The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Sep9Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Downtown Arts Center, LexArts, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Opera, Studio Players, SummerFest, The Rep, Theater, Visual arts, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: Ann Tower, Everett McCorvey, Jefferson Johnson, Larry Snipes, Robert Morgan, Robert Parks Johnson
In my column in the 2012-13 Arts Preview section of the Sept. 9 Lexington Herald-Leader, a handful of Lexington arts leaders who have been serving 15 years or more offered their opinions on how the arts have changed in the area over the last decade and a half and the current state of the arts. Of course, the print edition offered limited space for responses, but as we have said before, the web is a different story. So here are the unedited replies.
I am going to start with University of Kentucky voice professor and director of the UK Opera Theatre Everett McCorvey, because he answered in the body of the questions I posed, so it will let you know what everyone was responding to.
Q: This year, I was interested in hearing from folks who have been active here for a long time to get your impressions of how the arts in Central Kentucky have changed and stayed the same.
A: I love Kentucky and the appreciation for the arts. There are so many talented artists in our midst and it’s great to be in a city that supports artists and their work.
Q: What sorts of things have happened you never thought you’d see, or maybe you wish you’d never seen?
A: For me the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games were amazing. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to serve as the Executive Producer of a world event. I was very honored to have been asked. I was equally as proud of the local artists, technicians, businesses and volunteers who we were able to engage to perform and participate in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Everyone stepped up to the plate in an amazing way. It was a memorable event.
Q: What has been most surprising, affirming or disturbing?
A: When I arrived in Lexington, I was told by someone … “Everett this town will never support opera! Go somewhere while you are still young that will support opera.” I’m happy to say that this person was wrong! Lexington truly is an opera town. UK Opera Theatre was recently recognized by the Richard Tucker Foundation of New York as one of the top twenty opera training programs in the country for young singers. Pretty amazing!
Q: What is the state of the arts in the Lexington area, from your perspective?
A: We must guard very carefully our love and participation for the arts and not let the economy, video games and decreased legislative funding dim the importance of the arts in a community. Lexington is the community that it is because of the arts. The arts bring a vibrancy, an excitement, a sense of life and happiness to a community. The arts bring people together and they help us grow as human beings. I have long thought of doing research on towns that have high crime rates to try to discover how much hands-on art that particular city might have. I’ll bet the lower the participation in the arts, the higher the crime rate. The higher the participation in the arts, the lower the crime rate. When you take arts out of the schools, you take the reason that some students get out of bed in the morning to get to school. I was in the band when I was in elementary school. It was the excitement about being in the band that got me up every day and got me to school. It was music that carried me through my classes and helped me to appreciate the importance of discipline and responsibility so that I could practice my art. It is proven that children in the arts do better academically and are more successful in their chosen field, even if they choose to pursue other careers. The quality of life is improved by a community actively engaged in the arts. An active arts community draws more creative, fun and intellectual people to the city. Great cities also have great art. I think that’s been proven over and over. Please Lexington, don’t change. Don’t lose your fantastic appreciation and support of the arts. The arts make Lexington special.
Jefferson Johnson, director of choirs at the University of Kentucky and music director of the Lexington Singers
From my perspective I am really proud of the “choral culture” that has developed in central KY. Since I came to Lexington in 1993 (this is my 20th year as Director of Choral Activities at UK) I have witnessed a proliferation of strong choirs at every level. The high school choirs in this region have gotten stronger–several of them are conducted by former students (I’m proud to say).
The community choruses are thriving as well: the Lexington Bach Choir is a fabulous new group, and the Lexington Chamber Choir is doing extremely well, as are community choruses in Georgetown, Winchester, and Richmond, to name a few. The Kentuckians barbershop chorus is thriving.
Of course I’m most proud to be only the third director in the 55-year history of the Lexington Singers. We have grown from 110 to 180 voices over the past 15 years and have performed at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cathedral of Notre Dame, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City while taking concert tours to Europe, South America, and within the U.S. We started the Lexington Singers Children’s Choirs (under the Artistic Direction of Dr. Lori Hetzel) in 2004. That organization has grown to include four choruses, touring annually.
Our choral program at UK has grown from 2 choirs (65 voices total) to 7 choirs with over 200 students involved each year.
When we started the acoUstiKats in 1993 there were no other male a cappella groups in central Kentucky that I could find. Now they are a feature of many high school choral programs and nearly every area college. Our choral music education graduates, expertly shepherded by Lori Hetzel, are teaching throughout the state and running many of the best choral programs.
The level of music in area church choirs is also very high, and these church music programs frequently serve the area with gracious use of their facilities.
It would be interesting to see how many people in Lexington are singing in some kind of a choir. I would guess over 5,000 easily.
Outside of choral music, I have noticed a flourishing of musical theater groups. Paragon, the Rep, Grand Night, and other groups and events have put on high quality shows (including the Lexington Singers annual Pops concerts). SCAPA and other schools are doing amazing things with musicals.
The UK Orchestra, under John Nardolillo, has become a major player in the arts scene. John’s ability to attract internationally acclaimed artists to play with the UKSO has transformed the local arts culture. Chamber music is also making a statement in central Kentucky with two annual festivals.
In summary, I am very proud (and somewhat surprised) that a city with the population of Lexington has been able to foster and grow so many high quality arts groups–especially in light of the cuts in state and federal funding. Its a tribute to the hard working artists but also to the philanthropic individuals who have supported these artistic endeavors. The financial support of the arts by corporations and individuals has long been a hallmark of strong artistic societies. I think we have one here in Lexington.
Robert Parks Johnson, actor and contributing Herald-Leader arts writer
Since our arrival in Lexington in 1995, I don’t remember there being as many really fine companies doing consistently good work. Our community was once dominated by a handful of personality cults. You were loyal to this director or that one, this company or another. Actors are much more willing to go where the work is exciting, and right now, that’s just about everywhere.
Casting is still much too white. The theatre community has failed to encourage and develop African American and Latino artists. There is still a sense of novelty and tokenism when we see anything other than Caucasian faces in lead roles.
LexARTS has grown into an expensive organization whose contribution to the community seems disproportionately modest. I’m sure they do more than this, but their most visible activities seem to center around raising money and being landlords. Companies like Actors’ Guild and Balagula are proving that theatre can work in non-traditional spaces, but much of that effort is made necessary by the prohibitive costs and burdensome rules of producing at the Downtown Arts Center. I don’t know the numbers, but it seems to me that an awful lot of pennies go to overhead for each dollar that LexARTS raises.
I am delighted to have witnessed the resurrection and renaissance of the two companies that are dearest to my heart. A nearly terminal case of mission creep brought Actors’Guild to the brink, but thanks to the vision and seemingly inexhaustible energy of Eric Seale, the company is back at work making good theatre and developing a new generation of artists. The Lexington Shakespeare Festival’s demise was short lived, thanks to a group of veterans who stepped into the void when that fine company closed for the last time. SummerFest at the Arboretum is more successful than ever, and continues to be the most unique and festive theatre experience in the Bluegrass.
My greatest sadness about our theatre community is that we seem to have given up on Shakespeare. Actors and audiences who love the Bard have one chance a year to play together. There is no way to develop a corps of actors with the skills and experience to play the classics well when there are only a dozen opportunities to practice. The result is work that is frustrating for artists and audiences alike. I wish there were more chances for our artists to scale this pinnacle of our language’s contribution to the world theatre.
The best development in Lexington theatre has been the influx of new young talent. The “Old Guard” and the “Usual Suspects” are still around to share stories and what wisdom we may have collected over the years, but gifted, committed young artists are driving the bus now. That as much as anything makes me proud of my legacy and hopeful for the future of our art in this wonderful town.
