathan Cole and Akiko Tarumoto, violin; Burchard Tang, viola; Priscilla Lee, cello; Alessio Bax, piano), ensemble-in-residence Windsync, artist-in-residence Ben Sollee and members of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras.
Aug 16: Ben Sollee and the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra all-stars. 6:30 p.m. at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, 120 Sycamore Road
Aug. 20: WindSync playing works by Schoenberg, Ginastera, Gounod and Offenbach with CKYO guests. 7:30 p.m. Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St. $30 advance, $35 walk up, $15 student walk-up with ID.
Aug. 22: WindSync, core ensemble, Ben Sollee and CKYO guests performing works by Dvorak, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn and Sollee. Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. $35 advance, $40 walk-up, $15 student walk up with ID.
Aug. 23: Cabaret concert with the entire festival lineup. 7:30 p.m. Al’s Bar, North Limestone. $16 at the door.
Aug. 24: Core ensemble, Ben Sollee and CKYO guests playing music of Grieg, Brahms and Sollee. 7:30 p.m. Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. $35 advance, $40 walk-up, $15 student walk up with ID.
Aug. 26: Core ensemble and Ben Sollee playng Mozart, Janacek and Beethoven. 2 p.m. Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. $35 advance, $40 walk-up, $15 student walk up with ID.
Tickets: A main stage pass ticket for the Aug. 22, 24 and 26 performances is available for $100 by calling 859-425-2550. Also call that number for individual concert tickets or visit chambermusiclex.org.