Remembering “Culture Vulture” Jim Wilhelm

Jim Wilhelm

Jim Wilhelm passed away on Jan. 18, 2015. He ran a grassroots arts awareness organization called Louisville Culture Vulture, and was a friend and guest of Smillie’s Picks with the late Thomson Smillie on Classical 90.5. The following remembrance was written by his friend Martina Nichols

Jim Wilhelm, a Canton Ohio native was a Oklahoma University graduate. There he was invited to teach after obtaining his Master’s degree in music. He loved teaching but left to become a part of the New York City Opera company–where he played principal roles in many major productions that included some of the biggest names in Opera–including Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland and more. From there he opted for the financial security of the corporate world developing skills in market research in New York and ultimately working in Louisville at Brown Williamson and Horizon Research International. Professionally, he made bold career changes from academe to performing arts to corporate research; but performing arts–particularly opera–remained his major passion and lifelong crusade. Throughout his adult life, he playing pied piper, leading the novice and seasoned to frequent theaters more often. He also mentored and championed a diverse range of young artists to take their place on the professional stage.

After retirement from market research, he started “the Louisville Culture Vultures”. What began as a small, eclectic group enjoying performances in Louisville but as far away as Chicago or Sante Fe, expanded to include an electronic newsletter informing the entire community of Louisville expansive cultural offerings. He had embarked upon this enterprise full steam when he met Thomson Smillie and his wife Marylyn Meredith, who not only joined his ever-growing merry band of ‘culture vultures’, but the ongoing debate : How do we open the theater doors to a broader, more diverse audience. In Smillie, Jim found another kindred spirit believing making the arts more accessible to everyone would enrich the individual and make the world a better place.

Though heart-breaking to all who knew them, the loss of these two men, exactly a year apart to the day, has galvanized what Marilyn has called the “motley crew” known as Louisville Culture Vultures. For now, they are planning a celebration of his life to occur in a few week. But they will also work together to ensure Jim’s brainchild and legacy go forward. Those interested in what will happen next should consult the ‘vulture’ website or its Facebook page.

Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from “Smillie’s Picks,” Thomson Smillie’s arts segment that aired on Classical 90.5, featuring Jim Wilhelm and Smillie discussing the Met HD broadcasts as “the people’s opera.”

Review: Louisville Orchestra’s Ravel and Shostakovich, and Mozart with Chu-Fang Huang

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All good art has a superficial layer that is adequate for enjoyment. What appears beneath the surface, however, is detail, revelation and honesty. The Louisville Orchestra’s first concert in 2015, conducted by Music Director Emeritus Jorge Mester, featured Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 — each capable of revealing a hidden truth.

Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite was originally written as a set of piano pieces for two children: Mimi and Jean Godebski. That the music was written for children (and their small hands) belies the inventiveness and genius of this work, especially in its most performed version for orchestra. Anything Ravel touches with his orchestration turns to gold: Mussorgky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Debussy’s Sarabande and Danse, his own Tombeau de Couperin and this suite.

To only listen to this as music about fairy tales is missing the point that Ravel’s score is perfect. It is delicate and balanced, and the orchestra obliged the composer’s vision with a colorful and nuanced performance. Maestro Mester provided minimal coaxing, instead letting the orchestra be an ensemble. Of note was principal clarinetist Andrea Levine’s tender and velvety solo in the fourth movement. And nitpicking, a few exposed violin passages, both in Ravel and Shostakovich, lacked cohesion and focus.

Ms. Huang’s debut in Louisville also means her debut with this Mozart Piano Concerto No. 18, but the newness of the work to her was mostly unnoticeable. Overall it was a safe and comfortable performance, but dismissing Mozart’s eighteenth concerto as enjoyable, like Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, misses the point. Its depth lies in the details beneath the surface.

In the first and last movements we saw Ms. Huang the consummate technician, showing brilliant skill and elegance with her craft. But dazzling as it was, the middle movement showed us her artistry and depth. Mozart was an opera composer and his dramatic tendencies are often found in his concertos. The orchestra’s introduction sets up the piano’s “aria” and Ms. Huang gave her Steinway the most cantabile treatment.

After intermission, Jorge Mester and the Louisville Orchestra concluded with the dark and perplexing Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich — one that Leonard Bernstein called “a body without a head.” Formally, yes, there isn’t an allegro (fast) first movement. But it also may mean that the first movement (the torso in this metaphor) is all heart. For an unbroken twenty minutes, Shostakovich is brutally honest. Yes, this is a sorrowful time and, yes, there is little hope. the orchestra stayed attentive and energized through this desolation, giving us a clear picture of Shostakovich’s psyche. The closing movements (loud and fast) were ferocious, but in light of this context — beneath the surface — they are less about hope or triumph, and more about irony.

