Smillie's Picks: Christmas Activities [Louisville Magazine]

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This article appears in the December 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

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Ho, ho, ho, hum!


This is the one time of year when we openly worship the one true lowercase god — money — in a series of rituals (The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, etc.), many of which date back to the very beginnings of consumerism with the founding of Macy’s in the mid-19th century. The original dark brown of Santa’s traditional robe long ago became red and white, a reflection of the store’s signature colors; others insist Coca-Cola introduced the red-and-white color scheme. Either way, mercantilism rules. Without the coffers rattling through December, though, the Louisville Ballet and (to a lesser extent) Actors Theatre would find dents in their budgets.


Herald angel things


If you are looking for a spot of variety, the best chance this month is Louisville’s rich assembly of what are called “community choral groups,” meaning organizations other than church choirs in which local people get together for the joy of singing. I heard the Louisville Chorus under its director, Daniel Spurlock, sounding crisp and disciplined while performing Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” two months ago, and the group has three concerts this month.


First up is Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church (415 E. Eighth St. in New Albany), with the theme of “A Family Christmas.” This will feature some traditional material (“Jingle Bells,” anyone?) and the occasional contemporary piece like “Spirit of the Season,” from the excellent score to the movie The Polar Express. The following weekend — 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the handsome St. Agnes Church (1920 Newburg Road), with a 4 p.m. repeat Sunday at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (502 N. Fifth St. in La Grange) — a pair of performances will focus on the theme “Angelic Music for the Christ Child.” A similar versatility in choice of repertory is evident at these later events; Schubert’s wonderful and traditional “Ave Maria” is balanced by a rarely performed version of the poem of the same name by Russian master Rachmaninov.


One of this crowded month’s most interesting events is a Dec. 18 performance at 2:30 p.m. in downtown’s splendid Cathedral of the Assumption. In addition to its brilliantly restored interior, the High Gothic soaring ceiling favors a large chorus, something church architects have known since medieval times. The group is the Louisville Master Chorale, a name new to me that seems to be a reincarnation of the defunct Louisville Bach Society. (The Louisville Youth Choir, pictured below left, will also perform.)You’ll hear Handel’s “Messiah” — or at least the Christmas portions of it.


If attending a handful of these performances achieves one result, it will be to improve your general knowledge of Louisville’s church architecture.


Final thought    

There is a big and important difference between a producing arts organization and a performing or presenting one. Some fine groups belonging to the latter category are the Broadway Series and the Chamber Music Society, which present fine work but do not produce it. Instead, they import a product made elsewhere, meaning an outside group arrives in town, sets up and performs. Others like the Louisville Ballet (almost invariably) design their own shows from scratch: building scenery, making costumes, rehearsing in town.

Recent Actors Theatre productions prompt one to ask when Louisville’s premiere arts group stopped being primarily a producing company and became a presenting one. In the 30 plus years of Jon Jory’s directorship, all productions were made here in Louisville. Looking back over the last five years, two or three of ATL’s product in each year originated elsewhere, dusted off for Louisville. This season opened with Sense and Sensibility, an import (and a very good one, too), and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, also an import (though not so good). I know the reason is money — shared scenery and costume costs, a shorter rehearsal period if the cast arrives in town knowing the moves — but it makes me wonder: Should Mark Masterson’s successor drop the title producing director, made great by Jory, Masterson’s predecessor, and instead call himself importing manager?
 

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