Monday, September 30, 2013

17 Questions for William Duffy, Sculptor

William and Sherrolyn Duffy. Photo – LVAA.

By Brian Walker
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Brian Walker. All rights reserved.
William Duffy is a sculptor, teacher and Kentuckian with eyes for the global stage. His resume is impressive, and I would encourage everyone to browse his online gallery at His work has been exhibited at JB Speed Museum, Kentucky Art & Craft Foundation Gallery, Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Muhammad Ali Center (just to name a few). He has received commissions from the Bingham Foundation for Women, Kentucky Arts Council and The Louisville Orchestra (again, just to name a few). Most recently he had work on exhibit in Louisville Visual Art Association's “By the Numbers:  An Exhibition of 16 Artabella Artists."
Brian Walker:  Number 1. You were just a part of the recent exhibit by the Louisville Visual Art Association at PUBLIC gallery. What work was featured?
William Duffy:  Two stone carvings that are sort of central to all of my work – human forms and in particular the female form: “Morning Stretch II” – white marble nude female figure; and “Calmly Standing” – fossil stone abstract/figurative female form
BW:  Number 2. What was the inspiration for the piece "Morning Stretch II" (which is gorgeous)?
WD:  Thanks! Do you ever think about your rising up in the morning and starting another day? Sometimes you feel as though none of your muscles will wake up until you stretch your arms up and twist that torso a little; then you feel ready to take on the day. As you stretch, you feel big and strong, like you can take on any and all challenges. That’s my inspiration for this piece.
BW:  Number 3. For folks not familiar with Artebella, what is it?
WD:  It’s a new Louisville Art Association website and daily email that features the artwork of a different local artist each weekday. The Artebella “By the Numbers” exhibit held at LVAA’s PUBLIC gallery was a “crowd-sourced” curated exhibit.
BW:  Number 4. What does it mean for you to have been selected to be part of the 16 artists invited to be included in this exhibition?
WD:  It’s really cool to know that I was chosen by “crowd-sourced web analytics.” It sort of reminds me of winning by popular vote, but not really. I’m in the exhibit because I was one of the artists that had the highest number of viewers’ clicks on my pages and the longest looking viewers. Now this doesn’t mean they liked my work the best; it just means more people were curious about it and for longer. [Smiles] Either way, I’m grateful for the interest and honored to be in the show.

Spread Your Wings, marble, William Duffy.