The Louisville Orchestra’s first concert in 2015 featured Music Director Emeritus Jorge Mester with pianist Chu-Fang Huang, making her Louisville debut. The second performance is Friday, January 16th at 8pm in Whitney Hall. Classical 90.5’s Alan Brandt will be joined by Jorge Mester for the pre-concert talk starting at 7pm.

Event: The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

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Be a part of a live taping of the radio drama “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” by George Bernard Shaw. Kentucky Shakespeare and Classical 90.5 present this live recording of Shaw’s one-act, imaginary adventure between William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. The recording will be released as a podcast later this year. Also, enjoy pre-show entertainment from Concentus String Quartet. The production is free, but reservations are required.

Hosted by Daniel Gilliam

Cast:
William Shakespeare: Gregory Maupin
Beefeater: Matt Wallace
Queen Elizabeth: Abigail Maupin
Dark Lady: Megan Massie
Foley Artist/Sound: Kyle Ware

Remembering Rachel Blanton

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Rachel Blanton passed away suddenly on December 25, 2014. She was a prolific violinist and founding member of Bourbon Baroque. The following remembrance was written by Michael Hill, a friend and fellow musician, with contributions by John Austin Clark, co-artistic director of Bourbon Baroque. Her obituary can be found here.

Louisville’s music community has been forever touched and will deeply miss the quiet and peaceful nature of one of its most diversely talented musicians. Rachel Blanton was born on September 11, 1974 and was raised in New Albany, Indiana. At the age of 7 she began playing violin in her school orchestra at Silver Street Elementary School. She continued her love of music throughout her education and completed her Bachelors and Masters Degrees at the University of Louisville’s School of Music under Peter McHugh. During this time she developed her passion for many varieties of music ranging from Irish fiddle to Baroque violin and everything in between. And so her many contributions began…

As a teacher, Rachel has influenced so many young musicians in the area, having developed the string program at Sacred Heart School for the Arts where she has taught for nearly 15 years as well as recently developing the program at Montessori School of Louisville.

Over the years Rachel has performed with countless groups; it would be nearly impossible to list them all. Throughout Kentucky and Indiana, Rachel was always willing to help and collaborate with her fellow musicians. Her giving nature meant she was constantly on her way to or from a gig, but she expressed pure joy in her endeavors. In this way, so many people’s lives have been touched by her music in live performances ranging from backyards and bars to the largest venues and festivals in the area including Headliners, Forecastle, and more. She has performed and recorded with The Porch Possums, My Darling Asleep, The Pennies, The Commonwealth, JD Michaels, Dust Radio, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. For as many lives as she touched, each experience meant so much to Rachel as well. With photos of friends and family filling her violin case, she kept and added to these memories because it made her smile each time she took up her violin.

Her long-time work with Abbey Road on the River made her an asset to their musical family, having performed and arranged string and horn parts from the festival’s beginning and going on to organizing tours with groups such as The Newbees. In 2014 Rachel contributed greatly by helping to plan a Northeast tour of a Beatles tribute concert. The twenty-something musicians that traveled together formed a special bond, forever influenced by Rachel’s kind and graceful presence. Recently, she helped to organize a set of performances in Miami, FL. The upcoming performances will surely be meaningful and heartfelt in her memory. In memory, the main stage for Abbey Road on the River has been renamed the Rachel Blanton Stage.
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Rachel served as a founding member of Bourbon Baroque: Louisville’s Period Instrument Ensemble since its inception in 2007 under artistic directors John Austin Clark and Nicolas Fortin. She played an active role in its success both on stage and behind the scenes, accepting the position as treasurer on the Executive Team of the Board of Directors in 2013. Outside of Bourbon Baroque, Rachel performed in countless musical theater productions, including most recently JCC Center Stage’s “Sweeney Todd,” Sacred Heart Academy’s “The Wiz,” and Silver Creek High School’s “The Last Five Years.” Her ability to adapt and succeed in so many styles made every experience performing with her so much fun for those around and according to Austin Clark “These musical rendezvous are what I will remember most and keep closest to my heart.”

Rachel’s contributions are many and will live on in those that enjoyed performing and collaborating with her as well as those that simply enjoyed listening. The list of musicians and bands she has played with is almost as countless as the lives she has touched with her music. Many musicians are revisiting their work with Rachel and commenting on the beauty of her playing and her sweet nature, and how much that contributed to their music. It is this joy of music and spirit of collaboration and peace that she brought with her to every task that perhaps can best celebrate to her lasting memory.

Remembering Michael Tunnell

Michael Tunnell, a local musician and good friend of Classical 90.5 passed away this morning after a battle with cancer. Throughout his career, Tunnell recorded several albums, usually with other Louisville musicians and composers. He taught at the University of Louisville and was awarded the title of Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music and Scholar.

Michael Tunnell performed several times for Classical 90.5’s Lunchtime Classics, most recently with his trumpet studio and friends in Kentucky Baroque Trumpets, as well as with his wife Meme.

From his performance in October:

From a 2002 performance of Michael and Meme Tunnell on Lunchtime Classics: