Looking forward to 2009 arts and entertainment

For the day-after-New Year’s Weekender, Scott the editor asked me and the other Herald-Leader critics to weigh in on what we are looking forward to in 2009. Here’s my list of local arts events.

Gil Shaham performs Valentines Day at the Singletary Center.

Gil Shaham performs Valentines Day at the Singletary Center.

Violin virtuosos: Early in the year, we will receive visits from two of the hottest ­violinists on the planet: Joshua Bell in recital with pianist Jeremy Denk on Jan. 26 at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville; and Gil Shaham performing with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, on Feb. 14 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Either one of the guys coming to town would be a big deal. To get both violin ­virtuosos less than a month from each other is huge.

Silas House’s new play: In 2005, the Kentucky author made his debut as a playwright with The Hurting Part, a play with the familiarity of characters close to our homes, sketched with great drama and wonderful language. In April, Actors Guild of Lexington is scheduled to present House’s second stage effort, and it will be interesting to see whether a new Kentucky playwright is indeed emerging.

TBA’s first season: In April, we will learn who is going to take the baton for the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra and lead the orchestra into the future. After 37 years of George Zack on the podium and two years of a search for a music director, it will be fascinating to see how this person settles in, what he or she will program, and what sort of public face he or she will bring to the Philharmonic.

River of Time: In 1999, University of Kentucky music composition professor Joseph Baber wrote An American Requiem, a powerful choral and orchestral work that seemed a bit like putting Ken Burns’ The Civil War into a classical composition. River of Time, Baber’s opera set to be premiered by UK Opera Theatre in the fall, will mine the same period, telling the tale of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood in Kentucky and the impact of his presidency.

The economy: Do I look ahead to this with anticipation or dread? It all depends on whether the country’s financial status continues to deteriorate or starts to turn around. Either way, it will dictate what arts groups do in 2009-10, and a severe financial downturn could irrevocably alter the arts landscape in Central Kentucky and across the nation.

Here are a few other things I’m looking forward to on the national stage:

New movies from Kentucky’s A-listers: Johnny Depp and George Clooney are notably absent from the awards race this year, but 2009 sees both with fresh, intriguing projects. Depp’s highest profile film has him playing gangster John Dilinger in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, due in July. Clooney is starring in Men Who Stare at Goats, the feature film directoral debut for his Good Night, and Good Luck co-writer Grant Heslov, a film about a U.S. military unit that uses the paranormal against its enemies. Depp and Clooney have other projects coming as well.

Other movies: We’re back with that old saw that Hollywood can’t make anything but sequels these days, and there are plenty this year, including a new Transformers and Harry Potter. A few reach farther into the past, and I am intrigued to see how Star Trek (sans Shatner) and Terminator (sans the Governator) fare with new visions.

Alan Gilbert taking over the New York Philharmonic: Like here in Lexington, New York’s leading band will get a new conductor starting in the fall. Unlike the recent line of venerable old conductors that have conducted the NY Phil, Gilbert promises to bring a new profile to what should be, but often is not, one of America’s leading orchestras. BTW, the NY Phil comes to Danville with outgoing conductor Lorin Maazel March 5.

Sean Watkins and Jon Foreman are Fiction Family.

Sean Watkins and Jon Foreman are Fiction Family.

Jon Foreman’s new project: The Switchfoot frontman’s solo EP’s were some of last year’s best music. He starts 2009 in collaboration with Nickle Creek’s Sean Watkins for Fiction Family. Speaking of Christian rock, I am also looking forward to new music — finally! — from Rebecca St. James.

The Obama administration: We haven’t heard a Presidential candidate or President-elect talk about the arts nearly as much as Barack Obama. His campaign included an arts platform, and both his campaign and transition team featured arts policy advisors, so it will be very interesting to see what kind of action this translates into. We’re talking about this more this weekend at le blog and in Sunday’s Herald-Leader Arts+Life section.

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