BW:  Number 5. Was there a moment you can point to when you knew you had to be a sculptor and had to do it for the rest of your life?
WD:  Yes. I was driving home from my workplace at the Natural History Museum (now the Louisville Science Center) when I spotted some workers picking up some large chunks of marble in front of a bank. Apparently a car had jumped the curb and struck a marble column in front of the bank. The workers were removing the pieces. I pulled up to the men removing the marble chunks and asked if I could have a piece of the rock for carving and they said, “Sure!” My first carving tool was a screwdriver that I had sharpened and a regular claw hammer. It took me MONTHS to get the hang of carving in that material because I had never done anything like it before and marble is a really hard stone. But I had known for quite some time that I wanted to create three dimensional art – not just create the illusion of it. Later when I had a show of my paintings and drawings at Spalding University, I included this marble sculpture in the show and a small alabaster carving I had been working on. The Sunday after the opening reception, The Courier-Journal did a review of the exhibit and there was this huge picture of my marble sculpture in it. The art critic, Sarah Lansdell, said, “The most arresting and impressive of this group of Duffy works are extraordinary abstract sculptures in marble and alabaster. These are small and have an unusual purity of surface and tensions that indicate a superior understanding of the sculptural needs. This universal side of Duffy could bear a great deal more exposure.” Right then I knew carving was what I wanted to do! That was 1980 and I’m still carving…
BW:  Number 6. Do you have another art form you go to consistently to be inspired to create your own work?
WD:  Yes, I still love drawing. It is something that I’ve done most of my life and I never get enough of it. I can work out my ideas quickly or slowly, depending on the material I’m going to approach. It’s always better for me to see the image on paper first.
BW:  Number 7. What’s the sculpture you’ve done over your career so far that you’re the most proud of and why?
WD:  That would be my very first stone carving (Spread Your Wings) – the one I just described. I was proud of it when I finally completed it without any formal training. Just raw DIY elbow grease. And then it got such a great review.
BW:  Number 8. Do you have a sculptor’s work you admire but haven’t gotten to see in person?
WD:  I would love to see Michelangelo’s David and the Pieta one day.
BW:  Number 9. What advice would you have for a sculptor looking to break into the business and make money with their art?
WD:  I would tell them to not concentrate so much on making money or “big bucks,” but to spend their time and efforts on creating great works. Then the money will follow.
BW:  Number 10. What’s your favorite Louisville hangout?
WD:  My studio.
BW:  Number 11. You’re also a teacher for over 20 years. What’s your guiding philosophy when instructing young artists?
WD:  I always stress to be the best you can be and don’t get caught up in comparing your work to other artists' works.
BW:  Yes! That's solid advice for artists working in any medium.  Number 12. If you could be commissioned to do a statue of any historical figure, who would it be and why?
WD:  I would love to have the opportunity to create a statue of Muhammad Ali because of his amazing achievements and his universal message of understanding and hope. He and his message are immortalized here in his hometown by the Ali Center and the mosaic depictions of his face on the Center, but not by a statue. I want to be the one to do that!
BW:  Number 13. I was stalking your website galleries and I was struck by the series of “lil boy” and “dreadlocks” sculptures in bronze (?). They are just beautiful! What was the inspiration for those?
WD:  Youth. I simply wanted to capture the beauty of youth. There aren’t many planes involved because the skin is smooth and tight, and I wanted to play around with the freshness of the look.
BW:  Number 14. What’s at the top of your bucket list of goals as a sculptor yet to accomplish?
WD:  To be recognized globally.
BW:  Number 15. Have you ever been tempted to leave Louisville, or have you been here your entire career?
WD:  I’ve lived in Louisville all my life and, yes, I’ve been tempted many times to leave.
BW:  Number 16. How important is it to you to be seen as a Kentucky artist?
WD:  Not as important as it is to be seen as a global artist who happens to live in Kentucky.
BW:  Number 17. Who is someone who inspires you and why?
WD:  My beautiful wife Sherrie, who has always given me the encouragement I need to continue in this often difficult field. She loves every piece I create...and tells me so! She also lovingly and consistently kicks my “behind” forward.

Ode to Sandburg Is Delivered with Passion

The World of Carl Sandburg

Performed by Roger Fristoe
Continuity by Norman Corwin
Review by Brian Walker
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Brian Walker.  All rights reserved. 

The World of Carl Sandburg first premiered as a two-person play on Broadway in 1960 starring Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, and Roger Fristoe has been performing it in one version or another since the early 1970s. After seeing the production at The Vault1031, it’s hard to imagine the play as a two-actor piece because Mr. Fristoe pulls the program off so flawlessly on his own, it was almost as if it was supposed to be that way.

Carl Sandburg’s career as a writer dared to be classified as any one thing. He wrote novels, biographies, poetry and children’s stories, and he won two Pulitzer Prizes. He wrote from his heart and he wrote what he saw in life every day. His writing is evocative, humorous and easily accessible and stands up surprisingly well for a modern ear.  He never wrote a play, but his work is so dramatic and rich in character that it works very well on the stage. 
The World of Carl Sandburg is a presentation of the writer’s canon that follows Sandburg’s work through a life cycle of sorts, beginning with his writings on birth, childhood, moving to adolescence, adulthood, climaxing in his words about Abraham Lincoln and finally on death. As a P.S. to the audience, Mr. Fristoe chooses to end the night on a lovely poem questioning love and what it is – a good choice as no one wants to leave the theatre thinking about dying.

Mr. Fristoe is, in a word, fantastic. His passion and love for the material and the words were evident from the moment the show began, and I was captured from beginning to end. He was funny, he was witty, and he brings candor and simplicity to the words. His raw emotion during one particularly moving section was sublime; the audience didn’t breathe and we were all moved beyond anything we were anticipating.

At one point in the program Mr. Fristoe invites a 17-year-old senior from Fern Creek High School, Gabe Tomlin, onstage to do his own modern poetry-slam style performance of Sandburg’s poem Chicago. He’s part of Generation iSpeak, an organization that, among other things, brings a team of Louisville poets at Brave New Voices, the world’s largest international youth poetry slam. The moment was a melding of something wise and mature with something young and impulsive, and it was wonderful. Mr. Tomlin sprung to the stage, and even Mr. Sandburg himself would have been impressed. He spoke the words from his own heart and impacted all of us. I could have watched him go back and forth with Mr. Fristoe all night. It was inspired and it was such a smart way for Mr. Fristoe to modernize the text and make it completely contemporary.

