College of Visual and Performing Arts
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Season Reflections from Dean Davis

May 11, 2018

As the seasons turn—somewhat unpredictably this year!—it always seems to me to invite a bi-directional look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. That feeling no doubt occurs across all kinds of human endeavor (at least in those climes that are blessed with seasonal variation), but is particularly acute in those of us who work in the overlapping spheres of art and academia. 

The idea of the “season” has been brought over intact from the natural world to organize the rhythms of our performance calendar and academic life. In fact, if you’ll indulge a little academic digression, seasons may shape the actual boundaries of literature and art, according to the late (and great) Canadian critic Northrop Frye in his masterwork “Anatomy of Criticism.”

Frye identifies the four seasons with literary genres – Spring is Comedy, Summer = Romance (surprise!), Autumn (aka Fall) is associated with Tragedy, and Winter with Irony. I have always been attracted to Frye’s scheme because I think human beings tend to want to create, and consume, works of art that match the energy and feeling of the world outside, and seasonal rhythms also guarantee variety of experience, make us ask different questions, and require us to remain flexible in the face of an ever-changing world.

So I’m feeling celebratory—and a bit reflective—as I look back on a wonderful season of performances, exhibitions, and accomplishments on our stages, screens, walls, and in our studios and classrooms. Everyone will have their own candidate for “favorite CFA/CVPA moment”—in fact, stop reading this right now and think of your own, and send it to me at rdavi4@gmu.edu–but I’m still under the spell cast by Bria Skonberg, the incredible trumpet player and singer who guest-starred with our fabulous Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra (and did a sensational master class for our jazz students), and marveling at the chance to hear some of the best choral singing in the world in three very different forms, with Chanticleer, the Vienna Boys Choir, and the King’s Singers. On another front, I’m so proud of our students in the School of Dance, who appeared (brilliantly) with Doug Varone and Dancers on the Great Performances series, and then—in a lightning bolt moment that we’ve taken to calling an “artistic Final Four”—were invited by Lar Lubovitch to perform one of his signature works, A Brahms Symphony, as part of his 50th anniversary season at the Joyce Theatre in New York City. Start spreading the news… these students have arrived!

I could go on and on about the joys of the season just past, and if you catch me in the hallway or the lobby, I will. But let’s mark the change of seasons by looking ahead at the amazing work in store for 2018/2019. I know my space is limited, so let me call out just a couple of glories coming this fall. Virginia Opera is bringing us a true American operatic masterpiece, Street Scene, which combines a hard-hitting, emotional story (lyrics by the great poet Langston Hughes) with some of the most beautiful music written for the musical stage in the 20th century by none other than Kurt Weill. I have a particular fondness for this work because I played a tiny part in the Mason Opera production about ten years ago, and I can’t wait to hear how my role actually should sound!

Later that same month, one of the world’s elite ensembles, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, graces our stage in a program of Russian-inspired (and a little Russian) music. And leaping into the new year, I look forward to hearing what Maestro John Mauceri, one of America’s leading conductors and a protégé of Leonard Bernstein’s, does with a Bernstein 100th Birthday celebration with the highly capable forces of the Czech National Philharmonic

Time for one more? I’m anticipating a full helping of guilty pleasure from The Pink Panther in Concert in March, with the classic film accompanied by its witty and sumptuous score played live by the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.

And… wait… I’ll stop here, hoping that your artistic appetite is whetted and that, along with Northrop Frye, you too appreciate the majestic rhythms of the change of seasons, and the variety of experience they bring. I look forward to seeing you soon, and hearing from you sooner.

Rick Davis
Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts