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Kentucky Symphony Gets Quirky with Open Mic, Hosts Bourbon Barrel Ball

Principal musicians of the Kentucky Symphony take their turn in the spotlight for Open Mic Night at 7:30 p.m. April 14 at Northern Kentucky University’s Greaves Concert Hall.

First chair players will perform short concerti and showpieces, “while the KSO has fun with quirky bookend orchestral works,” says KSO founder and music director James Cassidy.

The evening is inspired by a long-ago annual event by Cincinnati Symphony. “Musicians affectionately referred to it as The Gong Show,” Cassidy recalls, and he “really appreciated getting to hear accomplished musicians get their chance to shine in front of the band.”

Cassidy guides us through what audiences will hear:

The program opens with “a quirky area premiere of Riodon Shchedrin’s Concerto for Orchestra (“Naughty Limericks”), a barn-burner that opens with each instrument offering solo interjections over a jazzy solo walking bass line,” Cassidy previews.

Then the woodwinds take the stage. ”Paul Hindemith’s Concerto for Woodwinds, Harp and Orchestra brings forward woodwind principals Jennifer King, flute, Lara Saracina, oboe, Christine Todey, clarinet, Zhongwang Wang, bassoon and Anna Odell, harp, in this brief three-movement work accompanied by five brass players and strings.

“Trumpeter Brian Beurkle steps up to close out the first half with Alexander Arutiunian’s virtuosic, Armenian folk-flavored Trumpet Concerto.

Principal Cellist Tom Guth kicks off the second half with Erich Korngold’s one-movement Cello Concerto in C. “It was originally written for the 1946 film Deception with Bette Davis and Claude Rains. Spoiler alert: In the film, Davis murders the conductor (Rains) before the concerto’s premiere.”

Current CCM undergrad and KSO principal horn Michelle Hembree offers “a musical bon-bon” with Paul Dukas’s Villanelle for French Horn and Orchestra. “A noted one-hit wonder (for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), Dukas wrote his solo horn work as a demanding exam piece for the horn class of the Paris Conservatoire in 1906.”

Long-time KSO concertmaster Manami White and first violinist Youjin Na will launch into pyrotechnic duet Navarra by Pablo Sarasate, who was himself a virtuoso violinist of the late 19th century.

The program closes with Godzilla Eats Las Vegas, by American composer Eric Whitacre. “Associate conductor, principal second violinist and program annotator, Thomas Consolo takes to the podium to close out the concert with a fun, raucous and somewhat campy, bookend closer.”

Coming up April 21, Kentucky Symphony’s first Bourbon Barrel Ball at Newport on the Levee’s former IMAX theater, raising funds for free programs offered to area schools, and free family-friendly concerts in Devou Park, impacting 20,000 Northern Kentucky residents this year.

The evening includes bourbon tastings, a silent auction, optional tours of the venue KSO hopes will become its permanent home, with renovation plans and renderings. Dinner by BRIO and entertainment includes dancing to the KSO’s Devou Doo Daddies Swing band, the Floodwall Jazz Quartet, a new SouthBank Mariachi Band, plus Jimmy Lee Hook’s Billy Joel & Elton John tribute.

Gala tickets at and 859.431.6216.

Open Mic Night, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, 7:30 p.m. April 14, Greaves Concert Hall, Fine Arts Center, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. Reserved seating tickets are $19, $27, $35,children ages 6-18 half-price. Available at, 859.431.6216, and at the door.

-Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts