Music Center at Strathmore Will Continue to Serve Diverse Menu in 2009-10 Season

Luna Negra's "Danzón" celebrates the dance of Cuba and is backed by the Turtle Island Quartet.
Luna Negra's "Danzón" celebrates the dance of Cuba and is backed by the Turtle Island Quartet. (By Kristie Kahns)
By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Music Center at Strathmore has carved out a niche as an engaging presenter with a penchant for the pleasantly offbeat. In the 2009-10 season, as it revealed in a news conference Monday afternoon, it will continue to expand in another role: that of producer.

After the success of "Free to Sing," the center's first autonomous production in 2008, Strathmore is offering "Take Joy" in December, a contemporary holiday pageant incorporating original music and existing pieces from Beethoven to holiday songs. For the 40th anniversary of Earth Day next April, it is creating "Song of the Earth," a green-themed medley of musical traditions with performers including Irish step dancers, bagpipers, the Kodomo Dance Troupe and a new community choir that will be formed for the occasion (auditions are open to all Washington area residents). Its third production, in February, is a show of Broadway tunes with Alice Ripley, Emily Skinner and Rachel York, celebrating the fifth anniversary of the $100 million facility in North Bethesda.

Collaborations will be another hallmark of the season, as the 2,000-seat center continues to work out ways to present large or ambitious projects -- such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, co-presented with the Washington Performing Arts Society -- on a relatively small budget. Shelley Brown, Strathmore's vice president of programming, says that despite cutting six administrative positions and a slight dip in the budget from $8.1 million this year to $7.6 million next year, the center has managed to sustain its level of programming this season. Several additional events were not included on Monday's program, but Brown says they will be announced before the beginning of the season.

The German Embassy is sponsoring a concert by the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Signature Theatre's series at Strathmore will continue with two cabaret programs and a revue of songs heard in Signature productions between 2000 and 2004. And the piece "Danzón," by the Luna Negra Dance Theater, was commissioned with the University of Notre Dame's performing arts center and Chicago's Harris Theater. Celebrating the dance of Cuba, "Danzón" joins the Chicago-based troupe with the Cuban clarinetist and composer Paquito D'Rivera and the Turtle Island Quartet, a group that first played in the Mansion at Strathmore 12 years ago and has found this way to "graduate" into the main hall.

As this demonstrates, Strathmore's dance offerings are never terribly conventional. Next season will also offer Croatia's folk dance ensemble Lado, kicking off its 60th-anniversary national tour at the center this fall with a complement of 34 dancers, 14 musicians and trunks full of costumes. And if you can't get enough ballroom dancing on TV, it'll be onstage in "Ballroom With a Twist," a road show with a "rotating roster of celebrity hosts" that feels distinctly dreamed-up-by-a-promoter and features "Dancing With the Stars" choreographer Louis Van Amstel.

Equally unconventional was Strathmore's offer last year, for its 25th anniversary, to present and promote a one-off function by the group who came up with the best proposal. The winner, selected from 33 pitches, was the D.C.-based, 50-member American Balalaika Symphony, which will perform in January. (Brown says that the proposals were generally so strong that she has set aside a couple of others for future consideration.)

Two tribute concerts highlight the vocal offerings: Dee Dee Bridgewater's concert version of "Lady Day: A Tribute to Billie Holiday" and Debby Boone's homage to Rosemary Clooney, who was her mother-in-law. Rosanne Cash and Mark O'Connor will present "Poets and Prophets," which includes songs inspired by Johnny Cash.

After a year-long foray into the piano literature, the Music at the Mansion series returns to a broader range of chamber music, including the Chiara String Quartet, the Argos Trio, the Flanders Recorder Quartet, the Baltimore Mandolin Quartet and pianist Vijay Iyer in "Tirtha," a program with other musicians playing a range of South Asian instruments.

Other highlights include a recital by soprano Dawn Upshaw, the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour, international circus group Circo Aereo and the Peking Acrobats. For Strathmore's Spring Gala in April, Patti LuPone will perform a concert called "The Gypsy in My Soul."

Staff writer Sarah Kaufman contributed to this story.

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