Director’s Note for Duke Performances’ 2017/18 Season

We live in anxious, uncertain times. Across our globe, in our country, our state, and even our city of Durham, there seem to be newly monumental consequences of our decisions, many of which feel beyond our control. Good art should offer sturdy tools for these unsteadying times — whether to grapple with our troublesome circumstances or to find space for reflection amidst the tumult.

For the 2017/18 season at Duke Performances, we have made a deliberate effort to program works that offer moments of provocation and instances of respite alike. You will find that contrast in our classical programming, epitomized by the Tallis Scholars’ topical War and Peace and a fiftieth-anniversary King’s Singers concert that includes selections from the ensemble’s wide-ranging repertoire, from renaissance polyphony to arrangements of contemporary spirituals. You will hear it in the gap between Bill Callahan’s assuring oaken baritone and the rapid-fire rhymes and intricate flow of Pharoahe Monch. These are chances to check in or check out, to make your own way through this world.

To offer a season of programming as responsive as this one, we had some help. This is my tenth season at the helm of Duke Performances — a benchmark that prompted the University to make an additional investment in our program. This has allowed for ambitious presentations, from the film-and-symphony rendering of Beasts of the Southern Wild that begins our season to the collaboration between illustrator Maira Kalman and the company Dance Heginbotham that anchors the season’s second half. It has enabled us to pursue major commissions and world premieres, including Simone Dinnerstein and Pam Tanowitz’s new dance setting of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” which will have its world premiere in October at Reynolds Industries Theater.

The University’s support has also enabled us to build two audacious multi-part projects this year, both designed to start and shape conversations about our cultural past, present, and future. First, there’s MONK@100, a two-week dive into the work of a North Carolina native and one of modern music’s true geniuses, Thelonious Monk. Then, in the spring, Black Atlantic explores connections between the west coast of Africa, the east coast of the Americas, and the cultures of the Caribbean, and the way those links have collectively shaped our society.

Within both series, as with this entire season, I trust you will find moments that both stir and soothe — necessary means for dealing with the world we all share.