The Washington Chorus (TWC) welcomed Dr. Eugene Rogers as their fifth artistic director last month. The Grammy Award-winner is beginning his tenure in a tumultuous time, but he is taking the challenges presented in stride and thinking outside the box to continue TWC’s history of excellence. Rogers took the time to speak with District Fray about his work and TWC’s upcoming season.
District Fray: How has your first season as TWC’s artistic director been? Obviously, things are a little weird right now and audiences cannot experience TWC in person yet, so how have you been adjusting to that?
Dr. Eugene Rogers: Creativity happens everywhere. That has never stopped. There is a wonderful advantage with technology. Can you imagine what we would have done 100 years ago? Being able to connect still with the staff, the board and the chorus virtually [is wonderful]. We haven’t stopped. We had to reimagine our season, of course, but there have been a lot of virtual conversations and interactions. The chorus has even commented that, in some ways, they’ve gotten to know each other slightly better. When you’re in person, you come in, do your thing and leave. Now, you’re forced to think of new ways to connect.
TWC’s 60th anniversary is coming up. How will the chorus celebrate?
Our birthday bash is going to be on October 3, and we’re hoping to have about 60 hosts from not only the DMV area but around the world. We want to really have a retrospective: looking back at our beginnings, our connection to the community, our various conductors, our collaborations with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center, and then obviously, looking forward to ways we hope to expand our mission, our audience and our community.
One of the ways TWC is expanding is by introducing the Mahogany Series. Could you expand on how that came to be?
During my interview process with TWC, one of the things lacking for me was a deeper connection with the DMV community in all ways. I really wanted to find a way to bring awareness to diverse voices when we think of classical music. Sadly, I think the field of classical music has been given the reputation of being a field of dead white guys. The Mahogany Series was designed to be a platform to really break that idea. Classical music can be a voice for many different people. We’re going to highlight in that series the Black, Latinx and American Indian communities, starting with people here in the DMV. I think it positions TWC in a unique place to be even more relevant than we have been in the past. Of course, we will incorporate these voices throughout the whole season as well. We’ll have one series where we know we’re amplifying women and composers that don’t rise to the forefront.
How do you hope to transition when social distancing regulations ease up?
We are keeping ourselves nimble and flexible. We reserved spaces and budgeted for them, so if we are able to do a chamber-type in-person concert come March or April, we will do that. But if not, we are prepared to engage with our community through virtually premiering a teaser of Julian Walker’s “Here’s the Thing,” as well as hopefully an open call with female-identifying composers for virtual premiers of their work. Right now, we’re staying nimble with 2021. At any moment, if we can safely be together and perform, that’s what we’re doing. We’re staying open, but we’re mainly excited about these virtual projects we have coming up in the first part of our season. That’s what we know we can do, and we’re trying to gear up as much energy around that as we can.
How have you been able to connect with the community at large during this time?
We’ve opened up our membership so we can support folks who have maybe had their seasons canceled as well as broaden our community. So we’re having what we’re calling TWC Global Virtual Members, where if people can make the rehearsals and have access to recording themselves, they can be a part of the first half of our season anywhere in the world. When we can be in person, we want to have a reunion concert and invite those people to D.C. to do a concert together. You can look at Covid and say, “Look at what we’ve lost,” and we’ve lost a lot. But you can pivot and ask, “What have we gained?” We’re trying really hard to focus there. I don’t think we’re going to make it through this if we don’t have some positivity going forward and adopt new ways of looking at the situation.
Tickets for TWC’s 2020-2021 season are on sale now. Consider donating to the organization to ensure many more years of music. Learn more about TWC at www.thewashingtonchorus.org, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates.
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