Washington National Opera (WNO) has commissioned four teams of world-renowned artists, musicians, composers, and librettists to create a series of works to be performed together as a single evening as part of the Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary Season.
Inspired by Washington D.C.’s iconic monuments and the ideals embodied by President Kennedy, Written in Stone‘s four intimate stories will celebrate the diversity and acknowledge the struggles of today’s America. The creative teams for this project include: multi-dimensional artist Alicia Hall Moran and MacArthur Fellow, pianist, composer, and Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran, who will create an opening celebratory work exploring how and why we commemorate people and deeds; acclaimed composer Huang Ruo and Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award®- winning librettist and playwright David Henry Hwang tell a story depicting Maya Lin, the celebrated but initially controversial creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as her design is first unveiled to a nation still bitterly divided over the War itself; groundbreaking composer/performer Kamala Sankaram teams up with internationally acclaimed author and D.C.-native A.M. Homes as the duo dives into the story of the 1920 Portrait Monument depicting women of the suffragette movement; and finally Kennedy Center Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph collaborates with the Kennedy Center’s newly appointed Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon on a piece centered on a father-son relationship, the politics of Queer identity in the Black church, and the hope inspired by the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision on marriage equality. The four works will premiere together in the Eisenhower Theater during a six-performance run, March 5-25, 2022.
Check out the full lineup below.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has announced plans for its 50th Anniversary season, slated to begin in September 2021 with a grand reopening of its stages and campus and culminate in September 2022 with a fresh interpretation of the seminal work that opened the Center in 1971, Leonard Bernstein’s MASS. In addition to a celebratory reactivation of the Kennedy Center’s campus in mid-September, including an opening concert curated and hosted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the Center will unveil two immersive, interactive exhibits, and a new life-sized statue of John F. Kennedy on the grounds of the REACH. The anniversary season will also feature a new cultural leadership initiative (Kennedy Center Next 50); four artist residencies; numerous new works; Washington National Opera (WNO)-led series of operatic works inspired by D.C.’s many monuments and iconic buildings, Written in Stone; seven commissioned works for the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), including a new symphony by Philip Glass and works by Mason Bates, Missy Mazzoli, Angélica Negrón, Joan Tower, James Lee III, and Peter Boyer; the premieres of eight social justice works from the Center’s Cartography Project; and new play commissions under the auspices of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. To open the 50th Anniversary season in September, the Kennedy Center will host two consecutive weekends of performances and free activities on the REACH campus.
“I can think of no better way to reemerge from the darkness of these last many months than to reopen with a vibrant, season-long celebration of the Center’s rich history and the bright future of the arts in our nation,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “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. We will reawaken those stories and ensure that all are invited to participate and tell us their own. But we also want to continue shining a light on the future of the performing arts with works and initiatives that speak to the promise of America’s greatest asset-the human spirit and diversity of our artists. ”
Spring and summer 2021 activity as well as the full 2021-2022 seasons for theater, dance, ballet, jazz, young audiences, Fortas Chamber Music, NSO, and WNO will be announced and go on sale in the coming weeks and months. As the Kennedy Center moves towards a full re-opening, it continues to prioritize the health and safety of artists, staff, and patrons. Current protocols can be found here and will continue to be updated as local health conditions evolve.
Milestones and Reflections
National Symphony Orchestra Concert of Remembrance (September 10)
To mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, reflect on the ongoing loss from Covid-19, and to honor the healthcare professionals who have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, a commemorative program featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and conducted by NSO music director Gianandrea Noseda will take place in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
Two 50th Anniversary Weekends in September (September 11-12, 18-19)
On the weekends of, September 11-12 and 18-19, the Center invites the community to participate in a range of free activities for the public including the world premiere of Ragamala Dance Company’s Fires of Varanasi, yoga, meditation on the REACH lawn in the morning, dance sanctuaries throughout the campus, and more.
On Sunday, September 12, select local community and school groups will work with current Education Artist-in-Residence Mo Willems to create a large-scale public art “playscape” on the REACH Plaza that will remain installed for a significant portion of the 50th Anniversary season. Conceived by Willems as a culminating event for his residency, We Are All Connected is inspired by one of his abstract pieces of art, consisting of interconnected colored dots and lines, showing how we are all connected in unexpected ways. The collaborative installation will be paired with live music, book readings, activities, and more-a festival of creation designed to bring people together.
On September 18, in addition to morning yoga and meditation, the Center will celebrate National Dance Day with lively, participatory activations for the public throughout the REACH and the Kennedy Center campus. Additional details about programming and access will be made available in the coming months.
