Copious Notes

John Nardolillo readies the UK Symphony for a big finish

University of Kentucky Symphony director John Nardolillo.
University of Kentucky Symphony director John Nardolillo. Herald-Leader

As the spring semester winds down, the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is gearing up for a grand finale to its 2015-16 season. Lexington born-and-bred violinist Nathan Cole, now first associate concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, is in town to perform Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, and the collective forces of the orchestra and the UK choirs are gathering to perform Ludwig Van Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No. 9.

Directing all of it is UK Symphony director John Nardolillo, who has made high-profile guest soloists and massive works almost routine for the orchestra. With the big concert set for Friday night, we asked him a few questions.

Q. UKSO has a reputation for taking on big works. What is it like to wield the baton over all of those musicians?

A. It’s exciting to be onstage with 300 young players and singers, almost all of whom are doing the work, in this case Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, for the first time. The energy of a group that size can be really incredible. It can be intimidating or challenging to work with large forces, and the pieces we’ve done that call for them are complex, but when we succeed, the large group feels intimate, like a string quartet. If everyone is listening and communicating with each other, the results can be sensational.

Q. Tell us about pairing Nathan Cole and the Stravinsky concerto with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

A. The Beethoven symphony is epic — rich in sound and romantic in outlook — while the Stravinsky is crisp, dry and reserved. The Stravinsky is “neoclassical,” which means that in terms of form and style, it pays homage to the style of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The Stravinsky is a modern work, looking back to Beethoven’s era, while the Beethoven is a revolutionary work, looking forward into the “Romantic” period in music. Also, both works are in the key of D.

Q. What is the importance of having Nathan Cole come in to work with the students?

A. Nathan is a native of Lexington, and a former student of our violin professor, Dan Mason, so having him return to Lexington and work with our students has a tremendous impact. In addition to performing the Stravinsky with us, he is also working with the students in master classes, and visiting area schools. The chance to work closely with an artist with his level of skill and knowledge is tremendous for our students.

Q. As the UK Symphony director, what do you hope students get out of being in the orchestra?

A. Music is one of the ways that we examine what it means to be a human being; to be alive, to love another person, to have children, to experience the delights and triumphs, as well as the disappointments and defeats of life, to grow old and die. It’s one of the ways we think about how other people live, and how they feel, and when we make music, we realize that we are not alone. Making music with other people can be deeply rewarding, and life-changing, and it can influence the way that we do all the other activities in our lives. The students in the UK Symphony have been working very hard to master their instruments for many years, and it’s a great experience to get together with other young players to perform these great works of art together.

Q. This is your season finale. What have been the highlights of this year for you?

A. We’ve had a great year at the UK Symphony. Of course, Beethoven 9 will be a highlight for all of us, the culmination of our work together, and also the final work of the season. We’ve played some exciting concerts this year, performed some great repertoire, and featured students and several members of our faculty in concertos, including ToniMarie Marchioni on oboe and Dieter Hennings on guitar. A real highlight for all of us has been the series of visitors we have had this year to perform with the UK Symphony and give master classes. In addition to Nathan Cole, our students have also worked with Walter Seyfarth, clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic; Dwight Parry, principal oboist of the Cincinnati Symphony; Steven Rose, principal second violinist of the Cleveland Orchestra; Alex Kerr, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony; and David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Having said all of that, the highlight for me is to be in the rehearsal room or onstage with our students, making music together.

The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday with violin soloist Nathan Cole at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose Street. Admission is free.