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The Kennedy Center Honors abandons the arts for pop culture
Washington Post ^ | 8/3/2017 | Philip Kennicott

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 Lavallade’s 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, it’s 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 year’s 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 Opera’s music director, Philippe Auguin, was unceremoniously dumped from the company, despite having led magisterial performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle last year. “We are evolving toward different needs from a music director,” said the WNO’s chief, Francesca Zambello, of a conductor who could assuredly meet any musical needs presented by any opera composer of the last half millennium. Zambello’s 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 can’t 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 didn’t build new audiences for spectacle. A response to a question I recently put to the team overseeing the redesign of the center’s 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 won’t know if they’ve 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 center’s commitment to true diversity in the arts. The philosophical foundation of the “arts” that have defined the center’s 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.

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: americaindecline; culturalslouch; popculture; slipperyslope; thugculture

1 posted on 08/03/2017 1:03:46 PM PDT by Borges
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To: Borges

Considering there is nothing in a Kennedy within a light year of art, what’s the problem?

2 posted on 08/03/2017 1:08:11 PM PDT by Da Coyote
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To: Borges

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)

3 posted on 08/03/2017 1:08:13 PM PDT by simpson96
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To: Borges

Pop culture has been increasingly overrated and the products being marketed have never been more over-valued, especially in the music business.

4 posted on 08/03/2017 1:10:40 PM PDT by equaviator (There's nothing like the universe to bring you down to earth.)
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To: Da Coyote

The Kennedy family has no say in any of this. It just takes place in a building named after them.

5 posted on 08/03/2017 1:11:54 PM PDT by Borges
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To: Borges

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).

6 posted on 08/03/2017 1:14:15 PM PDT by Sans-Culotte (Time to get the US out of the UN and the UN out of the US!)
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To: Borges

Dump the evil white culture.

Don’t they already have the BET awards?

7 posted on 08/03/2017 1:15:44 PM PDT by ilovesarah2012
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To: ilovesarah2012
Yes. Latest skirmish in the ongoing battle to obliterate traditional Western Culture.
8 posted on 08/03/2017 2:23:45 PM PDT by hinckley buzzard
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To: Borges

Blame Caroline and the other leaches

9 posted on 08/03/2017 2:27:38 PM PDT by Nifster (I see puppy dogs in the clouds)
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To: Nifster

The Kennedy family has nothing to do with this. The building is named after JFK. That’s it.

10 posted on 08/03/2017 2:29:00 PM PDT by Borges
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To: Nifster

“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.


11 posted on 08/03/2017 2:34:31 PM PDT by Mears
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To: Mears

Members Appointed by the President of the United States (Obama)

Adrienne Arsht
David C. Bohnett
Fred Eychaner
Giselle Fernandez
Sakurako Fisher
Norma Lee Funger
John Goldman
Janet Hill
Frank F. Islam
Valerie Jarrett
Victoria Reggie Kennedy
Michael Lombardo
Andrés W. López
Bryan Lourd
Amalia Perea Mahoney
Barbara Goodman Manilow
Alyssa Mastromonaco
W. James McNerney, Jr.
Charles B. Ortner
Rebecca Pohlad
Shonda L. Rhimes
Susan Rice
Laura Ricketts
David M. Rubenstein
Margaret Russell
Rose Kennedy Schlossberg
Susan S. Sher
Alexandra C. Stanton
Bryan Traubert
Ranvir Trehan
Walter F. Ulloa
Reginald Van Lee
Romesh Wadhwani
Anthony Welters
Ann Marie Wilkins
Elaine Wynn

12 posted on 08/03/2017 2:50:36 PM PDT by Bookshelf
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To: Borges

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.

13 posted on 08/03/2017 2:55:21 PM PDT by morphing libertarian
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To: Borges

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.

14 posted on 08/03/2017 3:00:22 PM PDT by Dilbert San Diego
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To: Borges

Yeah but take a look at the board members

15 posted on 08/03/2017 3:51:23 PM PDT by Nifster (I see puppy dogs in the clouds)
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To: Borges

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......

16 posted on 08/03/2017 4:34:36 PM PDT by Intolerant in NJ
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