Robert Morgan, artist and former gallery owner
I would like to celebrate all the little guys who take on the task of doing world class art and putting on truly creative projects in Lexington. We are the ones setting the bar for the community. We work without any money are support from arts organizations and produce far more excitement in the community. I am talking about the likes of Gallerie Soliel (Morgan’s former gallery) and Institute 193. We are and were working with a budget far less than most organizations postage budget for a yearly programming. When I meet young folks in the arts who seem blocked into a corner I tell them to just take control and make it happen without local resources. I tell them they are in many ways better off creating off the grid, there are no restrictions! One day I wish the local money bags would create a slush fund just to give to young and creative artists to do what they do best — light fires all over this town and shame us with what they can do with their spark and vision. Spark and vision are severely lacking in almost all of our art organizations and institutions.
Ann Tower, artist and owner of the Ann Tower Gallery
Over all, I think things have changed for the best in Lexington over the past 10 years. When I opened in April 2002, Main St was pretty bleak and empty. We had the new library and the new courthouses, but there was still a lot of construction obstructing sidewalks and roads, and there weren’t many restaurants, and it was difficult to get people to come downtown. Today, we have lots of restaurants, but I’d love to see more art galleries and more retail businesses in general on Main St.
21C opening here is the single most exciting thing that’s happened, or scheduled to happen, for the visual arts in Lexington. At last, an art hotel on Main St that celebrates the adventurous art collection built by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. It will be a magnet for art lovers, as well as the curious, and whether they like the art or not, there will be plenty to discuss and think about. I expect those same visitors will also venture out to see what else our city has to offer, and maybe, some will think about starting their own art collections, or at least a buying a painting or a photograph or something. Obviously, all the arts need patrons and benefactors to thrive, and I think having 21C here will set an example.
Larry Snipes, producing director of the Lexington Children’s Theatre
Since I arrived in Lexington about three years after the Opera House re-opened, much has changed some for the good, and some which causes me concern.
Obviously, I have to start with LCT, we have grown from a small community arts organization that produced only three shows and a few education programs to a professional theatre for youth that serves over hundreds of thousands of young people. Our budget was around $40,000 when I arrived as the only full time employee. Now our budget is over a million dollars and we employ 14 full time staff and 30 or 40 part-time artists and interns to produce over 300 performances of 11 shows each season.
As for impact on the community, I would have to say that a prime catalyst for the growth of LCT and many other organizations was the creation of the Fund for the Arts in the 1980s. The Fund provided a stable base of support for many organizations and allowed us to concentrate on what we do best, creating the art. In addition to funding, the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council as, LexArts was called then, also supported community arts organization with professional development and assistance with best practices in arts management. I know I learned a great deal about the business side of the arts with each of those early trips before the allocations committee. They made us better at the business side of the arts, which in turn freed us to take risks and be creative with our artistic endeavors. It wasn’t perfect and still isn’t today, but it works.
As for the current state of the arts, I would have to say we have a boatload of dedicated artists and organizations that are working day and night to bring the best work to Central Kentucky audiences. I am thrilled with the variety of theatre, dance, music and visual art offerings in Lexington. Just look at this arts calendar, I dare you to find a weekend where there is nothing going on in the arts. In the theatre world in addition to our work at LCT, we have solid long standing groups like Studio Players and Actors’ Guild as well as newer groups like Project See, The Rep, KCT and the innovative work and concept that is Balagula.
As for my concerns, I worry that we may have seen the last of arts philanthropists like Lucille Little and W. T. Young. Those two alone have had a tremendous effect on the art we see in Lexington today. Where are their successors?
I really worry about the state of arts education in Kentucky. Over the years I have seen things improve a bit and then have the rug pulled out from under them. When I came to Lexington the Fayette County Public Schools had the Arts in Basic Education Program that had specialists in all disciplines who worked in elementary schools to help teachers integrate the arts into their classroom. Sadly that program was phased out. Arts have gone from being four questions on a yearly test to merely an assessment of schools arts activities to “insure schools provide a vigorous arts and humanities program” and improve on it every year. Actually improving on it every year sounds good, but the thing is, in practice, if you start at zero, improvement each year is pretty easy. After the change to assessment only, art teachers were cut across the commonwealth. Arts were no longer on the test. Not on the test equals not important. I wonder if our young people will be provided opportunities to participate in and see arts performances or will we continue to chip away at the creative fabric of our society?
