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Arvind Manocha spent more than a decade growing the audiences for the L.A. Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl, two of the West Coast’s most iconic music venues. He’s now leading Wolf Trap, the country’s only national park for the performing arts. He shares plans for the future of the historic venue and its national education program.
- Arvind Manocha President and CEO, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, how a news photographer stumbled into the D.C. hardcore music scene ended up capturing its earliest incarnation and where you can see it now. But first, early in his career, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post photographer documented D.C.'s punk scene, and those photos spent decades in storage but are getting new life today.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat's what I was talking about earlier. We will talk with that photographer and someone close to that D.C. underground music scene. But first, for more than four decades, Wolf Trap has offered its summer concert festival featuring everything from pop to opera. The shows attract multiple generations often for the same performance with its woodsy open-air venue.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn January, Wolf Trap brought a new president on board, a man who built his track record at the helm of the West Coast most iconic music venues, the Hollywood Bowl and the L.A. Philharmonic. Joining us to talk about his plans for Wolf Trap's future is Arvind Manocha. He is the president and CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Arvind Manocha, thank you for joining us.
MR. ARVIND MANOCHAThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. Call us, 800-433-8850. If you have any questions for Wolf Trap's president or if you have a favorite regular act at Wolf Trap and would like to talk about that, 800-433-8850. This summer, Wolf Trap will feature everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen of "Call Me Maybe" fame to a performance of the opera "La Traviata." How would you describe Wolf Trap's goal with its summer music festival?
MANOCHAYou know, Wolf Trap has a very strong mandate as the nation's only national park for the performing arts to present music across the entire spectrum of music, and that's something that I think is a very powerful and not very common programmatic mission for the major venues in the country. As you pointed out, Kojo, to have Carly Rae and "Traviata" and the National Symphony and Robert Plant and Ke$ha, and She & Him all in the same season, you know, it's not easy from a programmatic standpoint, but it's absolutely the point.
MANOCHAWolf Trap should be and is and needs to remain relevant to everyone in this community. My goal is that anyone who lives here who visits the area and comes to Wolf Trap will think there's something on that schedule that was programmed for me.
NNAMDIPrior to coming to Wolf Trap, you ran another huge outdoor venue, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. For those who are not familiar with that historic venue, can you tell us a little bit about it?
MANOCHASure. The Hollywood Bowl is I think now a 92-year-old facility that was built in the center of Hollywood to celebrate music much like Wolf Trap across the spectrum of music. It's the summer home of the L.A. Philharmonic and also has a very large jazz series, pop, rock, Broadway musicals and the like. And it's just a wonderful place to listen to concerts. And, you know, there's really only two facilities like it in the country.
MANOCHAThe Hollywood Bowl and Wolf Trap have a lot in common. They are places that were specifically designed to celebrate music in a very beautiful natural setting. They're not hockey arenas that we sometimes have music in. They are places that somebody with great foresight developed in order for music lovers to celebrate what they love.
NNAMDIWell, given that, what did it take to lure you away from the Hollywood Bowl causing you to leave L.A. after nearly 20 years to come east?
MANOCHAWell, they told me I might be a guest on your show so I thought that was an important draw.
NNAMDIYes, indeed. That's completely understandable.
MANOCHAYou know, really, it's all calculated in this notion that there's only one national park for the arts. There's a lot of great venues in this country, and I happened to work at one of the better ones, but there's only one national park for the arts. And I think that's a very powerful draw. The other part about it is that Wolf Trap is the summer venue, which we all know and love, but it's also a very big education company...
NNAMDIWe'll get to that in a little while.
MANOCHA...an opera company. It's got a recital series in a, you know, 17th century barn. I mean, Wolf Trap is an odd and wonderful array of musical assets.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Arvind Manocha. He is the president and CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. We're inviting you to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you have any questions about Wolf Trap's upcoming season? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. As we said, the Hollywood Bowl, which you ran in L.A., is similar to Wolf Trap, and that it's a historic venue with long traditions. How did you look forward without losing those traditions, which is I guess something you're also going to have to do with Wolf Trap?
