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Newsletter

Scene&Heard: LexPhil’s Thunderous Season Opener

As the audience filed into the concert hall, the orchestra onstage made an unholy din. Tuning their violins, practicing one particular phrase on the trumpet, testing out the reeds on the oboes one last time, the Lexington Philharmonic prepared itself to open their 2017-2018 season. Performing at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Maestro Scott Terrell and the Philharmonic presented a program that lived up to the title of the concert, Bright. With a variety of works in several styles and ‘voices,’ the Philharmonic had a glittering evening at the start of their year.

The concert began with a contemporary piece by the American composer Michael Torke. Torke is known for his synesthesia—he sees colors when he hears music. This particular piece, called Bright Blue Music, is a clear and straightforward exploration of that color. The Philharmonic proved a guide through the work, with a performance clear and straightforward enough to direct the listener’s ears to the development and unfolding of the piece. 

Michael Torke | Photo by Brian Hainer

A simple theme developed with a particular rhythmic flair, and the development clear and direct enough that even the most novice listener can follow the progression from one movement to the next. (Whether the listener sees blue a somewhat subjective matter: the whole piece read as rather yellow to me.) The brass would occasionally overwhelm the strings, though whether this was a problem of composer or conductor is unclear. Energetic and simple, but with enough surprises— and banging timpani here, a snap of the snare drums to cut off the winds and emphasize the strings, a screeching wail of the horns and flutes there— Maestro Terrell and the Philharmonic kept the piece from the monotony minimalist and post-minimalist music is often accused of.

The first half of the concert, however, was dominated by the Grieg Piano Concerto. Guest soloist Joyce Yang, a young pianist who is part of an emerging generation in the process of shaking up sometimes stuffy concert halls, took to the front and center of the stage and immediately commanded her instrument.

Joyce Yang | Photo by KT Kim

Yang played with her whole body— hunched over the keyboard for staccato descents, practically rising out of her bench for the dramatic flourishes up and down the keyboard that predominate the concerto. She would keep time by flicking her head this way and that, directing visual attention to an emphasis on a certain chord or progression. Said emphasis was pounded in by the relentless thundering of the keyboard; Grieg is not a subtle composer, and both soloist and orchestra went for the full melodrama. The piano roared, howled, clamored, practically leaped out at the audience. Very little of the concept was played at anything less than full volume and intensity.

While I appreciated it from the back of the house, I did worry about the eardrums of those whose tickets placed them closer to the action. And that action was powerful— at the end of a particularly intense cadenza towards the end of the first movement, Yang slammed down the final chord and her entire body rocketed away from the keys, so intense was the emotion. The audience, somewhat caught up in it, spontaneously applauded between the first and second movement (an unusual breach of symphony protocol, it caught Yang and Terrell off guard, which she covered with a quick bow).

The thundering, however, became a tad monochromatic towards the end of the piece. The keys of a piano cannot be pounded indefinitely without at a certain point pulverizing all sensitivity of some listeners’ ears. While a quiet and subtle treatment took over the beginning of the second movement, it was soon back to a total sonic offensive. And in the last few minutes, the never-ending proclamations of melodramatic stampeding up and down the piano and through the orchestra began to run together. There are only so many crescendos a performer can make before they top out at the height of emotion and intensity.

Regardless of any quirks in interpretation, the performance of the concerto was filled with a kind of wild energy— partly from the slightly strange harmonic progressions of Grieg, which foreshadowed Stravinsky and the chord clusters of modern concept music— but mostly from the infectious power bouncing back and forth between Yang, Terrell, and the orchestra. Soloist and conductor were obviously familiar with each other, as Terrell had only to glance at the piano, and Yang had only to give one of her nods, to open up the bellowing sororities of the full orchestra. The performance was an obvious and immediate crowd-pleaser: Yang and Terrell gave some half a dozen bows to a standing ovation.

After the bows and ovations were concluded, the orchestra took an interval in which the technical crew replaced Yang’s piano with two harps and a handful of specialist wind instruments, a rather large choir joined the orchestra, and I furiously scribbled notes onto a writing pad.

Maestro Terrell dashed back onto the stage and immediately threw himself into the downbeat of the first piece of the second half, selections from Ginastera’s ballet Estancia.