50th Anniversary Celebration Concert (September 14, 2021)
The Kennedy Center’s 50th Anniversary will officially kick off on September 14 with a 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert, a celebration and re-launch of live, in-person performing arts in America. Echoing “An American Pageant for the Arts,” the 1962 event conducted by Leonard Bernstein, this special evening will be curated and hosted by Michael Tilson Thomas and will bring together the NSO with preeminent artists of our time to recognize the great performance traditions that have enriched our varied cultural heritage and the bright future that lies ahead.
50 Years of Broadway at the Kennedy Center
Over the past half-century, the Kennedy Center has launched and presented numerous iconic new musicals-such as Pippin, Annie, and Les Misérables-plus thrilling revivals from its stages to Broadway. In a star-studded concert featuring Broadway’s best talent and backed by an onstage orchestra, in the spring of 2022, 50 Years of Broadway at the Kennedy Center will celebrate many of the great musical theater moments from throughout the Center’s history.
Leonard Bernstein’s MASS at 50 (September 15-17, 2022)
As the concluding event of the Center’s 50th Anniversary season, Leonard Bernstein’s MASS will return to the Center in September 2022. Directed by Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director of WNO, this monumental work will be re-staged in the Concert Hall and feature the NSO along with 2020 Marian Anderson Award winner Will Liverman as the Celebrant.
Originally commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the opening of the Center, MASS was a unique theatrical experience considered controversial for the time. To honor and memorialize the Center’s namesake, the first Roman Catholic President, Bernstein chose to base the work on the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass. Together, Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Schwartz envisioned the piece as a fully staged dramatic pageant rather than as a concert. MASS mixed sacred and secular texts, using the traditional Latin liturgical sequence as the framework and inserting contemporary English subtext that questioned and challenged the prescribed service. Ultimately, it serves, according to the composer in a 1971 program note, as a “reaffirmation of faith.” Additional details will be announced at a later date.
Amplifying the Living Memorial
Introducing The Kennedy Center Next 50: Lighting the Way Forward Through Art and Action
As the Kennedy Center looks forward to the next half-century and beyond, it celebrates the cultural leadership of the past, present, and future with the belief that artists shape and influence our country and world. The Kennedy Center Next 50 identifies 50 leaders and organizations that, through sustained excellence of artistic, educational, athletic, or multi-disciplinary work, uplift society and move us toward a more inspired, inclusive, and compassionate world.
“As we celebrate the first 50 years of the Kennedy Center and the outstanding cultural and artistic leaders of that time, we also want to ask ourselves, ‘who are the direct torchbearers of their legacies?’ Artists have a role in leading us forward, not just from our stages, but as creative forces for equity outside of the theater, and these 50 leaders are the embodiment of the Kennedy Center’s renewed commitment to cultural leadership,” said Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact.
Following a national call to the public for nominations, the Kennedy Center intends to announce The Kennedy Center Next 50 in September 2021. These 50 cultural leaders will take part in Kennedy Center programs, forums, residencies, and events-such as Arts Summit, the Center’s annual convening investigating the power and potential of the arts-and work with the Kennedy Center to create opportunities for discourse with civic leaders to ensure that the voices of artistic and cultural leaders are lifted and heard. The public will be encouraged to be a part of the conversation and process in naming these culture-shapers by submitting suggestions for The Kennedy Center Next 50 through the Kennedy Center website and Facebook beginning April 15.
The Kennedy Center Next 50 is brought to you by Facebook.
Two New, Immersive Exhibits Dedicated to the Center’s History and Its Namesake
The Kennedy Center is where artistic experiences, history, people, and place merge. Delivering on and refreshing its role as a leading destination in our nation’s capital, the Center will introduce two new exhibits, together bookending its anniversary season: the first-a season-long, experiential exhibition chronicling five decades of Kennedy Center history; and the second-a large-scale installation dedicated to the life and legacy of late President John F. Kennedy. Through these compelling, new on-site experiences, the organization is re-imagining itself as a more dynamic and creative campus.
If These Halls Could Talk: Celebrating the Kennedy Center at 50 (Opening in Fall 2021)
The Kennedy Center, one of the nation’s few living memorials, celebrates its Golden Anniversary in the fall of 2021 with a formal, public launch of its Archives which will come to life as part of the patron experience. In its 50 years, the Center has hosted thousands of performances, been an artistic hub for countless artists and staff, and served audiences in the millions. The stories of these performances, individuals, and their experiences are as unique and colorful as they are varied. Together they tell the story of the Center-past and present. Designed as a living archives for a living memorial, oral histories and rarely seen materials from the Center’s Archives will serve as the source and inspiration for a series of overlapping installations throughout the campus. These various installations will include archival artifacts in immersive, dynamic, and accessible ways, in person and online, throughout the season.