To top it all off, Mr. Fristoe is donating all the proceeds of the performances to The Vault1031. If you’ve been to a Play Slam or a class or had rehearsal there, you already know what a worthy cause it is. The show has a limited three-performance run, but if you’re free this weekend I would highly recommend it. As someone who wasn’t particularly familiar with Sandburg’s work, I found myself completely entranced with his words perfectly communicated by Mr. Fristoe with respect, passion and love.  

The World of Carl Sandburg
September 27 & 28 at 7:30 p.m. and September 29 at 2 p.m.
1031 S. Sixth Street
Louisville, KY 40203

Friday, September 27, 2013

Le Petomane Opens 10th Season with “Test Subjects” at The Bard’s Town

Kristie Rolape and Kyle Ware in Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
presents Test Subjects. Photo – Le Petomane.

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble presents Test Subjects

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits.  All rights reserved.

Le Petomane is made up of six performers, except that in Test Subjects there are only two. Other shows have been three or four; and on rare occasions that are to be celebrated, it is all six. Since Le Petomane productions are almost always devised work created from scratch by only the members involved in any given show, this makes for some of the most original and unexpected theatre around. The one thing you can count on with this company is that their shows are always unique; but it can also be said that sometimes they stand apart even within the Le Pet “canon.”

Test Subjects opens with Kyle Ware and Kristy Rolape entering the stage in the context of “The Kyle and Kristie Show,” a format patterned after 1950s television shows (think George Burns and Gracie Allen) complete with sponsors such as Grape Nuts cereal that are held up onstage for commercial plugs. The daft banter between the two is funny, with Ware playing it slightly straighter than usual and even a little uptight, while Rolape pitches a broad homage to dizzy blonde comediennes such as Lucille Ball. But it is only a warm-up for the far more surreal lunacy that follows the introduction of an entirely new premise: a scientific study conducted through a device called T.O.D.D.

The shift is audacious and opens up the two actors’ virtuosity in a series of quick-change sketches in which “Kyle” and “Kristie” are possessed by various eccentric personalities. That T.O.D.D. is portrayed onstage by a smart phone resting in a dock underscores the savvy subtext of how our relationship to electronic devices has grown so dependent that the tail is now wagging the dog.

We have seen these actors many times before, but their partnership here prompts different aspects of their talents to the surface. The self-conscious exploration of the dynamic of a comedy team of two proves a fertile scenario that results in a multi-layered narrative of surprising complexity given the relatively brief running time of the show (just over 60 minutes on opening night). Ware and Rolape play off each other beautifully, yet Mr. Ware generously concedes the “bigger” moments often enough that the evening is something of a showcase for Ms. Rolape, whose mercurial instincts and knack for hairpin physical and emotional transitions have never been more joyously displayed.

Le Petomane members are versatile and in-demand; and as various different projects compete for their attention, we are perhaps less likely to see the full crew in coming months. If other combinations deliver theatre as entertaining as Test Results, it is a happy hand of fortune that proves once again that the range and facility of the Le Petomane brand, now entering its tenth season, is firmly intact.

Test Subjects
September 26-29; October 3-6
7:30 p.m. each night

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205

Tickets: $8-$20 on the usual Le Petomane sliding scale
Contact Us at or (502)609-2520 for tickets.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Annual Conference Is Important Weekend for Kentucky Women Writers

Kia Corthron leading her workshop at the conference. Dana Rogers Photography.

Kentucky Women Writers Conference
September 20-22, Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, Lexington, Kentucky
By Kathi E. B. Ellis

Text copyright © 2013 by Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.

