The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Dec27Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Arts administration, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Central Kentucky Arts News, Christmas music, Classical Music, Country music, Downtown Arts Center, Film, Horsemania, Kentucky Theatre, Laura Bell Bundy, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Secretariat, Singletary Center for the Arts, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Allison Kaiser, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Balagula Theatre, Blake Shelton, Debra Hoskins, Eric Seale, Gustavo Dudamel, Haiti, Institute 193, John Lithgow, La Bohème, Laura Bell Bundy, Lexington Art League, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Marvin Hamlisch, Ouanamithe, Phillip March Jones, ProjectSEE Theartre, Rolling Stones, Scott Terrell, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Spotlight Lexington Festival, Stephanie Pevec, Steven A. Hoffman, The Chieftains, Thoroughbred Community Theatre, Tony Bennett, Trombone Shorty, U2, UK Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
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.
Apr23Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Lexington Singers, Music, Reviews, UK; Tagged as: Ben Arnold, Hector Berlioz, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Brown, Jefferson Johnson, John Narolillo, Lexington Singers, Marvin Hamlisch, Requiem (Grande Messe des mortes), review, Singletary Center for the Arts, UK Chorale, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
It happened, as things tend to do in Requiems, in the Dies Irae, the second movement.
The low strings in the orchestra and high voices in the choir opened, staking out the extremes. Then the rest of the 325 musicians assembled for Friday night’s performance started filling in. As the brass choirs at the back of the concert hall blew and the percussion started to roll, it was clear that no recording could do Hector Berlioz’s Requiem (Grande Messe des mortes) justice.
The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, UK Chorale and Lexington Singers capped off the 2009-10 classical music season in Lexington giving the city the extremely rare chance to experience Berlioz’s gargantuan masterpiece. Best as anyone can tell, no one else has done a fully realized version of the Requiem here in the 173 years since it was composed. In the curtain speech at the beginning of the concert in the Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, UK School of Music chair Ben Arnold asked how many people in the audience had heard the piece live, and only a few hands went up.
Lexington music lovers seemed to grasp the gravity of the event, forming a line for tickets that at one point went out the door, and delayed the performance for a few moments.
Under John Narolillo’s direction, it was well worth the wait — a few minutes or 173 years.
There was, of course, the sheer power of the 325 musicians working in concert to convey the passages of wrath, judgement and glory. But what made this performance incredible was the sensitivity with which all the musicians approached it. The Berlioz Requiem’s power is as much in near-silent moments such as a soft cello trill or the steady pump of bassoons through the Offertorium as it is in its passages of bombast.
Friday’s performance was all the more impressive considering the rarely performed piece was new to pretty much everyone in the show, including Nardolillo, and they only had a couple chances to practice it together before Friday night. The musicians brought their best to this performance, including tenor soloist Jason Brown, who rose to the intimidating task of being the sole solo voice in this mass of musicianship.
One quibble with the concert would be in formatting. The event opened with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture and then offered the first four movements of the Requiem then an intermission, and then the final six. By the end of the fourth movement, we were drawn in to the piece and ready to continue. Inserting the intermission broke the mood and presented the audience with an awkward question of whether to applaud in the middle of a requiem and the musicians with the apparently equally awkward question of how to respond.
Lexington presenters seem to be somewhat locked into an idea that performances must have two halves with multiple selections. Pieces like the Berlioz Requiem can and really ought to stand on their own, and asking an audience to sit for 90 minutes is perfectly reasonable – theater and movie crowds do it all the time.
But that choice hardly ruined the evening.
It is great to bring in marquee soloists, as the UK Symphony has done and will continue to do (see below). But what Narolillo and chorus director Jefferson Johnson did in putting together this concert was show that in Lexington there is the talent, and enough talent, to pull off a major work that is rarely performed due to the scope of the production.
It was town and gown on an epic scale.
In addition to finding out few people had seen a performance of the Berlioz Requiem before, Arnold also announced two major UK Symphony concerts next season:
- Composer Marvin Hamlisch will conduct a pops concert with the orchestra as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival and the Singletary Center’s Signature Series on Oct. 2.
- Violinist Itzhak Perlman will perform with the orchestra March 5, 2011.
Ticket information has not been announced for those performances.
Feb24Filed under: Bluegrass Community and Technical College, comedy, Downtown Arts Center, slide shows, Theater; Tagged as: Allie Darden, Beth Kander, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Downtown Arts Center, Kathy Swango, Katie Jo Cox, Leah Dick, Philip Sharkey, See Jane Quit, Tim X. Davis, Zach Dearing
Beth Kander takes fellow playwright William Shakespeare’s quote that “all the world’s a stage” one step further.
“In the world of the stage, it’s a really small world,” Kander says.
And that helps explain why her play See Jane Quit, which won the 2008 Mississippi Theatre Association Playwriting Award, is having its world premiere in Central Kentucky.
Kander’s boyfriend is old pals with Tim X Davis, director of the theater program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Recently they were visiting, renewing an old acquaintance that started when they met directing theater in Biloxi, and Kander mentioned that she wrote plays.
Davis says, “Almost as an afterthought, I said, ‘Well I’m always looking for new scripts. Why don’t you send me something?’”
Kander sent two scripts, and one of them, See Jane Quit, immediately clicked with Davis.
BCTC’s production opens Feb. 25 and will continue through March 6.
It is the second world premiere for the young BCTC theater program, which presented the world premiere of Davis’ Dancing With Dani in 2008. It’s also the second world premiere by a Lexington college theater troupe in less than a month; University of Kentucky Theatre just presented the initial production of Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View.
BCTC student Leah Dick, who plays the title role in See Jane Quit, says, “I’m really excited being able to set a precedent for other people to follow.”
Veteran Lexington actor Allie Darden, who plays Jane’s best friend, says, “So many times, you go out to audition for that great play like Steel Magnolias, and then you get a role that was made famous by some great actress and you think, ‘I couldn’t possibly do as well as they did it.’
“In a world premiere, you birth it. It’s your part.”
Adding to the excitement of presenting a world premiere is that next weekend’s performances are during the Southeastern Theatre Conference, which will bring more than 4,000 theater professionals and serious amateurs to Lexington from Thursday to Saturday.
Warhorses need not apply on the Lexington Theatre scene this weekend. Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Balagula Theatre both offer up offbeat offerings this weekend, one homegrown and one from across the pond.
BCTC’s Theatre Program opens Jane Martin’s Middle Aged White Guys Thursday night, so we’ll start with them. The play, which premiered at the 1994 Humana Festival of New American Plays, centers on three brothers who gather every decade at a garbage dump to toast the memory of the woman one of them married and the other two had flings with. They eventually drove her to drive herself off a cliff, but with a little help from the Almighty, she’ll have her revenge. The play runs through Saturday at the Talon Winery and Vineyards.
Balagula Theatre opens French-Romanian author Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano Sunday at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar for a two-week run. The play presents two couples, the Smiths and the Martins having a visit that slips down a slope from normalcy to complete non-sequiturs. Directed by Natasha Williams, it is the second in Balagula’s season of existentialist, absurdiust plays. Natasha’s is arranging a special menu to compliment the play.
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