Yesterday (Tuesday, March 1), I attended a news conference at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. What follows is the report I filed with The Metro Herald, which should appear in the newspaper's edition of Friday, March 4.
China, Country Music, NSO's 75th Anniversary Among Highlights
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor
(Washington) --- Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Leonard Slatikin took the stage of the Terrace Theater on March 1 to announce the programs slated for the Center's 2005-06 season, which will begin on Labor Day with the NSO's annual concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Kaiser also announced that two distinguished igures from the performing arts, ballerina/choreographer Suzanne Farrell and Broadway producer-director Harold Prince (a 1994 Kennedy Center Honors recipient), will join the Center as Artistic Advisors. Farrell will bring her expertise in the world of dance while Prince will offer advice on new and revived theatrical works to be produced by the Kennedy Center.
Slatkin noted that, while the NSO strives in every season to be "new and different," an anniversary that ends in "a five or a zero" calls for something "more special" with "artistic excellence" that is "extraordinary." He announced that with the NSO's special gala performance to start its 75th anniversary season, the orchestra will unveil a new arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Rob Mathis, after more than 50 years of using an arrangement by the NSO's long-time music director, Antal Dorati.
The NSO will premiere several works and will revisit older works it had earlier commissioned by American composers, including John Corigliano's First Symphony (for which the NSO won its first Grammy award). New works by Roberto Sierra and David Del Tredici will also be featured this year.
One of the biggest undertakings of the new season will be a Festival of China, which will feature music, dance, folk theater, film, and a wide range of other performance pieces.
In addition, Kaiser ananounced that for the first time in Kennedy Center history, it will host a Country Music Festival, in partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame, co-chaired by Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill. The Center's president confessed over lunch after the news conference that he is himself a particular fan of country music, and he explained that like jazz, which has a long history of support by (and performances at) the Kennedy Center, country music is an indigenous American art form that is admired around the world.
On the theatrical stage, the Kennedy Center will bring to Washington two recent Broadway productions, the Tony-award winning Wicked and a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Additionally, a new revival of the classic musical, Mame, starring Christine Baranski and directed by Signature Theatre's Eric Schaeffer, will premiere in February 2006. Kaiser noted that this will be the first large-scale production of Mame ever to play in Washington.
The Kennedy Center will also be opening a new performance venue. The new Family Theatre will take over the space formerly occupied by the American Film Institute Theater. Its first work will be an adaptation of Alice, a popular 1992 children's book by Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, aimed at audiences in the 7- to 12-year-old age group. Other new plays in the Family Theater, under the auspices of the Kennedy Center's education department, will be targeted at older (high-school-aged) audiences as well as the more traditional elementary school audiences. Darrell M. Ayers, the Center's vice president for education, explained that there is a shortage of good theatrical work for seventh- to twelfth-graders, and that with this year's newly commissioned plays and future works, the Center hopes to fill that gap.
Including the free performances at the Millennium Stage, the Kennedy Center is the host to some 2,500-plus performances each year, in addition to about 1,000 other events. On any given day, from 7,500 to 8,000 people pass through the Kennedy Center's doors to enjoy music, dance, drama, or other performing arts. And more than that, through international and domestic outreach programs, the Kennedy Center's educational efforts reach perhaps hundreds of thousands more each year at venues outside Washington.
Too many performances to be listed here are planned for the 2005-06 season. Even Michael Kaiser had to stop short during his news conference in order to avoid comparisons to reading a telephone book. For further information, visit the Kennedy Center's web site.