This music was simply tremendous. In writing a ballet about Argentine farmers and cowboys, Ginastera hit upon the muscular and vibrantly beating heart of Latin American concert music, which more than any other tradition (at least to my mind) is written for the average listener to immediately grasp on to and not just understand, but deeply enjoy. While the second half of the evening was entirely ballet music— music written to dance to— Ginastera’s selections from Estancia were imbued with the kind of infectious danceability that quite literally gets people moving.

Even Maestro Terrell was affected, jumping up and down on the podium in his excitement for particular slams of the timpani, never more expressive than when Ginastera pins his entire dance rhythm to the drums. The percussion section as a whole did some really tremendous work with Estancia— using everything from a tambourine to a marimba to a bass drum that literally shook the seats, Estancia was not just a musical but a physical experience.

After the Dionysian delights of Ginastera’s dance music, the concert closed with the more Apollonian music of Ravel.

Full of coloristic flourishes and effective at creating an entire atmosphere from only a few rich chords, Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe is a distinctly French take on a Greek story. The impressionistic and almost totally a-melodic music of Ravel immerses the listener into a world of impressions, of not quite distinct color.

The orchestra carried off this task— not the easiest one— with aplomb. Aided by an extensive choir, the piece moved seamlessly from one overstuffed and pregnant bloom of chromatic color to the next. As a set of selections from a larger ballet, and as a more moment-to-moment composition than a more melodically dominated piece might be, it would have been dangerously easy for the orchestra to present a disconnected and incoherent series of flashes in the musical pan. The deft baton of Terrell, however, maintained a clean and clear pace throughout the piece, and his direction charted a course and current that connected the brightest climaxes and the quietest flutters of the flute into a single whole. The choirs, normally a focal point of attention for the listener, blended seamlessly into the tapestry of the orchestra, becoming simply another color in the palette of composer and conductor. The overall effect, while certainly magical, was artfully restrained and balanced. 

With a varied and virtuosic start to the season, the Lexington Philharmonic has proved not just worthy of their hall, but worthy of their audience. 

(Photos by Richie Wireman unless otherwise credited)

Newsletter

Scene&Heard: PeteFest

The inaugural celebration of PeteFest on the Jones family nature preserve in Louisville was at once a celebration and a time for sad reflection. Pete Jones, for whom the Festival is named, took his own life last December. 

On the day I interviewed Youngeun Koepke it had been exactly nine months to the day when she heard the terrible news of her good friend.

“Pete was seeking help, but we just didn’t know the severity of his depression.”

Youngeun Koepke | Photo by Derek Feldman

Almost immediately following Pete’s death, his family and friends began organizing the Pete Foundation for Depression Prevention, and their anchor event, Pete Fest.  As the PeteFest Marketing Director, Koepke wanted desperately to share the Foundation’s message that “it really is okay to talk about it.”

Nestled in the 90 acre Nature Preserve owned by Pete’s family, PeteFest began on Friday the 8th of September as folks started filing into the Jones’ fields and setting up their tents for the weekend.  One field was designated for RV’s and tents, with brilliant solar lights erected throughout the fields by the engineering family and their friends.  A wooded path lit by LED flashlights smartly zip-tied to trees led campers to the venue, a beautiful shiny party nestled in the trees.

Lights were strung everywhere, so when the sun began to set the woods were festively aglow.  Bubbles and glow necklaces were bandied about by happy children, sharing the joy on the wind as the bubbles and the lights and the music mingled to put folks in a great mood. 

But, of course, there was sadness. 

Pete is gone, and the festival would never have existed, but for suicide.  Koepke noted, “Last night as we were all celebrating, we all said ‘Pete would LOVE this…He is so proud of us, and he is with us. He is here.”

And that is the point of PeteFest.  To not forget; to not brush depression, anxiety, and suicide under the carpet, but to bring it all out into the open, to talk about it and to listen to those suffering from it. 

“Stomp the Stigma” is the PeteFest motto, because “we need to start talking about this.” The event’s mascot is an elephant, representing the University of Alabama white elephant of Pete’s alma mater, as well as the obvious “elephant in the room” symbolism. 

The statistics are that someone takes their life every twelve seconds. “I lost a dear high school friend when I was 21,” Koepke shared, “But it has shaped me; when I heard the news about Pete I knew I had to do something.  We are losing an entire generation of people. The ones suffering the most tend to be the ones who are the most loving, and giving. In his last message, Pete said he wants to help mankind. We are getting the message out there for him.”

