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75th Anniversary Gala Concert and Reception

Posted On November 16, 2015 | 14:45 pm | by meredithb | Permalink

“While celebrating seventy-five years of supporting humanities and arts, we are studying the state of our fields trifocally: how did they look on the eve of the Second World War, what is their current condition, and what will their future prospects be?” Director Jan Ziolkowski asked the crowd assembled in the Music Room for the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration at Dumbarton Oaks. In remarks that introduced the celebratory concert and reception, Ziolkowski reflected on the decision by Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss to gift Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard as an institution that would preserve and further study the humanities. In 1940, the year they transferred the home and gardens, the Blisses were reacting to the “epoch of disintegration and dislocation” they witnessed during the Second World War. Seventy-five years later, in an era with myriad problems of its own, Ziolkowski spoke of the sustained growth of Dumbarton Oaks and the continued necessity of its contributions to the study of the humanities.

“If ever what is dimly perceptible on the horizon argued against vocationalizing and narrowing education, it would be now. If ever we needed to ensure that learners were exposed to different modes of expression and interpretation, and to art and scripture from outside their own heritages, it would be now. And so here we stand, those of us in the humanities and arts, ready as ever to contribute, eager as ever to engage with new publics in new media by interrogating afresh old and new beauty alike,” Ziolkowski said.

The “new beauty” to which Ziolkowski referred was the centerpiece of Dumbarton Oaks’ seventy-fifth anniversary celebration: a concert featuring the world premiere of a commission from composer and musician Caroline Shaw, who was Dumbarton Oaks’ inaugural Early-Career Musician in 2014–15. Shaw’s new piece, titled Plan & Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks), was performed by the Dover Quartet; Shaw also joined the quartet as second violist for a rendition of Mozart’s Viola Quintet No. 2 in C Minor, K. 406, in the second half of the program. (The Quartet will return to Dumbarton Oaks on March 6 and 7, 2016, as part of our Friends of Music Concert Series.)

Before her new work’s performance, Shaw explained briefly that the title Plan & Elevation carries a double meaning. It refers not just to architects’ drawings of structures from above and on each side, but also to how Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks, in Shaw’s words, often “have a plan that develops and changes over their time here in ways they didn’t expect.” Plan & Elevation takes inspiration from the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens and consists of five movements, each named after one of the “rooms” of the gardens: the Ellipse, the Cutting Garden, the Herbaceous Border, the Orangery, and the Beech Tree (Shaw’s personal favorite).

Read Ziolkowski's full remarks here.