Lexington’s 2010 year in arts could not have been weirder if you took the city and plopped it in the middle of Florida. Between some major changes at area arts institutions and the unprecedented wave of local and national arts activity prompted by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, it was a year unlike any we have had or will probably see again.
■ While we did not get U2 or the Rolling Stones as WEG organizers had originally hoped, the games did fill up theaters, and in many cases, theater seats during the two weeks and three weekends of the games. Topping the bill was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the Norton Center for the Arts. It was a booking that was deemed impossible by New York agents and drew national attention, all made possible by the persistence of for Norton Center assistant managing director Debra Hoskins who smoothed the road with bourbon and chocolate.
The event itself was an unforgettable evening for the audience and a great experience for area musicians and others who got to interact with one of the world’s great orchestras and shining stars.
Other great performances brought in by the Games were an evening with Marvin Hamlisch and the UK Symphony Orchestra, which had a great fortnight playing for the opening ceremonies and a production of La Boheme as well; Blake Shelton, Trombone Shorty and Laura Bell Bundy at the Spotlight Lexington Festival downtown and performances by Tony Bennett, John Lithgow and the Chieftains.
There is talk of extending both the Spotlight and Alltech Fortnight festivals, which presented the bulk of the entertainment, into the future. But we probably won’t see this level of activity again unless the games come back.
The Games also brought a number of high profile art exhibits to the area including a retrospective of the horse in American art at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and the Gift from the Desert look at Arabian horses at the International Museum of the Horse.
■ Scott Terrell was hired as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music director in 2009, but this is the year we really started to see his vision for the orchestra unfold, and its reverberations in the community. Unveiling the orchestra’s 2010-11 season, he showed he was willing to break traditions and initiate new collaborations. He presented Messiah is a smaller format than years past and brought groups including local school and college choirs into the Philharmonic fold for performances that broke the orchestral concert mold. He also instituted a new style of concert preview with the Kicked Back Classics event at the Downtown Arts Center in November.
The moves have not come without some friction, which change often produces. There was unhappiness over the Lexington Singers not being part of the Messiah this year, as Terrell wanted to go with a smaller chorus and the Singers did not want to downsize. Enter the Lexington Chamber Chorale as a new collaborator and the Singers presenting their own Messiah in a holiday arts season whose calendar was largely rewritten this year. Precipitated by the changes, the Singers are asserting themselves more as an entity in their own right, un-tethered to the Philharmonic calendar.
How all of this will settle remains to be seen. But it is clear this will be a new Philharmonic under Terrell’s baton.
The orchestra also got a new executive director as Allison Kaiser came over from the same post at the Lexington Art League and Stephanie Pevec took over that post.
■ This was the year without Actors Guild of Lexington. Long regarded as Lexington’s flagship theater for adult audiences, financial troubles and management departures in 2009 all but shuttered the company this year except for one production, a concert version of The Who’s Tommy at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and the new Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater. That said, theater thrived in the area with first rate productions by the Lexington Children’s Theatre and area college and community groups and emergence of some new organizations such as ProjectSEE Theartre and productions out of the Thoroughbred Community Theatre in Midway. And there were successes such as Balagula Theatre’s strong showing in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention here in Lexington. Actors Guild has announced a lineup of shows for 2011 under the guidance of new artistic director Eric Seale, but the group will be joining an active theater scene.
Some other big stories of the year that is now almost done were:
■ Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts tapped Steven A. Hoffman as its new director, following the departure of longtime director George Foreman to the University of Georgia. With this month’s departure of assistant managing director Debra Hoskins, there has been a complete turnover in management at the Norton Center. This will be a story to watch in 2011.
■ Alltech launched a project sending University of Kentucky voice students to Ouanamithe, Haiti, to launch a music program and form a children’s choir. The choir came to Central Kentucky and made several appearances during the World Equestrian Games.
■ The Southeastern Theatre Conference, the nation’s largest regional theater convention, came to Lexington for the first time in more than 20 years, and by all accounts, it went wonderfully.
■ Secretariat brought some Hollywood glamour back to the Bluegrass, including a gala premier at the Kentucky Theatre attended by star Diane Lane and many others.
■ Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy launched a country music career with her Mercury Nashville debut Achin’ and Shakin’.
■ Horse Mania returned to the streets of Lexington, 10 years after the original edition in 2000.
■ Michael Tick was named the new dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Fine Arts.
■ The Pioneer Playhouse in Danville suffered massive flooding during rainstorms in early May, but recovered and went on to a successful season thanks to an army of volunteers.
■ Phillip March Jones’ Institute 193 emerged as a major force in creating and presenting visual arts in Central Kentucky.
■ Among world premiers in Lexington this year were Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View and Bringing It Home: Voices of Student Veterans, by UK Theatre, Beth Kander’s See Jane Quit by Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theatre, Roger Zare’s Geometries by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Frank X Walker’s I Dedicate This Ride at Lexington Children’s Theatre, and the regional premier of Brian Hampton’s The Jungle Fun Room by Studio Players.