When named alongside Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin and Renee Fleming, the Queensbridge rapper Nas stands out as a this-is-not-like-the-others musical talent. Indeed, the presence of an at-once pioneering and controversial rapper at the top of the Kennedy Center’s 2013-14 season announcement signals that the center is welcoming popular genres it sometimes ignores.
On Tuesday, the Kennedy Center highlighted its jazz, dance, theater and international festivals for the 2013-14 season, as well as the programming for the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera. Although the programming included many of the usual suspects — violinist Joshua Bell, perennial runs of the Mariinsky Ballet — a week-long salute to hip-hop, an international theater festival and a tribute to Cuban jazz legend Arturo Sandoval indicate that the center is continuing its push to bring diverse audiences to its marble-encased halls.
“We’ve always felt the need to address the interests of a wide range of people,” said Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center. “Hip-hop will certainly draw in a younger audience. We’ve had hip-hop here before, but never as our own festival.”
Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards weighed in on “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide,” one of the most surprising elements of the announcement.
“It’s encouraging to see the Kennedy Center shining its light on the genre. The expected highlight [will be] two performances by Nas, who will celebrate the almost-20-year anniversary of his 1994 debut album, ‘Illmatic,’ with the help of the NSO Pops,” Richards said.
Nas and the NSO Pops: It’s certainly an unusual partnership, but it illustrates a broader theme in the season that runs through the dance, theater and classical programming. The center seems set on merging disciplines in its concert hall. It has even named one of the National Symphony Orchestra’s latest commissions “New Moves: Symphony + Dance.” But for a season of musical fusion and boundary pushing, there are still relatively tame showings of “The Lion King” to appease traditionalists.
In all things, moderation.
The International Theater Festival is another first. The theater-specific festival brings directors together from across the globe to highlight what Kaiser calls “innovative theater.”
The “showcase in March 2014 of theater from around the world — including productions by Peter Brook and Robert Wilson — is perhaps the most wide-ranging example of international theater programming at the center in more than a decade,” said Peter Marks, The Post’s theater critic.
But the centerpiece of the theater season is the Kennedy Center’s revival of “Side Show,” the first major run of the Broadway show since its opening in 1997. After an impressive $7.3 million staging of “Follies” last year, “Side Show” is arguably a riskier endeavor.
“Tackling an unusual subject — the lives of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who became circus stars — the critically well-received musical failed to catch on with audiences and closed after just 91 performances,” Marks said. “That the new production is being shepherded by Bill Condon, who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-winning ‘Chicago’ and directed the film adaptation of ‘Dreamgirls,’ has boosted expectations for the revival.”
Notably absent from the programming are blockbuster Broadway musicals that are going on tour this year, including “Once.” Those looking for a “Book of Mormon” on the announcement would be hard-pressed to find something that will crash the Kennedy Center’s Web site, as “Mormon” did last week, when members-only tickets went on sale.
“ ‘The Lion King,’ ‘An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin’: These are going to sell extremely well,” Kaiser said. “But nothing we’re doing is going to have the craziness of ‘Book of Mormon.’ Nothing in our history had the craziness of ‘Book of Mormon.’ ”
Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman noted the relative tameness of the ballet season. “If the Kennedy Center’s ballet season looks standard, it’s a fair reflection of the ballet world’s direction: straight into the heart of the familiar,” Kaufman said.
But the last-minute addition of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, recently stunned by an acid attack on its artistic director, Sergei Filin, adds some intrigue to the bill. Kaiser said the repertoire for the Bolshoi is still unknown, in part because of the attack.
The Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” returns, and the New York City Ballet will perform George Balanchine’s “Jewels.” Still, the true excitement lies in the contemporary dance program.
“England, with its peerless theatrical tradition and strong ballet roots, has nurtured many choreographers who draw on both,” Kaufman said. “One of the leaders working today is Wayne McGregor, whose ‘Random Dance’ makes its Kennedy Center debut. Another Brit, Matthew Bourne — he of the manly swans in ‘Swan Lake’ — arrives with his New Adventures company to perform Bourne’s gothic retelling of ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ which opened in London in December.”
Post classical music critic Anne Midgette said there’s a lot for classical music lovers.
“Possibly the biggest headline is a joint recital of Evgeny Kissin and Maxim Vengerov playing an evening of Jewish classical music, co-presented with Pro Musica Hebraica, in February 2014,” Midgette said. “Either of these artists is capable of selling out the concert hall alone.”
There’s also an ambitious opera season ahead. In its first official season under Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, the Washington National Opera will celebrate the bicentennials of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, staging Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.” The opera is also is offering American opera, with the local premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick” and the world premiere of a family holiday opera by Jeanine Tesori.
The National Symphony Orchestra will showcase many renowned soloists, including Daniil Trifonov and Alice Sara Ott. The orchestra will also celebrate some of its principals, Midgette said, including bassoonist Sue Heineman, who will give the area premiere of an NSO co-commission by Marc Neikrug.
The NSO has co-commissioned four pieces this season, and Midgette said that with its expansion into dance for a festival highlighting the works of American choreographers, the classical program offers “a grab bag of goodies.”