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The eclectic fall concert season at McCarter Theatre Center reflects the vision of a new curator

Paula Abreu, Director of Special Programming at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J.
Fotobuddy Photography
Paula Abreu, Director of Special Programming at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J.

The fall season at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton features a broad array of cultural and stylistic expression, with core offerings in classical music and jazz as well as folkloric music, dance, comedy, and family events. There’s continuity in this kaleidoscopic approach, but it also reflects the sensibilities of Paula Abreu, who became McCarter’s Director of Presented Programming a year ago, after working for a decade at SummerStage.

“This season reflects my vision and my taste,” Abreu tells WRTI, referring to the first bloc of McCarter programming shaped by her curation. “But it also gives me time to understand the community that I’m programming for. This is a very diverse and eclectic season, and I hope people get excited to explore new adventures, new cultures, and new performing art styles.”

Abreu’s programming philosophy is informed by her own experience in the world. “I come from Brazil, but I also lived in Angola for a while, and then I had the luckiest opportunity to travel to many different countries and experience many different cultures,” she says. This cosmopolitan global outlook informed her tenure at SummerStage, as it naturally will in Princeton.

The stage is set at McCarter Theatre Center for a concert by vocalist Samara Joy in June 2023.
McCarter Theatre Center
The stage is set at McCarter Theatre Center for a concert by vocalist Samara Joy in June 2023.

Opening on Saturday with a program called Patti Smith: Words and Music, the coming weeks will include performances by the dance company of Princeton faculty member Olivier Tarpaga, originally from Burkina Faso (Sept. 29); the Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara (Sept. 30); and the Monteverdi Choir’s English Baroque Soloists, performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor (Oct. 23). Also on the near horizon (on Oct. 5) is Love in Exile, composed of vocalist Arooj Aftab, pianist Vijay Iyer, and bassist and keyboardist Shahzad Ismaily, which Abreu calls out as an emblematic highlight.
“I'm honored to continue the legacy built by Bill Lockwood, my predecessor, who was here programming shows for 60 years, and he was always ahead of the curve here,” she says. “He was always introducing new art forms, new genres, new artists, championing cutting-edge music. I feel that Love in Exile is part of that aesthetic and that vision.”

Abreu elaborates: “It’s a trio with three different backgrounds, coming from three different regions. It’s not world music, what they do. It’s also not jazz, specifically. I felt that this show speaks directly to the Princeton community in terms of being explorers, and being one of the most sophisticated, culturally, in the country.”

Among the other musical programs this fall are the Orquesta Folclórica Nacional de México, performing a live score to the Pixar film Coco, in a family program (Oct. 4); the multifaceted singer, songwriter and producer Madison McFerrin, the daughter of Bobby McFerrin, a McCarter veteran (Oct. 14); and the fizzy pop orchestra Pink Martini (Nov. 3). And in a rescheduled program originally planned for last season, bass-baritone Davóne Tines will present his ‘Recital No. 1: Mass’ (Nov. 16).

Highlights in the new year include an 85th anniversary celebration for Blue Note Records, featuring an all-star quintet led by pianist Gerald Clayton (Jan. 25); CelloGayageum, a collaboration of Austrian cellist Sol Daniel Kim and Korean gayageum player Dayoung Yoon (Feb. 2); tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel, presenting her award-winning performance piece ‘Chasing Magic’ (Feb. 8); and another of Abreu's stated highlights, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, founded in 1918 and now seen as a symbol of resistance and resilience (Feb. 11).

To learn more about the new season at McCarter Theatre Center, visit its website.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.