Using the voices of the people, the Kennedy Center looks to its storied past, spinning that history and genius into artistic expressions that address contemporary and global issues. By the people and for the people, this compelling experience will evoke the Center’s history through calls for citizen participation, engaging video and aural snippets, powerful visuals, and novel archival content that will transform the entire campus into a constantly changing anniversary canvas.
Given the impact of the pandemic on the arts and the timing of the Kennedy Center’s anniversary year, this 50th anniversary Archives experience- modular and participatory-will become an opportunity for renewal and reflection for all, serving as a source of pride and a call to participate in observing and compiling a Kennedy Center history that is inclusive and reflective of the Center’s legacy.
New Large-Scale Memorial Exhibit: John F. Kennedy and the Arts (Opening in September 2022)
Since the John F. Kennedy Centennial in 2017, the Kennedy Center has actively sought ways to live and breathe the ideals of its namesake through its programming and arts education purview, and to educate the general public about President Kennedy’s legacy and contributions to the arts. In September 2022, a major installation in the massive fourth-floor Atrium Gallery space will open as a new destination experience for patrons and visitors to the memorial. The interactive exhibition will explore Kennedy’s appreciation and promotion of the arts and why the Kennedy Center came to be a living memorial to him and his ideals. Through a combination of high- and low-touch features, visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about John F. Kennedy and explore the person and the President, art and democracy, the social change and popular culture of his time, the power of words and television, cultural diplomacy and participation, and the posthumous naming of the Kennedy Center as a presidential memorial.
Over the course of the last two years, the Center has worked with external partners to design and curate this flagship exhibit, the first of its scope in the Center’s 50-year history. The design team has included Kieran Timberlake, Pentagram, and, more recently, an advisory group comprised of leading U.S. historians.
New JFK Statue to Grace REACH Campus (November 2021)
In a further expression of admiration for its namesake, the Kennedy Center is developing a new artwork featuring the likeness of President John F. Kennedy (see provided photo) to be erected in November 2021. This large-scale, bronze sculpture will be located within the lower gardens of the REACH and will complement the campus’s pieces by Joel Shapiro, Deborah Butterfield, and Roy Lichtenstein located nearby.
The new Kennedy sculpture is designed by STUDIOEIS, a Brooklyn-based sculpture and design studio under the direction of brothers Elliot and Ivan Schwartz, known for creating strikingly realistic bronze works. Since 1977, STUDIOEIS has combined its love for history and interest in the human figure to develop a broad, visual vocabulary and a “sense of place” with its work throughout the United States.
The sculpture is made possible by the generosity of David M. Rubenstein.
Uplifting the Artist
In keeping with President Kennedy’s call to “celebrate the past to awaken the future,” the 50th Anniversary season equally invests in and demonstrates the belief in contemporary artists and the importance of their ideas and cutting-edge work.
Artist Residencies: Carlos Simon, Jacqueline Woodson, The Roots, and Robert Glasper
Composer and arranger Carlos Simon Will join the Kennedy Center in 2021-2022 as its new Composer-in-Residence, working closely alongside the other Artists-in-Residence and programmers at the Center. During his three-year residency, Simon Will compose and present music across artistic genres, act as the Kennedy Center’s leading ambassador for new music, and participate in ongoing Kennedy Center education, social impact, community engagement, and major institutional initiatives. Planned Kennedy Center commissions over the course of Simon’s residency include works for the NSO and WNO, as well as a wide variety of commissions across the institution. 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.
Beginning in January 2022, Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the Newbery Honor, National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and MacArthur “Genius” Grant, will be the Kennedy Center’s next Education Artist-in-Residence. An acclaimed author of books for children, adolescents, and adults, Woodson’s residency will include both on- and off-stage programming across genres, forms, and spaces, and be seen both locally and nationally. During the 50th Anniversary season, two of her works that have helped transform the future of children’s literature will be adapted for the stage: the Newbery-winning Show Way, about a tradition passed down by the women in Woodson’s family that remembers the past and celebrates the future, will be adapted by Woodson as a book in concert with new music by Tyrone L. Robinson in February 2022; and, in April of 2022, The Other Side, a tale of two girls who begin a friendship from opposite sides of a fence that separates their segregated town, will be staged in a co-commission with HopeBoykinDance. Additional 50th Anniversary season programming with Woodson will be announced at a later date.