The Kentucky Women Writers Conference (KWWC) has been in existence since 1979, originating as a program of the University of Kentucky, incorporating as a 501(C)(3) when university funding dried up, and now existing as an independent organization with additional support from the university. For thirty-five years they have created programming that serves the women writers of Kentucky and writers beyond the Commonwealth. From its earliest years, KWWC has brought in women writers with national visibility to Kentucky to inspire and challenge our writers.
This year’s conference brought an eclectic group of presenters from many genres to the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in historic downtown Lexington on a balmy fall weekend. The conference included plenary speakers for all participants, breakout sessions focused on specific writing and publishing topics, and pre-paid workshops in which writers could hone their craft with a master artist. KWWC also sponsors a national Prize for Women Playwrights, and the winning script was in production at a local theatre. Additional social and performance events rounded out a very full weekend.
Both plenary speakers have good Kentucky connections: poet Molly Peacock is currently on the faculty for Spalding University’s low-residency Writing MFA; and playwright Kia Cothron’s plays have been produced at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Molly’s presentation about her research and writing odyssey, “The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delaney Begins Her Life’s Work at 72,” was witty and inspiring. Mrs. Delany, a member of the politically-prominent extended Granville family in 18th century England, created the art form of collage – when she was 72! – and created 985 biologically-accurate and aesthetically-charming cut paper collages of flowers before her death at the age of 88 in 1788. Molly’s presentation hopscotched between research gems, personal reflections about her own creative process, and exquisite images of the artwork. Kia Cothron read from her most recent writings:  “Megastasis,” inspired by Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”; and “Trickle,” her McKnight Fellowship project which took her to Liberia and her first foray into novel writing. She spoke about the intersection of writing and social activism, and her belief that both writing and protesting are vital, and that there has to be affirmation somewhere in a script, even when dealing with intractable social and political ideas, so that audiences don’t just throw up their hands in despair – so that there is the potential for audiences to change their minds and actions. Kia has been approached by Anne Bogart of the SITI company to join a team of four playwrights writing about John Henry, and she indicated that this is a project that could be part of a future Humana Festival – good news for Louisville audiences who have seen her work in past festivals!
The prepaid workshops were led by fiction writer Bonnie Jo Campbell, a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award; memoirist Claire Dederer; Jennifer Haigh, who has won two PEN Awards; and playwright Kia Cothron. Casual conversations with two Louisville-area writers  suggested that their workshop experiences were productive and positive for them.
A sampling of the other sessions, run concurrently so a full account is not possible, includes the Ethics of Ethnicity panel, moderated by KWWC board member Beth Dotson-Brown. Panelists were Kia Cothron, Berea playwright Trish Ayres, and southern Indiana-based playwright Nancy Gall-Clayton. They engaged in a lively and provocative discussion about the moral authority of writing from a different ethnic perspective than one’s own. This led to a full group discussion that included differences of gender and sexual orientation. The consensus of the group was that if the writers are respectful of the different culture, do their research, and write authentically and passionately – and not to comment on the other – writers should not shy away from writing in another’s voice. 
The session about e-publishing was eye-opening for many, judging from the audible responses to data about how much reading has increased in this realm, the amount that writers can make through e-publishing, and the demographics of who is reading e-books. 44% of those reading e-books make more than $80,000 a year, 27% have master's degrees, and 83% are parents who want their children to read e-books – a sure path towards growth in this industry. Presenter Peggy DeKay is a writer and publisher and coaches writers on how to publish. Four experienced Kentucky editors – Leatha Kendrick, George Ella Lyon, Leigh Anne Hornfeldt, and moderator Katerina Stoykova-Klemer – led an animated session about the joys and challenges of editing an anthology. These four dynamic women clearly bring passion and soul to the process of selecting and curating the works that go into their anthologies, as well as clear eyes to the delicate negotiations with writers and publishers which are part of this process.
The conference also included readings of the Gabehart prize winners: D.S. Davies (non-fiction), Kim Lozano (fiction), and Jennifer Militello (poetry). The Gabehart prize is named for Betty Gabehart, a former KWWC director who led the conference during the 1980s and created many programs that still exist. The second biennial Prize for Women Playwrights, a national competition, was won by Jo Morello for her script E.G.O.: The Passions of Eugene O’Neill. KWWC readers whittle the entries down to the finalists, which are then dispatched to a distinguished playwright who selects the winner. This year Jo’s script was chosen by Kia Cothron. Conference participants had the opportunity to see the script produced by Balagula Theatre at the Lexington Downtown Arts Center. Friday night also gave participants the Wild Women of Poetry Slam hosted by Transylvania University with an after-party at Natasha’s, an eclectic home of local performing arts. Saturday concluded with a Writers Reception at the University of Kentucky.
The vision statement of the organization is women mentoring women. For two days the Carnegie Center was abuzz with clusters of women connecting and sharing resources and experiences, with nationally-known writers of all genres generously sharing their knowledge informally as well as in formal sessions and with participants encouraging other attendees to follow their dream. A great weekend for women writers from Kentucky and beyond.