Rich’s P.S. Thanks to all the folks who repsonded to this request and those who chose to reply. If you would like to add to the conversation, please comment on this post.
Aug12Filed under: Balagula Theatre, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Downtown Arts Center, fundraising, Kentucky Theatre, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Theater, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington; Tagged as: 2012 Campaign for the Arts, Community Arts Grants, General Operating Funds, LexArts
LexArts set a new record in its 2012 Campaign for the Arts, raising $1.05 million to be distributed among area cultural groups for general operating support and Community Arts Grants. But LexArts President and CEO Jim Clark said he plans to nearly double that take within the next five years.
Clark said a significantly larger haul of $2 million will be necessary to support the work of a number of groups that are pursuing ambitious goals such as the Living Arts and Science Center, which is undergoing a renovation that will double its space. Clark said campaign goals will likely increase incrementally over the next few years as LexArts works to bolster the donor base with organizations both in and out of Lexington.
“We’re doing national-level work and it deserves national funding,” Clark said.
He said the quality of work by local arts groups has been a big reason why the campaign raised more than $1 million for the seventh consecutive year, despite the recession.
“The product is strong, and it’s attracted strong supporters,” Clark said.
Along with the campaign haul, LexArts announced recipients of general operating support and community arts grants.
General operating support went to:
- Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, $22,500
- Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, $165,000
- Lexington Children’s Theatre, $120,000
- Lexington Art League, $60,000
- Lexington Singers, $9,000
- Living Arts & Science Center, $102,000
Recipients of Community Arts Grants, given for specific projects, were:
- Balagula Theatre Company, $9,000 to support its upcoming season of five full length plays, including a world premier
- Kentucky Ballet Theatre, $9,000 to support its 2012-2013 Season
- Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, $8,000 to support its Kentucky Great Writers Series
- Chamber Music Festival Festival of Lexington, $8,000 to support its weekend festival and the “July Series,” informal pop-up concerts around town performed by young artists
- KY Women Writers Conference, Inc., $8,000 to support the annual conference
- Central Music Academy, $5,000 to support free music lessons for financially disadvantaged youth ages 8 to 18 years old
- LexingtonChamber Chorale, $5,000 to support its 2012-2013 Season
- Headley-WhitneyMuseum, $5,000 to support its Improbable Baubles art program for middle school students
- Common Good, $2,500 to support a youth arts initiative blending traditional storytelling with digital multimedia design
- KentuckyMighty Wurlitzer Project, $2,500 to support the 90th Anniversary Celebration at the Kentucky Theatre
- Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, $2,000 to support the creation of abbreviated love letters to the city of Lexington, installed as temporary works of street art along Limestone.
Who knows if it was the basketball gods, music gods or, oh, fortune that led the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts to schedule a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana by the University of Kentucky Symphony and the Lexington Singers for Friday night. But it’s hard to think of a more perfect lead in to the titanic clash will take place Saturday in New Orleans when the University of Kentucky plays the University of Louisville in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Four.
If you are thinking, “Huh?,” trust me, you probably know more about this than you assume.
Carmina Burana is a cantata by Carl Orff based on 24 poems and songs from a medieval collection of the same name. The principal way most everyone knows the piece is by the chorus O Fortuna, which has to be a contender for most appropriated classical work in pop culture, particularly if someone wants to illustrate something like, oh, mortal conflict.
As Time magazine described it (with our locally-relevant thoughts in the parenthesis): “It’s the go-to piece for any director or editor who wants to ramp up the drama (if that is possible, in this case) or conflict (intrastate basketball rivals in the basketball state; one team coached by the turncoat coach who once led the other team to a championship) or doom (what Louisville faces Saturday evening).
