What is a place, a city, a town, a region, but its people and their culture?
In Washington, D.C.—and the surrounding area lumped under the Beltway which gets us to Maryland and Virginia and vice versa—the idea and execution of culture manifests itself in ways that reflect the complicated identity of the city. There is always talk of a political culture, because politics defines the city’s raison d’etre, the only city in America to house so many elected officials as well as ambassadors from the world, a status which all but demands the presence of high and low cultural institutions and venues.
The nature of the city as the seat of national and international power often obscures the local nature of the city: its neighborhoods, its history, its presence as a functioning city and wanna-be-state, not to mention its own peculiar ethnic, racial, political and cultural history. That history runs deep into the roots of trees, cracks in sidewalks, corner delis and homes of the city’s neighborhoods, and reflects the greater national history. On the National Mall, with its monuments new and old, the great national story is memorialized and remembered.
Culture, reflected in the arts both fine and popular, is where all the city’s identities and factions meet to co-celebrate, co-mingle. In our museums, our theaters and our performing arts venues, the nation meets its citizens. Locals, visitors and temporary inhabitants share the expressions of dreams in works of art, plays, dance and music.
These are difficult times for the arts and its institutions and leaders, who must find ways to make so called “high” and “elite” performance arts like opera, symphonic music and ballet accessible to everyone through education and affordability. This is a tricky dilemma facing artistic directors of orchestras, theater companies, dance companies and a variety of venues —it’s the conflict of art and commerce, a lessening of governmental assistance through grants and other issues. Sometimes, this is a fight for survival and not everyone makes it; witness the recent loss of the CityDance troupe in Washington.
How do the performing arts express themselves through music and dance in Washington? Let us count the ways or at least some of them in this preview of events, concerts, performances and festivals in the coming season.
The Kennedy Center
Before you make any sort of plans, check out this date: Sept. 19, 2011.
That Monday is the day the Kennedy Center celebrates its 40th birthday and the day of the 40th Anniversary Ticket Giveaway, which will award two free tickets to every Kennedy Center-presented performance taking place over the 2011-2012 season. The giveaway also launches the MyTIX program, which is designed to increase access to performances for people ages 18-30, the underserved, and members of the armed forces. The program is funded by Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and his wife Alice as part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program. For more information, go to the Kennedy Center website or register for the giveaway at. kennedy-center.org/kc40.
That being said, here are some other things at the Kennedy Center to look forward to.
On the jazz front, there’s a very special program, Nov. 11 through 16, called “Swing, Swing, Swing” focusing on the rhythmic beat which is the heart and soul of jazz, and which was the core of American popular music from the 1920s through the 1950s. Like the Duke said: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
A highlight of the swing celebration is “Jazz on the Elevens: A Tribute to Billy Taylor” on Nov. 11, when some of the world’s top jazz musicians will gather to pay tribute to Taylor, the leader of the center’s jazz program for years and a legendary jazz pianist in his own right. Taylor passed away last year. On board at the Eisenhower Theater will be Ramsey Lewis, Danilo Perez, Terence Blanchad, Winard Harper and Christian Sands among others.
The National Pops Orchestra, under new director Steven Reineke, will join NEA Jazz Master George Benson in “George Benson: An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole” at the Concert Hall, Nov. 25 to 26.
On top of that, you can dance, dance, dance to the music of the Firecracker Jazz Band, Asleep at the Wheel and the Eric Felton Jazz Orchestra on the Millennium Stage. Swing dancing will be encouraged on the Grand Foyer, transformed into the KC Dance Hall for the duration of the festival.
NSO Time—The National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach, in his second year as NSO conductor, will get the 2011-2012 season rolling for its season opening ball concert featuring violin super star Joshua Bell with works that include the National Anthem, Violin Concerto No. 1 (Bell), and Ravel’s “Bolero” among other selections on Sept. 25.
Not to be missed is Thursday’s “9/11: 10 Years Later, An Evening of Remembrance and Reflection,” a tribute concert with performances by Denyce Graves, Emmylou Harris, Wynton Marsalis and the NSO, with remarks by Colin Powell, Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice, and hosted by broadcaster Christiane Amanpour in the Concert Hall.
Reineke’s first pops venture will be “Some Enchanted Evening: The Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” Oct. 13 through 15, featuring Kelli O’Hara of “South Pacific” fame.
THE WASHINGTON PERFORMING ARTS SOCIETY
The Washington Performing Arts Society has been in the forefront of bringing in world-class, diverse musical artists and groups for more than 40 years as a non-profit performing arts presenting organization with a strong educational and community presence. As such, its thumb prints in terms of venues and performers are all over the Washington area in places both big and small, including the Kennedy Center, the Music Center at Strathmore, Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, the Harman Center for the Arts, the Warner Theater and the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.
Its presenting activities range across the whole spectrum of the performing arts, from classical music, individuals and groups, to jazz, pop music and world music and dance performers and groups.
It features a variety of series—the Orchestra Series, the Hayes Piano Series, the Kreeger String Series, the Jazz Legends Series and others, including producing the Velocity D.C. Dance Festival at Sidney Harman Hall Oct. 20 to 23.
Here are some early WPAS highlights:
The Budapest Festival Orchestra under the baton of conductor Ivan Fischer will be at the Kennedy Center Oct. 26 with a program of Hungarian peasant songs by Bela Bartok and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, otherwise known as “The Great.”
The Hayes Piano Series begins Oct. 1 at the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center with a recital of the works of Haydn, Armstrong, Schumann and Liszt by the rising piano star Till Fellner, who appeared last year at the Embassy of Austria and with the Embassy Series.
The incomparable saxophone player Sonny Rollins will perform in the Jazz Legends Series Oct. 10 followed on Nov. 9 by Dave Brubeck, both at the KC Concert Hall.
