MPAC comes full circle, welcoming back Valery Gergiev for anniversary show

Valery Gergiev conducts


Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Friday.

The Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown dates back to 1937, but its modern era began on Sept. 29, 1994, when Valery Gergiev conducted the Kirov Orchestra in a Grand Reopening concert. The building had been closed for 10 years and had fallen into disrepair, and it took a crew of volunteers months of hard work to get it ready to present a concert again.

Now known as the Mayo Performing Arts Center, the theater will welcome Gergiev back for the first time since then on Friday, when he will conduct the Mariinsky Orchestra in a program of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Shchedrin.

One imagines the theater will be almost unrecognizable to Gergiev. It has undergone renovations, structurally and cosmetically, in almost every area since 1994 — the stage, the artists’ dressing rooms, the lobbies, the bathrooms — and stays busy almost nonstop, with more than 200 events annually that attract approximately 200,000 people, plus an arts education program.

“It’s night and day,” says the theater’s general manager, Ed Kirchdoerffer, who began working at MPAC in 2003, when it was still known as the Community Theatre. “There was no air conditioning back then. We had to close at the end of May, for summer, and then reopen in late September, early October. The artist amenities weren’t great. The patron amenities had improved a little from a capital campaign that ran from 1999 to 2001, but we weren’t nearly as customer-friendly as we are today.”

There were only 12 or 13 events a year in the mid-’90s, he says, and about 90 in 2003.

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in Morristown since the mid-’90s knows that the town has changed a lot, too, with much more traffic in the downtown area, where the theater is located. Kirchdoerffer says that according to an Economic Impact Calculator created by Americans for the Arts, MPAC’s impact on the region is $14 million.

“You can just see it on a busy show night, how the restaurants are buzzing and the town sort of buzzes with excitement when we have a big name in town,” he says. “There are certainly restaurants that have opened up, close to the theater, specifically because they know that we bring in a lot of people to town.

“We can also see it in the parking. The town has put in a couple of parking decks, and now those decks … it’s getting hard to park in town again, because the decks are being filled up.”

Friday’s show, which is billed as a 20th Anniversary Celebration Concert, will feature pianist Denis Matsuev, and the program includes Shchedrin’s Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 “Naughty Little Limericks”; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, op. 44; and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. Ravel). For information and tickets, click here.


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