The piece begins with a shout, then a slow, ominous ramp up by the chorus, culminating in a thunderous crash of percussion and a vocal gale that brings to mind images such as hordes of enemy soldiers spilling over a mountainside — for our purposes, we’ll imagine them wearing a certain shade of blue.
University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra director John Nardolillo says the piece should be well known to UK sports fans because, “The UK football team uses it for their player introductions. So UK fans already have that big piece from Carmina Burana in their ear as being connected with the excitement of UK athletics.”
The piece has also been appropriated by movies from The Hunt for Red October to the opening-credit sequence for Jackass: The Movie (click the Time link to see that), on the Fox series Glee to set up the conflict between Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), by numerous wrestling and ultimate fighting programs and participants, and commercial campaigns for products such as Gatorade.
Nardolillo says that part of O Fortuna’s greatness is that it is so easily appropriated.
“You hear it over an over again in every different context, and it has resonance and meaning over and over again in all different situations for all different people in all different circumstances,” Nardolillo says. “That’s what makes it a universally great piece of music.”
Most people don’t know and really don’t care what the Latin text says. But Nardolillo points out it has relevance to a sporting event.
“The text talks about the wheel of fortune going around, first you’re up and then you’re down and you’re hoping to come back up again,” Nardolillo says. “It has all that going on, and somehow, if you listen to it, you sort of hear that going on even if you don’t know what the words are. You still get the sensation of the excitement of what could happen.
“With an athletic competition, you have that element of you’re hoping for good fortune, but it could turn out to be a disaster at the last second.”
Nardolillo confirms the scheduling of the performance and the Final Four are total coincidences, saying he and Lexington Singers director Jefferson Johnson and EKU Center director Deb Hoskins were simply working to select a piece that would show off the new concert hall that opened in September.
But Nardolillo says the looming competition may add a little spice to Friday’s performance. The symphony shares a number of performers who also play with the UK Pep Band.
“Our kids are basketball fans and Kentucky fans,” Narolillo says. “All the kids that are playing the piece that are fans of the team will have the same association fans have.”
Jul21Filed under: Balagula Theatre, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Film, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Opera, Photography, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: allocations, Balagula Theatre, Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, Central Kentucky Concert Band, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, grants, Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Kentucky Craft History and Education Association, Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Kremena Todorova, Kurt Gohde, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Bach Choir, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Living Arts and Science Center, The African American Forum, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
LexArts has announced its recipients of general operating support and community arts grants.
The general operating support funds are unrestricted grants, generally to larger organizations in Lexington.
This year’s recipients are:
■ Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, $20,000
■ Lexington Art League, $62,000
■ Lexington Children’s Theatre, $120,000
■ Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, $165,000
■ Lexington Singers, $9,000
■ Living Arts and Science Center, $102,000
Community Arts Grants are given at two levels: Program grants to groups for operating support and specific endeavors and project grants to groups or individuals for specific projects.
Program grants go to:
■ Balagula Theatre Company, $8,600 – for its 2011-12 theater season
■ Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, $8,600 – for the Kentucky Great Writers Series, which brings 12 Kentucky authors to the center to work with writers
■ Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, $4,000 – for the 2011 festival
■ Kentucky Ballet Theatre, $8,400 – for the 2011-2012 season of performances
■ Kentucky Craft History and Education Association, $3,000 – for Stringed Instruments, The Art of the Luthier, a documentary film about stringed instrument-making in Kentucky
■ Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Inc., $7,500 – for the 2011 event
■ University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, $5,000 -for the Academy for Creative Excellence, which provides theater and music training for first through eight graders
Project grants go to:
■ The African American Forum, $1,500 – for The Smooth Jazz Fest
■ Artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, $2,500 – for 1000 Dolls, a project to create and install 1000 local-designed dolls along Limestone
■ Central Kentucky Concert Band, $1,750 – for the closing concert of the 2011-2012 season
■ Lexington Bach Choir, $1,000 – for the 2nd Annual Lexington Bach Choir Vocal Competition in which students age 30 or younger compete for cash and a solo opportunity with the Bach Choir
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.