MANOCHASure. You know, I think the balance that one has to strike and that we all strive for is to bring in new traditions and new artists and new acts and stay relevant to the community that supports you, but there are many traditions that are foundational, that are the bedrock, that are things that one looks for in that particular summer season. And, you know, I think I'm still immersing myself in this community having only lived here for a few months, but it's a very similar kind of programmatic dynamic, retain the best of the past but yet bring in enough new to keep it fresh.
NNAMDIAlong those lines, there are favorites who return to Wolf Trap year after year -- The Temptations, The Four Tops, Garrison Keillors' "Prairie Home Companion." How do you plan if you've planned yet to balance those traditions with new offerings, which is in a way the same question in another form?
MANOCHASure. And I think if you look at this summer season, which is, you know, upon us, it's two weeks away from opening night with Garrison Keillors, you do see a lot of the artists that Wolf Trap has hosted for many years, as you point out. We also see Steve Martin, Robert Plant. Carly Rae Jepsen, you mentioned earlier. Jill Scott, we just announced. You know, there's a lot of new, and there's a lot of tradition, and I think that's what makes a festival like this such a multigenerational experience.
MANOCHAI met so many people who have told me that they come with their parents, or they come with their children, or that they've been coming since they were children, and now, they are supporters of our, you know, education programs. I don't think you have that kind of repeat multi-decade engagement with an audience unless you have a little bit of what they're familiar with and a little bit of something that they might be surprised at.
MANOCHAI know when we announced the Ke$ha concert, a lot of donors saying to me, hmm, I would not have thought Ke$ha at Wolf Trap, but that's important because you need to have that as well.
NNAMDIWell, when you're talking about that multi-decade audience that you have had here it does present one challenge, and that is how do you appeal to a younger demographic? How do you plan to do that?
MANOCHAWell, it's a lot to do with the artist as we talked about. I mean, whether it's Grace Potter or Trombone Shorty or She & Him or Jill Scott or Carly Rae, I mean that runs the gamut of different musical styles, but I think these are not the audiences that perhaps are coming to Garrison Keillors. I think it's a matter of making sure that there's enough on the schedule that people will look to and see.
MANOCHAThe best part about Wolf Trap from that perspective is when you come to Wolf Trap as opposed to many other venues in the country, you know, it's a sense of community. You bring your own food. You bring your own wine. You know, you park for free. We try to make this a very accessible opportunity so that people can start that tradition early in their life and not feel that there's barriers to come. It's very important to us to make sure that Wolf Trap is a very accessible location, not just geographically, but in all other definitions of that word.
NNAMDII think Steve in Takoma Park, Md. has another take on the question essentially that I just asked you. Steve, your turn.
STEVEOK. Thanks, Kojo. I mean Wolf Trap is a fantastic venue, and it's, you know, a premiere position to be a vital part of the D.C. and also the nation's art scene. But the programming historically has been anything but vital. It's been, you know, generally centered around nostalgia, you know, acts that were big in the '70s and '80s that maybe they draw a big crowd, but they don't do anything about what's going on in art now and challenging the audience to expand their concepts of, you know, what music can be.
STEVEAnd so what I'd like to hear from the speaker did you not say that it is the role of Wolf Trap or why is the programming so, you know, so formulaic and really unexciting?
NNAMDIIn other words, how do you appeal to a younger demographic?
MANOCHAHow do I appeal to a demographic that's not a fan? And, you know, I appreciate the enthusiasm of the question and the conviction, and I think part orchestra what we do is try to make sure that there are things for everyone on the schedule. And for some people, that means things that they grew up with and enjoy, and, you know, those audiences are important and vital as well whether it's the Carly Raes that's probably not the caller's personal interest.
MANOCHAI'm not sure if there's a Grace Potter or a She & Him or a Camera Obscura or artists of that sort. I think -- I don't think it's all about the past. I don't think it's all about the future. I think it's a balance of the two because, as I said earlier, we want everyone in this area to feel comfortable at Wolf Trap, maybe not every night of the week, but at some nights of the week. And I do appreciate, though, the sentiment behind the question, and, you know, new in the job, it's important to hear from everyone, good or bad, and so we can make plans for the future.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. A more practical consideration, keeping ticket prices low is another part of Wolf Trap's mission.
NNAMDIDoes that affect what kinds of acts you're able to bring?
MANOCHAI think yes and no. I mean there are certainly acts for which our mission of keeping affordable prices doesn't necessarily match with their mission of making as much money as possible, but I would say that the bigger driver of that is more about schedule and size of venue. I mean, at the end of day, we have to remember it's a 7,000-seat venue. It's not a 700-seat venue, and it's not a 27,000-seat venue.
MANOCHAAnd, you know, smart acts and smart managers know where to put their artists in venues that are the appropriate size for that artist. And that's not going to change regardless of what the ticket price is.
NNAMDIYou charge full price for children, even babies. There's a reason for that. It's my understanding it's a part of the artists' contracts.
MANOCHAIt can be. You know, I think the question there is about capacity and the venue and the fact that you have to sell to a certain capacity, and we can't alter that capacity depending on the size of the children or the age of the babies. Everyone has to count for one person, and I think when you look at it from that perspective, it's easier to understand why the artist would want every person who comes through the door to be a ticket buyer.
NNAMDIOn to Joseph in Bethesda, Md., another practical issue. Joseph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSEPHThank you. This is a comment about an event last summer. I went to see Seal. Seal was outstanding, and I'm not really sure if this is going to be own by the new president, but he said two things. He wanted people to be comfortable. He wanted people to bring their own wine. So I'm thinking of the incident that happened at Seal, and there were some patrons there who were intoxicated.
JOSEPHAnd not only did they spill alcohol on me, they also wanted to fight. So I didn't feel comfortable, and I responded -- and I wish you would improve your website access for customers who want to offer suggestions. It's very difficult to do that. And because of that incident and because of the way Wolf Trap responded to me, I probably will never come back to Wolf Trap. And there's no question in here, just a comment, and I'm getting offline. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIWell, before you get offline, can I ask you a question, Joseph?
JOSEPHYou sure can.
NNAMDIIf you are never going to back to Wolf Trap again, you seem to be suggesting that there is no assurance or reassurance or policy initiative that Arvind can initiate that can please you?
JOSEPHWell, I think, first of all, people have to drive to Wolf Trap. So it's driving and drinking, and I don't consider myself a party pooper. I like to have a good glass of wine and a nice, cold beer almost every night for dinner.
NNAMDIWell, let's see what Arvind has to say.
MANOCHAWell, I can't, of course, comment specifically...
NNAMDIYou weren't there.
MANOCHA...on the incident from last year as I hadn't moved to D.C. at that point. I'm obviously, you know, sorry that you had a bad experience. And certainly, when it's patron to patron, that can be very frustrating, I know from many years on the concert business. All I can say is I can certainly go back and speak to our partners at the Park Service, who actually operate the park for us, to talk about, you know, the incidents of intoxicated patrons and what can and what can't be done in that regard and look into it further.
MANOCHAI'm sorry I can't comment more specifically on that particular evening, but it's certainly something that I'm happy to hear and glad to hear because it's stuff that we all have to be on top of.
NNAMDIJoseph, thank you very much for your call. We have the director of the National Park Service on a few weeks ago, and we talked about how the sequester is affecting many parks. But although Wolf Trap is a national park, it's my understanding it's a separate organization. Will the sequester, therefore, affect you?
MANOCHAWolf Trap is a partnership between the Wolf Trap Foundation, of which I'm the president, and the Park Service. So it is a National Park Service unit. And the sequestration will affect all Park Service units. Our partners at Wolf Trap have done what they can to help mitigate some of those effects with different staffing programs. And I think there's a lot of people on the park side who are going to be stretched a little bit further than usual in order to help make sure that the patron experience stays intact. And for that, we're very appreciative of the efforts that they're making.
NNAMDIWell, you bring a business as well as an arts background to this position. We talked with your predecessor, Terrence Jones, two years ago about the funding challenges...
NNAMDI...that all arts organizations are facing these days. Presumably, you're facing the same kind of challenge yourself, so your business experience, hopefully, will be able to help.
