Several weeks ago the curtain rose to reveal the newest battle within the District.
No, it has nothing to do with politics – it isn’t even a fight between the neighbors of Foggy Bottom and the University. This battle has become music to the ears of D.C. and Maryland residents, who now have twice as many places to hear it.
The Music Center at Strathmore is the newest and shiniest place within the Metro system to hear symphony and jazz and see dance performances. But how does it hold up to its competitor, the tried-and-true John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts? As a GW student, I made it my mission to find out.
Located near the Grosvenor/Strathmore stop (Red Line), The Strathmore is tricky to find unless you know where you’re going. I left the Metro only to find myself in a vast parking lot. Luckily, a friendly employee on her way to work showed me the way, which involved meandering through a parking garage, an elevator and walkway. On the other hand, The Kennedy Center is only a few blocks from campus and offers a free shuttle that almost always sits outside the Foggy Bottom metro stop.
The Strathmore is, as previously said, shiny and new. It features huge windows that wrap around the building, allowing city-dwellers to enjoy the trees and greenery around the venue. However, one gets the feeling of being in an airport at times, which was further reinforced when I went downstairs through the Lockheed Martin Lobby. Indeed, no part of the Strathmore is left unnamed by a corporate sponsor, from the stage to the lighting control room, all of which bear donor placards. This became distracting. While the building is pretty, it doesn’t conjure the Kennedy Center’s grandiose images of Camelot, and the view definitely doesn’t beat the D.C. panorama from the Kennedy Center’s terrace.
Food at the Strathmore is comparable to the Kennedy Center Caf?, located on the terrace level. The main level of the Strathmore also features a caf? with reasonably priced salads, small meals and gourmet sandwiches. Both venues also offer concession stands for intermissions of performances, selling drinks and candy. For sit-down service, try the Kennedy Center’s Roof Terrace restaurant, where the food is fancy and you shouldn’t expect to pay less than $40 for your meal.
The Kennedy Center has always been the place to go for big-name performers, but that dynamic might change with the opening of the Strathmore, which has hosted such musical celebrities as the cellist Yo Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and jazz greats Mingus Big Band. Many of the venue’s symphony offerings are popular pieces well known by both symphony aficionados and the general public. The Strathmore gets much of its program from the new resident groups the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
The Kennedy Center is currently celebrating the 1940s. You can count on many of the National Symphony Orchestra performances and most dance performances to feature pieces composed or choreographed at the time. The next few months also feature such famous names as composer John Williams, actor John Lithgow, journalist Paula Zahn, dignitary Cherie Blair and cellist Yo Yo Ma. More impressive, though, are the distinguished companies that will perform on the Kennedy Center’s stages: The New York City Ballet, The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Kirov Ballet. The Strathmore’s dance offerings are not as strong, and the venue cannot even compete with the Washington National Opera’s upcoming performances.
For students on a budget, the Kennedy Center offer $10 tickets for certain performances. To see which shows are available, visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/tickets/attend. The Millennium Stage also offers free performances every night at 6 p.m. The Strathmore is too new to have a specific student program in place, but tickets for symphony performances can be as low as $20. Go to http://www/strathmore.org for show listings.