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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spoleto kicks off this weekend, celebrating Philip Glass' 75th

Composer Philip Glass turns 75 as Charlestons Spoleto Festival turns 36.
  • Composer Philip Glass turns 75 as Charleston's Spoleto Festival turns 36.
Anyone know how to sing "Happy Birthday" in repeating, slowly modulating arpeggios?

Composer Philip Glass turns 75 this year, and among the many performances slated for Charleston's annual Spoleto Festival is the American premiere of Glass' opera Kepler which will commemorate his birthday and his long relationship with the arts event, now in its own 36th year. Many of Glass' operatic works had their US or world premiere at Spoleto, including 2007's The Book of Longing based on the writings of Leonard Cohen and Hydrogen Jukebox, his opera based on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, which was a festival commission in 1993.

The festival opens on Friday, May 25, and runs for three weekends. Spoleto typically presents a broad range of performing arts including theater, jazz, blues, classical music, opera and dance. In addition to the Glass opera, highlights at this year's festival are performances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, musician K.D. Lang, controversial monologuist Mike Daisey, gospel-singer Mavis Staples, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and a production of Noël Coward's Hay Fever by the venerable Gate Theatre of Dublin. Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art will present an installation by artist Motoi Yamamoto, who creates large-scale, painstakingly delicate lace-like patterns using salt. In all, the festival features more than 140 shows by 60 groups and performers.

Also bringing the city alive during the event is Piccolo Spoleto, a concurrent city-sponsored arts festival which activates nearly every theater space, church, and courtyard in the city. Piccolo Spoleto puts on a bevy of smaller events, tending to have a more fringe-festival or family-friendly thrust. Included on the roster are jazz concerts, blues cruises, children's theater, choral music, stand-up comedy, dance and cabaret.

Spoleto is one of the world's great arts festivals, and it's just a few hours by car from Atlanta, making it a great last-minute getaway for Memorial Day weekend. Although hotels in the city center do tend to be expensive, the surrounding area has plenty of budget options, and downtown Charleston even has a European-style hostel. The visual arts exhibitions are free, as are some Spoleto- and Piccolo-related events like outdoor concerts, performances and art fairs. For more information visit Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto.

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