Opening night excitement: UK Orchestra opens 2022-2023 concert season

Kendall Staton, Asst. News Editor

The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra (UKSO) opened its 104th concert season Friday, Sept. 23, in the Otis A. Singletary Center for Fine Arts Concert Hall. The 100 person orchestra performed a total of three pieces, including Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique.”

UKSO Conductor John Nardolillo called “Symphonie Fantastique” one of the most famous compositions of all time. He said that while working with seasoned professionals and fresh new students are very different experiences, he much prefers the energy students bring to the stage. 

“[Students] are not afraid to get out on stage and really be expressive and feel,” Nardolillo said. “They aren’t afraid to be vulnerable on the stage and they aren’t afraid to express the deep emotions of music.”  

The Singletary Center Box Office distributed 1,149 tickets for Friday night’s performance. The house of the theater slowly filled as musicians awaited their curtain calls backstage.

Ahead of the performance, bassoonists Kyla Stevens and Ben Wesley said they were not nervous, just excited to be back on stage for the 2022-2023 concert season. 

Stevens said they are often anxious if they have a solo, but during this performance they only shared a soli with the rest of the bassoon section. Soli refers to the part of a composition played by one section of the orchestra rather than only one musician. 

Stevens was not the only one looking forward to the concert. Violinist Andrew Lyn also said he was excited to be back on stage with the ensemble. Lyn participated in a co-op program during the spring semester, making opening night his first performance back with the ensemble since last spring. 

The orchestra played “Symphonie Fantastique” as the closing number of their performance. Berlioz wrote the piece as an outlet for the emotional torment of unrequited love. 

Berlioz became enchanted by actress Harriet Smithson after seeing her performance as Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He soon after wrote her love letters to dispel his feelings, though he received no response. 

The opening movement of “Symphonie Fantastique” follows the first time the young musician saw the woman of his dreams. The four following movements unravel a festive party, walk along the countryside, opium induced hallucinations and a witches’ sabbath. 

The 50 minute composition features the sound of church bells, often mimicked by smaller more accessible instruments. However, per request of UK Bands Visiting Lecturer Joshua Smith, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra agreed to loan the ensemble two custom made bells for their opening night performance. 

The bells, each weighing 200 pounds, were played by UK Senior Percussionist Jacob Davidson in the closing movement of the composition. With mallets each weighing 15 pounds, Davidson called the new equipment a “beast to play and manage.”

Davidson said the new equipment and new positioning on stage took some adjusting.  

“Playing on the Berlioz bells seems to be a bit of a challenge, because I am a little bit further away from the ensemble, the people I have to listen to, than I normally am,” Davidson said. “I have to make sure that I’m actually with them all the time, tempo wise.” 

The orchestra also performed Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” and Gabriella Smith’s “Tumblebird Contrails.” The performance marked the Kentucky debut of Smith’s composition. 

While Davidson played a key role in the performance, he was not the only percussionist excited to be back on stage. Percussionist Ford Smith said he was looking forward to his friends and family hearing an energetic percussion section during the performance.  

Smith aimed to keep the energy of the musicians high throughout the long pieces, something that took a lot of practice. 

“I think what I’ve found to be more difficult or maybe more of a challenge is creating energy as a percussionist,” Smith said. “At a certain point you can be prepared to play but what I’ve tried to do in rehearsals is bring the same amount of energy to things each time … delivering a lot of energy when (I) need to.” 

The crowd felt the energy Smith aimed to provide. Georgetown College junior Kate Ruggles said her favorite piece of the night was Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” due to the build from a few sections playing at the beginning, to the entire orchestra playing at the end. 

“At the end it was very powerful,” Ruggles said. “Everybody loved it and we’re going to come back for more.”