The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.”
It’s a typical rehearsal two days before a concert.
The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra is on the stage in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall with conductor John Nardolillo stopping occasionally to tweak parts, but mostly letting the music flow.
Centerstage two violinists trade increasingly virtuosic, knee bending phrases, somewhat reminiscent of a little Peach State fiddle duel Charlie Daniels once sang about.
This is where things become less typical.
One of the violinists is UK graduate student Jessica Miskelly. The other is Mark O’Connor, a classical music star who has distinguished himself by successfully bridging traditional classical music and American folk. He’s currently in the midst of a short residency at UK which will culminate in a Friday night concert featuring O’Connor, several of his compositions, the UK Choirs and several students sharing his spotlight.
“I’ve been doing more residencies the last couple of years at institutions,” O’Connor said in his dressing room, a few minutes before Wednesday’s rehearsal began. “Every time I show up at performances around the country, there’s all kinds of questions about, ‘Where’s this music going?’ and what your background is. There’s always some kind of educational component to it, so I just decided to expand that.”
In addition to UK, O’Connor works with students at the School for Creative and Performing Arts and the UK String Project, a primary school program, this week.
O’Connor has done his mini-residencies at prestigious schools such as the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the University of California, Los Angeles.
But he wanted to come to Kentucky.
In part, it was because of a growing relationship between O’Connor and the orchestra, which included another visit several years ago and a performance in February with the UK Symphony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Our Lincoln production.
“John Nardolillo has put a great emphasis on performance and getting the material ready,” O’Connor said, referring the UK Symphony’s director. “It’s just fantastic to see and hear . . . It’s going to be a darned good show for the audience.”
This visit also brings O’Connor close to Appalachia, a region he is strongly identified with thanks to his own music and several celebrated albums of Appalachian music with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer.
Oct24Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Arts administration, ballet, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Musicals, Paragon Music Theatre, Theater, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Ben Sollee, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra, Children's Health magazine, Explorium, Kayoko Dan, Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Larry Snipes, LexArts, Lexington Ballet, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers' Children's Chorus, Living Arts and Science Center, Nathan Cole, Our Lincoln, Paragon Music Theatre, School for Creative and Performing Arts, Scott Terrell, University of Kentucky, Vivian Snipes
When I moved to Lexington in 1998, one thing that immediately struck me about the local arts scene was the prominence of children and organizations geared toward children.
The Lexington Children’s Theatre’s shows rated the same sort of attention as productions at Actors Guild of Lexington and other area stages.
The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras’ events and personnel moves were prominent news. There were two institutions – the Explorium (then, the Lexington Children’s Museum) and the Living Arts and Science Center – geared toward children’s arts, particularly visual arts.
The School for Creative and Performing Arts had a prominent place in town, but there were stage, art and music programs at other schools also producing talented graduates who went on to arts careers.
Children’s Health magazine recently ranked Lexington No. 6 on its list of the 100 best places to raise a family. The criteria included crime and safety, education, economics, housing, cultural attractions and health.
I’d be willing to bet that if someone wanted to rank best places to be an artsy kid, Lexington would rate high on that list, too. By virtue of what is offered, we tell our children that the arts are something to do and be respected for doing.
The Lexington Philharmonic, the Horse Capitol of the World’s flagship arts organization, will celebrate young artists with its Youth Arts Day family concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts. It will include young singers from SCAPA, Fayette County Public Schools and the School of the Lexington Ballet.
The prominence of youth-oriented groups here is quite a bit more than other communities that I have lived in or observed. Over the nearly 12 years since I arrived, it has become clear that a big reason for that is quality.
Take the Children’s Theatre: In a town that has struggled with the concept of professional theater for adults, the Lexington Children’s Theatre has established itself with its own building on Short Street and a professional staff, including actors. What’s more, Larry and Vivian Snipes have developed a national reputation for the theater by being a venue that presents and creates new work. And the primary beneficiaries are kids.
And it really wasn’t terribly surprising that when the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras went looking for a new music director at the same time that the Lexington Philharmonic was trying to fill a similar job, it ended up attracting and hiring Kayoko Dan, also a candidate for the Philharmonic post.
CKYO has graduated numerous professional musicians, including Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Nathan Cole and hard-to-categorize cello soloist Ben Sollee.
Outside of groups directly geared toward kids, Lexington arts groups have been generous to kids.
Look at Paragon Music Theatre, which routinely loads the stage with kids, including Hello Dolly! this weekend, and even makes a place for them in its cabaret shows.