That message was loud and clear at PeteFest.  All the bands performing had been invited by members of the Pete Foundation, and many of the bands gave toasts and had touching things to say about Pete, his family, and PeteFest itself.  Glasses were raised throughout the weekend to toast Pete, his parents Jeff and Molly Jones, and his siblings Jeff, Jack, Matt, and Michelle. Counseling and understanding were offered throughout the festival, and the entire Sunday lineup featured local young musicians from the area who chose to sing and speak out to “Stomp the Stigma”.

The Pete Foundation is focused on reaching youth, so they can save adults like Pete.  The organizers want people to be educated to understand the signs of severe depression and anxiety which can so easily lead to suicide. Pete had gained weight before his last days, and had been sleeping more and more; the signals too often become clear in hindsight. The Pete Foundation wants them recognized before they end in tragedy. The answer to that is education.  They have already partnered with the University of Louisville where they held a “pre-Fest for Pete Fest” to address anxiety, depression, and suicide on the college level. 

Next, they hope to work with local school systems to address youth and perhaps prevent the next loss.

Friday night held a great lineup, and the music carried the crowd into the wee hours. Those who wanted rest simply had to foray back across the illuminated path through the woods to the campsite, where the music was within listening distance, but not overwhelming. 

Saturday dawned as a beautiful day, the nine-month anniversary of when Pete Jones took his own life. His family and friends gathered together to begin day two of PeteFest.  Morning yoga was offered on the smaller stage, and counseling for anyone who felt the need to share or discuss their own anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies.  PeteFest volunteers in logo t-shirts sporting elephants dotted the festival grounds as the crowd slowly filled the space yet again. 

The first band to take the stage that lovely day was The Local Honeys, consisting of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs.

The Local Honeys | Photo by Derek Feldman

The Local Honeys are quickly gathering a following in the Eastern Kentucky area and beyond.  The first two female graduates of Morehead’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, Stokely and Hobbs boast a wealth of instrumental knowledge.  Starting with Linda on fiddle and Montana on banjo, they both switched to guitar at some point, changing instruments between songs, and playing each with impressive adeptness.  They also invited Appalatin’s Jose Oreta to join in on stand-up bass.

The Local Honeys with Jose Oreta | Photo by Derek Feldman

  The Honeys adhere to the old-time music style, writing many of their own songs to add to the canon of traditional Appalachian music.  Linda’s “Cigarette Trees” is a scathing song lambasting coal companies for devastating the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia.

Those hills and the surrounding cities of Lexington, Louisville, and Huntington, WVA are their stomping grounds, but The Local Honeys are bringing the traditional music of Appalachia to the masses as well.  There is a strong call for their music, they say, and they joke that of all the graduated accountants, teachers or other graduates with more “academic” degrees they know, they are the only ones they’re aware of who are using their degree (“A bachelor’s in Bluegrass,” they quipped), working full-time in the field of their education.

“We don’t have to compromise for anything, it’s very rewarding to make a living in a time when art is not valued,” Stokley said.  “We’ve been given a platform, especially in Kentucky, to play music. People are accepting and curious about their heritage…we’re playing the home music of Kentucky but we’re taking it to audiences far and wide.”

But PeteFest isn’t just about the music.  It was never just about the music. Linda shared her own personal struggle. “My father committed suicide when I was 8 years old… I have started to understand more and more what it is like to live with people with mental illness.  It has definitely affected my art, and Montana’s as well.” 

Their first CD includes a song she wrote about her father, “Keep my name, live and let be.” 

Scott Whiddon | Photo by Derek Feldman

Their perfect placement in the line up of PeteFest was an excellent start to the day.  They were the first of many bands to play that day, followed by Lexington’s Scott Whiddon on the next stage, and later the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers held the crowd’s attention as they danced to more bluegrass and festive songs, and all raised a glass to toast Pete and his family.

Blind Corn Liquor Pickers | Photo by Derek Feldman

 The Curio Key Club finished out the big Saturday night lineup, a supergroup of Louisville musicians who performed Paul Simon’s Graceland in full.

