- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It’s reputed to be the second most familiar New Year’s Eve song after Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne,” maybe because it poses the question on the mind of every would-be swain: Will you be with me to meet the future? They’ll be singing it, along with Burns’ nostalgic air, at what may be the hottest ticket in town: New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center, a musical cornucopia of jazz, classical, standards, old favorites and singalong topped off with Grand Foyer dancing that’s open as well to ticket holders to the Opera House’s current production, “The Light in the Piazza,” and the Theater Lab’s long-running “Shear Madness,” who are invited to join the Grand Foyer party after their shows break.

The champagne-and-confetti extravaganza for some 3,000 expected revelers is fueled by music — in some cases a very special kind of music.

“The music is all about expectations — what people love to hear — and having them fulfilled,” says Murry Sidlin, who will conduct members of the National Symphony Orchestra in the title program, “New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center,” in the Concert Hall.

“So we try for balance: Handel, Ravel, Stravinsky, but also Gershwin and more jazzy flavored pieces.”

Party with a difference

“It’s just another New Year’s Eve, another night like all the rest,” Barry Manilow has been singing for almost 30 years. For most, it comes down to a few traditions: Blow out the credit card on an over-the-top dinner for two. Gather with friends or associates for a house or hotel party. Head for Times Square or Las Vegas — or watch their teeming crowds at home on television.

The Kennedy Center celebration takes all the elements of those good times — food, drink, music, confetti, funny hats, noisemakers, dancing and implied romance — and adds two elements: a spectacular view of the Potomac if the weather is good, and performance, heavy on style and tradition, with a flavor reminiscent of upscale clubs and classic ballrooms.

So, if you can snag a ticket, take in “A Jazz New Year’s Eve,” with pianist-vocalist Freddy Cole and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band for two shows in the Terrace Theater.

Or drop in on Mr. Sidlin’s showcase of classical music with members of the NSO in the Concert Hall.

The two sides of this musical coin will again be addressed at the post-concert celebration in the Grand Foyer, that stretch of red-carpeted road leading off to the Center’s three main performing halls, the Eisenhower Theater, the Opera House and the Concert Hall.

Taking turns at each end of the Grand Foyer will be the Salon Orchestra of Washington, playing grand-style Viennese waltzes and polkas on a stage by the Concert Hall, and Full Swing, offering the big-band sound of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra.

Dancing is a must.

Ticket holders to any of the evening’s performances — the Concert Hall show, the jazz fest at the Terrace Theater and the two theater presentations — can attend the Grand Foyer festivities. And having a receipt for dinner at the Roof Terrace Restaurant gains diners entree to the party that runs officially from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

In other words, this evening is not likely to be just “another night like all the rest.”

A jazzy good time

For Billy Taylor, the legendary jazz master, educator and pianist who was appointed the Center’s artistic adviser for jazz in 1994 and is still an active consultant to its jazz program, the KenCen’s first New Year’s Eve jazz concert, in 1999, almost didn’t happen.

“When it was first suggested to me I said, no way. I can’t do that. It’s my wife’s birthday,” says Mr. Taylor, 85. He and his wife, Theodora, have been married for 60 years.

“Anyway, we talked a little and the night came out OK,” Mr. Taylor says of his conversations with Kennedy Center officials. “It’s become a tradition here.”

New Year’s Eve is special to Mr. Taylor and his wife apart from its birthday aspects.

“Our first New Year’s together as a married couple, we were in Paris and I was working then with Don Redman’s big band. That was a pretty special place to be, right after the war, and European audiences were always very responsive to jazz, then and now.”

Mr. Taylor was at one time the house pianist at Birdland in Harlem, home to Charlie Parker. He believes jazz pulls on people at New Year’s.

“It’s about having a good time, sure, but there’s always this element of romance, of classy music, of all the great jazz bands there, about having a good time in a fine club atmosphere, dressing up, looking good and listening to great music. It has a high society feel to it, a cabaret thing.

“I mean, look what we’re having this year,” he says. “You’ve got Freddy Cole, and he’s Nat King Cole’s brother, he’s a great vocalist in his own right; you’ve got Slide Hampton, who’s a great trombonist, who’s directing the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. That’s jazz pedigree.”

Kevin Struthers, manager of jazz programming at the Kennedy Center, agrees.

“Jazz lends itself to a good time,” he says. “It also has an elegant quality, that club atmosphere, it reminds you of hotel piano music; it’s got its romantic aspects as well.”

Mr. Struthers admits that when he first came to the Kennedy Center, he wasn’t what you’d call a jazz aficionado.

“I’ve had an incredible education here, especially being able to work with Dr. Taylor,” he says. “One of the things I’ve learned in terms of programming the New Year’s Eve show is that we always have an outstanding vocalist.”

That, of course, would be Mr. Cole.

“That’s part of an evening like this, and part of the jazz tradition,” Mr. Struthers says.

Grand Foyer madness

The Grand Foyer party, in one form or another, has been an annual fixture since the KenCen opened its doors in 1971. Robert Dodelin, who conducts the Salon Orchestra of Washington and is also associated with Full Swing, thinks the idea of having bands at both ends of the space is a perfect solution for New Year’s Eve.

“You get Glenn Miller on one end, and Strauss waltzes on the other,” he says.

