Music News & Reviews

Philharmonic celebrates its 50th anniversary all season long


A 50th-anniversary celebration cannot be contained in one event, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra music director Scott Terrell says.

The orchestra will be featured Saturday night in a gala concert of movie music designed to highlight numerous aspects of the orchestra's 50 years, and in the spirit of the Academy Awards, the event will include a red carpet and an Oscars-style after-party.

But Terrell and executive director Allison Kaiser say the entire 2011-12 season is an effort to celebrate the orchestra's past 50 years and continue evolving over the next 50.

"All of the pieces to the season are part of the celebration," Terrell says, citing the season-opening concert with superstar violinist Midori, the February world premiere of a new work by composer Daniel Kellogg, and May's season finale of Gustav Holst's epic The Planets, accompanied by high-definition video from the Hubble Telescope.

Many of those events break from the Philharmonic's historic modus operandi, which for the past few decades has been traditional concerts from the classic symphonic repertoire featuring a modest roster of soloists. But as the Philharmonic celebrates its past, Terrell says, it is important to continue driving toward the future, with programming that is celebratory and pointing forward, such as the Kellogg premiere.

"This has not been a commissioning orchestra," Terrell says. "But we need to be a city that encourages people to create."

Events during the 50th anniversary season also highlight new partnerships. The Kellogg commission was supported by the new Saykaly Garbulinska Composer-in-Residence Program, a partnership with the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington. The festival began commissioning new works several years ago with the support of Dr. Ronald Saykaly and his wife, Teresa Garbulinska, and it will jointly commission the same composer with the Philharmonic every other year. Kellogg wrote a piece for the chamber festival in August.

Midori's appearance was supported by UK HealthCare, which has supported appearances by other marquee soloists, including violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and percussionist Evelyn Glennie in recent seasons.

Kaiser cautions, though, that the Philharmonic is not getting into a habit of bringing in big-name soloists just for the marquee value.

"We're much more purposeful in each concert we do and guest artist we bring in," Kaiser says. "We have to move the musical arts scene forward in Lexington, so the driver behind that challenge is to make this a musically richer community."

Midori, for instance, was brought in not only for a gala concert but because she participated in programs with area college and public school students. The upcoming Kellogg commission and the Planets concert will include educational elements that highlight the process of making music as well as its presentation.

Terrell and Kaiser, who came to the Philharmonic in 2009 and 2010, respectively, say their new initiatives should not be interpreted as a critique of the orchestra's past.

"It would be difficult to start an organization from the ground like this today," Terrell says of the Philharmonic, which formed in 1961 as a group of 65 musicians from the faculties of the University of Kentucky, other area colleges and Fayette County schools. "We would not be here today if it was not for their vision and the hard work of the people who started this orchestra."

The Philharmonic was formed by conductor Robert King to play music for a sausage commercial and decided to stay together as a civic orchestra. King led the group until 1965. Leo Scheer was conductor from 1965 to 1972, then George Zack started his 37-year reign as music director.

Zack will be back on Saturday, conducting the Philharmonic in a performance of John Williams' theme from Schindler's List, featuring 29-year concertmaster Daniel Mason as the violin soloist.

The concert will include music from decades-old classics, including Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, and from the Harry Potter movies.

Interspersed through the evening will be tributes to people who have been key to the Philharmonic's success, including donors, board members, staff and musicians.

Being fairly new to the Phil, Kaiser and Terrell say that surveying its history has been instructive, giving them an appreciation of the orchestra's past and a vision for its future.

"We have to ask what will the orchestra look like in 50 years," Terrell says, "because it won't look like the orchestra of today."

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