There are many festivals we are blessed with the opportunity to attend in Kentucky.  They all have purpose and meaning in their own unique ways. But PeteFest was different. The purpose and the meaning were woven throughout the entire festival, from the intelligently designed lighting by the Jones family of engineers, to the handmade benches and tables that were constructed on the property for the festival itself.  The gate boasted a handmade marquee of the bands, painted chalkboards and twine that gave a personal feeling; a feeling of the love and care that clearly went into creating a beautiful, safe, inviting space for anyone to express or learn about the struggles in this world from anxiety, depression, and suicide.  Bubbles were handed out to kids to blow at their leisure, hammocks strung between trees and under lights as folks settled in for the day. The beautiful VIP tent was open for the musicians and the press, looking like an Arabian palace with blowing plants and low, comfortable chairs for hard-working photographers to sit in the shade and rest from wrestling with their heavy equipment.

The Jones family and the Pete Foundation worked very hard to create PeteFest.  They labored over the smallest details, as one would at a memorial.  Every aspect was a reflection of their love for Pete, and their desperate mission to prevent others from having to suffer that loss in their lives.

Pete’s last message before he took his own life was that he wanted to help “advance mankind.”  That is the legacy that the Jones family and the Pete Foundation for Depression Prevention hopes to achieve in his memory.

The first PeteFest guaranteed they are already off to a wonderful start.

Newsletter

They “DV8” From the Norm

Rob and Diane Perez are the brains and leading energy behind one of Lexington’s most successful restaurant concepts, Saul Good. You’ll find their signature eateries anchoring a corner of The Square in downtown Lexington, on Alysheba Way in Hamburg Pavilion, and in Fayette Plaza, next to Fayette Mall. Little known about this couple is what they do behind the scenes for their community. That giving spirit now has its own public face in a new eatery located at 867 South Broadway called DV8 Kitchen. Here’s an edited conversation with Rob Perez about this unusual concept.

Tom: What’s your philosophy about business social responsibility?

Rob: I used to think that it was only just to do a good job in the restaurant, but to be honest I think that our responsibility is far greater than that. We try to do whatever we can to help people. And, we don’t have a systemic approach to it, although we do have Tuesdays where we give 25 percent back to charities, nonprofits, and such. But, we try to seek out people who just really need help and we try to help them any way we can.

Tom: You’ve launched a restaurant specifically based on social responsibility. You recent opening of DV8 Kitchen on South Broadway.

Rob: Yeah. DV8 Kitchen was born out of my wife’s thought process. First and foremost, it’s kind of an amalgamation of all of our experiences. I went through rehab when I was 25 and my wife helped me considerably by just loving me and obviously holding me accountable. It really showed us how unbelievable her capacity for support is and her heart. So many of our staff members have not only been addicted to alcohol and drugs, but have died from drugs and alcohol. The internet has provided a tool for employers to check everybody’s background. Someone with an addiction generally has some sort of a background and so many people aren’t willing to give them chances. We came up with the idea that we wanted to employ people that are trying to help themselves. So, we partnered with five different rehab centers that happen to be transitional living facilities that would provide us with employees who are trying to help themselves. They’re in a structured living environment, they get drug tested every single week – that’s a third of our employees.

Tom: It could happen to anybody; economics don’t necessarily play a role in addiction.

Rob: Yeah. Heroin addiction right now is a perfect example of that. It’s affecting moms, dads, people that are white-collar workers. It shows no mercy to any group.

Tom: Now, to many employers, particularly those that have tried to start businesses in Eastern Kentucky, this might sound almost counterintuitive, given their difficulty in finding employees who can pass a periodic drug test; and yet here you are building a business around that.

Rob: Yeah. It is counterintuitive, but what we’re finding is that the people who are trying to help themselves have been more conscientious and more committed to the job. I think partly because if they lose their rights at the transitional living facility, they lose their rights in their employment with us. So, there’s a little bit bigger incentive for someone to do it. But I’d like to think that people are kind of starting from scratch and are trying to figure out how to do it better. They’re in programs that help them deal with past things that have happened to them that might be terrible and they’re really trying to unearth why they became addicted and are trying to deviate from the past. They’re trying to correct their behavior and trying to live with their past in ways that they’ve never done before. It’s really, really inspiring and it’s really impressive to see what they are doing today.

Tom: Is that how you came up with the name of the restaurant? “DV 8”?

Rob: It’s how we came up with the name of the restaurant.

Tom: It’s such a difficult thing to overcome, but yet I wonder if a future employer of one of your present employees would say, ‘now, here’s a person who really fought it and overcame it and that shows me something.’ Do you think that that’s realistic?

Rob: First, we’ve got to get rid of the stigma. Right now people aren’t even giving interviews to people that have been through, you know, trouble. And I think that most people that have gone through the rehab process probably would be less likely to even share it with the future employer. Because of HIPAA (privacy) rules they don’t have to tell them anything.

