Michael Kaiser - president of the Kennedy Center, international arts management/rescue guru and compelling advocate for preserving artistic quality even in the face of financial meltdown - is the 2009 recipient of the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America. The award, presented by the Peabody Institute, will be given to Kaiser during the conservatory's graduation ceremony on May 21.
He joins a starry roster of recipients, that since 1980, has included the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Quincy Jones and Eubie Blake. Kaiser is described in the citation as "an impresario for the 21st century," the heir to the legacy of Sol Hurok and other past masters of arts presentation.
Kaiser's own legacy includes a remarkable boost to the national profile of the Kennedy Center, which he joined in 2001 after earning plaudits for restoring the structural health of the American Ballet Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and London's Royal Opera House. Among his recent projects is a large-scale program run by the Kennedy Center to provide free consultation on a variety of issues to arts groups that have been struggling through the current recession.
Although the award ceremony is private, Kaiser will make a public appearance at 3 p.m. May 21 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dive. interviewed by Tom Hall, to address "Culture in Crisis and the Impact on the Baltimore Region's Art Community." There's a May 18 deadline to reserve free tickets through missiontix.com.
Movies and musicals
An intriguing subset of the entertainment world includes films that have a counterpart in musical theater, such as a song-filled version of Gone With the Wind that debuted last year in London (and went with the wind shortly thereafter). Coincidentally, two musicals that share the titles of classic '50s movies are on area stages now.
Johnny Guitar, a curious 1954 Western starring Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge that enjoys cult status, was turned into an award-winning off-Broadway musical in 2004. The show, with book by Nicholas van Hoogstraten, lyrics by Joel Higgins, and music by Higgins and Martin Silvestri, is on the boards through June 7 at the Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. For tickets, go to fpct.org.
Giant, the 1956 epic fueled by Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, was based on an Edna Ferber novel that has inspired a musical with a book by Sybille Pearson, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. The world premiere production is at the Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va., through May 31. For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or go to sig-online.org.
The bicentennial of Mendelssohn's birth gets another acknowledgment this weekend when the Chancel Choir of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church performs his mighty oratorio Elijah. Making this particular presentation even more noteworthy is that the accompaniment will be provided by one of the country's most distinguished organists, Frederick Swann.
The performance, conducted by John Walker, will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 17, at 3 p.m. at Brown Memorial, 1316 Park Ave. Tickets are $15. Call 410-523-1542.
The summer season at the Walters Art Museum will include the exhibition Herman Maril: An American Modernist. Last year marked the centennial of the Baltimore-born, MICA-trained Maril, who died here in 1986. He spent several years in the early part of his career as a WPA artist, attracting the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, and he was championed by Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington, which houses several Maril works.
The exhibit of 23 pieces - seascapes, landscapes, still lifes - will include items painted in Baltimore and Cape Cod. The display opens June 28 and runs through Aug. 30.
Meanwhile, don't forget The Saint John's Bible: A Modern Vision through Medieval Methods, which closes at the museum May 24. To mark the closing, Pro Musica Rara will give a concert featuring the Mystery Sonatas by Heinrich Biber for violin, cello and harpsichord. The performance is at 3 p.m. May 24, Tickets are $30 and $45.
For more information on these and other events at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St., call 410-547-9000 or go to thewalters.org.
The Clef Notes column is now Arts Scene. Every Tuesday, critic Tim Smith will write about the best of Baltimore's arts scene, from the BSO to the BMA.