Arts & Culture

Grand finale of UK Orchestra, Choirs season features Mahler's 'Resurrection' with Lexington Singers

UKSO concert Mahler "Resurrection" web banner
This year's concert featuring the combined forces of UK Symphony Orchestra and UK Choirs will showcase the vocal talents of Jessica Bayne and Courtney Porter, all under the direction of Maestro John Nardolillo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 17, 2023) — The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and UK Choirs close out the 2022-23 performance season in a monumental way with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 21, at the Singletary Center for the Arts.  

A symphony as epic as Mahler 2 requires an equally epic ensemble; joining the instrumentalists of the UKSO, led by Maestro John Nardolillo, will be vocalists from UK Men’s Chorus, the UK Chorale and The Lexington Singers, under the direction of Jefferson Johnson — putting nearly 300 artists on stage and featuring soloists Jessica Bayne, soprano, and Courtney Porter, mezzo-soprano, both DMA candidates from the UK School of Music 

“I’m excited about getting to put together a multi-generational choir for this event,” said Jefferson Johnson, D.M.A., on the mass formation of musicians. “Getting to perform a work of this magnitude is a rare and important opportunity for our students. Mahler’s 2nd Symphony is a hallmark of Western art — one of the most moving and profound pieces ever written.” 

Most of Mahler’s compositions contain an interesting blend of themes: bright and beaming optimism which enlightens listeners to all the beautiful moments among the chaos and tragedy in life, while the darker, more depressive tones serve as a reminder that the latter are an inevitable part of the human experience … but perhaps there is even more beauty to behold in the aftermath.  

Fellow composer Richard Strauss was writing music in the same state of mind with his tone poem, "Death and Transfiguration," which the UKSO performed earlier this season, all the while Mahler was working on a tone poem, "Todtenfeier," or "Funeral Rites” — which eventually became the first movement of "The Resurrection Symphony." 

"The themes here are the same,” said Maestro John Nardolillo on the programmatic aspect. “... an examination of the meaning of life, the process of living and dying, our common humanity, the transcendence of the human spirit and its relationship to how we live our lives. Examining these fundamental questions is one of the primary roles of the arts in our lives.” 

In Mahler’s own description of this work, he states: "We stand by the coffin of a well-loved person. His life struggles, passions and aspirations once more, for the last time, pass before our mind's eye. And now in this moment of gravity and emotion which convulses our deepest being ... our heart is gripped by a dreadfully serious voice ... What now? What is this life — and this death? Do we have an existence beyond it? Is all this only a confused dream, or do life and this death have meaning?" (from Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years: Chronicles and Commentaries, Volume 2 by Donald Mitchell) 

These questions became the foundation of the epic five movements of Symphony No.2 which is now one of the most performed and favorite out of all 10 Mahler symphonies.  

Tickets for UK Symphony Orchestra plays Mahler 2: "The Resurrection Symphony" with UK Choirs and Lexington Singers are $12 for general admission, $6 for students, and free for UK students with a valid ID before the day of the performance (available only through the Singletary Center Ticket Office). Tickets are available through the Singletary Center Ticket Office online at, by phone at 859-257-4929, or in person at the venue. Children 6 and older are welcome.     

About UK Chorale

The UK Chorale, directed by Johnson, is the university’s premier mixed choral ensemble. It consists mostly of upperclassmen and graduate students. While the majority of singers are music majors, there are a number of other UK academic disciplines represented. The Chorale prides itself in performing a wide variety of choral literature from Renaissance to 21st century. The ensemble has been fortunate enough to work with many talented composers, conductors and performers and has received regional and national awards. UK Chorale has also toured extensively, performing in Italy, Switzerland, France, the Bahamas, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

About UK Men's Chorus

The UK Men’s Chorus is an 80-voice ensemble composed of students who range from freshmen to graduate students. These young men represent a variety of musical backgrounds and academic disciplines. Begun in the Fall 2002, the Men’s Chorus has grown in size and popularity each semester. The choir’s challenging and diverse repertoire includes literature that spans from Gregorian chant to music of the 21st century. Rehearsing only twice weekly, the Men’s Chorus maintains an active performing schedule throughout the state of Kentucky, touring each semester.

About UK Symphony Orchestra

Founded in 1918, the UKSO is a 100-member all-student orchestra, presenting classical, chamber, opera and education concerts. The group is made up of undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States, Asia, South America, Africa and Europe. The orchestra has regularly performed with world-renowned concert artists including Itzhak Perlman, Lang Lang, Sarah Chang, Gil Shaham, Lynn Harrell, Marvin Hamlisch, Denyce Graves, Christine Brewer, Pink Martini, Ronan Tynan, Mark O’Connor, Wynonna Judd, Keith Lockhart and Arlo Guthrie.  

UK’s orchestra has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., tours the state of Kentucky regularly and has toured China, playing concerts in major concert halls in Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Yangzhou and Beijing. The orchestra’s performance at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts was broadcast on China Central Television, a network reaching more than 1.5 billion viewers. In the fall of 2010, the orchestra played for the opening ceremonies of the World Equestrian Games, a performance that featured more than 1,500 performers and 200 horses that was seen live on NBC in the United States by 39 million people, and by an estimated 500 million more television viewers worldwide.  

About The Lexington Singers

The Lexington Singers have been performing quality choral music including major works in central Kentucky and around the world since 1959, making it one of the longest continuously performing independent community choirs in America. Based in Lexington, Kentucky, The Lexington Singers provides opportunities for children, youth and adults. The Adult Choir is comprised of more than 180 members. The Lexington Singers currently includes five choirs with over 300 voices total, including four children’s choirs and an Orff Ensemble.

The UK Symphony Orchestra and UK Choirs are housed in the School of Music at UK College of Fine ArtsThe UK School of Music has garnered a national reputation for high-caliber education in opera, choral and instrumental music performance, as well as music education, music therapy, composition, and theory and music history. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.