- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

The Kennedy Center's 2002-03 season promises the return of several familiar programs and the start of new ones, including a cabaret-style jazz club, a star-studded version of "Carmen Jones" and the dawn of a new relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Yesterday's announcements also shared news that National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Leonard Slatkin has renewed his contract through the 2005-06 season.

The upcoming season will seem different from the start, Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said. "When I got to the Kennedy Center, I was disheartened. There was no real start to the season," he said.

Now, the season enjoys an official kickoff with the Prelude Festival. The two-week event, to start Sept. 2, will feature a smorgasbord of local arts groups, from the Signature Theatre to the Washington Chamber Symphony, bookended by National Symphony Orchestra concerts. Many of the events will be free.

Mr. Kaiser also announced the start of a five-year partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The troupe will perform two of the following three Shakespeare plays, "Macbeth," "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet" at the Kennedy Center.

Mr. Kaiser credited his British ties he worked as executive director with the Royal Opera House in London before joining the Kennedy Center in February 2001 and his professional relationship with Prince Charles, who supplied funding for the program.

He added that the local Shakespeare Theatre knew of the arrangement and was working with the Kennedy Center to ensure no duplication of plays would occur.

One area the center appears in little need of help, according to Mr. Kaiser, is in patronage. "Our tickets are selling unbelievably well," he said, adding fund-raising efforts are up by 35 percent over the last fiscal period.

On the jazz front, the 2002-03 season will see the premieres of the Platinum Series and the KC Jazz Club. The former includes performances by the Herbie Hancock Quartet, Betty Buckley and Nancy Wilson. The new jazz club, in the Education Resource Center on the roof level, will bring new and established jazz musicians to the center in a more intimate environment.

"We felt so much of jazz was meant to be seen and heard in a less formal setting," Mr. Kaiser said.

The center isn't shying away from big-budget productions in general, though.

The inaugural show funded by the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Series for Artistic Excellence will be Oscar Hammerstein/Georges Bizet's "Carmen Jones." Placido Domingo will direct the NSO for the show, which will be directed by Debbie Allen and star Vanessa Williams.

The Kennedy Center's ballet season will be interrupted by renovation work slated for its opera house. The final program before the work begins, though, will be the first District performance of "The Nutcracker" by the Bolshoi Ballet.

Ballet performances will continue in the center's various existing theaters.

The NSO returns to its Pops series with Marvin Hamlisch, and a new celebration of film and music, featuring famed movie composer John Williams ("Jaws," "Star Wars").

"It's not a pop series at all," Mr. Slatkin said of the latter, pointing to its intellectual explorations of music's role in cinema over the years.

The orchestra's educational efforts will be exemplified by the Composer Portraits series, which features both music and biographies of several famed musicians.

"It's a way to get to know about music," Mr. Slatkin said. "We feel it's our job now to take the role of being educators."

And, in a move designed to please audiences yawning at the end of weekend performances, the starting times for NSO's Friday and Saturday night concerts has been moved up from 8:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Mr. Kaiser also revealed yesterday that an unsolicited donation of $1 million from the Coca-Cola Corp. would go toward its planned arts museum.

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