Kennedy Center to mark 50th anniversary season with a bevy of premieres

Tue Apr 06, 2021 at 3:26 pm
Michael Tilson Thomas will open the Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary season in September.

After what will have been an 18-month closure in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kennedy Center announced today that it will reopen its doors in September 2021. The new season will mark not only the venue’s rebirth from the ashes but the 50th anniversary of the founding of the historical performing arts center, which opened officially on September 8, 1971, with the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s sprawling theater piece MASS.

A special concert by the National Symphony Orchestra will inaugurate the anniversary season on September 14, 2021. Curated and hosted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the program will echo the American Pageant for the Arts, an event conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1962. The year of celebration comes full circle with a new staging of Bernstein’s MASS, directed by Francesca Zambello and starring baritone Will Liverman as the Celebrant, scheduled for September 15-17, 2022, in the Concert Hall.

“I can think of no better way to reemerge from the darkness of these last many months,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter in a released statement. “At the heart of our planning and preparation, even as we continue to navigate health and financial challenges, is the desire to present a season and a fresh patron experience that taps into our 50 years of history as the National Cultural Center.” 

During the year-long celebration, the NSO will premiere or perform seven new works commissioned for it, including the new Symphony No. 15 by Philip Glass and works by Mason Bates, Missy Mazzoli (for violinist Jennifer Koh), Angélica Negrón, Joan Tower (for cellist Alisa Weilerstein), James Lee III, and Peter Boyer.

The NSO will also mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on September 10, 2021, under the baton of its music director, Gianandrea Noseda. This special concert of remembrance will also reflect on the ongoing loss from Covid-19 and honor the healthcare professionals who have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic.

For its part of the anniversary, Washington National Opera will premiere Written in Stone, a series of operatic works inspired by the capital city’s historic monuments and iconic buildings. The four works, to be performed in March 2022, include theatrical works composed by Huang Ruo on the story of architect Maya Lin; another by Kamala Sankaram on the Portrait Monument, depicting women of the suffragette movement; and one by Carlos Simon relating to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on marriage equality.

Composer and arranger Carlos Simon will join the Kennedy Center in 2021–2022 as its new composer-in-residence. During his three-year residency, Simon will compose and present music across artistic genres, including works for the NSO and WNO. To celebrate his appointment, the NSO will record a concert of Simon’s works this April, available on the Center’s Digital Stage+ platform on May 15 and to the general public on June 11.

Full season details, including some performances in the spring and summer of 2021, will be announced and go on sale in the coming weeks and months.

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