It’s not as if Kentucky never gets on national TV. Between the Kentucky Derby and University of Kentucky basketball, the Bluegrass State has annual dates with the major networks. And now we have movie stars Matthew McConaughey and Mila Kunis pitching bourbon from our picturesque distilleries.
But you would be hard-pressed to find a prettier video postcard from Kentucky than the season premiere of “Live from Lincoln Center,” airing Friday on PBS stations across the country.
Yes, “Live from Lincoln Center” is recorded this time, and on the road, for the first time in the show’s history.
A crew from the New York-based show followed musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on their now-annual trip to Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in May 2015 to record an episode featuring an exquisite performance of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” for the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass.
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Now, a year and a summer later, we see the results of that trip, and the only downside is that one of Kentucky’s best-kept secrets will now be out.
The show goes in a number of directions, but at the outset it does a nice job catching viewers up on how the marriage of world-class chamber musicians and the pastoral setting of Shaker Village came to be.
George Foreman, former director of Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, gets camera time recalling how he proposed an idea to cellist and chamber society co-artistic director David Finckel, when the Emerson String, which Finckel used to play in, visited the Norton Center. The idea was to start a festival in an old tobacco barn atop a hill in Shaker Village.
Finckel was instantly on board, and the fest started in 2007, although at first, Finckel and his wife, Wu Han, co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society wondered what they had gotten themselves into.
Arriving in Shaker Village, the musicians found it jarring that they didn’t have cellphone service or internet.
Then, Wu Han says, “In about 48 hours, somehow we were all disarmed in that environment. Somehow we all started talking to each other. We started drinking bourbon together. We started to actually have a conversation, and then we started to make music together.”
There are other references to the magic of Shaker Village, such as a night of a million fireflies.
The couple say the format of chamber music and Shaker ideals match up well, and there are several segments in the program in which people from Shaker Village discuss the community and Shaker history.
But the showpiece is the music. In addition to “Appalachian Spring,” viewers get to hear pianist Gilles Vonsattel play Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “The Union, Concert Paraphrase on National Airs” and Wu Han and violinist Arnaud Sussman collaborate on Antonin Dvorak’s “Sonata in G major for Violin and Piano.”
“Appalachian Spring” was a special occasion; the Chamber Music Society brought in more musicians than usual to form a somewhat all-star chamber orchestra.
That performance, on a pristine late-May Saturday afternoon, has a unique place in my concert-going experience in that the combination of setting, music and musicians was so perfect it made me never want to hear the work again — to just leave it in that moment.
But in watching the production, the beautiful shots of the musicians, the sun through the sides of the barn reflecting on the Steinway piano, and crisp sound production, particularly in the woodwinds, made me happy that this moment was preserved and is now being shared.