The performing arts series that begin kicking off this week at five metro universities usually are not mentioned in the same breath, because the halls are spread out geographically and each offers something a little different for their loyal constituencies (as well as newbies).
But, if Atlanta cultural consumers take the long view of the jam-packed slates being presented from now until the middle of next year, they will discern a rich and enriching selection that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Or missed:
- Georgia Tech’s Arts@Tech series, centered at the Ferst Center, will get the season — and the audience, no doubt — moving Sept. 25 with the mambo and salsa rhythms of the Tito Puente Jr. Orchestra.
- The Candler Concert Series, the major subscription offering at Emory University’s ultra-busy Schwartz Center for the Arts, launches Oct. 3 with a genre-hopping concert by pianist Chick Corea and banjo ace Bela Fleck.
- On Oct. 10, Spivey Hall at Clayton State University in Morrow will open its 25th anniversary season with Metropolitan Opera soprano Christine Brewer joining Paul Jacobs, who will play the 4,413-pipe organ.
- Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts, which again is bringing a United Nations mix of contemporary dance and music, will open with the motion and emotion of Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble Oct. 17.
“We’re all trying to enrich the cultural diversity and wealth of this city and this region,” said Spivey Hall Executive and Artistic Director Sam Dixon, speaking of those who program the university performing arts centers. “We try to not duplicate as much as we can, even though we’re all interested in the same artists much of the time. We try to create options that will attract people to get in their cars and come see dance, enjoy theater, whatever it’s going to be. We’re trying to make Atlanta a cultural destination.”
To celebrate Spivey’s silver anniversary, Dixon opted to invest in the lineup that will grace the stage of the acoustically pristine concert hall instead of staging pricey galas and parties. And that lineup goes well beyond Spivey’s signature strengths in string music, organ recitals and vocal performances.
“I don’t think Emilie Spivey would have envisioned that a group called Hot Club of Cowtown would be performing at Spivey Hall,” Dixon said with a chuckle. Spivey was the hall’s late benefactor (along with her late husband, Walter Spivey). “We are spreading our wings. We want to broaden the base.”
To varying degrees, the university performing arts centers experiment every year with different kinds of bookings, such as Cowtown — the Western swing-meets-hot-jazz outfit from Austin, Texas, that gallops into Spivey Nov. 14. This year, for instance, Arts@Tech is hosting several category-defying shows that blend oral history, spoken-word poetry or shared secrets with theater.
Rialto director Leslie Gordon noted that the centers, with facilities and a large part of their operating funds provided by their universities, should be boundary pushers by their birthright. Their shows, while expected to do well and keep the centers’ overall series from dipping into red ink, are not driven by market forces to the same degree as those put on by for-profit presenters.
“The general role of university performing arts centers is to bring to their student bodies, and to the wider community, artistic forms and performances that are not sustained by mass-market appeal or values,” Gordon said. “In that way, the performing arts centers are a kind of extension of the role that humanities play in the university.”
So, here’s a quick glance at five series featuring a wide range of artistic expressions that, yes, are even good for you:
Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall
- Capacity: 392
- Notable bookings: The King’s Singers, the a cappella vocal septet that delivers serious song with trademark British wit (Nov. 22); violinist Joshua Bell (Jan. 31); Emerson String Quartet (March 20); Bavarian soprano Christiane Karg with pianist Malcolm Martineau (April 2); Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel (April 30).
- Now for something different: The 10-member Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performs tunes heretofore not thought to be ukulele-friendly, such as “Anarchy in the U.K.,” as well as jazz standards such as “Misirlou” (Oct. 11).
- Address: 2000 Clayton State Blvd., Morrow.
- Book it: 678-466-4200, spiveyhall.org.
Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts
- Capacity: 833
- Notable bookings: Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, the veteran Cuban players on their farewell tour (Oct. 24); guitarist Paco Pena presents “Flamencura,” flamenco music and dance (Nov. 7); jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis performs selections from his “The In Crowd” and “Hang On Ramsey” albums on their 50th anniversary (Jan. 30); Off the Edge, contemporary dance fest, showcasing Kyle Abraham, La Otra Orilla and others (March 4-5); Indian tabla titan Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion (April 10).
- Now for something different: Boban and Marko Markovic Orchestra, a 12-piece brass ensemble kissed by Serbian gypsy soul (April 2).
- Address: 80 Forsyth St. N.W., Atlanta.
- Book it: 404-413-9849, rialto.gsu.edu.
Georgia Tech’s Arts@Tech/Ferst Center
- Capacity: 1,159
- Notable bookings: “An Evening With Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad,” the public radio host (Sept. 26); soulful singers Mavis Staples and Joan Osborne (Nov. 18); hip-hop artist DJ Spooky performing “Peace Symphony: 8 Stories,” inspired by stories of the last survivors of the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Nov. 19); ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro (Nov. 20); jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (Dec. 12); blogger Frank Warren and three actors presenting “PostSecret: The Show,” based on a community art project in which people share secrets anonymously by mailing a homemade postcard (Feb. 6).
- Now for something different: Huang Yi & KUKA, in which a Taiwanese choreographer and a robot wire together the art of dance and the science of mechanical engineering (Oct. 1-2).
- Address: 349 Ferst Drive N.W., Atlanta.
- Book it: 404-894-9600, ferstcenter.gatech.edu.
Emory University’s Schwartz Center for the Arts
- Capacity: 800 in Emerson Concert Hall
- Notable bookings: Jazz bassist Christian McBride and classical-folk-bluegrass bassist Edgar Meyer journey into the deep space beyond genre (Oct. 30); the Finckel-Han-Setzer trio take on three Beethoven piano trios (Nov. 7); the Knights orchestral collective with violinist Gil Shaham (Feb. 20); hunky baritone Nathan Gunn, who a New York Times headline once noted “can sing with his shirt on, too” (March 18).
- Now for something different: Beyond the Candler Concert Series, the Schwartz’s abundant programming includes an Organist Recital Series, Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta concerts, Emory University Symphony Orchestra concerts, Theater Emory shows, Emory Dance programs and more. Theater Emory’s season launches with Zhu Yi’s “I Am a Moon,” exploring Eastern and Western perceptions of intimacy and self-image (Oct. 1-10).
- Address: 1700 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta.
- Book it: 404-727-5050, arts.emory.edu.
Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center
- Capacity: 624 in Morgan Hall
- Notable bookings: “10” celebrates a decade of KSU dance (Nov. 11-14); “Parade,” a restaging of Alfred Uhry’s musical based on the Leo Frank case, at Marietta’s Strand Theatre (Nov. 19); “Handel’s Messiah,” featuring KSU choral ensembles and symphony orchestra (Dec. 3); more than 200 student and faculty musicians play in the annual Collage Concert (Feb. 6); “Spring Awakening,” a coming of age story set in repressive 19th century Germany (March 9-2o in Stillwell Theater).
- Now for something different: In “Game On,” performed by the KSU Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble, the Proctor Scholarship Concert will plug into live video game music (Jan. 15).
- Address: 1000 Chastain Road, Kennesaw.
- Book it: 470-578-6650, arts.kennesaw.edu.