Kennedy Center: New season, new outreach

Bulk of generous David M. Rubenstein $10M gift to fund innovative new arts access program.

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 11, 2011The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced its upcoming 2011-2012 season this past Tuesday at its annual press event in the Center’s Family Theater. Highlights of the season, as described by Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, include a new festival, “The Music of Budapest, Prague, and Vienna,” a new NSO Pops conductor Steven Reineke, and the affiliation of the Washington National Opera with the center this summer.

But, in perhaps the most important announcement, Mr. Kaiser revealed that philanthropist and Center chairman David M. Rubenstein is making a second $10 million gift, in less than six months, to the Kennedy Center. A major portion of his donation will establish a much-needed program to introduce younger, more diverse audiences to the Center’s programming in the coming years.

J. F. Kennedy Center, river view.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

Mr. Rubenstein’s gift makes him the largest single donor in the Center’s history, according to the KenCen press office, with donations now totaling $23 million. Mr. Rubenstein is co-founder of the DC-based Carlyle Group, a far-reaching, internationally-known private equity firm.

David M. Rubenstein.

David M. Rubenstein, attending 2009 Davos
conference. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

Simply stated, the KenCen’s new “Rubenstein Arts Access Program” is geared toward reaching out to younger audiences with innovative programs, subsidized ticket prices and special projects. The aim: to help make the performing arts more accessible to children, young adults and others with limited ability to attend such events.

The Program’s major element has been dubbed the “Millennials Project.” It’s an effort to build audiences in the 18-30 demographic that includes a new MY-TIX initiative to provide access to underserved audiences; an arts education program for K-12 students and teachers, meant to help address the arguably shameful retreat of public schools in this area; and new programs and presentations that help relate the arts to younger generations raised in an electronics-dominated world.

With regard to the upcoming Kennedy Center season, which begins in the late summer of this calendar year, the center will offer yet another international festival, following the tradition of this year’s currently ongoing, and highly successful, “Maximum India” festival. Dubbed somewhat prosaically as “The Music of Budapest, Prague, and Vienna,” next season’s festival, which runs from February 25 through March 29, 2012, focuses on three middle-European cities that have arguably become the heart of Western classical music since the end of the Renaissance.

Highlights of the festival will include appearances by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Prague Philharmonia, The Takács Quartet, and performances of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte by the newly-affiliated Washington National Opera (WNO). Under conductor Lorin Maazel, now a resident of northern Virginia, the Vienna Philharmonic will perform the Maestro’s 83-minute Reader’s Digest-style orchestral condensation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle that’s been dubbed “Ring Without Words.” The Prague ensemble will present rarely heart Eastern European classics including Voříšek’s Symphony in D major, and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta.

The NSO will jump into the mix with performances of Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin and Bluebeard’s Castle, with bass-baritone Matthias Goerne and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung under the baton of music director Christoph Eschenbach. Maestro Eschenbach will also conduct  a concert version of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, with soprano Christine Goerke as Leonore and tenor Simon O’Neill as Florestan, as well as a rare performance of Dvořák’s liturgical masterpiece, his Stabat Mater assisted by The Washington Chorus and noted soloists.

As most area classical fans are aware, Mr. Eschenbach started out his musical career as an eminent, much-in-demand piano soloist. Reprising this role during the festival, he’ll present a pair of recitals in the KenCen’s Terrace Theater, joining baritone Mattias Goerne in a performance of Schubert’s marvelous Winterreise, and accompanying violinist Dan Zhu in a program of Mozart.

In an unusual twist, the festival will also highlight the music and art of the Roma people (formerly known as “gypsies”) with ongoing free events in the center’s popular pair of Millennium Stages. Theatrically, Hungary’s Katona Józef Theatre will come to Washington to perform Jenő J. Tersánszky and Krisztián Grecsó’s Gypsies in the Eisenhower Theater. The play combines text from the original 1931 version with a contemporary version of the story to tell the story of gypsy violinist Dani, who becomes entangled in a tragic love triangle.

The Center’s regular season will include a brand new KenCen production of Rodgers’ and Hart’s classic musical Pal Joey, based on a new book by contemporary playwrights Terrence McNally. Also on tap: the musical version of Billy Elliot, a 10th anniversary Sondheim celebration, the return of the Sydney Theatre Company and Kate Blanchett in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and, for rabid Les Miz, fans, a return of that ever popular Victor Hugo-based epic musical to the DC stage.

Given the advance planning necessary to stage classic opera productions, the WNO’s first affiliate season won’t show much synergy, at least externally, with its new KenCen affiliation. Budget issues assure another musical, but artistically “safe” season, with old faves like Tosca and Lucia di Lammermoor, in addition to the aforementioned Cosi. But the 2011-12 season will mark a welcome return, after many years, of Massenet’s Werther to the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.

Perhaps most significantly, the company will mount its first DC production of Verdi’s early classic, Nabucco, whose plotline—the Babylonian captivity of the Isrealites—is, ironically and politically relevant to our own times, particularly in terms of the recent uprisings in the Middle East by long-oppressed peoples fighting for their freedom.

Ballet and contemporary dance are once again KenCen focal points in the new season, with appearances by the American Ballet Theatre, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. The KenCen’s resident Suzanne Farrell Ballet will celebrate its 10th anniversary this season as well.

Last but not least, in addition to its already detailed participation in next season’s KenCen international festival, the NSO’s regular season performances will include its first ever performances of Mendelssohn’s religious cantata, Elijah as well as additional premiere performances of newly-commissioned works.

For complete details, including complete listings of modern dance, jazz, pop, and family music and theater performances, visit the Kennedy Center’s website. Alternatively, visit the Center’s new Facebook pages, or follow the Center on Twitter via @kencen.

(Note: As of this posting, the KenCen main website was experiencing technical difficulties, with each click directing users to the apparently overloaded ticket purchase link. If our links aren’t working right now, please try again later.)

Read more of Terry’s work at “Curtain Up!” in the Communities at the Washington Times.



This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times (1994-2009). 

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