Festival Express

Virginia Arts Festival

Virginia Arts Festival brings a stunning array of performers and events to Hampton Roads from March to June. Here are just a few of this year’s highlights:

The Chieftains at the Harrison Opera House, March 17
“It kind of fell in our laps,” director Robert Cross says of this programming coup—to have the world’s most celebrated Irish band perform in Norfolk on St. Patrick’s Day. “I mean, it’s like having The Nutracker on Christmas; it’s a no-brainer.”

Meow Meow at Robin Hixon TheaterMeow Meow at Robin Hixon Theater, March 19-22, 23, 24
This inspired cabaret performer was booked last year but had to cancel. “We were excited to be able to get her reengaged,” Cross says. “She’s such a great singer, with an incredibly smart and unique show.

Birmingham Royal Ballet at Chrysler Hall, April 19-21
Cross says that the 2007 appearance by this revered dance troupe was one of his favorite past festival performances. “Having them back is a big deal for us because it’s one of the great classical ballet companies of the world. This is their only North American appearance this year.”

Virginia International Tattoo at Norfolk Scope, April 25-28
The biggest event of the festival is getting bigger. “There are more than 800 people in the cast,” Cross says. “The tattoo is so important to us. It gives us a chance to partner with the military, with NATO, and it reflects how important the military is to our community.”

A Prairie Home Companion at Constant Convocation Center, May 4
Cross: “Getting Garrison Keillor to broadcast ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ from here is a huge coup for the community and the festival. We have a standing offer into Garrison to come, and he’s been here a couple of times. It’s always a huge success, always a sellout.

Audra McDonaldAudra McDonald at the Attucks Theatre, May 16
Cross says that his sleeper pick this year is vocalist Audra McDonald. “She’s an amazing singer, one of the truly great musical theater voices around. To put her in a setting like the Attucks Theatre is huge for us.

Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” at Chrysler Hall, May 29.
“‘The Rite of Spring’ is one of the most important pieces written in the last century,” says Cross, who counts Igor Stravinsky among his favorite composers. “We’re going to do a fully-staged production with the Richmond Ballet onstage and Virginia Symphony in the pit. The only two places performing it on its 100th anniversary are here in Norfolk and in Paris, where it had its world premiere.”

Coffee Concerts, various locations and dates
Featuring the Miami String Quartet, Andre-Michel Schub and other world-class players, these three intimate recitals will be manna from heaven for chamber music fans. “We have so many beautiful churches and small halls around here,” Cross says. “These performances give us the ability to get to some of these smaller communities that don’t have big spaces but they do have nice churches or recital halls. For instance, Trinity Episcopal in Portsmouth ... it’s just beautiful. The acoustics are great and we get good audiences there.”

—Don Harrison

Word Class Festival, Local Links

By Montague Gammon III

“Support your local locals” was a rallying cry for regional rock groups decades ago. Virginia Arts Festival, known for the quality of internationally regarded artists it imports, prominently displays its local links as well.

The ad hoc group JoAnn Falletta and Friends has become a reasonably familiar, if only occasionally heard, part of the Hampton Roads musical scene, but Falletta’s artistry as a classical guitarist is obviously less well known than her conducting. Composers Lezcano, Bizet, Boccherini, Paganini and Kreutser are on a program that kicks off the Festival’s WHRO Chamber Music Series with compositions that range from the accessible (for audiences) to the daunting (for performers).

For the Stravinsky Celebration, Todd Rosenlieb is choreographing his Granby Street based, namesake company’s performance of Stravinsky’s dance cantata— or ballet with vocalists—Les Noces. Scored (in the first of several versions) for four pianists, tympani, unpitched percussion, four soloists and a chorus, it won’t sound like anything else one might encounter in the world of ballet.

Norfolk AttractionsTodd Rosenlieb Dance is also co-presenting Ricardo Melendez’s brilliant one-man play Nijinsky’s Last Dance, which memorably wowed local audiences in its 2006 premiere, and got rave reviews in Edinburgh the next year. Playwright, actor, dancer, choreographer and more, Melendez is one of Hampton Roads’ under-sung genius artists, as his performance in this play has internationally demonstrated.

Besides the local landmark 18th Century Myers House and its invaluable contents, wealthy Norfolk merchant Moses Myers and his family left their home city a treasure trove of 900+ musical scores, now bound and preserved in the Chrysler Museum.

Treasures of the Moses Myers Collection draws its selection of chamber music, light classical pieces and American folk songs from those volumes. A quartet of Virginia Symphony instrumentalists and baritone Christopher Mooney will perform, in the spirit of the family musicales that were common recreation in pre-electronic days. Flutist Deborah Cross, making the point that the fragile originals themselves will not be used, adds that one of Myers’ piano scores shows pencil markings about fingering and technique, from when they played an active part in the family’s home life.

As always, the Virginia Symphony and its individual members are prominent throughout the Festival. Local band The Last Bison plays the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Buildings become canvases for video art. Outdoor events stretch from James City County and Williamsburg to Downtown Norfolk and Pungo, as the Virginia Arts Festival shows its local and its festive side.

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