Kennedy Center to highlight 1940s in 2004-2005 season

March 03, 2004|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

In popular memory, the 1940s are associated with a brutal world war and its aftermath. But the decade also saw a remarkable surge of artistic innovation. The works of bebop pioneer Charlie Parker, choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, director John Huston, to name a few, remain a powerful influence on American culture.

In its 2004-2005 season, announced yesterday, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will draw national attention to this transformational time in the nation's life. Beginning in January, the six-month series, A New America: The 1940s and the Arts, will feature dozens of events, including tributes to great artists; a "big band spectacular;" concerts in cabaret settings; a Dance Theatre of Harlem performance of St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet, based on a 1946 musical; and screenings of classic period films.

In announcing the new season, Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser said, "The juxtaposing themes of war and escapism, sacrifice and great promise, infused a remarkable burst of creativity in film, dance, theater, popular music and concert music that set the groundwork for the arts and artists of the past 60 years."

The series, with a budget of nearly $14 million, is the largest project the organization has ever undertaken, said Mary Johnson, publicist for the Kennedy Center.

Among season highlights is a Sept. 26 celebration of conductor Leonard Slatkin's 60th birthday by the National Symphony Orchestra featuring pianist Emmanuel Ax, violinist Midori, satirist Peter Schickele and other musical luminaries.

The Kennedy Center's roster also includes a dance series tracing the history of African-American choreography, a restaging of Balanchine's Don Quixote by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and The Prelude Festival: Espiritu de Puerto Rico, a celebration of the commonwealth's artistic contributions.

The new Kennedy Center season will bring a number of world premieres. A commissioned work by young composer Jefferson Friedman, The Throne of the Third Heaven, will premiere in October. Also commissioned by the NSO, ground-breaking composer Philip Glass' Symphony No. 7 premieres in January 2005.

The family-oriented Imagination Celebration series starts on Oct. 22 with the world premiere of The Light of Excalibur. Written by Norman Allen, the play is a contemporary Arthurian legend, centering on Merlin and a troubled teen-age math whiz named Agnes.

A new series, Voices of the Arts, featuring Kaiser's conversations with stars such as mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horn and actor John Lithgow, was also announced. "This new educational venture by the Kennedy Center is an effort to demystify the process of art-making," Kaiser said in a press release.

Other notable season events include a guest appearance by former Baltimore Symphony conductor David Zinman with the National Symphony next February.

The Kennedy Center's new jazz season features a tribute to song stylist Shirley Horn on a date as yet to be announced, and a series of concerts dubbed "The Art Tatum Piano Panorama."

The Kirov Opera returns to the Kennedy Center with a performance of Boris Godunov in January. A revival of the musical Bye Bye Birdie comes as well, before its return to Broadway. As part of the Kennedy Center's etcetera series, ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov will star in Forbidden Christmas or the Doctor and the Patient in November. Written and directed by Rezo Gabriadze, the piece is described as a "a magical theatrical event that incorporates text and movement with music by Shostakovich and Georgian folk songs."

Among the free offerings in the new season is a series of performances by conservatory students next May, including an appearance by musicians from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

For more information on the Kennedy Center's 2004-2005 season, call 202-467-4600 or visit

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