For the Culture Artist Residency: The Roots
In its ongoing commitment to celebrate the multi-hyphenate genius of hip hop generation creators, the Center’s Hip Hop Culture Program is excited to announce its For The Culture Artist Residency, a new Kennedy Center initiative. For the inaugural residency, the program has engaged one of hip hop’s best known and most respected acts-four-time Grammy Award®-winning band, The Roots. Heralded as one of the greatest live bands and the official house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Roots are an institution. As celebrated and renowned cultural leaders and founding members of the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council, The Roots will engage in a two-year residency comprised of three specially curated tracks highlighting the legendary crew and its joint front men: acclaimed emcee, writer, actor and artist Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter and award-winning drummer, DJ, producer, director, journalist, and New York Times best-selling author Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Spanning the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons, the residency will explore a range of creative projects including performances, presentations, curatorial endeavors, activations, and civic engagement.
Robert Glasper Residency Returns for a Second Year
The leader of a new sonic paradigm with a career that bridges musical and artistic genres, four-time Grammy Award®-winning pianist, composer, producer, and founding Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council Member Robert Glasper brings his dynamic two-week residency back to the Kennedy Center for a second year.
Honoring Indigenous Arts and Culture: We the Peoples Before
We The Peoples Before is an unprecedented collaboration between the First Peoples Fund and the Kennedy Center, designed to know, honor, and share the cultural fabric of the Indigenous United States. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Center and the 25th anniversary of the First Peoples Fund, We The Peoples Before includes a two-day celebration in spring 2022 at the REACH and the Eisenhower Theater and a series of educational activities. This program will serve schools and community centers across the nation in partnership with the Kennedy Center’s arts education programs.
Fostering New Works, Celebrating Partnerships
Throughout its history, the Kennedy Center has commissioned hundreds of new works across numerous genres and partnered with thousands of arts organizations around the world to uplift the role of the artist and bring the vibrant diversity of the arts to the National Cultural Center. Now, in its anniversary year, the Kennedy Center celebrates this tradition with commissions from some of the most exciting voices of our time and by celebrating our ongoing relationships with world-class cultural organizations.
Seven NSO Commissions
The 2021-2022 NSO season will feature a new commission from one of the nation’s foremost composers, and 2018 Kennedy Center Honoree, Philip Glass. Glass’s Symphony No. 13, a 45-minute orchestral work which marks his second NSO commission, will receive its world premiere in March 2022 conducted by NSO Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. Additional NSO commissions and co-commissions throughout the season will include works by Mason Bates, former Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence; Missy Mazzoli for violinist Jennifer Koh in a world premiere; an East Coast premiere by composer Angélica Negrón; Joan Tower for cellist Alisa Weilerstein in an East Coast premiere; a work to mark the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 by composer James Lee III; and Grammy®-nominated composer, orchestrator, and conductor Peter Boyer.
Sonic Portraits: Iphigenia (December 2021) and Yemandja (May 2022)
The Kennedy Center will present two sonic portraits of legendary women whose stories will be told through song in brave theatrical stagings.
Developed in part at the REACH in 2019, Iphigenia is a new operatic collaboration between two of the most visionary and daring musical voices of our time: 11-time Grammy Award®-winning composer, saxophonist, and Kennedy Center Honoree Wayne Shorter, and four-time Grammy Award®-winning bassist, composer, and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. Architect Frank Gehry, a luminary creative force of his generation, will create set designs for a production by award-winning theater and opera director Lileana Blain-Cruz that will play the Eisenhower Theater December 10-11, 2021, in a Washington, D.C. premiere. Improvisation becomes a living metaphor for choice as compositional hierarchies are disrupted in Shorter and spalding’s Iphigenia, co-commissioned by the Kennedy Center, creating an adaptation of the Greek myth that is also an intervention into myth-making itself, and an intervention into opera as we know it.
Inspired by her ancestors, her family, and Africa’s resilience, singer and storyteller extraordinaire Angélique Kidjo conjures up Yemandja, a timely theatrical work that is at once a family drama and historical thriller, redolent of Greek tragedy and infused with themes of love, betrayal, honor, free will, and the horror and injustice of slavery. Conceived by three-time Grammy® winner Kidjo, who last appeared at the Kennedy Center during the opening festival of the REACH in 2019, and a stellar team of creative collaborators, Yemandja is currently in development and will make its D.C. premiere at the Kennedy Center in May 2022. Featuring a cast of eight performers and four musicians, this Kennedy Center co-commission is a work of magical realism that illuminates what happens when people are robbed of their culture.