Click play to hear the Lexington Singers’ Hallelujah performance in the food court at Fayette Mall:
Reid Talley and his daughter Meg were in the Fayette Mall food court, taking a break from some Christmas shopping Friday evening, when a man near them broke into song.
“Hallelujah! Hallelujiah!” sang Johnnie Dean, who was soon joined by others near him, singing George Frideric Handel’s chorus from Messiah in four-part harmony.
“It took us a minute to figure out what was going on,” said Reid, who soon spotted one of the singers sporting a Lexington Singers shirt. “It sounded great in here.”
The Talleys and their fellow shoppers were in the midst of a Hallelujah chorus flash mob, a trend that’s been popping up around the country as choral groups stage surprise performances of the piece from Messiah, a popular Christmastime presentation.
The Singers have a Messiah performance scheduled for Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts, and joining in the flash mob fun seemed like a good way to promote the event.
In addition to a performance just after 6 p.m. at Fayette Mall, the Singers also sang the chorus at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at 7. Dean started the chorus as he rode down the escalator at the center of the store.
Lexington Singers music director Jefferson Johnson said the idea for the surprise performances started when friends started filling his e-mail inbox with YouTube videos of Hallelujah performances from around the nation in malls, subway stations and other locales.
“They’d write, ‘Hey, Dr. J. Long-time, no-see. Check this out! It would be perfect for the Lexington Singers,’” Johnson says. “And they were right. It is.”
The Singers have performed Messiah for decades, and the Hallelujah often at concerts outside Messiah, so most of the members know it pretty well. With 75 to 80 of their more than 100 members turning out Friday, it wasn’t hard for them to take over a store and a food court.
They did find challenges. Before the Joseph-Beth performance, singers were looking for similar voice types to be near, and while they’re used to singing Hallelujah, the store performances were a cappella. After the performance, singer Doug Martin joked that he might bring a trumpet next time to add the chorus’ famous trumpet part to the performance.
“These people love to sing,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of where and when.”
Dec3Filed under: Christmas music, Classical Music, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Reviews, Singletary Center for the Arts; Tagged as: Angela Gilbert, Baroque, Berea College Concert Choir, Cathedral of Christ the King, Chamber Singers, Christ Church Cathedral, George Frideric Handel, Jamie Van Eyck, Javier Abreu, Joseph Van Fleet, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Messiah, Ryan Taylor, Scott Terrell, Union Church
Before Thursday night it was already obvious there were big changes to the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra‘s annual rendition of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.
Instead of driving to the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts, we were directed to the Cathedral of Christ the King in Chevy Chase. And on stage – or, um, the chancel? – the orchestra was all of 27 players, backed by the 37 voices of the Lexington Chamber Chorale instead of the 100-plus Lexington Singers.
But the biggest transformation came in the performance, in which Handel’s classic oratorio went from a grandiose set of timeless tunes to a story.
In slightly less than 90 minutes, maestro Scott Terrell and his collaborators, including a sterling quartet of vocal soloists, took us through the three distinct acts of Messiah: the prophecy of Christ, his birth and life, and his death and resurrection.
Not only did the scaled-down size of the orchestra and no-intermission format accent the drama of the piece, but the setting of the Cathedral, where the presentation was delivered beneath a large crucifix, made the whole gist of the program pretty hard to miss.
This is what Terrell, in his second season with the Phil, wanted to do with the work: make it closer to its original Baroque-era form where the dancing rhythms and nuances of the story could be illuminated.
This is not completely new to Lexington. Christ Church Cathedral has delivered a Baroque-era Messiah nearly as long as the Philharmonic has presented the large-scale modern version at the Singletary Center. (Christ Church will do so again Friday night, at almost the same time the second performance of the Philharmonic’s production is presented.) And over the years, area churches and colleges have produced smaller-scale versions.
But the Philharmonic’s Messiah easily attracts the largest Central Kentucky audiences for the work. So the orchestra’s radical change means a change in how most area music lovers experience Messiah.
