The presentation of Our Lincoln at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in February was undeniably a big deal for Kentucky arts and humanities.
Artists who live and work here were presented on one of the nation’s most prestigious stages along with hometown kids who have made good and a few international stars, such as violinist Mark O’Connor. A production conceived and produced in Central Kentucky went to an international arts showplace and acquitted itself admirably.
I sat with a Washington cameraman who went on at length about how great the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is. It was one of numerous anecdotes about seasoned Washington arts observers who were impressed with Our Lincoln.
But it is understandable that this might be lost on people who weren’t among the 1,463 people who saw the performance, given while the state was in the throes of an ice storm. Overseeing recovery efforts forced Gov. Steve Beshear to cancel his plans to attend.
But now Beshear and anyone else who would like to see the show can catch it in Michael Breeding’s PBS-quality DVD, which has just been released.
After raising the money to get the program to Washington, the Kentucky Humanities Council had to go back to the well for an additional $6,500 to produce the DVD, with the total costs to be recouped through sales.
What we can now see is that Breeding and his crew captured the proceedings in stunning detail, with shots that take the viewer onto the stage with the performers and also relay the grandeur of the occasion.
Among the highlights are the world premiere of a setting of The Gettysburg Address by Alan Gershwin and sung by tenor Gregory Turay; Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown singing music from Richard Danielpour’s opera Margaret Garner; excerpts from the young Lincoln opera River of Time, which had its world premiere by the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre this weekend; and Nick Clooney narrating Aaron Copland’s symphonic Lincoln Portrait.
The only missing element is O’Connor’s performance, which Humanities Council executive director Virginia Carter said could not be included because of contractual issues with the artist’s management.
Aside from specific performances, the DVD also gives Lexington-area arts lovers a chance to take home groups such as the Lexington Singers and its children’s choir, the UK Chorale, the American Spiritual Ensemble, Lexington Vintage Dance Society, the UK Symphony and Opera, and individual highlights such as Angelique Clay’s Marian Anderson tribute, Kentucky poet laureate Jane Gentry Vance’s reading, and illuminating performances by Kentucky Chautauqua actors.
These are artists we usually have to see live.
The DVD also comes with a behind-the-scenes bonus feature that gives a good idea what life was like during the trip to Washington and back, thanks in large part to Jonathan Palmer, who photographed the journey for the Herald-Leader and the Humanities Council. Peter Thomas’ narration on the DVD is a thorough account of the Our Lincoln project, which started with a performance in February 2008 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. But the segment could have benefited from some interviews, particularly with Our Lincoln executive producers Carter and Everett McCorvey, who are quoted at length.
The unexpected extra is a glossy DVD booklet with photos and bios of the participants, and program notes.
Rarely do local artists get as big an opportunity as the Our Lincoln participants had, and rarely does a project come together this well.
The Our Lincoln DVD ensures the adventure will not be forgotten.