During years without a professional company, the Lexington Ballet featured its students in productions, and it and Kentucky Ballet Theatre, which has always had a pro troupe, always find ways to present students. Former Ballet Theatre dancer Adalhi Aranda Corn saw such value in Central Kentucky’s young artists she left and formed Bluegrass Youth Ballet and eventually built CulturArte, an arts facility that acommodates a variety of disciplines.
Possibly one of the biggest statements about valuing student artists was when the Lexington Singers’ Children’s Chorus was invited to perform in the Our Lincoln performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington in February.
And now LexArts has formed a Youth Arts Council to help focus young artists in the area.
Full disclosure: My children have participated in some of these groups, and one is in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, although not the ensemble performing Sunday with the Lexington Philharmonic.
In addition, I’ve gotten to know many other kids who participate in groups. Maybe the most important thing these groups engender is enthusiasm for the arts they are participating in. I hear spirited discussions about play rehearsal and genuine interest in Bach sonatas.
Like anything, Lexington’s youth arts scene isn’t perfect. I remain baffled, for instance, why SCAPA does not have a theater of its own. Then again, SCAPA regularly solves that problem by putting its kids on stages usually graced by adults and pros.
It occurred to me as I left a CKYO rehearsal last week with my daughter that by virtue of her participation in the orchestra, she’s on the University of Kentucky campus every week. Most of us didn’t get used to being on a college campus until we had enrolled.
That’s just one of many ways that through our youth arts, regardless of whether the students pursue arts careers, by supporting such substantial programs, we’re preparing our kids for the rest of their lives.
Oct10Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, dance, Music, Opera, Reviews, Theater, UK; Tagged as: Aaron Copland, Alan Gershwin, American Spiritual Ensemble, Angela Brown, Angelique Clay, Everett McCorvey, Gregory Turay, Jane Gentry Vance, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Jonathan Palmer, Kentucky Chautauqua, Kentucky Humanities Council, Lexington Singers, Lexington Vintage Dance Society, Margaret Garner, Mark O'Connor, Michael Breeding, Nick Clooney, Our Lincoln, Peter Thomas, Richard Danielpour, River of Time, UK Chorale, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
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.
Oct9Filed under: Classical Music, Lexington Opera House, Music, Opera, Reviews; Tagged as: Abraham Lincoln, Amanda Balltrip, Christopher Baker, Dione Johnson, Everett McCorvey, Henry Layton, Jim Rodgers, Joe Baber, Julie LaDouceur, Kentucky Humanities Council, Mark Elliott Golson II, Megan McCauley, Nick Provenzale, Nick Vannoy, Our Lincoln, River of Time, University of Kentucky Opera Theatre
Note: Space is finite in newspapers, really more finite than ever. This being a new opera, I wrote a bit longer than a usual review, and a little bit longer than the printed page in Saturday’s paper will hold. This posting of our River of Time review contains portions that will not be in the print edition.
No one in Abraham Lincoln’s home state has celebrated the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth as well as the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.
At the start of the celebration in 2008, the Opera Theatre teamed with the Kentucky Humanities Council to present Our Lincoln, a multi-faceted tribute to the Hodgenville native that eventually traveled to Washington, D.C.
Before that show was even conceived, UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey had commissioned an opera about Lincoln from composer Joe Baber and librettist Jim Rodgers.
That opera, River of Time, had its world premiere Thursday night at the Lexington Opera House. It’s not the unqualified success of Our Lincoln, but there is much to like and even potential for Baber’s opera to endure as a portrait of the president before he was presidential.
River of Time’s story takes Lincoln from birth through the death of his first true love, Ann Rutledge. Along the way, he fights with his dad, becomes a bookworm, grieves the deaths of the three most important women in his life and even wrestles.
That story makes for some great moments, including a slave auction in New Orleans where Lincoln declares that if he gets a chance to fight slavery, “I’m gonna hit it hard.” The scene, with a heavy dose of spirituals, is the grand opera spectacle of the show.
But for the most part, this opera strives for a soothing — sometimes too soothing — Midwestern feel, in the spirit of Aaron Copland or Samuel Barber. That’s exemplified in a small-town dance scene in which Lincoln and Ann realize that regardless of whether she is engaged to another guy, they are in love. Read the rest of this entry »
Mar14Filed under: Arts administration, Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Current Affairs, LexArts, Music, Theater, Uncategorized; Tagged as: Bob Singleton, Jim Clark, Lee Patrick, LexArts, Lexington Concert Band, Lexington Singers, Lexington Community Orchestra, Nick Nickl, Our Lincoln, Pam Hammonds, recession, Studio Players
It’s been a good season for Studio Players.