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.
Dec26Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, Balagula Theatre, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Current Affairs, dance, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, LexPhil conductor search, Music, Opera, Singletary Center for the Arts, Studio Players, Theater, UK, Visual arts, Woodford County Theatre; Tagged as: A Bluegrass Tapestry, Actors Guild of Lexington, Always Patsy Cline, Balagula Theatre, Bob Edwards, Heather Parrish, James Archambeault, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Kentucky Humanities Council, Kim Shaw, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Long Time Travelling, Lorne Dechtenberg, Luis Dominguez, Norton Center for the Arts, Our Lincoln, Paragon Musisc Theatre, Richard St. Peter, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, Scott Terrell, Studio Players, The Christmas Presence, The Infamous Ephraim, The Koln Concert, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, The Magical Tales of Beatrix Potter, The Woodford Theatre, Token of Affection, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra
New Year’s Day 2009, I assumed by New Year’s Eve I would have written about at least one Lexington arts group closing its doors. The economy was buried nose-first in the ground and theaters and other arts organizations were closing their doors around the county. While Actors Guild of Lexington did give us plenty of offstage drama, there actually were no fatalities here as far as arts groups go, and some even thrived despite the nation’s foundering fortunes.
The poster child for doing quite well, thank you very much, was Studio Players. In the depths of our national despair, Studio put up a winter show about Mary Todd Lincoln it thought would probably have limited appeal. And “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” was a sold out hit that had to add performances to accommodate the audiences.
And that’s pretty much how 2009 went for Studio, the pinnacle of the year being the summer production of “Always, Patsy Cline” that added numerous performances including unprecedented, for Studio, Wednesday shows.
Studio was not alone in bucking trends. The Lexington Ballet went out and hired a new company of professional dancers, the ballet’s first pro troupe since the early part of this decade. Paragon Music Theatre presented its first two productions directed by new artistic director Robyn Peterman Zahn at the Lexington Opera House.
Now Lexington and Central Kentucky were not immune to economic challenges. Donations to campaigns cooled a bit and the Kentucky Arts Council has had to endure several cuts due to state cuts. But, everyone came out alive.
Of course, there were other big arts stories this year:
A new maestro: After two years of searching, the Lexington Philharmonic named Scott Terrell its new music director. He succeeded George Zack, who held the Philharmonic’s baton for more than three decades, and so far, it seems the change has done the orchestra good.
“This orchestra is coming alive,” Herald-Leader critic Loren Tice wrote, reviewing November’s MasterClassics concert. “There is a sense of cohesion, of belief that there is first-rate music being made here.”
The new face has given the Philharmonic a chance to rebrand itself with a more youthful profile, helped by a group of hip, young soloists to start Terrell’s debut season. In all, it has been a profound change for Lexington’s flagship arts group.
Actors Guild melts down: Lexington’s one-time flagship theater had a very different year. Actors Guild of Lexington has long been angling to become the area’s fully-professional theater for adult audiences — Lexington Children’s Theatre has been a professional house for years. In May, it announced plans to make that move, but less than a month later, the bottom fell out. LexArts, exasperated after years of AGL’s financial roller coaster, withdrew annual general-operating funding from the theater. That nearly-$70,000 hit sent the theater into a tailspin, with both artistic director Richard St. Peter and managing director Kimberly Shaw eventually leaving to pursue other opportunities.
This fall, AGL has presented an abbreviated and altered schedule from what was announced in the spring. The December production of “The SantaLand Diaries” was reportedly sold out, and Actors Guild says it is making plans for 2010. But none have been announced.
It should be noted that at the same time this story has played out, other area theaters including the ones mentioned above plus The Woodford Theatre, Balagula Theatre and Children’s Theatre have thrived.
“Our Lincoln” in Washington: Many Lexington artists and groups go to perform in other areas on celebrated stages such as Carnegie Hall and even Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But taking 375 performers from a diverse ensemble of groups to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington was a whole new level of ambition.
