him in the Metro DC area.
I had the great pleasure of presenting him at the
Hollywood Bowl twice — in 2007 and 2011 — and in
2007, he had been the first Indian to headline the
Hollywood Bowl since (sitar maestro) Ravi Shankar. So, I
knew from experience what a galvanizing and important
moment it is for the community as well. I am very happy
to say that we will be able to bring some of that magic to
Wolf Trap as well.
So, you’ve known him since 2007 before he was a mega
star in the West?
Yes, we presented him in 2007 and then again in 2011
with his first concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
— it was a fully orchestrated event. So, we’ve had a couple
of really big successes together and this is shaping up to
be a similarly big deal here. In 2007 it certainly was an
earlier stage in his crossover into Western audiences. Now
of course, everybody knows him — Indians and non-Indians alike. At that time, he was more known in the
community and less so outside, although that show at the
Hollywood Bowl was 17,000 people and really showed the
power of the music and also his appeal.
Apparently, it’s a sold-out event already even though
you’ll haven’t done a huge amount of advertising...
(Laughing) Well, we did advertise in India Abroad and
let that be a note to all future advertisers that all it takes is
an ad in India Abroad.
But, yes, at some level, you can argue, we haven’t gone
too wide, but on the other hand, the Wolf Trap marketing
machine — part of the great advantage of being part of a
season when you are in a festival like ours — we touch
hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people through
our own annual marketing efforts and when artists are
part of a festival like ours, where you have incredible
reach into the community, where you have a lot of trust in
the community, then you see the benefit of not having to
necessarily go out individually with every specific concert
but being part of a package.
Just rewinding, when A R Rahman announced another
North American tour, did he need much convincing to play
DC and in particular the Wolf Trap? Was he always
Oh, yes. It was never a case of having to convince him or
cajole. He is on a tour of great venues. He clearly is somebody who doesn’t have to prove anything. He’s done everything you can do in music. So, any venue he chooses to
play is one that he wants to do, wants to be part of and
does so by choice, because he can do whatever he wants.
What kind of a show is it going to be?
He’s putting together a big production for the tour and
they are working those details out. We are expecting a big
spectacle — lots of, as you say, Bollywood/Hollywood.
Why was it important to get Rahman at the Wolf Trap as
one of the artists to kick off the Summer 2015 festival?
My feeling about our venue and our great National Park
for the Arts is that we have a responsibility as a venue that
is quite literally owned by the people. This is a public
institution. This is a national park. So, we should reflect
the society in which we live. Diversity in the arts is very
important and that goes to all different kinds of artists
and local artists and different kinds of music, and we like
to say that we appeal to everyone. And when you have an
artist like Rahman, who clearly is one of the world’s most
important artists, it’s our responsibility to bring artists
like that to our venue.
When I interviewed you after you took over at Wolf Trap,
you told me you intended to feature Indian Americans and
Indians. I know you have featured Indian-American dance
troupes and the US ghazal queen Vatsala Mehra. While
everybody endeavors to bring the best performers to the
Metro area, which is a very diverse community, has getting
South Asian artists to be a part of this mix been a driving
factor and priority as you put together Wolf Trap’s programs and popular festivals?
Of course. I agree to your point that we are broad and
With the burgeoning and affluent and largely profession-
we are international, and we are looking at many different
communities. But there is a special resonance for me —
It’s always nice to see new people at the venue. Some of
our Indian performances at The Barns this winter, we had
many audience members who were making their first trip
and that was nice to see.
al Indian-American community in the Washington, DC
metropolitan area, are you finding them getting more
involved in Wolf Trap activities?
I do. This is part of the evolution in that process because
we do have some new patrons. I believe with the Rahman
concert in particular, there is going to be thousands of
people who are potentially new to Wolf Trap and our goal
in this is for them to, of course, have a good time at the
concert, but also to start a relationship with the venue
because we are a resource, we are nearby, we provide education, we provide arts on a lot of levels. The parents who
might bring their kids to the Rahman concert, the kids
may want to go to other concerts as well. So, part of what
we are trying to do is to create a relationship — to let people know that in your backyard, there is a cultural
resource that can really fulfill many different boxes in
Can you speak about that and elaborate on what are
going to be your priorities because the Wolf Trap is also an
educational facility that hosts students, interns and others
in arts and culture?
In education, we cover a couple of major areas, the first
and foremost of which is the Wolf Trap Institute for Early
Learning Through the Arts. This is arts integration into
early childhood education — four-year-old, five-year-old,
pre-K. We find, and we have done for over 30 years, that
involving the arts in young kids’ lives helps them achieve
whatever curricula goal they may have in front of them —
reading, writing, mathematics, science.
Our early childhood program is nationwide. We do work
in almost every state, we have 16 other replicant Wolf
Trap sites in other parts of the country and we touch over
50,000 children and their parents every year. It’s a very
big part of what we do and we really believe that if you
reach a child at an early age with the arts, they will
become better at whatever they set out to do.
We also provide lessons here for people in the Metro
area at our Center for Education in instrumental music, in
dance, all sorts of different things, as well as provide per-
formances geared toward young children to help them
learn about different musical forms.
This summer, in the Children’s Theatre In the Woods at
the Wolf Trap National Park, one day, you’ll be able to
bring children in to see a Bharata natyam performance
and learn a little about Indian dance and maybe, the next
day, it will be something from West Africa and thereafter
a traditional Kathak. Our goal is to introduce all of the
young people in this area to all the different cultures
around the world in music and dance.
In many big cities, where there are significant South
Asian populations, there have been Indian classical dance
schools for decades. While some may argue that this is
somewhat parochial to make sure that the second and
third generations maintain their cultural identity and individuality, the fact that you are cooperating and coalescing
with these teachers and schools, is it a means of mainstreaming them at Wolf Trap, while at the same time
adding to the diversity that is part of the cosmopolitan DC
Metro area ... offering up a wider canvas?
Yes. When we do at our Children’s Theatre, which
accommodates over 800 kids in the Park, and we have our
summer program for about 30 days, when we do concerts
every morning for kids, the Bharatnatyam concert that we
will have and the demonstration and interactive component, it’s not going to be all Indian, it’s not going to be all
South Asian as much as there will be some of the people
exposing their second generation and third generation
kids to their culture. There will also be half of those people, who are parents of young children, who want their
children to learn about other cultures.
So, it absolutely broadens the palate and helps feed a
diversity objective, which is to get kids to know things
beyond their parents and their grandparents.
As you complete two years as the first Indian American
to helm this premier performing arts organization, how
has the ride been thus far?
It’s been great. Just great. Those of us, who are fortunate
enough to work in the arts, I believe, are continually fulfilled and rewarded for our efforts because we have great
jobs. We get to connect artists and audiences and we’ve
worked hard to educate the next generation of audiences.
Being here in the Metro area, it’s a wonderful place to live,
there’s an incredible community around here — arts
lovers, people who are highly educated, people who are
very diverse and very international and very interested in
supporting their civic institutions.
Wolf Trap is a major player in the arts scene in this area
and very beloved and so, being at the helm is a very fortunate place to be.
3Page A17 The Theater In The Woods at Wolf Trap caters to a young audience.