Aaron Greenwald came to Duke Performances after reinventing the N.C. Festival of the Book in 2006. He took a similarly ambitious, audacious approach with Duke Performances, turning a scattershot sequence of events into a complex series of performances and talks centered on themes, like Thelonious Monk's Southern roots and the international impact of soul music's freak-of-nature force.
Greenwald served the first year of his post as interim director, but the university named him director of Duke Performances at the end of January. He's begun work on next year's events, but there's plenty to do before season one is finished.
Greenwald recently completed a series of negotiations to reschedule a talk and DJ performance by Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, the drummer for Philadelphia hip-hop act The Roots. Greenwald noticed that Thompson had double-booked himself, scheduling a two-night stand at the Apollo Theatre when he was supposed to be in North Carolina talking and spinning records with Durham producer 9th Wonder. The event has been moved to Wednesday, Feb. 20.
This year's Duke Performances series started mid-September with two performances by the Kronos Quartet. Since then, Charlie Haden, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, Badi Assad, the Charles Tolliver Orchestra playing Monk.... You finally got the nod in January. Was there any affirmation from the powers that be at Duke during the interim?
At the last Following Monk concert, which was Barry Harris, [Duke Provost] Peter Lange made a mini-speech about how proud he was that we were able to present this. Peter's a big fan of jazz. I think he was standing in the balcony, and he just said ... kudos to Aaron and the team of people for pulling off what was really a coup. That was a real article of affirmation.
The season's almost over. What are you working on for next season?
There's going to be this massive exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art around Spanish art in the Golden Age called El Greco to Velazquez: Art During The Reign of Philip III. It's a really hard thing for me to program around because—other than period music, which some people love but the draw is fairly limited—it's limiting. But when we look at the product of those places that fits in our presenting scheme, we look at flamenco music and Fado music. Fado, and flamenco in certain senses, is described as Spanish blues or Portuguese blues. People have to be able to express despair or heartache, so the blues and those European forms are all certain forms of folk music. The notion might be to do a series of double bills that bring together a Fado artist and an American blues artist.
Another series I'm thinking about is called Borderlands, which will look at artists who are along the Mexican-American border and could conceivably look to our border at the North. It's more interesting along the Mexican-American border, I think, with Grupo Fantasma or Café Tacuba or Alejandro Escovedo or Ozomatli, who are mixing influences. Looking at that Mexican-American border and looking at immigration as an issue—and certainly our community is where one in four kindergarteners' first language is Spanish ... We don't have a venue where people can listen to that music and dance, which is how I think you ought to listen to that music. So we're looking at doing those shows at a place like the Durham Armory. Also, we'll be depoliticizing the space, doing the events in venues where Latinos feel welcome.
So you're looking to take Duke Performances events off-campus occasionally?
Yes. So, frankly, the notion would be to look at two borders, right? The border over which immigration happens, and then be very specific about the very clearly defined borders in our community—the borders between the Duke campus and Durham. The challenge would be to attract both audiences, the Duke audience of students and faculty and then a really broad community audience.