Four-time Tony Award winner (for “Carousel,” “Master Class,” “Ragtime” and “A Raisin in the Sun”) Audra McDonald brings her vocal talents to the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, making her way through selections from the great American songbook.
THE MUSIC CENTER AT STRATHMORE
Keb’ Mo’ – a multiple Grammy Award winner, blues man, singer-songwriter and a modern link to classic Mississippi Delta Blues – kicks of the 2011-2012 season for the Music Center at Strathmore on Sept. 15.
That would be Keb’ Mo’, once Kevin Moore, and his band, celebrating the release of “The Reflections,” his first studio album in three years, a work that includes collaborations with country star Vince Gill, soul singer India Arie, saxophonist Dave Koz and session guitarist David T Walker.
Coming up—Madeleine Peroux, also with a new release out called “Standing on the Rooftop,” will bring her unique song styling of blues and jazz Sept. 30. She’s a true world-singer, having lived in Georgia, Southern California, Brooklyn and New York.
Pop, jazz and cabaret singer Nellie McKay’s opens the show.
Also on tap on Oct. 4 is Pat Metheney with Larry Grenadier, a Strathmore presentation in collaboration with Blues Alley. The enduring jazz guitarist has collected seven Grammies.
Strathmore is also celebrating American composers with several events surrounding the career of Charles Ives, considered one of America’s greatest composers of the 20th Century, alongside Aaron Copeland and Duke Ellington (who will get the focus treatment at Strathmore in spring of 2012). Of special interest is “Charles Ives: A Life in Music,” a program at the Music Center featuring Jeremy Denk on piano, baritone William Sharp, D.C. actor Floyd King and the Post-Classical Ensemble on Nov. 3.
DANCE, DANCE, DANCE
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will celebrate its 10th anniversary at the Kennedy Center with two performances featuring nothing but the works of George Balanchine, the great American choreographer who was Farrell’s mentor and inspiration. The company is dedicated to preserving the Balanchine legacy under the leadership of the legendary ballerina.
The company returns to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, Oct. 12 through 16, accompanied by the KC Opera House Orchestra. Among the highlights is “Diamonds,” a work taken from Balanchine’s full-length work “Jewels,” done in collaboration with the Sarasota Ballet.
Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre is bringing back its hit ballet, a stylish adaptation of one of the most enduring and characteristically American works of literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Nov. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower. The production, called “crazily ambitious” (very like Jay Gatsby and the enchanting Daisy), by one critic, includes music by Billy Novick’s Blue Syncopators, vocals by E. Faye Butler and Will Garthshore and tap dancing by Ryan Johnson.
The Washington Ballet will also hold its inaugural ball and soiree built along the lines of “The Great Gatsby Prohibition Party” at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 30.
The 2011 Velocity Dance Festival will be held at Harman Hall Oct. 20 through 23, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and DanceMetro D.C. Participants include the Jane Franklin Dance Company, Urban Artistry, Flamenco Aparidio Run Quina and the Edgeworth Dance Theatre, among others.
In a double bill, the Dana Tai Soon Burgess troupe will present the world premiere of “Becoming American,” a work exploring the experience of a Korean child uprooted from her birthplace when she is adopted by American parents.
The highly original Burgess, dubbed “the poet laureate of Washington Dance,” will also include the company’s popular “Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love, color black.” Performances are Oct. 14 through 16 at the Dance Place.
ALL AROUND THE WORLD
The Embassy Series continues to operate at the crossroads of the international community and the city, providing opportunities for interaction and windows on the rest of the world for its patrons. Jerome Barry is now entering the 18th year of the series he founded, starting with a core of embassies from European and Eastern European countries, presenting rising young classical musicians and groups, and spreading out to other parts of the world, presenting music and performers from the Middle East.
The latter has proven to be even more important today, given the upheavals still going on the region and the American presence there. “I think the concerts on that level offer opportunities for exchanges for seeing those countries in terms of their culture and people,” Barry said. “We had a concert with Egypt only weeks after the uprising there.”
The Series opens its 2011-2012 season with “Songs of the Vilna Ghetto Experience” at the Embassy of Lithuania Sept. 16 with Barry, a baritone, singing songs played and listened to by Jewish residents of the Vilna ghetto during the Holocaust.
That concert is followed by “High Strings, Deep Voice,” with Katharina Radlberger-Bergmann on violin, Susanne Friedrich on cello, Bill Merrill on Piano and bass-baritone Rupert Bergman performing the music of Schubert, Bottenberg, Wagner, Wolf and Haydn at the Embassy of Austria Sept. 16.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic has announced the “Mutual Inspiration Festival 2011 – Antonin Dvorak,” beginning Sept. 8 and running through Oct. 28, celebrating the 170th birthday of the legendary Czech classical music composer.
The festival, spearheaded by the patronage of Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg, features over 500 local and international artists and takes place all over Washington, including venues like the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Art, the Embassy of the Czech Republic, the Phillips Collection and others. The festival features a variety of concerts, lectures films and exhibitions focusing on Dvorak’s work and his sources and inspirations.
With more than 200 free events featuring European entertainers and artists for children, the Kid Euro Festival is back Oct. 14 through Nov. 10. It is being staged with the cooperation of 27 European Union Embassies and more than 20 local cultural institutions. There will be puppetry, dance, music, theater, storytelling and acts of magic along with children’s films and workshops.
Teatro de La Luna, one of the area’s premier Hispanic theatrical organizations, is presenting its annual Latin American Harp Festival at the Gunston Arts Center Theater Sept. 16 and 17.
Featured are artists Hildo Aguire of Colombia, Pedro Gaona from Paraguay, and Angel Tolosa from Venezuela.