Music News & Reviews

UK Symphony Orchestra needs a veritable battle plan to present 'War Requiem'

Symphony director John Nardolillo is no stranger to massive undertakings.
Symphony director John Nardolillo is no stranger to massive undertakings. Lexington Herald-Leader

With its season finale, the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra embraces the 21st-century ethos to "go big." The orchestra is presenting Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, Op. 66, the composer's massive statement about World War II.

But the orchestra and director John Nardolillo can hardly do it alone.

Britten's anti-war Mass calls for large numbers of instrumentalists and voices, which total more than 300 for Friday's performance. It's all at the service of presenting what many regard as Britten's masterpiece, showing his "skills as a composer for large forces and his gift for the most intimate vocal expression," according to the NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music by Ted Libbey.

As far as anyone can tell, Friday might be Lexington's first performance of the 51-year-old piece.

Employing massive forces is not foreign to Nardolillo and the UK Symphony. In 2010, the orchestra pulled together a comparable ensemble to present Hector Berlioz's Requiem, with small ensembles situated in the upper reaches of the Singletary Center for the Arts' concert hall.

Presenting pieces such as War Requiem is something the collegiate orchestra can do because it can pull from the ranks of students to grow the ensemble and not have to worry about paying them. But this is a town-and-gown effort that includes the Lexington Singers and its children's choir.

Jefferson Johnson, who directs the Singers and the UK choirs, once told the Herald-Leader that the War Requiem was one of the pieces he wanted to present with the Singers when he became the group's director in 1997.

"I've wanted to do it since college, but it scares the hell out of me," Johnson said in '97. "It's an enormous work, and extremely complex."


How complex is Britten's War Requiem? The numbers say a bit about its composition and history.

2: Orchestras required to perform it — a full ensemble and a chamber orchestra

2: Organs required in the instrumentation. It also calls for a piano.

3: Conductors required to direct all the ensembles.

9: Poems by Wilfred Owen interwoven with the traditional Latin Mass for the dead

51: Years since its composition in about 1962

60: Rehearsals that UK has had, including all individual, ensemble and full-group practices

84: Minutes the performance will last

99: Years since Britten's birth, on Nov. 22, 1913

220: Singers in UK's performance

300: Musicians taking part in the concert


'War Requiem'

What: Performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem by the UK Symphony Orchestra; the UK Chorale; the Lexington Singers and its children's choir; vocal soloists Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, Justin Vickers and Thomas Gunther; and conductors John Nardolillo, Lori Hetzel and Marcello Cormio

When: 7:30 p.m. April 19

Where: Singletary Center for the Arts' concert hall, 405 Rose St.

Tickets: Free

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