JUNE 14, 2012 (CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA)— In spite of soggy weather, the 36th season of Spoleto Festival USA came to its signature spectacular close at the Festival Finale at Middleton Place, where loyal fans were treated to three regional bands in the afternoon before the clouds parted for a Louisiana-style Zydeco bash with Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole.
Like the Finale, the 2012 Festival ended on an extraordinary high note, with box office receipts of more than $2.9 million. The Festival also provided a significant boost to the local economy, contributing an estimated total economic impact of $55 million to the Charleston region.
More than 70,000 ticket holders attended 140 events in a wide ranging program that was enthusiastically received by both the public and the media.
In a piece entitled "All the World On a Stage in America," The New York Times reported, "Spoleto Festival USA justifiably prides itself on variety, but its greatest strength is in its presentation of contemporary work."
And contemporary music did seem to take the Spoleto spotlight this season, beginning with the American premiere of a fully-staged production of Philip Glass's opera Kepler. The Wall Street Journal called Sam Helfrich's staging of the opera "ingenious," and further reported that "conductor John Kennedy built the dramatic shape of the score with assurance."
The Festival's other opera offering, Guo Wenjing's Feng Yi Ting, was a study in contrasts, with its fusion of East and West, an ancient story accompanied by a modern musical score, and high tech video combined with traditional shadow puppetry. The New York Times described the production by noted film director Atom Egoyan, "as stunning as the music," noting that "Ken Lam led members of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra and a small contingent of Chinese musicians playing traditional instruments in a beautifully balanced, bracing performance." The Post and Courier reported that, "The highest achievement of this production was getting all the proportions right. The duration, scope, size of ensemble, stage and projection proportions, even the choice of venue—the wonderful Dock Street Theatre—came together perfectly."
The focus on contemporary music and composers was seen throughout the Festival, from "Orchestra Uncaged," a concert that premiered works by John Cage and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, continuing into the popular Bank of America Chamber Music with the world premiere of a piece by Iranian composer Hooshyar Khayam, who addressed the audience via Skype. The series' popularity was noted in the Post and Courier, which commented, "These concerts are catnip to the classical-music lover." And, according to the Charleston City Paper, "almost everybody who comes to Charleston for the festival's copious concert music catches at least one or two [chamber] concerts. Its performers are all among the world's top-tier soloists and chamber players, and…the intimate atmosphere and warm, woody acoustics of the historic Dock Street Theatre make it—bar none—the finest chamber venue on the planet."
The Dock Street may be Charleston's most cherished theater, but the College of Charleston Cistern Yard is unquestionably one of the Festival's most popular—and flexible—outdoor venues. The 2012 season brought enthusiastic throngs to Cistern shows as diverse as Boston-based string band Joy Kills Sorrow; New Orlean's Rebirth Brass Band; ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who, even with the threat of approaching thunderstorms, filled the Cistern two nights running; and Old Crow Medicine Show's Ketch & Critter, a show that the Post and Courier declared to be "chock-a-block full of foot-stomping goodness."
The 2012 Festival had a number of breakout blockbusters: k.d. lang filled the Gaillard Auditorium to the brim with more than 2500 tickets sold, and the high profile acrobatic show Traces proved so popular that an extra show was added to satisfy the demand for tickets. But the program also yielded some surprising standouts on a more intimate scale: Circle of Eleven's charming one-man physical theater show Leo also prompted additional performances that filled up as quickly as they were announced; Charleston native and American Public Radio contributor Jack Hitt delivered his humorous first-person anecdotes to packed houses over opening weekend; double-bass phenomenon Renaud Garcia-Fons astonished Wells Fargo Jazz enthusiasts with his dazzling technique and unique musical world view; and Kyle Abraham's intimate and thoughtful piece The Radio Show delighted with its joyous and athletic dancing even as it touched audiences with its themes of communication and loss.
From its record-breaking first day of ticket sales to its jubilant, weather-defying Finale, the 2012 season of Spoleto Festival USA made Charleston an epicenter for the performing arts. The Washington Post listed Spoleto as one of the "five major American festivals you should know," saying, "Spoleto [Festival] USA…has become the leading American exponent of the European-style festival that brings in productions from around the world and juxtaposes chamber music and opera, theater and multimedia, the traditional and the avant-garde, taking over the city for a couple of weeks at the end of spring." And during his address at the Festival's Opening Ceremonies, Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, remarked that "Spoleto Festival USA, as far as I know, is the only American arts festival to be hosted by an entire city."
The 2013 Festival will take place in Charleston May 24 through June 9. Tickets go on sale in January. For more information about Spoleto Festival USA, please visit spoletousa.org or call 843.722.2764.