I wish that we could just be honest and figure out how to get along with the truth.

Tom: Do you think if we were to remove that stigma, we might discover that it’s far more prevalent than we would like to think it is?

Rob: Yeah, it really is. And – and, you know, at DV8 we’re learning something about the way that we think as human beings. It’s surprising that people are shocked at how good our food is and how good the service is and that it’s a great experience because it is a second chance employment opportunity for people. I think people are expecting the food, the service, and the atmosphere to be “less than” because it’s second-chance employment. I think that it’s just how we’re wired as human beings, but it’s quite the opposite for us. Our goal is to try to build pride and self-respect not only in our second-chance people, but all of our employees by being excellent at what we do.

And we believe that our food is 20 percent better than everybody else’s in this category, for a better price, and we give it to them with a smile and great experience to boot.

Tom: When you and Diane came up with this idea, did you take it out into the community and what kind of response did you receive?

Rob: Yeah. This isn’t about Rob and Diane Perez, this is about the people of Lexington and their heart. Diane and I only try to put things in writing and to try to cast a vision and that’s all we really did.

We developed a budget, $400,000 to build this restaurant. And we went to lawyers, general contractors, sign makers, landscapers, and everybody in between and said, ‘hey, look, this is our idea, we’re going to try to do good with it. We’re going to take all of our dividends and give them back to the community in the form of nonprofit donations. And, if you’re willing to come along with us, we’ll pledge to do a good job by a certain community that really needs help.’  And so, what happened was that we took our budget from $400,000 down to $250,000 from just Lexington craftsmen, mechanics, even, you know, tradespeople pitching in. It was just unbelievable what people did. We then turned it into an investment – and by the way, I tell everybody: ‘hey, do you want to make a really bad investment?’ And everybody listened and literally, in less than two months we were fully funded by people from here in Lexington who just said, ‘hey, look, this is a great idea, I want to be part of it.’ Even though only three out of ten restaurants make it past the third year, they signed a paper that said that we’d pay them back their principal within five years.

And it just defies logic. They all know that this is a highly, highly risky investment, but they did it because it was the right thing to do. And it is fully funded and fully generated by the graciousness of the people of Lexington.

Tom: What kind of experience are you having with the customers who come through the door?

Rob: Ah, it’s been really well-received. We are just thrilled. We do breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it’s been really brisk at lunch, it’s been really building at breakfast and we’re working on dinner right now. But, people have been really receptive.

Tom: You just opened DV8 so this may be a question that you don’t even want to think about at the moment, but what’s next for you and Diane? Anything on the drawing boards?

Rob: Saul Good has to be the thing that feeds our family and so, that is going to have to have a lot of attention and love and appreciation bestowed upon the people that are running it right now because both Diane and I are really working at DV8. We have to get DV8 up and running and it’s probably going to take a couple of more months, but I think what we do is we get DV8 on its feet and go love on the people that’s all good and then after that, we’ll see what happens.

But, I think we’re just focused on our family and on the two concepts that we have and God will show us the way somehow or another.

Listen to the full-length conversation with Rob Perez:

Newsletter

Arts Tasting Menu

A tasting of handcut cultural delicacies from Lexington and the region.

Fun stuff this week.

Appetizer

Trinity by Afterculture Theater, September 21-23. 

Okay, so you missed the first weekend of this immersive dance theater presentation about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, and… Well, don’t miss the second weekend. It’s a really amazing experience, all within the confines of the Loudoun House, home of the Lexington Art League. Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be traipsing all over the house following and participating in the action.

Entree

Chihuly Nights, Makers Mark Distillery, Loretto, Kentucky. Thru October 7.

You don’t have to be a bourbon lover to head down to Loretto to see the works of renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Seven site-specific works are installed around the distillery and its grounds. Special night tours of the works are available. And, of course, some sipping is optional and always available. Just a few more weeks for this one.

Dessert

Blink Cincinnati, October 12-15, locations around downtown Cincinnati

Running this tasting again because it seems so cool. This is a free event coming up in the Queen City! Four nights of light, art, and projection mapping installations in twenty locations around the city, making it one of the nation’s largest festivals of its kind. Overlapping for a few days with Lexington’s own PRHBTN festival of street and mural art, which we will highlight in an upcoming UMgram, Blink and PRHBTN promise to offer feasts for the senses this October.