Skip to comments.The Kennedy Center Honors abandons the arts for pop culture
Posted on 08/03/2017 1:03:46 PM PDT by Borges
For years now, the Kennedy Center Honors have been devolving from an award that recognizes stellar achievement across a diverse and rich tradition of American arts into an entertainment-driven event that rewards star power and pop-culture cachet. Representatives of the wide range of traditional arts, including classical music, opera and ballet, have been slowly edged out until, it seemed, they were lucky to be represented with a single award among the five given out each year. This year even that toehold looks precarious. Of the five artists to receive the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors, only dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade falls into the tradition of the arts on which the Kennedy Center was founded and built its reputation. The other honorees television producer Norman Lear, singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, music mogul Lionel Richie and hip-hop star LL Cool J are all great talents, but belong to a commercial entertainment culture that has no need of the Kennedy Center, or the awards that bear its name, to establish and maintain a connection with their enormous audiences.
This year, not one violinist, pianist, conductor or orchestral composer has chosen. No one from the opera world is represented. Despite de Lavallades theatrical credits, theater is mostly absent this year, with no playwrights, actors, directors or designers among the bunch. Sam Shepard died this week without ever achieving the favor won in recent years by the Eagles, David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey. Not one artist who has taken up the legacy of Aaron Copland or Tennessee Williams or Virgil Thomson (all honored in the early years of the Kennedy Center) is included. Majors figures in American musical life, such as composers Philip Glass and John Adams, still await an award, as do opera stars Kathleen Battle, Samuel Ramey and Frederica von Stade. For a cultural center built around an opera house and symphony hall, its depressing that this year not one classical musician has made the list and that again, this year, none of the musicians who have made America a force in pioneering the early instruments movement were included.
It is easy to quibble over who should be on the list. More troubling is what this years omissions say about the larger direction of the Kennedy Center. And there are other signs. In June, one of the finest musicians heard at the center in recent years, the Washington National Operas music director, Philippe Auguin, was unceremoniously dumped from the company, despite having led magisterial performances of Wagners Ring Cycle last year. We are evolving toward different needs from a music director, said the WNOs chief, Francesca Zambello, of a conductor who could assuredly meet any musical needs presented by any opera composer of the last half millennium. Zambellos words now sound more ominous than ever. The center also seems to have given up on its annual international festival of the arts, but it cant quit the hit musical The Book of Mormon, which will return for its third engagement this fall. And the 2014 decision to change producers for the CBS broadcast of the annual Honors ceremony only made the once glamorous affair seem more like conventional television pablum which didnt build new audiences for spectacle. A response to a question I recently put to the team overseeing the redesign of the centers beloved chamber music and recital hall, the Terrace Theatre, is also deeply troubling. During a tour of the almost-finished space last week, I asked if the acoustical goal was to replicate the excellent dynamics of the original theater. They equivocated, saying of course that none of that would be lost, but it was also being reworked to host other kinds of events, included those with heavy amplification.
We wont know if theyve wrecked the space until it opens in October. Nor will we know what direction the new music director takes at the WNO until he or she has been announced. And the Kennedy Center Honors will be back again next year, and perhaps the choices will represent a more diverse and open understanding of American culture, one that recognizes that there is more to the arts than what one sees on television, or goes platinum on the pop charts. But the signs are disturbing. The Honors have always included a range of what is often called high and popular culture, but they have never been so slavishly focused on mass entertainment, and they have never entirely forsaken the arts that were foundational to the creation of the institution. Audiences who seek a rich diet of culture not just corporate entertainment product should be alarmed and must become vocal about maintaining the centers commitment to true diversity in the arts. The philosophical foundation of the arts that have defined the centers existence since it opened in 1971 was always big tent. And the Honors have properly been given to both George Balanchine and Gene Kelly, Marian Anderson and Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and Rudolf Serkin. Few if any of those artists would be likely to be honored today, given what the awards now celebrate. Which is talent that has also received the benediction of our new age of consumer-driven winner-takes-all success.
Considering there is nothing in a Kennedy within a light year of art, what’s the problem?
Almost barfed when I heard Gloria freaking Estefan is being honored. WTH?
Longevity + selling a lot of records = Kennedy Center honor?
Where’s Def Lepperd’s Kennedy Center Honor? (lol)
Pop culture has been increasingly overrated and the products being marketed have never been more over-valued, especially in the music business.
The Kennedy family has no say in any of this. It just takes place in a building named after them.
Kind of reminds me of when Bobby McFerrin would be invited to “conduct” orchestras. Maybe he should get the honor as “world conductor laureate” or something (if he doesn’t already have it).
Dump the evil white culture.
Don’t they already have the BET awards?
Blame Caroline and the other leaches
The Kennedy family has nothing to do with this. The building is named after JFK. That’s it.
“Blame Caroline and the other leaches”
It’s a building named after her father,that’s it.
She is no more responsible for this place than she is responsible for how the JFK Airport is run.
Members Appointed by the President of the United States (Obama)
David C. Bohnett
Norma Lee Funger
Frank F. Islam
Victoria Reggie Kennedy
Andrés W. López
Amalia Perea Mahoney
Barbara Goodman Manilow
W. James McNerney, Jr.
Charles B. Ortner
Shonda L. Rhimes
David M. Rubenstein
Rose Kennedy Schlossberg
Susan S. Sher
Alexandra C. Stanton
Walter F. Ulloa
Reginald Van Lee
Ann Marie Wilkins
don’t much care. i watch every year usually in mid december when the networks run re-runs. they honer 5 people and usually three of them are interesting. Build a pretty good show around each one. tape and fast forward is my advice. Better to have it than not and I don’t give a rats a$$ who’s on the board or even who the president was that picked them. let the band play and the women sing and the comics comic and i’m there.
It was originally going to be named the National Cultural Center. After JFK was assassinated, they decided to rename it the Kennedy Center in his memory.
Yeah but take a look at the board members
Happening all over - I stopped sending money to the Mann Center in Philadelphia when their summer program series went from multiple concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra with artists like YoYoMa and De Burgos, and a few popular/rock concerts to mainly popular/rock concerts and a few by the Orchestra, limited pretty much to playing the soundtrack to a Harry Potter movie and the “1812 Overture” with fireworks......
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