MANOCHAYeah, absolutely. I do come from a business background and have a long history in the nonprofit art sector. And funding is always a challenge, particularly because unlike a lot of venues for pop music -- and it's probably important for folks to remember that when you come to Wolf Trap and you buy a ticket, you're getting a concert experience, which are also helping us create very large education programs that affect thousands of children both here in the area and across the country.
MANOCHAAnd a lot of the decisions we make very much have to do with, is it going to be good for our education program? And are these artists and are these experiences that we're presenting going to help us raise money and create more educational opportunities?
NNAMDIWe got an email from John, who says, "Trombone Shorty is fantastic. He should play once a month."
MANOCHAHe is an amazing performer. That double bill with Grace Potter is going to be insane.
NNAMDIThat's it. Classical music around the country faces a challenge. In particular, it's getting hard to maintain an audience in L.A. You said you were fortunate because the Philharmonic has a loyal audience for the orchestra. Can you talk a little bit about the Tchaikovsky festival that you had in Hollywood and how you see that emerging here?
MANOCHASure. You know, every major city that has a major orchestra has experienced ebbs and flows with that audience. And it's no secret that there's a challenge in the orchestral business, and I suspect that's the same here as well. We have a great relationship with the National Symphony. We're doing Tchaikovsky here as well this summer, as well as Carmina Burana and the "Traviata" that you mentioned earlier in terms of our opera programming.
MANOCHAIt turned out, you know, it so happened in L.A. that there was a tremendous audience for a very particular Tchaikovsky festival that we did every year. But that's one of those things that we talked about earlier. It was a 30-year tradition where there are people that would say to me, God, we've been doing that every year. Sure. But were there 17,000 people that would come for each of the night to Tchaikovsky? Absolutely.
MANOCHASo I look forward to finding out and learning more about our Wolf Trap traditions. Of course, I've not experienced them myself in the summer, but I've known about them for years. And I think our relationship with the National Symphony will continue to grow. It's, you know, that's a cornerstone of Wolf Trap. The National Symphony has been performing there from the very first season without fail. That's a very, very long and very fruitful partnership.
NNAMDIThere's a program called Bugs Bunny at the Symphony. Can you tell us about the idea behind that?
MANOCHASure. You know, a lot of those great, old Looney Tunes cartoons, the Warner Bros. studios were, you know, the soundtrack to those cartoons was great, great classical music and opera. A lot of those cartoons had great soundtracks. And what this program does is, you know, show the cartoons on the big screen and have the National Symphony play the scores live.
MANOCHAIt's one of those things where a lot of families come and bring their kids because they not only have a nice visual experience, but it's a way to expose your children and to young people to, you know, what exactly a live symphony orchestra looks like, sounds like, feels to be in front of.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Diana in Greenbelt, Md. Diana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANAYes. Hello, Kojo, and, sir, president of Wolf Trap. I was disturbed by one thing you said. By the way, Wolf Trap is a lovely place. I haven't been there in years. However, there are many acts that come to Wolf Trap that I would otherwise see. However, Wolf Trap is not easily accessible by public transit.
MANOCHAMm hmm. True.
DIANASo I have a car. I don't consider driving in awful traffic and going through that aggravation as acceptable or worth it. I can always find something else to do. And I was disturbed that you mentioned it as accessible or whatever the term was used. And I don't regard anything accessible that for which you must -- one must drive and go through that.
NNAMDILisa, if you'll hold -- I mean, Diana, if you'll hold for one second, I have Lisa in Washington, D.C., who may have a response for you. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAYeah. Hi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. With all the resources you guys have in callers, I certainly could be mistaken about this. And I'm not the know-all, but I know little pieces, and I'm just certain, Kojo, that of all the years I've lived here that every time I've seen the sign in no uncertain terms, I thought they were part of the marketing thing that says you can take either the Blue Line or the Orange Line all the way to the -- one of the Virginia Metro stops.
LISAAnd that there's been a shuttle from the Metro stop to Wolf Trap for all the years I've ever lived here, which is over 20. And they show the little picture of the Metro on the brochure that it's probably kind of cumbersome. But I've known people who's taken the Metro and then a shuttle directly to Wolf Trap in one of the Virginia stations.
NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call. Arvind, does that, in fact, answer Diana's question?
MANOCHACertainly. It answers it to a degree. Yes, the West Falls Church Metro stop is where we have our shuttle. And next year, it's going to get even easier because that's not exactly next door to Wolf Trap although the experience, I understand, is very, very easy to take Metro then on the shuttle. You skip all the parking. You get out very quickly.
MANOCHANext year, with the Silver Line opening at the Spring Hill station, we're going to have a Metro stop very close to Wolf Trap, and we'll be running the shuttles from there. And I fully expect our Metro ridership to increase dramatically because that shuttle's going to be very short at that point.
NNAMDIAnd, Diana, I hope that works for you. Thank you very much for your call because we don't have a lot of time. There are a couple of other things that we really need to talk about. A lot of people visit Wolf Trap for the summer concerts but may not be aware of what else goes on at Wolf Trap. Please remind us about the other programs.
MANOCHASure. The most visible other program we have, in terms of participation and national reach is our education programs. Wolf Trap has been a pioneer in early childhood arts education for over 30 years now. We've launched a STEM initiative a few years ago, which is getting a lot of traction, and we're about to roll it out to our regional partners. You know, there are 16 Wolf Trap regional partners around the country. It's something to be very proud of.
MANOCHAI know in the arts business, we all look at Wolf Trap as a leader and an exemplar in this area. And people who come to our concerts, I hope, should connect the fact that any support we get really goes back directly to help increase and expand our education programs in early childhood arts. We also have an opera program which is a young artist training program, which is one of the greatest in the country. Many of the major opera stars of today have come through our program, and it's something we feel very fortunate to have had right from the beginning of Wolf Trap's inception.
MANOCHAAnd, you know, we also have a year-round presence in The Barns at Wolf Trap, which are two beautiful 17th century barns that are on the Wolf Trap property that we host concerts of all sorts in a very intimate setting from October through June. So there's a lot more to the Wolf Trap story than the Filene Center although given that it's summertime, of course, the Filene Center is very much everyone's focus.
NNAMDIThere's the Children's Theater-in-the-Woods, the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning. It might surprise people, but your newest program involves teaching math and science through the arts. How does that work?
MANOCHAYeah. It's an amazing thing. And if you've ever seen it in the classroom, as I've had the fortune to do a number of times, it's a way to teach the earliest learners, the four-year-olds, concepts about mathematics and science through arts-based curriculum, whether it be...
NNAMDI"The Three Little Pigs" fitting in to a STEM lesson that's...
NNAMDI...science, technology, engineering and math.
MANOCHAYou know, we take what is natural to children, which is to explore and embrace the arts and creative -- the creative sentiment, you know, singing and dancing and movement and theater. And we apply those concepts to things like the six steps of engineering, and we use "The Three Little Pigs" as the example. So the kids are learning about, you know, the solar system, about mathematics, about patterns, about counting, about geometry through music and dance and theater.
MANOCHAAnd what we found is that -- and we talk, you know, we've been doing this for many, many years. The kids learn it faster. They retain it better. They share it more, which is an important characteristic of their learning. And the teachers -- most importantly, the teachers feel that they have a tool in their tool kit that allows them to introduce these concepts at a much earlier age and in a much more effective way.
NNAMDIHere's Emily in Herndon, Va. Emily, your turn.
EMILYHi. I just wanted to call in and say that when I was in high school, my women's choir received a grant from Wolf Trap. And we got Daniel Gawthrop, a very famous choral composer to write us a song, and that moment really solidified my love of music and made me want to study music management. So that's why I'm in school for right now.
MANOCHAHey, that's great, that's really great. And we still give out those grants to local teachers in arts programs in the area to do exactly that. That's a wonderful thing to hear.
NNAMDIGot your inspiration at Wolf Trap. Emily, thank you very much for your call. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Arvind Manocha is the president and CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Well, it's been a few months, but welcome to town and hang around for a while.
MANOCHAThanks very much.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, how a news photographer stumbled into the D.C. hardcore music scene, ended up capturing its earliest incarnation and where you can see it now. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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