The Louisville Orchestra returns to the Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall after a year-long hiatus to celebrate its 75th anniversary season with a September 8 concert featuring both classics and pops.
Music director Jorge Mester will conduct the first half of the Fanfara gala concert, which will feature pianist Jeremy Denk on Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 25.” Denk is the 1997 winner of the prestigious Young Concert Artists competition and has played with many major orchestras, and he appears regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
“Jeremy Denk was my soloist about 15 years ago in Mexico, and I’ve known him ever since, and now he has a brilliant major career,” says Mester.
Principal Pops conductor Bob Bernhardt will take the podium in the second half, welcoming guest vocalist Steve Lippia with a tribute to the works of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and the great American songbook.
“We are opening the second half with the orchestra alone playing the overture to 'West Side Story,' so the orchestra is also front and center, as they will be throughout the entire evening, which is, of course, paramount,” says Bernhardt.
The season opener is usually a classical show, but this year, Bernhardt says it felt right to showcase the musicians’ diverse range.
“They are as adept at Beethoven and Mahler as they are at Gershwin and the Beatles. They play in all styles and all genres,” adds Bernhardt. “I don’t know of a better way to say welcome back to us all and to our audience than to do a little bit of everything we do.”
Bernhardt would have celebrated his 30th anniversary with the Louisville Orchestra last season, but the season was canceled due to prolonged labor dispute between orchestra musicians and management, who signed a labor agreement on April 25 after nearly a year without a contract.
“It’s been a very difficult year, and I am incredibly thrilled, very gratified and very excited that we’re all getting back to work again,” he says.
All five of the orchestra’s programming tracks return, including the mainstage Classics and Coffee Series and the Louisville Orchestra Pops, the casual NightLites short programs, the L.O. WOW Series, featuring a return of the popular “Video Games Live!” concert, and the family-friendly orKIDSstra performances. The orchestra will also perform with folk rockers The Indigo Girls on March 30.
The Hilliard Lyons Classics and Treyton Oaks Tower Coffee series begins on October 5 and will feature Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” and concertos by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and Franz Liszt.
“Some of my programs have some kind of interconnections. Some are just thrown together like a terrific buffet, you take a little of this and a little of that,” says Mester. “In general I prefer to do programs with interconnections, but this time I thought it would be good just to put some programs together that would be attractive for people who have suffered through a whole year of no Louisville Orchestra.”
The orchestra will continue to expand its repertoire by performing several works for the first time, including selections by Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Schwantner and Benjamin Britten, whose “Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings” will feature the orchestra’s principal horn player Jon Gustley and tenor Michael Colvin, who had been scheduled to perform with the orchestra last year.
“We’re committed to the soloists and guest conductors who had to be canceled last year, so some of them are coming back who are available,” says Mester.
In March, the orchestra will partner with the University of Louisville, the Speed Art Museum and the Louisville Visual Art Association to present “Copland in Mexico,” a week-long collaborative festival titled Music Unwound funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The orchestra will perform several Aaron Copland pieces, including “Rodeo” and “Billy the Kid,” accompanied by photography exhibits, lectures and multimedia projections. The project is produced by music scholar and author Joseph Horowitz.
The Pops series begins October 13 with a concert featuring veteran Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, who won a Tony Award in 2000 for best actor in the revival of “Kiss Me, Kate.” Fans of Fox’s “Glee” also know him as one of diva-in-training Rachel’s two dads.
“Brian Stokes Mitchell is a Broadway star with a capital S,” says Bernhardt. “He owns the stage and has a fabulous relationship with his audiences. I think people will be blown away by his charisma and his showmanship.”
Grammy Award-winning songwriting duo Brett James and Hillary Lindsey will join the orchestra in January to perform their original compositions, including “Jesus Take the Wheel” (recorded by Carrie Underwood), with “Music City Hit-Makers: Nashville’s Best.”
“Nashville is filled with great musicians. It has a great symphony and a great opera, and it has the Opry,” says Bernhardt. “But it also has hundreds, maybe thousands of people trying to make it, and great songwriters there. The people we’re going to be hearing have written number one tunes for some of the biggest stars in Nashville. While people don’t know their voices, they will know every song that we’re going to play and they’ll be sung by the people who actually wrote them.”
The casual NightLites series will also kick off with a country accent on November 8 with Black Tie and Bluegrass, featuring Fletcher Bright and the Dismembered Tennesseans.
A full schedule of performances and ticket options are available on the Louisville Orchestra website or by calling 587-8681.