After over a year where we’ve been starved of being together, going out and listening to live performers, Wolf Trap’s first set of welcome back concerts for the 2021 season isn’t just a glimmer of hope but a whole damn rainbow of renewal, a disco ball refracting joy, or select your favorite image of brightness and elation. It’s time to let the light and music back into our lives.
This morning, Wolf Trap announced its first set of concerts for the summer season, a lineup that includes mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, local go-go legends Big Tony and Trouble Funk, New Orleans jazz stalwarts Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert, among many other performances.
“Last March in 2020, every week after we essentially shut down seemed worse than the week before,” says Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts President and CEO Arvind Manocha. “Every few months, we got into a tighter lockdown and realized we had to cancel things further out. This March is when we started to get a glimpse and a glimmer of hope. It feels like every week is better than the week before, and it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to feel that way.”
On July 1, Wolf Trap will celebrate 50 years as a performing arts center with “Fifty Years Together: A Celebration of Wolf Trap,” a gala concert event featuring some astoundingly talented women: JoAnn Falletta conducting the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), Broadway and film star Cynthia Erivo, world-renowned soprano Christine Goerke (who is also a Wolf Trap Opera alumna) and acclaimed classical pianist Joyce Yang. The selection of these peerless performing artists reflects the history of the first Wolf Trap concert on July 1, 1971 by honoring visionary founder and feminist Catherine Filene Shouse and showcasing Wolf Trap’s breadth of musical stylings.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful and honoring her spirit on this 50th anniversary concert to have all of our guest artists be incredible women?’” Manocha says. “I hope it’s the kind of concert that Ms. Shouse, who was a champion for the advancement of women, would really get a kick out of seeing.”
The concert also commemorates Wolf Trap’s 50-year partnership with the NSO, and Manocha says he can’t imagine having the concert without the orchestra playing.
“They opened the building in 1971 with [Harvey] Van Cliburn, and they reopened the building with [Placido] Domingo after the fire. It seems very fitting that for our 50th year, they will be the anchor of that evening.”
He continues, describing Wolf Trap’s 50th season as a self-reflective moment.
“What really struck us last year when things were so challenging was how much support we got. We realized this is not about us. This milestone year is not about us turning 50. This is about being in this community for 50 years celebrating music. We’ve all been here together.”
The anniversary concert kicks off a whole season of joyous performances by renowned artists, with shows announced through June and July.
“Whether it be Max Weinberg or Norm Lewis or Aoife O’Donovan or Big Tony and Trouble Funk, it’s a variety,” Manocha says. “I wanted to be sure that when people see Wolf Trap engaging in that first month of concerts, they see the breadth they’re used to seeing: opera, symphony, go-go music, Americana, rock ‘n’ roll — everything under that one roof.”
That roof, of course, covers the expansive Filene Center that normally seats just over 7,000 people. But this season, concertgoers will purchase tickets for a “pod” of people and sit with their own party, socially distanced from others and limiting the overall capacity to 1,500. Manocha points out that lawn seating will change. Rather than rushing the gates to claim prime real estate with blankets and lawn chairs, outdoor seating will be preassigned. Expect other changes, too, from digital tickets to marked spots throughout the venue.
Manocha stresses that despite some pandemic safety changes, what hasn’t changed is Wolf Trap’s core mission as a national park that is devoted to the arts.
“It literally belongs to all of us,” he notes.
This sense of shared ownership and community is apparent when he uses “we.” He means everyone who has every attended a performance at Wolf Trap — not just the administrators or the institution. From the series of “thank you community concerts” at the end of June hailing the DMV’s essential workers to reprogramming Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods performances in the Filene Center, the team at Wolf Trap is ready to welcome everybody back.
“We have this enormous, beautiful green space that’s permanently protected and literally owned by the people for the opportunity to be together,” Manocha concludes. “This is the year of all years that we’re going to need this. We’re celebrating 50 years of coming together.”
Learn more about Wolf Trap’s summer concert schedule here, and follow on Instagram @wolf_trap. Check back over the coming months for more exciting announcements through August and September. The latest safety guidelines and updates will always be available on Wolf Trap’s website.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1800; www.wolftrap.org
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