Note: Kathi E.B. Ellis was the director for this year’s Prize for Women Playwrights production, “E.G.O.: The Passions of Eugene Gladstone O’Neill” by Jo Morello, produced by Balagula Theatre.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Passing the Baton and the Pizza: A Conversation with John Rooney

Amy Attaway & John Rooney at Mixer.
Smartphone photo by Amy Attaway.

By Amy Attaway

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Amy Attaway. All rights reserved. 

Amy Attaway, Co-Artistic Director of Theatre [502] and former Associate Director of the Apprentice/Intern Company at Actors Theatre of Louisville, took her replacement, John Rooney, out for some beer and pizza. John started his job as the Assistant Director of the Apprentice/Intern Company in July.

Amy Attaway:  John, welcome back to Louisville!  You were the intern in the A/I Office in the 2010-11 season, so you’ve been away for a while. What have you been doing since then?
John Rooney:  After my internship I went back to Chicago (where I got my undergraduate degree) and pursued my freelance producing and directing career. I ended up as the Associate Artistic Director at Red Tape Theatre as well as working at Steppenwolf on a number of shows as script supervisor – basically helping stage managers and directors with scripts. I did a couple of shows, and this past year I worked as the Interim Executive Assistant to the Dean of the theatre department at DePaul University. I was able to work with the great faculty and staff at DePaul, as well as with the students, at the school where I had gotten my undergraduate degree.
AA:  Tell me a little bit about your background – and what on earth made you decide to do an internship at Actors Theatre?
JR: I had gotten my B.F.A. from DePaul University in general theatre studies but with a focus on directing, and during that time I had worked outside the school a bit at various companies. Towards the end of my senior year, I was interning at The About-Face Theatre, and Erica Sartini (who was an intern at ATL years before I was) was working in casting. Erica turned to me and said, “Hey, there’s this internship. Do you want to go to Louisville?” I didn’t really know about ATL at the time, although I had heard of the Humana Festival, and I said SURE! Certainly! Let’s go! So she hooked me up with you. The internship worked out perfectly for me because it was this random kind of internship that no other theatres did, where I was helping to run the Apprentice/Intern company, and it allowed me artistic and producing opportunities.
AA:  Do you remember your first interview for the internship? You and your sister were driving through Louisville, and you came and sat on the couch in our office, which is now your office.
JR:  I do! It just so happened that my sister was finishing up an internship at Disney World, and I flew down to Florida and we drove back to Illinois. It also happened that Louisville was just an hour out of our way and I convinced her to go that way and meet up with you and Michael [Legg, Director of the A/Company]. I remember nobody was in the building, the lights were off in all of the theatres, and we went through the crazy basement, which makes, surprisingly, sense to me now but made no sense at the time, walking up winding staircases in the dark and just barely making out the Bingham Theatre. We went up to the A/I office and were sitting on the couch with my sister next to me, because we couldn’t kick her out into this empty theatre. And we had this terrific interview where the three of us kind of clicked and my sister was there to witness it all.
AA: What do you remember about your intern year that you have held onto as you have moved through your professional career?
JR: Working in the A/I office and working with all forty-ish apprentices and interns really gave me a great sense of how to handle multiple and different personalities – when working on a project, you’d would have to translate it ten different ways so that it would actually be workable for everyone. So that skill was probably the most valuable, especially at Red Tape, which was an ensemble theatre in Chicago. Everybody had different needs and wants and languages in discussing our work.
AA:  You’ve been on the job now for a little less than two months?
JR:  Yeah, just under two months.
AA:  So is it weird being back in the building as a staff member instead of an intern?
