This article appears in the March 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit Lou.mag 
21c scores an A
There is great news for the contemporary arts scene with the recent appointment of Alice Gray Stites as chief curator of 21c Museum Hotel, which seems to make every international list of the world’s funkiest, most-intriguing hotels. That’s a tribute to local arts patrons and general good souls Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, who own the downtown property at Seventh and Main streets. Stites has made her name as a freelance curator of modern art and will continue as director of Art Without Walls, a nonprofit that encourages artists and institutions to collaborate on public art presentations such as the recent and popular New York City Opera diva costumes hanging over the Kentucky Center’s lobby. Her new job is a natural extension because hotel patrons will be exposed, all around them, to interesting (maybe even startling and challenging) art as they move about 21c. Drop into the hotel’s public spaces 24/7 and experience such free-of-charge exhibitions as the current Anthony Goicolea retrospective, which includes, among other riches, pictures of adolescence in which all of the boys’ faces in Goicolea’s often-crowded school scenes are Photoshopped images of the Cuban-American artist himself. The show runs through July.
As if to draw further attention to 21c as a magnet for all that’s new and (ghastly expression alert) cutting edge, watch out for a concert 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, the third performance in 21c’s “Hear + Now” series. Classical music is now a niche market, contemporary music a niche of a niche and local new music a niche of a … well, you get the point. Local pianist Rachel Grimes and musician Jane Halliday co-created “Hear + Now” with Daniel Gilliam, formerly of the local classical radio station WUOL-FM and now working in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis public radio. The worthy goal is to provide an opportunity for local composers to collaborate with regional performers. The March 8 concert will feature modern use of the harpsichord, and the central work is part of Gerald Plain’s “Concerto for Recorder and Chamber Orchestra.” There will also be new harpsichord and electronic keyboard work by Jacob Gotlib, a couple of movements of Dale Golden’s “Concerto Grosso” and two a cappella vocal works by Richard Burchard performed by the Louisville Vocal Project, a recent start-up choral group (resident at Bellarmine University) that specializes in both unusual early and very recent music. 21c, the organizers say, “provides the ideal environment to experience new chamber works up close and in a space filled with dynamic visual art,” and I have to say I agree because small music ensembles (unlike huge orchestras) sound best in sparse, small and resonant spaces. The presence of modern art only enhances the ambience.
Online for the facts
The commonest complaint in the Louisville performing-arts scene is about publicity. Cash-strapped groups lack the resources for blanket advertising campaigns, and word-of-mouth promotion among 40-and-ups is less pervasive than among the younger audiences, whose antennae seem better tuned to news about rock and pop events. In past columns I’ve mentioned the Culture Vulture calendar, a new-ish e-mail service that Louisville arts fan Jim Wilhelm started a year or so ago to address the deplorable absence of publicity for what many regard as the greatest arts development in a lifetime: live and real-time HD relays to local movie theaters from the Metropolitan Opera.
Wilhelm has grown his formerly e-mailed list to the next stage and put it online. In addition to comprehensive listings of everything live and virtual, from Milan’s La Scala opera relays to local children’s theatre, the list is an invaluable directory of arts groups, with contact information hard to find anywhere else. This month, I find the list especially good at untangling the mesh of terrific choral opportunities, no doubt in honor of the Lenten season and featuring a dizzying list of great works (including Mozart’s Coronation and Requiem masses and Boccherini’s Stabat Mater), on different dates in scattered church locations at odd times, performed by a rich sampling of Louisville’s choral groups. Too much to unravel here, so log onto louisvilleculturevulture.com and all will be clear.
Lent and Mae West
Mention of the Lenten season reminds one of the ongoing and self-imposed duty of restoring the pun to its proper eminence among the great comic forms. At a pre-Easter fund-raiser in New York many years ago, the organizers thought to liven things up by seating comedienne Mae West beside the dour, ascetic Cardinal Francis Spellman in the hope and expectation she would address him with her most famous phrase: “Come up and see me some time.” In due course, she did. And when Spellman dryly responded, “I can’t; it’s Lent,” she said, “Well, come up and see me when you get it back.”
It has been almost a year since the Louisville Orchestra last performed, and reportedly all but a rump of the best players long ago left town in search of secure employment, wherever that may be. Things worsened over the winter months, and the lowest blow was the state’s decision to require the players to pay back their measly unemployment money because the law ruled the musicians were on strike, not “locked out.” The law, as Dickens first reminded us, is an ass, but does it have to be an uncompassionate and vindictive ass?
Meanwhile, I recall with deep gratitude the superb Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert at a packed Whitney Hall Jan. 12, and I look forward to a similar thrill April 18 with London’s St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra and musical-director-doubling-as-violin-soloist Joshua Bell. Stephen Klein, the Kentucky Center’s president, told me the RPO charged the Center “in the low six figures” and that the April 18 concert, because of the smaller chamber orchestra (and despite the presence of a superstar violinist/conductor), would cost “substantially less.” These concerts won’t bring back the exiled LO players, but they do offer a glamorous and affordable way to give Louisville music fans a handful of world-class concerts each season. Which is probably all they want.
Columnist Thomson Smillie’s book, How to Listen, Learn, Love Opera (thomsonsmillie.com or at Carmichael’s) was recently released.
Photo Courtesy of Louisville Magazine