The Cartography Project
The Center’s previously announced curatorial music program and one of the eight channels of its Social Impact work, The Cartography Project, will feature the work of an inaugural cohort of 13 librettists and composers. Led by the NSO and WNO, the multi-year commissioning project has engaged these artists from across the nation to respond to extrajudicial killings that have galvanized the country. Comprising eight works that together create a musical map of these incidents, the commissions premiering during the 50th Anniversary season focus on the road forward on our country’s racial timeline with an emphasis on the concept of “Black Dignity.” The NSO has commissioned Jessica Mays, Nathaniel Heyder, Derek Douglas Carter, and Allison Loggins-Hull to create four chamber works. WNO is working with four composer/librettist teams including: B.E. Boykin and Brittny Ray Crowell; Jasmine Barnes and Joshua Banbury; Liz Gre and Junauda Petrus-Nasah; and Jens Ibsen and Yasmina Ibsen to create short vocal works. Additionally, newly appointed Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon, in collaboration with Kennedy Center Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph, will co-create an overarching work centering the concept of Black Dignity. Additional details will be announced at a later date.
World Premiere of Ragamala Dance Company’s Fires of Varanasi (September 11-12, 2021)
In a Kennedy Center co-commission, award-winning choreographers Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy and their Ragamala Dance Company premiere Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim as a site-specific dance experience on the REACH grounds. The internationally-recognized Bharatanatyam ensemble’s Fires of Varanasi is an immersive ritual where time is suspended and humans merge with the divine. Through images that form the cosmic trinity of Varanasi, India-sacred pilgrimage routes, the Ganges River, and the patron deity Shiva-the choreographers imagine a crossing place that provides spiritual and physical transcendence. This work for 11 dancers expands upon the birth-death-rebirth continuum in Hindu thought to examine immigrant experiences of life and death in the diaspora. The work features an original, recorded score and the lighting designs of French scenic and lightning designer Willy Cessa.
Celebrating Longstanding Relationships
World-renowned companies Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), American Ballet Theatre (ABT), and New York City Ballet (NYCB) have a longstanding history of performing annually on the Center’s stages. Ailey dates back 50 years ago to the Center’s opening performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, which significantly featured the commission of new choreography by Alvin Ailey, performed by his eponymous company.
In celebration of the Center’s 50th Anniversary, the 2021-2022 season ballet engagements of NYCB and ABT will celebrate the rich relationships and history of collaboration between these organizations and the Center, featuring two programs by each company-one presenting a full-evening production looking back at historical classics and another program looking forward into the future of each company and the art form. ABT will bring the classic Don Quixote, March 29-April 3, a ballet from which a pas de deux was excerpted during the opening week of the Kennedy Center in 1971 as part of a multi-week residency with the company. Returning June 7-12, NYCB will present George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a production brought to the Center during the company’s very first engagement in 1974. Both companies’ second programs will include repertory work (from present-day choreographers) reflecting the current and future visions of the artistry at each company and will showcase a range of voices of dance creators living and working today.
Committed to providing a global platform for diverse voices and a range of dance makers, the Ailey company commissions new work from dynamic and present-day artists during annual engagements at the Center, along with classic works by the Company’s founder and other modern dance masters. The company will return February 1-6 marking its seventh decade and 50-year relationship with the Center.
New Play Commissions
Fifty years ago, Rogers Stevens asked his colleague Michael Kanin, the Academy Award®-winning screenwriter, to help launch a program for student playwrights in higher education. The Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards program, now with 17 annual awards for undergraduate and graduate playwrights, has become an essential component of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), the first education program of the institution. In this anniversary year, the Kennedy Center has co-commissioned plays by distinguished alumni of the Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards program: Ike Holter, Hansol Jung with composer/lyricist Brian Quijada, Pulitzer Prize-winner Martyna Majok, Molly Smith Metzler, and Marco Ramirez. The Kennedy Center will host developmental workshops of each of these works during the spring and summer of 2022 at the REACH. The workshops will utilize D.C.-based acting companies with creative teams and affiliated artists assembled by the playwrights in collaboration with the co-commissioning partner theater companies from around the country. Student theater artists from the nationwide KCACTF network will staff each project as apprentices, continuing to look towards the future as we honor the past.
Another prominent KCACTF Michael Kanin Playwriting Award alumna, Kirsten Greenidge, has been commissioned to write a new play for young audiences to premiere in May 2022. The play is based on the life and work of groundbreaking novelist Octavia E. Butler, who is heralded as the “godmother of Afrofuturism.” One of several planned commissions for the 2021-2022 Performances for Young Audiences season, this play, commissioned specifically for the Center’s 50th, delves into the life of the renowned science fiction writer, and the work that has influenced a generation of writers, readers, feminists, and social justice advocates.