Most years, this column looking back at Lexington’s year in the arts is titled My Favorite Things, because I try to look back at the best of what happened over the last 12 months.
This year, calling it My Favorite Things would feel a little awkward. Am I saying the loss of a major festival and announced retirement of an iconic figure in the local arts scene are things I delighted in?
No. Of course not.
But they were important, and will have reverberations in the coming years for the arts and arts patrons in the Bluegrass.
So, maybe the title should be “That’s the Way It Was,” to steal a phrase from Uncle Walter. Well, regardless of the name, here’s a look back at some of the top arts events and news in 2006.
Lexington Philharmonic music director George Zack announces his retirement. It was an announcement that had been increasingly anticipated over the years. After all, 35 seasons is a sort of mind-blowing tenure, particularly in mercurial world of orchestra conductors. But outside of that, over those 35 years, Dr. Zack has become Dr. Arts in Lexington, putting a face on the increasingly faceless, unfamiliar world of performing arts.
He chose to wait until a new endowment drive ensured the stability of the Philharmonic for decades to come. But as the Philharmonic sets out to choose a successor, it faces the challenge of finding an attractive new face for one of the iffiest propositions in performing arts. Orchestras across the country are struggling to remain relevant and retain audiences in an increasingly noisy culture, and as the popular Zack has demonstrated, putting an inviting figure on the podium is vital.
Zack’s successor will have a tough act to follow.
The Lexington Shakespeare Festival closes. In nearly nine years covering the performing arts here, this story is the biggest shock. Financially solvent and still fairly popular, the festival board elected to close the event down before a season it felt sure would end in the red.
The move prompted a flurry of activity from the local theater community, though it still remains to be seen what, if anything, will fill the summer outdoor theater void in Lexington.
Lexington-grown talents come home. One problem in the performing arts is that most people performing on a stage in New York, San Francisco or London can’t be seen regularly by people who first watched them here. We can tell you they’re doing great work in the cultural capitols of the world, but you can’t see it. That made the Lexington performances of Gregory Turay and Laura Bell Bundy terrific events here. True, both shows had a rough edge or two. But what came shining through on both engagements — Turay’s performance in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s La Traviata and Bundy’s Christmas concert at Memorial Hall — was their immense talent. It was obvious why we don’t see them around here much, anymore.
Actors Guild bounces back. In 2005, it looked like Lexington’s flagship theater was about to take its final bow. But thanks to some help from the Lexington Arts & Cultural Council, creditors and the AGL front office, the theater put the crisis in full reverse and seems geared toward taking the theater into a much more professional future. (Joseph Rey Au's photo, above, is of Scott Wichmann and Adam Luckey in the Spring production of Rounding Third.)
John Nardolillo. We opened with a conductor and we’ll close with one. Quietly, Nardolillo has been fashioning the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra into a formidable organization in its own right. In the past year, the ensemble has recorded a CD for Keeneland and performed and recorded with folk legend Arlo Guthrie, presented challenging works such as Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and -- oh, by the way -- secured a recording contract with Naxos. Naxos, the biggest classical music label on the planet. The orchestra records its first disc for the adventurous label early in 2007, a disc of ballet music by George Fredrick McKay. Nardolillo has also been in the pits for UK Opera Theatre productions and he was conducting the Lexington Philharmonic for its Nutcracker performances with the Lexington Ballet.
As long as Nardolillo hold UK’s baton, the future of its orchestra looks very bright.