The first three shows at the Carriage House Theatre on Bell Court – Don’t Dress for Dinner, A Tuna Christmas and The Last of Mrs. Lincoln – were hits for the community theater troupe, selling out most performances. Bob Singleton, president of the company’s board of directors, says that if about 80 percent of the seats for a production are sold, the costs have been covered. And so far, Studio Players has not seen a decline in donations.
If only every arts group could tell that tale.
As the nation plunges deeper into a recession, good news in the arts has been hard to find. Just last week, word came of layoffs at the Philadelphia Orchestra and Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the latest in a steady stream of bad news for arts groups that also must deal with the economic downturn’s effect on ticket sales and fund-raising.
But community arts organizations generally don’t have the overhead costs of a staff or space to maintain, and sometimes are able to thrive in challenging times.
“This is a season everyone wants to write down in red letters in their diaries,” Lexington Singers board president, Nick Nickl, says.
Last fall’s the Singers’ 50th anniversary concert far exceeded box-office expectations, and the chorus had the ego boost of traveling to Washington to sing at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the production of Our Lincoln.
The only disappointment of the season, Nickl says, has been raising money for its annual Festival of Choirs.
“Usually people are eager to contribute to that,” Nickl says of the event, which brings the Singers together with choirs from traditionally black churches. “But we had to give it a little extra push this year.”
That said, “if you look at the list of organizations close to the edge, we’re not one of them,” Nickl says.
Neither is the Lexington Community Orchestra.
“We have been able to continue with a minimum of difficulty or challenge,” says violinist Pam Hammonds, president of the community orchestra board. Read the rest of this entry »
The American Spiritual Ensemble, based in Lexington and directed by University of Kentucky voice professor Everett McCorvey, will be on The Bob Edwards Show Friday morning on XM and Sirius satellite radio.
Edwards, a Louisville native, invited the ensemble to appear on his show after hearing it perform on the UK Opera Theatre and Kentucky Humanities Council’s Our Lincoln performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. on Feb. 2. The Spiritual Ensemble is dedicated to the preservation of the Spiritual, and it is made up of 25 singers from around the country, most professional singers, many with college posts. The group has several annual tours, including a summer trek to Spain.
Edwards’ show airs 8-9 a.m. EST on XM Channel 133 and Sirius Channel 196. The show is also available for Download on Audible.
After Barack Obama was elected president, we were treated to plenty of stories about presidential security.
The accounts included that the public couldn’t get within blocks of Obama’s Chicago home, that a date for Barack and Michelle Obama involved several dozen Secret Service agents, and that security measures caused hours of delays at the inauguration.
When I was in Washington for the performances of Our Lincoln, a week after the inauguration, we were advised that if the president had announced in advance that he was coming to the show, the Kennedy Center would have been locked down for three days.
Now, with all that real-world information, we watch 24 and have to suspend disbelief as much as if we were watching a show about space aliens.
Some of the first “wait a minute” moments involved First Dude Henry Taylor (Colm Feore), the husband of the new president on the seventh season of 24, Allison Taylor, played by Cherry Jones. Trying to uncover the truth about his son’s death, he was running around Washington, having meetings in wide-open parks while guarded by a total of one Secret Service agent. That agent turned out to be a rogue operative who tried to kill Taylor as part of a conspiracy.
Throughout these scenes, you had to be thinking, there’s a reason the first family has more than one bodyguard.
It was implausible.
But implausibility reached new heights with last Monday’s two-hour episode. Read the rest of this entry »
By any measure, the Lexington-based American Spiritual Ensemble has had a pretty good winter tour. During the 22-city journey, the ensemble has played the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Our Lincoln performance, sung in Gettysburg on the 200th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, performed at one of the stops of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania, and recorded an interview and performance for Bob Edwards show on Sirius XM satellite radio. An air date for the show has not been announced.
As it does most years, ASE brings the show home. The 25-voice ensemble performs at First Presbyterian Church at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 25). If you have not heard the Spiritual Ensemble before, you really shouldn’t miss their program, which resulted in involuntary mass sock removal at Our Lincoln.
One person whose socks were knocked off was Edwards, who had producers invite the ensemble of mostly professional opera singers to be on his show after hearing them at the Lincoln program, which he hosted.
A video production of Our Lincoln is still up in the air, but Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding has posted a short preview on his website that gives you an idea what the show looked like. Breeding oversaw a video crew in Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts when Our Lincoln, a co-production of the Kentucky Humanities Council and University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, was presented there Feb. 2. But additional money will be needed before the footage can be produced into a DVD and/or broadcast.
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