Classics take the stage at Kennedy

China festival, 75th anniversary of NSO part of next season

March 02, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Kennedy Center's diverse and promising lineup for the 2005-2006 season includes a festival devoted to Chinese performing arts, the opening of a family theater with a new play for children by Whoopi Goldberg and the National Symphony Orchestra's starry, richly programmed 75th anniversary celebration.

"I can't say there's a grand statement to the season," Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser says, "but a substantial part of it is about classics -- classic music, classic dance. And there will be a substantial amount of new work."

That new work includes a play by Don DeLillo, Love-Lies-Bleeding, co-produced by the center and the noted Steppenwolf Theater Company.

"We used to give awards every year to companies to fund new plays, but I stopped it," Kaiser says. "The amounts were trivial. Now the Kennedy Center is giving a major grant to one regional company to produce one new play in their own community and bring it here, too."

Next season's Festival of China will present what is being billed as "the single largest celebration of Chinese performing arts in American history." About a dozen groups, from the National Ballet of China to the Shaanxi Folk Art Theater, and more than 600 performers will take part.

"We're trying to balance people's perceptions of Chinese art, which tend to be the more classical side, like Peking Opera," Kaiser says. "I wanted to counter that with examples of China's very significant contemporary art scene."

The 350-seat Family Theater will be inaugurated with a production of Goldberg's Alice in a space previously occupied by the American Film Institute at the center.

Main stage theatrical productions on the lineup include new Kennedy Center productions of Mame (starring Christine Baranski) and The Subject Was Roses; and the Washington premieres of two Broadway musicals, Wicked and Little Women. The Royal Shakespeare Company will return for the fourth year in a five-year residency.

Also returning, as part of a 10-year residency, will be the Kirov Opera and Orchestra, led by Valery Gergiev in non-Russian repertoire -- Parsifal, Turandot and Verdi's Requiem.

In addition to appearances by the Kirov, Royal and New York City ballets and other major dance troupes, the center will showcase students from some of the world's leading ballet schools. "Critics have been saying that ballet companies look too much like each other," Kaiser says. "It's my belief that the schools are still teaching differently, and we'll get to see that."

The NSO will contribute some of the new work at the Kennedy Center next season, including an evening-long score for chorus and orchestra by Roberto Sierra, Missa Latina. "He's combining Latin folk traditions with elements of the Mass," says NSO music director Leonard Slatkin.

The conductor also had the idea for a new educational project called "Stories in Music" that will commission new pieces for family concerts. The first will be a setting of Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle by David Del Tredici. "We all grew up with Peter and the Wolf, but there aren't many new pieces like that being done by major composers," Slatkin says.

An all-star lineup will open the NSO's 75th -- Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax performing Beethoven's Triple Concerto with Slatkin.

A particularly distinguished roster of guest conductors will also help celebrate the anniversary season, including Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Christoph von Dohnanyi, James Conlon, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and former NSO music director Mstislav Rostropovich.

"It's nice that so many people chose to come for the anniversary, especially in the conductor department," Slatkin says. "A lot of work went into that, a lot of strong, personal invitations."

Slatkin will close the 2005-2006 season -- his 10th as music director -- with Mahler's monumental Symphony No. 8, featuring more than 500 singers and instrumentalists.

"I'm very proud of the season," the conductor says. "It is about as strong as you could find anywhere."

Kennedy Center

Highlights from the Kennedy Center 2005-2006 season:

Festival of China, October

National Symphony's 75th anniversary gala, Sept. 24, and Mahler's Eighth, June 8-10, 2006

New play by Don Delillo co-produced with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, June 17-25, 2006

New production of Mame, Feb. 18-March 26, 2006

Renee Fleming in Strauss' Daphne, Oct. 18

Kirov Opera and Orchestra, Feb. 19-26, 2006

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, April 11-May 7, 2006

American Ballet Theatre, Dec. 7-11

Jazz series includes Wynton Marsalis (Oct. 18), Django Reinhardt Festival (Oct. 27-29), Diane Schuur (Dec. 17)

Country Music Festival, March 23-April 16, 2006

Information: 202-467- 4600, www.kennedy- center.org

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