Music News & Reviews

Annual Christmas Chorus moves to smaller setting and sells out

Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra conductor George Zack led the Kentucky Christmas Chorus at Rupp Arena in 2005.
Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra conductor George Zack led the Kentucky Christmas Chorus at Rupp Arena in 2005.

The 2010 Kentucky Christmas Chorus is sold out, which sounds like great news for an event that has struggled with declining interest the past few years.

It helps that it will be in a venue much smaller than its previous home.

After being held for years at the 24,000-seat Rupp Arena with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, this year's Christmas Chorus will be in the 1,500-seat Singletary Center for the Arts concert hall, with an orchestra of musicians from the Philharmonic and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra.

The Lexington Singers will be the marquee group at the event, and the group's music director, Jefferson Johnson, will run the show. Guests will include the smaller UK vocal groups Paws and Listen and the acoUstiKats.

Penny Ebel, special-events director for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, says the changes were essential to save the event, which lost its city funding in recent budget cuts.

"I had to raise the money through sponsors to have the Christmas Chorus," Ebel said. "We did not have the financial backing to go back to Rupp Arena."

Ideally, the event could have been held in a venue of 3,000 to 5,000 seats, she said, which would have accommodated the crowds that had turned out in recent years. But Lexington doesn't have any venues that size. Ebel says the Singletary Center provided a great opportunity to pack singers in.

Johnson, who is used to leading the singers and UK choirs in the Singletary Center, said the change is going to do the event some good.

"It's going to be packed," Johnson says. "You know, you put 2,500 people in Rupp Arena and it looks like a cavern. It's going to be a lot more intimate for the people that are there, and it's really going to be a sing-along. People will really participate rather than doing whatever they would do if they were miles away from the stage."

As usual, the event will be shown live on WKYT's CW substation (Insight Channel 5) and Eastern Kentucky's WYMT-TV 57, and it can be heard on WMXL-94.5. FM

"I don't think the TV audience will notice any of the cost-saving changes," Johnson says.

One big change will be the absence of the Philharmonic, which has been the event's orchestra since its inception in the 1980s.

"We were confused and disappointed," Philharmonic executive director Allison Kaiser said. "But we certainly hope LFUCG will work with us in regard to other major community events and activities going forward."

Kaiser says that for a long time the orchestra did not know whether the event would happen. When word came, the orchestra's schedule was set, including a Christmas extravaganza that the orchestra presented Friday night at the Singletary Center. Christmas Chorus organizers and the orchestra also could not come to financial terms to make it possible for the orchestra to participate, although the Kentucky Christmas Chorus orchestra will include Philharmonic musicians.

Despite numerous changes, the show is going on this year. It seems that the Kentucky Christmas Chorus might be a challenge to produce as long as Ebel has to raise all the money to present it, but she is determined to present it.

The uncertainty about this year's event persisted until early fall, but, Ebel says, "In my mind, I knew it was going to happen."