Since being named the Lexington Philharmonic's music director in April, Scott Terrell has planned a debut season, moved to Lexington from Charleston, S.C., studied, and immersed himself in local life.
"I'm ready for some music," Terrell said in the Philharmonic offices two weeks before his debut MasterClassics concert. "Can we get the season started?"
Friday night's concert will mark the first time since 1971 that the orchestra has started a season with anyone but George Zack at the helm. Terrell's hire was the result of a two-year search for Zack's successor.
And Terrell gets quite a collaborator for his first Singletary Center concert: Evelyn Glennie, the world's most famous percussion soloist. That's the beginning of one of the Philharmonic's most star-studded lineups in recent memory, including tenor Ronan Tynan in October and violin star Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in April.
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"I've heard from a lot of my colleagues in the industry: 'Wow, what a great lineup of soloists you have,'" Terrell says, noting he thinks a few other soloists this year, such as pianist Joyce Yang in November, are also formidable talents. "That's good for us. It really raises the bar very quickly, and I think the orchestra will respond."
Terrell himself is a rising star in classical music.
Teaching wasn't for him
A native of St. Johns, Mich., Terrell calls himself "a product of public school music."
He began studying organ at age 6 and picked up viola in fifth grade. He entered Western Michigan University as a music education major, and he took a lot of conducting classes. He imagined he would be a high school orchestra conductor, until student teaching opened his eyes to everything that was involved in being a music teacher, including dealing with parents and administration.
"I liked the conducting part and not all of the other stuff," Terrell said in an interview when he came to Lexington to audition last October.
He was accepted to the University of Minnesota conducting apprentice program, where he threw himself into conducting anything he could "and learned by screwing up and figuring out things on my own. ... I had the fortune of a lot of trial and error," he said in 2008.
He also had the fortune of connecting with a few influential people, including marquee conductor David Zinman.
Terrell was one of the first conductors in Zinman's summer conducting institute in Aspen, Colo., and he returns there every summer.
He served as assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1998 to 2003, then moved to the Charleston Symphony in 2005 after a fortuitous guest-conducting gig.
Keeping things fresh
Much as he did with his Lexington Philharmonic audition, Terrell was on hand for two concerts in Charleston, including a Halloween family concert. He became the orchestra's resident conductor and education director. He conducted at events such as the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals and created some series for the orchestra like "Backstage Pass," geared toward younger audiences and featuring newer compositions.
One of the intriguing things as Terrell takes over the Lexington Philharmonic is what sorts of long-term changes he'll bring in terms of the orchestra's artistic growth and programming.
"For me, I'm looking at broadening what we do, both going backwards and going forwards," Terrell said earlier this month. "The orchestra will play, and the community will hear new music — new music that's been written in the past 20 years, commissions coming in the future, things that are written for the orchestra.
"I think that's a way to keep things fresh, and that is crucial in any situation."
Anyone who thinks that means a lot of atonal, academic music can look at one of Terrell's upcoming engagements.
In March, he will travel to Portland, Maine, to conduct a performance of Mandolin Concerto by Chris Thile of the hit bluegrass group Nickel Creek. Working with Thile opens the door to a conversation about working with other regional artists.
"There is such a strong tradition of music in this region," Terrell says of Kentucky. "Sacred music here is extremely strong, and music of Appalachia is very important."
Terrell is also interested in bringing contemporary composition to Lexington, which made him excited to see the interest in new music at the UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington in August.
It's one of numerous community experiences Terrell has had, including checking out golf courses, hitting the pavement in the Midsummer Night's Run and taking in the Summer Classics film series at The Kentucky Theatre.
He's also getting to know the arts community, looking to forge collaborations with area groups, like a side-by-side concert with the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras for its Oct. 25 family show, which also will involve other young artists from the area.
Of course, the big getting-to-know-you endeavor is between Terrell and the Philharmonic musicians.
"The general thing I have gotten from the musicians is they want to see how far they can go," Terrell says. "That's very exciting as a conductor."
Terrell was so excited to get in front of the Lexington orchestra, he didn't wait for the MasterClassics season opener. The new maestro decided to conduct the orchestra's annual patriotic concert at Transylvania University.
The evening gave him a thrill, standing in front of an audience that filled the lawn at Old Morrison and stretched across Third Street and Gratz Park to the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.
The program telegraphed some of Terrell's sensibility, going lighter on traditional patriotic fare and introducing some other American music, such as Broadway show tunes and film music.
"Patriotic music, in the Sousa-marches-only sense, I don't think is a fair assessment of what is great American music," Terrell says. "I tried to make it an evening for everybody."
While some greeted his program as a breath of fresh air, there were others who missed the traditional patriotic fare, resulting in some thumbs down and letters to the editor in the Herald-Leader.
"It was keeping in mind that while it is a program of American music and there was some patriotic music, the audience is broader for that program," Terrell says. "There was a chorus that I felt needed to diversify their repertoire for the program, there was an orchestra that needed to diversify its repertoire. ... What I liked was that there was a reaction."
And he says while the public reaction leaned negative, feedback he received directly was very positive.
In the bigger picture, Terrell knows that as he moves forward with the Philharmonic, there will be different opinions about what he does. He experienced it in Charleston.
"What I think ultimately is important is that the audience began to trust over time that the program, the execution of the program — eventually by the third or fourth year of me being there — they knew it was going to be good," Terrell says.
"I see the horizon. I don't see the one bump ahead of me. You have to look further than that.
"My goal is to put the organization in the community as respected, as something people get excited about and something people feel is of quality, because then in the end, people will support it."