Kennedy sticks to ambitious schedule

Center to offer retrospective of Tennessee Williams

March 05, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

WASHINGTON - A French festival, the Berlin Philharmonic, a 10-week retrospective of Tennessee Williams, an all-star lineup at the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kirov Opera and Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Royal Shakespeare Company, a showcase for music conservatory students, and a sing-along Wizard of Oz. Just a fraction of the cultural attractions slated for 2003-2004 at the Kennedy Center, clearly one of the few arts organizations in the country not reflecting the ill effects of a sour economy.

The typically ambitious, genre-hopping schedule, announced yesterday, demonstrates the underlying philosophy of Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser. "The more you cut back, the more you're going to lose in the future," he said. "And when you cut back, donors lose interest and the audience loses interest."

There should be plenty of box office draws next season, starting with the Festival of France, which will stretch over four months. The Opera Comique will make its U.S. debut with Offenbach's operetta La vie parisienne. Theatre National de Chaillot (performing a "34-scene visual spectacle" called Beware of the Zeppelins) and Theatre de l'Atelier will participate, along with the early music ensemble Les Arts Florissants and Lyon Opera Ballet.

It was NSO music director Leonard Slatkin who first suggested the festival a few years ago. He has programmed such gems as Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortileges, Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques and the world premiere of a piece by Guillaume Connesson, a composer first discovered by the NSO last season. Guest artists for the NSO's French fling include soprano superstar Renee Fleming and remarkable pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

Speaking of stars, the NSO, an affiliate of the Kennedy Center, is loaded with them next season. The list of guest conductors is particularly enviable, including Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel, Kent Nagano, David Robertson, James Conlon and former NSO music director Mstislav Rostropovich. "The level of conducting is definitely monster," Slatkin said by phone from London. "And all of these conductors are anxious to come, which is very nice."

In theater, spurred on by the success of its 2002 Sondheim Celebration, the Kennedy Center announced a $6-million celebration of the late playwright Tennessee Williams. The festival will feature new productions of three masterpieces - A Streetcar Named Desire (April 27-May 16), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (June 1-20) and The Glass Menagerie (July 6-25).

Also featured will be Five by Tenn (April 20-May 9), an evening of five Williams one-act plays, including three world premieres, directed by Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn; and Letters from Tennessee: A Distant Country Called Youth (June 11-13), a one-man epistolary show starring Richard Thomas. In a convenient bit of cross-cultural synchronicity, the Washington Opera will present the East Coast premiere of Andre Previn's opera of Streetcar at the Kennedy Center in May.

Meanwhile, Sondheim will return to the center with his newest musical, Bounce (Oct. 21-Nov. 16). Originally titled Wise Guys, the show - about colorful turn-of-the-20th-century brothers Wilson and Addison Mizner - was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in 1995.

In addition, as part of its five-year Kennedy Center residency, the Royal Shakespeare Company will present two comedies in repertory from Oct. 21 to Nov. 16: Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed, a sequel in which Petruchio is tamed by his second wife. Wrapping up the season will be a two-month run of The Producers (June 22-Aug. 22).

As usual, the NSO will be a hotbed of new music. A few of the world premieres planned: a harp concerto by Mark Adamo, an electric guitar concerto by Stewart Wallace and a sculpture-inspired work by Jefferson Friedman ("Wind chimes will be stationed throughout the hall," Slatkin said). Slatkin himself will be a featured composer, offering the last in an innovative series of pieces commissioned as encores for NSO concerts. "I'm not saying anything about it," he said,"except that it's going to be very silly."

Tchaikovsky is the focus of another Kennedy Center festival next season. A gala NSO program with violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Yefim Bronfman is one element in the festival next December, celebrating the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. The Kirov Opera will offer productions of Eugene Onegin and Mazeppa; the Kirov Ballet will perform Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

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