Stan Engebretson

Stan Engebretson is Director of Choral Studies at George Mason University, Artistic Director of the National Philharmonic Chorale, and Director of Music at the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in the greater Washington, D.C. area. For eight years, he led Smithsonian Journeys groups to the Carmel Bach Festival in Carmel, California, and in 2009 he lectured for the Smithsonian at the Aspen Music Festival in Aspen, Colorado.
Jun 3 - 8, 2014
6 days
Attend the 37th annual festival of music, dance, and theater in South Carolina
Tour details

Smithsonian Journeys interview with Stan Engebretson about his Spoleto tour in 2011.
Q: You have been escorting Smithsonian travelers to Charleston and the festival for over 10 years; tell us about some of the memorable performances travelers have seen.
A: Well, I'm biased, because I absolutely love this festival and have enjoyed sharing that with everyone who has come for over a decade! For me, all of the performances at Spoleto USA have a unique sparkle, which uplifts, entertains, and at times, challenges you. Many events share common themes, inviting you to find and compare the beauty in the various arts. In past years, the patrons have enjoyed the grand operas, chamber music (literally, an "insider" series), the visiting dance companies performing Flamenco or Russian classical ballet, the British theater companies, and of course, all of the music performances by the wonderful resident orchestra, soloists, and chorus.

The finest aspect of the Spoleto Festival in my opinion is the variety, and it's really the only place in the country where you can see top-quality art, theater, dance, concert music, and opera in a variety of colorful theaters and concert halls all in one week. Plus, its setting in one of America's most beautiful and historic cities lends it the chance to present new cutting-edge productions that are recognized by New York critics and others as some of the best in the country.
Q: 2011 marks Spoleto's 35th anniversary and they have planned one of the most ambitious seasons ever. One of the most sought after tickets is for The Gospel at Colonus. Can you give us a preview of this musical?
A: I was fortunate enough to see this piece in its original run in the 1980's, when this magnificent work (part theater, part opera, and part church) wowed audiences and critics alike with its brilliant adaptation of a story from Sophocles' ancient Greek theater. The gospel music will have you all but dancing in the aisles, led by the Grammy Award- winning voices and personalities of the Blind Boys of Alabama. It's a production not to be missed, as this spectacle is rarely put together in revival, and to my knowledge has never been produced again to this level since the original premiere. Click here to view a performance by the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Q: Q: This year we will see two operas; Mozart's beloved The Magic Flute and Émilie based on the extraordinary life of the 18th-century mathematician and lover of the great philosopher, Voltaire. Guests will also see Circa, which is performed by an Australian circus troupe. This sounds somewhat "out-of-the-box"... even for Spoleto, but I understand there has been a lot of buzz around them. What can travelers expect?
A: A: To know the Spoleto festival is to know that any sort of "in the box" label is too limiting. Life is variety, brimming with new experiences, and this festival is about celebrating that! Their productions thrive on combining the historical with the innovative, while also bringing the newest acts to us from around the world, such as the Australian troupe this season. In the past, companies came from Italy, China, Japan, England, while this year, Ireland is also equally heralded to bring a piece of the world to us for enjoyment.
Q: Q: Spoleto's Chamber Music Series is considered the heart and soul of the festival, featuring accomplished newcomers as well as esteemed veterans of the world stage. Tell us a little bit more about the series.
A: A: I think it's fun to see the stars of today as well as the future. Some of the great names in the music world who performed in Spoleto in the early years of their career include Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, and Joshua Bell. Spoleto is dedicated to furthering the careers of young artists, so it's always invigorating to see who the "stars of tomorrow" are going to be. Most people would say the intimacy of this series, set in the historic Dock Street Theater, makes you feel like you're almost onstage, performing the eloquent music alongside the artists. Familiar standards along with new works are introduced in a humorous and educational manner by the Artistic Director of the series, Geoff Nuttall of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, whose charming manner enhances the understanding and enjoyment of the music.
Q: Q: And speaking of music, The Westminster Choir will be performing just two shows, and Smithsonian guests will be attending one of them. Have they performed at Spoleto before?
A: A: This select 40-voice ensemble from the Westminster Choir College has been the annual resident ensemble of Spoleto USA since the early days of the festival. Last year's "standing room only" concert underscores what a popular event this concert has become. Performed in a large church with resplendent acoustics, the beautifully blended sounds of one of our nation's leading choirs thrills all each year as they sing a wide variety of music ranging from Bach to American folks songs and spirituals. The talented singers of this chorus are also soloists in their own right, and are frequently seen onstage in the opera productions and in other formal concerts with the festival orchestra. Click here to View the Westminster Choir rehearsal at Spoleto 2010.
Q: Q: We will see many great performances ... but Charleston is such a picturesque city and chock-full of history as well as delicious low-country cuisine. How will Smithsonian guests get a chance to experience some of the town during their stay?
A: A: I think the term "picturesque" begins in Charleston, especially on the historic battery and the waterfront where you can walk the streets enjoying the fine "low-country" southern cuisine in designer restaurants, take in the sights and shop in the open-air markets, and learn of the rich history describing this part of the county, where literally, our American history was born. To help the Smithsonian guests get an overview of the city, we schedule a narrated carriage tour throughout the historic district on the second day of the tour, which helps everyone get the lay of the land and enable them to plan other side trips as well. Frequently participants take advantage of free time to see area art galleries or history museums, tour the historic plantations nearby, or, one of my favorites, take a sailing cruise on a three-masted schooner into the harbor near historic Ft. Sumter.
Charleston is a city of many wonders, enhanced by the tremendous offerings of this festival, so a trip to Spoleto USA is truly a memorable experience. Some of our travelers come year after year, including one of our friends who has made the trip 10 times! If you join us, you can expect that Charleston in June may definitely become a way of life for you too!