Mr. Dodelin, a classical bassist, is vice president of the long-time performance agency Sidney’s Music & Entertainment, named for Sidney Seidenman Sr., whose society band — aptly named Sidney’s Orchestra — first played at the Mayflower Hotel in 1926 and has played at every presidential inauguration since Herbert Hoover’s in 1929.

For him, the key to making music on New Year’s Eve is to rely on the tried and true.

“One of the things about New Year’s Eve music,” he says, “is that it ought to be familiar to people, that they recognize it instantly. Even if they don’t know the lyrics, they know they’ve heard it before and can dance to it in one form or another.”

Waltzes fill that bill, and so does swing.

“Everybody associates New Year’s Eve with Vienna,” he says. “I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, it just sort of is that way. I studied in Vienna, and I still couldn’t tell you. But you strike up ‘The Emperor Waltz’ or ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ or any of that Strauss music, and people start to dance. It’s smooth, its beautiful, you get caught up in it.

“Same thing happens with ‘In the Mood,’ in a different way — the big band sound. People are here to have a good time, but they want to be in a familiar place, dress up a little or a lot, sing and dance and make noise.”

So it’s never “another night like all the rest,” but some years are more different than others.

“One year it got a little scary,” Mr. Dodelin says. “It was the millennium year and everybody was worried about Y2K, that computer thing, like the world might end, and it was a little edgier than usual, and all of a sudden we heard these big gun-sounding explosions, and everybody ran to the window. And it was the fireworks.”

A cup o’ kindness

Familiarity — and a sense of being at a party — is a little more difficult to bring off in a concert hall setting, but Mr. Sidlin, who has been guest conductor for the NSO’s New Year’s Eve concert since it began in 1994, has found a way.

“We try to let the audience members choose among some of the music pieces we’ll be performing,” he says. “A democratic vote by clapping and noise. Between a Verdi, or a Bizet, or a Rachmaninoff or Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ It makes the audience feel like they’re a part of the whole evening. It’s more partylike, if you will.”

Mr. Sidlin has also been dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University since 2002 and has guest-conducted all over the world, so he knows a little something about music and audiences.

“Classical music has a status and a quality to it that makes for an evening that’s touched by class,” Mr. Sidlin says. “It’s also familiar music; we don’t try to stray too far to music that nobody’s ever heard before.”

This year’s New Year’s program features pianist Stewart Goodyear and soprano Arianna Zukerman. She will sing not only Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim,” but also “Yankee Doodle Rhythm” and — hold on here — “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

It’s what patrons expect. And expectations are what Mr. Sidlin wants to fulfill on this night when past and present meet future.

“One of the expectations is always a Strauss waltz,” he says. “This time, it’s the ‘Radetsky Waltz’ and Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ ”

And to wind it all up?

“This is the part where everybody gets to sing,” Mr. Sidlin says. We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet

For auld lang syne.

KenCencountdown

“New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center” is a different kind of New Year’s Eve party, one that combines the noise, dancing and romance of the evening — and maybe even dinner — with performance.

That is, attending any Kennedy Center event on the big night, or having dinner upstairs, gets patrons in free to the Grand Foyer’s midnight bash. For all events unless otherwise noted, call 202/467-4600 or see www.kennedy-center.org.

The details:

Theater

• “The Light in the Piazza”: Composer Adam Guettel’s lush musical about an ultraprotective Southern matron touring Italy with her beautiful young daughter. Opera House, 8:30 p.m. $110-$150.

• “Shear Madness”: The long-running whodunit comedy. Theater Lab, 9 p.m. $50.

Dining

• “Roof Terrace Restaurant & Bar”: Special New Year’s Eve menu and extended hours. 5 to 10:30 p.m. $125. Reservations required; 202/416-8555 or online.

Concerts

• “A Jazz New Year’s Eve”: Freddy Cole, pianist and vocalist, with Gerald Byrd, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass; and Curtis Boyd, drums. The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Slide Hampton, musical director, with Antonio Hart, Jimmy Heath, Mark Gross, Ralph Lalama and Gary Smulyan on reeds; Gregory Gisbert, Frank Greene, Claudio Roditi and Terell Stafford on trumpets; Jay Ashby, James Burton, Jason Jackson and Douglas Purviance on trombone; Cyrus Chestnut on piano; John Lee on bass and Dennis Mackrel, drums. Terrace Theater, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. $65. Sold out.

• “New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center”: Murry Sidlin conducts members of the National Symphony Orchestra, with Stewart Goodyear, piano, and Arianna Zukerman, soprano. Music of Verdi, Bizet, Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, de Falla, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Stravinsky, Ravel, Strauss, Sousa, Elgar, Loesser and Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne.” Concert Hall, 8:30 p.m. $85-$90.

Countdown to 2007

• “New Year’s Eve Celebration in the Grand Foyer”: The Salon Orchestra of Washington and the Full Swing band. Swing, waltz, polka dancing. Balloon and confetti countdown, noisemakers, hats. Champagne, snacks and sandwiches for sale. Thirteen bars in the Grand Foyer, two in each of the halls. 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Free to all Kennedy Center patrons with a Dec. 31 performance ticket stub or a Roof Terrace Restaurant receipt from that day.

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