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April 25, 2005

Jorgensen to Celebrate 50th Season

It will be 50 years this fall since the curtains rose for the first time on the stage at the Jorgensen, known then simply as “the auditorium.”

This fall, the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts will launch a year-long 50th anniversary celebration on the theme “Something Magnificent,” a title recalling The Hartford Courant’s praise for the auditorium’s opening night concert on Dec. 6, 1955.

“Something magnificent was born at Storrs,” an enthusiastic Courant article read on Dec. 8 that year. The article lauded the acoustics of the hall and the choice of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the first performance. “But the significance of what this new hall will mean,” it continued, “both for the students in their education in the liberal arts, and for the people of Eastern Connecticut, far outstripped the event.”

The facility, the star-studded roll of performers whose talents have been showcased over the years, and the part played by the Jorgensen in the cultural life of the University and the region, will all be celebrated in the upcoming season.

The Jorgensen’s 50th season opens on Sept. 22 with the American String Quartet playing two works written by Kenneth Fuchs, an accomplished composer-conductor recently named head of the University’s music department.

In addition to the string quartet, the program will feature In the Clearing, a choral piece created from six Robert Frost poems Fuchs has set to music; and Christina’s World, an idyll for winds, brass, and percussion, inspired and named for the painting by Andrew Wyeth.

Fuchs will introduce each of his compositions during the opening night event, and the program also will feature a multimedia display of artwork by Wyeth and Robert Motherwell.

“It’s a good way to introduce Ken to the University community and the surrounding community that has supported the Jorgensen throughout its history,” says Rodney Rock, director of the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.

Other highlights of the season include American icon Tony Bennett’s first appearance at Jorgensen on Dec. 10; the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance with conductor Kurt Masur on March 23; and the Boston Pops’ return on April 1 for the 50th anniversary gala.

The evening of the London Philharmonic’s appearance, the Jorgensen is planning a reception to honor patrons in the area who attended the inaugural concert in 1955 and who have seen Jorgensen grow from a concert hall with five to six performances a year to a performing arts center with anywhere from 30 to 45 performances a season.

That select group of patrons numbers about 50, including many emeritus faculty members and their spouses, Rock says.

On the eve of Jorgensen’s 40th anniversary, Louise Teich Johnson, an original patron and daughter of Jorgensen architect Frederic C. Teich, recalled early days at UConn, when the only space available for sizable gatherings was Hawley Armory, and smaller gatherings were held in the Storrs Congregational Church Community House, now the parish hall.

During the past 10 to 15 years, Rock says, the Jorgensen has worked to stay ahead of a national trend – the blurring of cultural events and popular entertainment – by interspersing lighter, more popular entertainers between its staple classical offerings.

Among the most successful of the Jorgensen series are the cabaret events. For those performances, some of the 2,630 seats are removed and set up in clusters around small cocktail tables.

The cabaret series in the fall will include Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz artist Wynton Marsalis, Broadway legend Bernadette Peters, and folk singers Judy Collins and The Smothers Brothers.

The Jorgensen now draws between 65,000 and 70,000 patrons annually from throughout Southern New England, Rock says, and, depending on the performer, some patrons come from as far away as Canada or the Mid-Atlantic states.

“Second only to our athletics department,” he adds, “the Jorgensen is the University’s largest outreach tool to the community.”