Kennedy Center plays up diversity

New season features a mix of traditional and cutting-edge acts

March 07, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The African-American experience in the 20th century and Japanese robotics of the 21st; starry guest artists at the National Symphony Orchestra and a salute to its outgoing music director; a festival of a cappella music and a concert series of veteran Broadway singers - that's just some of what's in store for the Kennedy Center's 2007-2008 season.

"It's sure to be a great and diverse season," the center's president, Michael Kaiser, said yesterday. His announcement of the lineup was preceded by a trumpet-playing robot from Japan, heralding a two-week festival next February celebrating Japanese "culture and hyperculture."

More than 450 performers from 17 performing arts companies will be featured in 47 performances, covering music, dance and theater - traditional and cutting-edge. Anime, fashion, visual arts and more will also be represented. The latest in robot technology, including what are billed as "lifelike androids," will be on display in an exhibition called Robotopia Rising.

Leonard Slatkin will be saluted in his final season as NSO music director with a concert featuring famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma in June 2008. Slatkin's programs for the orchestra's subscription series include a concert version of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, vocal and symphonic music by Mahler and Beethoven's Ninth. He will also showcase American composers he has championed, including John Corigliano, Christopher Rouse and Jefferson Friedman.

Ivan Fischer, the NSO's principal guest conductor and current odds-on favorite to succeed Slatkin, will lead performances of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, an all-Beethoven program and popular Czech repertoire.

Other guest conductors next season include Lorin Maazel and Vladimir Ashkenazy (leading Greig's complete Peer Gynt). Guest soloists include soprano Renee Fleming (in a season-opening gala in September), baritone Thomas Hampson, pianists Emanuel Ax and Jean-Yves Thibaudet and violinists Hilary Hahn and Midori.

Although the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater will be under renovation, limiting the number of theatrical presentations, there will still be a good deal of activity on the boards.

Of particular note will be staged readings of the 10-play cycle of African-American life in each decade of the 1900s by August Wilson. They will be presented chronologically, from Gem of the Ocean to Radio Golf, in March 2008. The casts include John Amos, Rocky Carroll and Phylicia Rashad.

Productions of The Lion King (June 2008) and the Trevor Nunn-directed My Fair Lady with choreography by Matthew Bourne (December-January) are also on the schedule. A new, 10-year series called "Spotlight" will bring notable Broadway singers to the center for cabaret-style performances. The artists will be selected each season by music theater legend Barbara Cook, who will launch the series with a concert of her own in October.

"A national center should present theater, dance and music from around the world," Kaiser said.

The annual residency by the Kirov Opera and Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia, led by Valery Gergiev, will offer productions of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades and Verdi's Otello in December. An unusual gathering of a cappella artists in a festival called "Singing Solo" (late May, early June 2008) will showcase such groups as the Men of the Deeps (a Nova Scotia choir of coal miners) and the Manhattan Transfer.

On one of the a cappella programs, audiences will find the voices of Bobby McFerrin and no fewer than four ensembles: the San Francisco-based Chanticleer, South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bulgaria's Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares and Mexico's La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva Espana.

Dance fans will find a range of options. On the "Ballet Across America" series will be nine companies, from Massachusetts (Boston Ballet) to Washington (Pacific Northwest Ballet). Visits by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, Kirov Ballet and Urban Bush Women are also scheduled.

Shen Wei Dance Arts will perform Connect Transfer, which "will be visible only from the tier seats of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall," Kaiser said. "It's an amazing work where dancers create calligraphy in front of the audience."

Kaiser also announced that Moscow's famed Bolshoi Ballet will begin a 10-year association with the center starting with the 2008-2009 season.

Jazz artists being featured in '07-'08 include Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, the McCoy Tyner Trio and Jane Monheit.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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