The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Vic Chaney says he was joking when he sent the email.
University of Kentucky Theatre had announced a 2011-12 season, and he saw that it had Tracy Letts’ Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County on it. Chaney had seen the show a couple of times on Broadway and loved it, so he sent UK theater department chair Nancy Jones a message.
“I said, as a joke, ‘Who’s directing it, and if they happen to go missing, don’t blame me — ha, ha,’” Chaney says. “And she said as a matter of fact, they needed somebody.”
He could have the gig if he wanted it.
Initially, he thought there was no way he could do it. First off, he lives almost 2,500 miles away, in San Francisco.
Chaney, 51, has deep roots in Lexington theater. He’s a graduate of the UK theater department and was a founding member of Actors Guild of Lexington, where he was the artistic director until a 1998 financial upheaval prompted the board to clean house. Chaney, who directed many of Actors Guild’s triumphs, including the 1997 production of Angels in America, moved to San Francisco in 1999 with his partner, DeWayne Spalding, himself a veteran of Lexington theater. Both men also are former Herald-Leader staff members.
Despite the unpleasant circumstances of his departure from Actors Guild, Chaney has maintained close contact with friends and family in Lexington and a respected position in the theater community.
But was he going to have time to come home to direct his first show here since he worked with the School for Creative and Performing Arts during the 1998-99 school year?
“It’s worked out really well,” says Chaney, who decided he could make room on his free-lance schedule to direct August: Osage County and re-enter some of the stages and corridors he walked as a student.
“It was strange the first few days here, but now it’s totally fun,” Chaney says. “The weirdest thing is that when I was here before directing, I knew most of the people. There might be one or two people I didn’t know, who were new.”
Now, he is working with a mostly student cast to bring to the stage a play that is widely considered a modern American classic.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a play that made me laugh and moved me and just seemed so big, so epic and personal all at the same time,” Chaney says of August: Osage County. “Most plays that are being written today are small, simple set, a few characters. It just seemed to defy everything that is being done in contemporary theater — and I see a lot of contemporary theater. It seems like something Tennessee Williams would have written or Eugene O’Neill would have written if they were writing today.”
Program notes at orchestra concerts almost always tell you where a work was premiered, usually well over a century ago, and we can only imagine what it was like to be there and here a work by, say, Ludwig Van Beethoven or Franz Schubert for the first time.
For the classical music fan, the experience of hearing a fresh new work can seem like something for generations past as we now just take in museum pieces.
That is changing though in Lexington, and Friday night’s Lexington Philharmonic concert was the biggest evidence yet that this is becoming a community interested in hearing new classical works by composers who are still with us, sometimes even in the same room. Commissions and world premieres have been rolled out by other organizations in Lexington, notably by the University of Kentucky’s ensembles and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.
But it is a powerful statement when the area’s flagship arts organization says it is going to prioritize new music and perform it on its major concert series.
Friday night we were treated to the world premiere of Daniel Kellogg‘s How Radiant the Dawn, and the operative word there is treat. The piece, the first in the Philharmonic’s Saykaly Garbulinska Composer-in-Residence program, is Kellogg’s musical interpretation of the sunrise. He said in Thursday night’s Kicked Back Classics event, a prelude to Friday’s concert, that it wasn’t a programatic piece, but it was easy to see it that way.
Dawn opened with fluttering flutes that recessed into a steady tone before resuming flight. Soon, other colors were streaking across a developing meoldy, somewhat discordant but working toward a blazing unity. Among the many pieces of Kellogg’s sunrise were moments like a glissando in the lower strings, like birds crossing the horizon, and a short violin solo by Daniel Mason that was reminiscent of the orange shaft of sunlight that fired across pink clouds Wednesday morning.
Soon the sun was up, and we were in Gershwin’s bustling city or Copland’s west, Kellogg’s marriage of lush strings and proud brass giving this a distinctly American feel.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich