Hylton Performing Arts Center set to open at GMU campus in Prince William County

A DECADE IN THE MAKING: The Canadian Celtic group Leahy, above, will be the inaugural act for the Hylton Performing Arts Center, right, on May 21.
A DECADE IN THE MAKING: The Canadian Celtic group Leahy, above, will be the inaugural act for the Hylton Performing Arts Center, right, on May 21. (Courtesy of Leahy Music)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010

George Mason University is expanding its cultural performance spaces with a new $46 million arts center on its Prince William County campus in Manassas.

The new 1,140-seat hall, named for its major donors, Cecil D. and Irene V. Hylton, will be dedicated Saturday and open with a performance by Leahy, the popular Celtic music and dance group from Canada, on May 21. The university opened its Center for the Arts on the Fairfax campus, with a 1,935-seat concert hall, in 1990.

The nine-story structure has been planned for a decade. "There wasn't anything specific that held us back. It was trying to determine what the best facility would be. From the onset we wanted to have this building reflect the partnership between the county, the city of Manassas and the school," said Tom Reynolds, director of artistic programming, marketing and audience services for the two centers. The county contributed 60 percent to the project, the university gave 30 percent and the rest came from the city of Manassas, the state and private fundraising.

For the first year, Mason has devised a limited program of 13 events for the Hylton, and some of those groups will perform at both centers. "I was guided by our ongoing mantra: We want this building to be everything from bluegrass to Beethoven," said Reynolds. Research showed the residents wanted a little bit of everything. Donors favored classical music and dance. Others requested, Reynolds explained, "country, comedy and children's programs."

For a gala event on May 22, the Hylton will feature the American Festival Pops Orchestra, a Northern Virginia-based group that will perform patriotic songs and Hollywood, Broadway and Gershwin selections. Under the direction of Anthony Maiello, the soloists will include soprano Lisa Vroman, whose credits include Broadway's "The Phantom of the Opera," and pianist Thomas Pandolfi, who will perform "Rhapsody in Blue." Future programs include an evening with Crystal Gayle, Larry Gatlin and Andy Cooney.

At the Fairfax center, now in its 20th year, the programs for 2010-11 follow its pattern of leading modern dance ensembles, global music and dance performances, and opera and classical music. The season begins Sept. 25 with a fundraising gala featuring award-winning entertainer Joel Grey.

For the first time, the center has booked Brooklyn Rider, veterans of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project and a versatile group that is popular on the jazz and classical music circuit. Also on the classical lineup, on its first American tour, is Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie, with pianists Philippe Entremont and Sebastian Knauer; the BBC Concert Orchestra under conductor Keith Lockhart; and Turtle Island Quartet with jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut and mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall.

The Virginia Opera is performing Verdi's "Rigoletto," Mozart's "Così Fan Tutte," Wagner's "The Valkyrie" and Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."

The center is bringing "The Merchants of Bollywood," which follows the history of the Indian film industry, and crosses disciplines with its Western and Indian dance and music. To mark their 40th anniversary as Hot Tuna Blues, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will appear.

On the quieter side, legendary choreographer Lar Lubovitch and his company are also on the calendar. The modern dance groups include Momix, Mark Morris Dance Group, Parsons Dance and Trisha Brown Dance Company. This emphasis, Reynolds said, grew from connections with the school's program in dance. "The dean of admissions says the most competitive department for admissions is dance," he said. The university is building a $5 million addition to its performing arts building, which will have additional dance studios to meet the demand.

Drumline Live, a dance offshoot of the movie about the African American marching band tradition, will also perform.

The Hylton Performing Arts Center will provide space for about 11 arts groups from Prince William County, as well as other schools and groups that need space for special events. That has been the same formula at the center Fairfax, which draws 100,000 patrons a year. The Center for the Arts is about 21 miles from downtown Washington. The Hylton Center is about 36 miles.

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