The Kentucky Humanities Council pulled it off, traveling – despite the epic ice storm that befell Central Kentucky – on the first days of February to put on a show for 1,463 people. The performance, narrated by Bob Edwards and including the Lexington Singers and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, is now available on DVD from the Humanities Council Web site.
Film incentives pass: In June, the state General Assembly passed a bill providing financial incentives to filmmakers who shoot in Central Kentucky. The incentives – a 20 percent refundable tax credit for production and post-production expenses for feature filmmakers who spend at least $500,000 in Kentucky – are seen as essential to attract filmmakers. An immediate result was Disney’s “Secretariat” chose to come to Kentucky for filming in October.
New works: It’s always important to remember new performing arts works, because they help keep the disciplines vital and relevant.
This year started with the Lexington Ballet’s production of artistic director Luis Dominguez’s “The Magical Tales of Beatrix Potter” in March and concluded with The Woodford Theatre’s original holiday show, “The Christmas Presence.” In between, Actors Guild launched Silas House’s second work for the stage, “Long Time Travelling;” Pioneer Playhouse director Holly Henson presented “The Infamous Ephraim,” about Danville physician Ephraim McDowell’s historic abdominal surgery; the UK Opera Theatre premiered composer Joseph Baber and librettist James W. Rodgers’ opera “River of Time,” about young Abraham Lincoln; the Lexington Singers premiered “A Bluegrass Tapestry,” which was 11 songs accompanying the photography of Scott County’s James Archambeault; the Lexington Ballet presented “The Koln Concert,” set to Keith Jarrett’s iconic jazz concert album and the UK Symphony premiered Lorne Dechtenberg’s “Token of Affection.”
Lexington’s Michael Shannon was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for “Revolutionary Road.” … Lexington musical theater artist Christopher Tolliver was fatally shot at Lexington Green. … The New York Philharmonic played a sold-out show at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts. … Lexington Children’s Theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary. … The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras named Kayoko Dan its new music director. … Former UK Opera star Reshma Shetty landed role on the USA TV network’s series “Royal Pains.” … LexArts announced Horse Mania will return in 2010. … UK’s Cliff Jackson was named “coach of the year” by Classical Singer magazine. … Winchester’s Jason Epperson, runner-up on Fox’s “On the Lot” film-director reality series, shot his feature film debut, “Unrequited,” in Central Kentucky. … Norton Center completed a $3 million rennovation. … The Men of Note big band played its last gig. … Former Kentucky State University drama teacher and area director Jack Parrish died. … Norton Center director George Foreman announced he is leaving for a University of Georgia job. … The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes came to Rupp Arena for the first time with the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.”
Dec10Filed under: Christmas music, Classical Music, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts; Tagged as: Daniel Anderson, Eric Brown, George Frideric Handel, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Jefferson Johnson, Kentucky Christmas Chorus, Kentucky District, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Mary Joy Nelson, Messiah, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Sarah Klopfenstein, Scott Terrell
Eric Brown has had at least one big thing to do between winning at the Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and heading to Tri-State regionals in Indianapolis next month: Get ready for Messiah.
Brown will be singing one of the iconic baritone parts for the Lexington Philharmonic and Lexington Singers’ annual presentation of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”
Joining him will be two other UK stars, soprano Mary Joy Nelson, mezzo-soprano Sarah Klopfenstein and Cincinnati tenor Daniel Anderson. All four were competitors in this year’s Kentucky Districts.
The performance will be conducted by Singers director Jefferson Johnson for the second straight year.
If you are wondering where new Philharmonic conductor Scott Terrell is, he was already engaged to conduct the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s holiday pop concerts Friday through Sunday when he was appointed to the Philharmonic post, and the “Messiah” date here had already been set. So 2010 will likely be the debut of Terrell’s take on “Messiah.”
Terrell will be on the podium at Rupp Arena Tuesday evening to make his debut conducting the Kentucky Christmas Chorus, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on WKYT and WYMT and rebroadcast at noon on Christmas Day.
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