JR:  One moment it’s weird and then the next minute it’s completely normal. It’s this weird flux where one minute I know how it all operates and is what’s going on, like I never left, and the next minute I have no clue what you’re talking about. It’s been interesting for me and Michael trying to figure what things I need to know – hopefully before I need to know them, but not always! We just assume that we are on the same page, and we are most of the time. Everyday it’s different. Probably the biggest difference, the most difficult thing to adapt to, is coaching and teaching, specifically. When I was an intern and I was observing it all, I wasn’t physically the one who had to coach and give notes. So learning that language is the thing that I’m adjusting to the most.
AA:  When you were here before, Marc Masterson was the Artistic Director. How do you think the culture of the organization is different under Les Waters?
JR:  I feel the company continues to grow closer and closer, Actors Theatre as a whole. The 50th Anniversary Block Party, as an example, really took every single person in that building to make it happen. We all worked really closely and if, during the party, something happened, five of us would jump on it. We were all on the same wavelength that day, and that was really exciting to see.
AA:  I left the position you have now because it was so demanding. I loved it, but it was so time-consuming and so all-encompassing. But I’m still in Louisville because I’m working in Louisville theatre, doing Theatre [502] and freelancing. I know you have been out and about these last couple of months, learning how things work here, seeing things and meeting actors. What is your impression of the Louisville theatre scene? How is it different from the Chicago theatre scene, other than being a smaller town?
JR:  That’s an interesting question. I’m actually going to start with the similarities. One of the great things that I love about Chicago theatre that I’m also finding to be true in Louisville is the sense of community: that everybody wants the work to succeed and the arts community and theatre community, specifically, to grow. That’s wonderful. I feel like some other cities are very cutthroat, and Louisville and Chicago are very supportive of everything that’s going on at every level, so I appreciate that a lot. As far as differences, size is the first thing. I don’t know how many theatre companies there are in Louisville, but in Chicago it’s around 300, so that’s the biggest difference.
AA:  You and I have talked about how things have changed and new things have popped up in the city since you were here three years ago. What is your favorite new discovery in Louisville?
JR:  Well, Theatre [502], duh! But it’s interesting, because when I was here in 2011, even NuLu wasn’t there, so that’s all completely different. Now it’s, “Let’s go to the Garage Bar,” as if it’s the thing that everyone knows, and it’s fabulous and I go all the time. Even more than what are the new “things,” the city itself is new to me. Even though I spent nine months here, it’s so different having a car and not being confined to the downtown area, although even downtown has grown a lot. It’s exciting to me to see just how culturally rich and diverse this city is, now that I have the means of transportation to get around.
AA:  It does make a difference. The most important question I have to ask you really is, exactly how big are the shows you have to fill?
JR:  Umm…they’re pretty big! (laughing) You would think Amy would have small shoes, given her stature – actually they’re really huge. They have a fa├žade; they’re magical shoes – they just look small. While I’ve experienced all parts of the department, it’s a whole new world – some of which I knew was over there, and some of which I had no clue. It’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s happening. We’ll miss you, Amy, but we’re glad you’re still here.
AA:  I’m not going anywhere.
JR:  Good!
AA:  Last question: What are you most looking forward to this season?
JR: I’m really excited that it is the 50th anniversary and to see all the things that come along with that. I know there’s a great desire to really connect with the community more this year. The Block Party was the prime example of that, but it is the first of many things in which there will be outreach. I’m excited about working with this new group of apprentices and interns to see what they bring to the table. It’s early enough to get a glimpse, but I don’t really know how far we’re going to go. I can’t really say what I know is going to happen, but I know this year is going to hold some wonderful surprises, both in the main season and in Humana.

