Outspoken Music Scientist to Lead Spoleto Festival


A scholar who speaks strongly about the legacy of colonialism in classical music will serve as the next general manager. Spoleto Festival USAThe famous arts group in Charleston, SC announced Tuesday.

Mena Mark HannaThe 37-year-old son of Egyptian immigrants will be the first black person to run the festival, which was established in 1977.

Hanna’s appointment comes as she tries to recover financially from the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the festival to cancel the 2020 season, resulting in a 70 percent drop in ticket sales this year. Festival leaders are also grappling with questions about increasing diversity in staffing and programming amid a broader showdown on racial justice in the United States.

Hanna, who will take office in October, said she will make it a priority to use culture to confront the legacy of slavery in the United States and build an inclusive environment.

“Art has a very unique role to play in this conversation, truly harnessing its transformative power to bridge differences,” Hanna said in an interview. More needs to be done so that we can have different perspectives at every point in the lifecycle of a work of art.”

Hanna will replace longtime leader of the festival, Nigel Redden, who announced last fall that he plans to retire after 35 years, citing the pandemic and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, among other factors. Redden, who is white, said the movement at the time made him realize the importance of stepping aside to make way for a new generation of leaders.

Hanna is an apprentice Daniel BarenboimFamous conductor who founded the West-East Divan Orchestra with the Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said. Hanna is a professor of musicology and composition. Barenboim Said Academy, a music conservatory in Berlin named after both men. He previously served as assistant artistic director at the Houston Grand Opera.

As a scholar, Hanna researched hard questions on cultural imperialism in the arts. He described classical music as a “totally colonized medium” based on 19th century norms and criticized the persistence of orientalism in operas such as “Aida”.

In Spoleto, Hanna will take over one of the country’s most important music festivals, with a donation of approximately $20 million and an annual budget of approximately $8 million. Completing its 45th season in June, the festival presented approximately 77 opera, theatre, dance and music performances over 17 days.

festival known to bring together artists from different disciplines and to commission and stage innovative works such as “Ömer” An opera by Rhiannon Giddens It is based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim man from West Africa who was enslaved and transferred to Charleston in 1807. The film will premiere at the festival next year.

Hanna said she’s keen to explore ways that art can help bring attention to social challenges.

“We have a unique opportunity to define how our history can inform our present and how we can be stronger for it,” he said. “We can use art to give us an idea of ​​a future that can only be imagined at the moment.”


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