Retiring Michael Curry will continue to shape the Hampton arts scene

Michael Curry retires this weekend as director of the Hampton Arts Commission. Since he came to the City of Hampton in April 1988, Curry has been responsible for the growth and programming of The American Theatre and the Charles H. Taylor Arts Center.

But don't wish him bon voyage just yet. Though he cutting back on some administrative activities, Curry still plans to have his hand in programming, and publications such as "Diversions," for the city's performing arts and visual arts venues. He will work as a consultant for the Hampton Arts Foundation, the non-profit organization that owns the two buildings and raises money for their capital projects and operation.

"I've been doing this for 24 years, and I think this will be a very good transition," says Curry, who hopes to find more time to write and to travel.

Curry's talent for putting together a diverse mix of winning performances each season convinced the foundation to keep him on. Early on in his tenure, Curry launched the Great Performances Series that brought artists such as pianist Philippe Bianconi, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and mime Marcel Marceau to Hampton University's Ogden Hall. When The American Theatre was purchased in 1997, Curry spearheaded a fund-raising drive to renovate the building into a performing arts center that opened in June 2000.

For many years, before the Virginia Arts Festival and the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, Curry worked to raise the profile of the arts in Hampton Roads by presenting dance companies; world music, classical, jazz and folk artists; and actors such as Bea Arthur and John Amos. Each year touring companies such as L.A. Theatre Works, Aquila Theatre Company and Walnut Street Theatre present works by Shakespeare and major American playwrights.

"I'm proud of the Charles Taylor arts center, but that plan was in place when I came here," says Curry. "But to save The American Theatre and renovate it is a source of immense pride to me. It's the last of the four theaters that were once in the city."

In recognition for Curry's service, the foundation board will name the theater's auditorium after him.

For Hampton Arts' 25th anniversary season in 2012-2013, Curry is bringing back many of the artists he has worked with over the years. I'll have more on that season in the July 8 Good Life section.

Summer orchestra

The seventh season of the Summer Sight Reading Orchestra is now underway.

Conducted by Guy Hayden, the orchestra offers string players at all levels the opportunity to explore a wide variety of music. The material varies from easy Broadway shows and movie selections to more challenging string orchestra repertory.

"We also include original contemporary works, sometimes conducted by the composers themselves," says Hayden.

Some of the standard works include J. S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3," Edward Elgar's "Serenade for String Orchestra" and "Fiddle-Faddle" by Leroy Anderson. Tentative works for this summer include Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," Edward Elgar's "Introduction and Allegro" and Bernard Herrmann's "Prelude to Psycho."

Participants can choose which parts they want to play. There are no age limitations, no limit to the number of participants and no public performances planned. Participants are asked to bring their own music stands if possible.

The orchestra meets from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 12 in the Centerstage Academy, 4026 George Washington Memorial Highway, York County.

Fees are $75 for the entire eight-week session or $10 for individual sessions. Advance registration is suggested but drop-in players are welcome. Call 757-890-0175 for additional information.

Summer Breeze lineup

The annual Merchants Square Summer Breeze concert series begins Sunday, July 1, with a performance by the Heritage of America Band. The Air Force Band will perform from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. at the square located on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg.

The remaining summer concerts begin at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and last until 8:30 or 9 p.m. Here's the schedule:

July 11 — Central Virginia Jazz Orchestra

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