The first production showcasing the 2013-14 Apprentice/Intern company is:
A/I Company Season: Ensemble Project #1 
An Evening of Devised Work
October 1 & 2, 2013 at 9 p.m.
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 584-1205

"Lights, Camera, Pops!" Sets Tone for an Excellent Season

Bob Bernhardt, Principal Pops Conductor.
Photo – Louisville Orchestra.

The Louisville Orchestra
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Kathleen Brett, soprano

Reviewed by Emily Pike Stewart, with Chris Stewart

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Emily Pike Stewart. All rights reserved.

The Louisville Orchestra warmly welcomed patrons to a new season of its Pops Series last Saturday evening with the soaring melodies of “Tara” from Gone with the Wind. The strings dominated, as is customary in film music of that era, with majestic, melodic lines and rich, colorful harmonies. Lush brass pads underpinned the piece with clarity of sound and sparkling overtones. It was a grand, sweeping entrance for the L.O. into what looks to be an impressive season.

The concept of a “popular” orchestra has been around since 1885 when Henry Lee Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, expressed a desire to present “concerts of a lighter kind of music.” The Boston Pops Orchestra was subsequently founded and populated by many of the Boston Symphony’s musicians. Concerts were typically held twice a year during the Boston Symphony’s breaks and included light classical music, current musical theater hits, and the occasional popular song. According to the Louisville Orchestra’s website, its own contemporary Pops Series is designed to combine “a variety of notable artists with live symphony orchestra.” This season they will present full orchestral arrangements of works by Ray Charles, Elton John, Billy Joel, and more, as well as guest performances by the likes of Broadway giants Audra McDonald and Michael Feinstein.

After “Tara” had swelled and faded out to applause, conductor Bob Bernhardt gave his official welcome speech, before hastily apologizing for an amendment to the evening’s program and soliciting the audience’s participation in whistling part of an upcoming piece, the “Colonel Bogey March” from Bridge Over the River Kwai. Mr. Bernhardt’s quirk and candor, which would likely be frowned upon in a more formal concert setting, is here doubtless a major contributor to the Series’ popularity with its audience. A night at the L.O. Pops means a program not only filled with great music, but with several mini history lessons, a couple of heartwarming stories, and even some stand-up comedy. Bernhardt’s warmth, self-effacing humor, and tangential anecdotes are a hit; the crowd loves him, as displayed throughout the performance by frequent applause and ready laughter.

An added highlight of the evening was featured vocal soloist Kathleen Brett. Ms. Brett has performed extensively, most notably as Marian the Librarian on the Cincinnati Pops' Grammy-nominated recording of The Music Man. She began her performance with a fine rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, but I must admit my own inner child’s disappointment when the lyrics differed from the film version not only once, but twice. One cannot question the vocal skill of Ms. Brett. However, one might question the choice of pairing such a classically trained voice with a song inextricably associated with Judy Garland’s much less operatic sound. Ms. Brett’s next song, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music, was a slightly better fit.

Before the first of two intermissions, Mr. Bernhardt once again encouraged his audience to participate, this time in the form of a trivia game with a grand prize of future Louisville Orchestra tickets. The goal was to list an assortment of movie themes in the order in which they were played during the next piece, a fast-paced medley. Most fun about the game was the medley’s arrangement. Because of the seamless transitions and constant tempo, even the most savvy movie buff had to be on point to hear every theme present. (In fact, no one in the entire audience succeeded. At the end of intermission, the prize was ultimately given to a gentleman who placed all but one title in the correct order.)

In the second act, the Orchestra dazzled concertgoers with two Gershwin pieces. The first, “By Strauss,” featured Ms. Brett once more, and this time her voice could not have been better suited to the task at hand, reflecting her opera-fan character’s desire to hear less Gershwin and more Strauss. Following this, the simply radiant chords, melodies, and rhythms of Gershwin's legendary tone poem "An American in Paris" swept everyone along into its sensuous reminiscences of Paris streets from the perspective of an American tourist. The short, dissonant blasts from the brass section perfectly mimicked the honking of impatient Parisians attempting to get from place to place in a bustling, European metropolis. This led to a delightful little dance scene; and finally, as the tempo slowed, the trumpet played one of the most beautiful and recognizable melodies in twentieth-century music. The unmistakable strains of a Gershwin jazz ballad informed the listener that at least one American had found love in the city of lights. And perhaps best of all, just before releasing into the second intermission, the impressionistic style response from the strings hinted to us that this love was not to be unrequited.

In the third act, the orchestra turned its attention to the work of Alan Menken, whose compositions revolutionized the Disney musical toward the end of the twentieth century. Ms. Brett’s rendition of the tender and sage Academy Award-winning classic “Beauty and the Beast” could soften the hardest of hearts. Ms. Brett again joined the Orchestra to perform another Menken Academy Award-winner, "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas, before ending her appearance with an encore of "I Dreamed a Dream" from the Broadway sensation and recent film remake Les Miserables.

Closing the program with a homage to Star Trek (in all its various incarnations), the evening may have left many wondering about the conspicuous absence of the most legendary film composer of modern times, Mr. John Williams. However, no sooner had the final chords from Star Trek sounded than Mr. Bernhardt took the opportunity to remind concert-goers that Mr. Williams himself will be conducting the orchestra later this very season. Without further ado, the main theme from Star Wars burst forth to begin the encore – a befitting and rousing send-off to the patrons of this year’s exciting Pops Series.

Lights, Camera, Pops!

Saturday, September 21, 2013 – 8 p.m.

The Louisville Orchestra
The Kentucky Center, Whitney Hall
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202