From its Beatles remembrance to marionettes, annual festival aims to stir imaginations

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A look back at The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper days, a town hall-styled meeting on racial inequality, and community “Big Read” discussions of Yale faculty member Claudia Rankine’s award-winning poetry collection “Citizen” are among the highlights of this year’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas, a 15-day celebration of arts, ideas, and culture taking place in New Haven June 9-23.

The annual festival, which brings artists and thinkers from around the world to New Haven stages, is one of the biggest arts and cultural events in New England, attracting more than 100,000 people. The festival features offerings for people of every age in downtown New Haven and beyond, including musical performances, theater, talks and conversations, tours on foot and by bicycle, and more. Yale is a co-sponsor of the festival, and many of its events take place on the campus. Most of the festival offerings are free.

This year’s festival marks the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles’ groundbreaking album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” with performances of the festival-commissioned “Pepperland” by the Mark Morris Dance Group. The Yale International Choral Festival, the New England premiere of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” by Compagnia de’ Colombari, and a “world-traveling” adventure in which larger-than-life puppets help to animate the storytelling are among the many other events this year.

Dancers in multi-colored suits performing the Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland
Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Pepperland,” commissioned by the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, was called a “brilliant homage to one of the great rock albums” by The Telegraph after its debut in Liverpool. (Photo courtesy of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas)

Free, open-air concerts on the New Haven Green will be offered throughout the festival, featuring a diverse group of performers: singer-songwriter Ruth BElan Trotman with Rohn Lawrence and special guest The Rahsaan Langley Project; the all-woman New York City group Flor de Toloache & the band Las Cafeterras; and the Iraqi-American trumpeter, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar with members of Rivers of Sound Orchestra and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

The “Ideas” portion of the festival will explore such topics as citizenship, refugee resettlement, the role of art in increasing diversity, the future of New Haven, storytelling in an “oversaturated” world, Germany and the European Union, and more. Many of these events feature Yale faculty members as speakers.

A full schedule of festival events can be found on the festival’s website. Below are just some of the festival offerings featuring Yale affiliates.

The Yale International Choral Festival

Choirs from Germany, Sri Lanka, and Mexico, as well as American companies comprised of multicultural singers, will gather in New Haven for this four-day celebration of the variety of choral traditions around the world and the universal language of music.

The choral festival takes place June 13-16 and will feature Ensemble Cantissimo from Germany, the Muslim Choral Ensemble from Sri Lanka, Staccato from Mexico, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and Yale Choral Artists. In addition to individual performances by the choirs, there will be a final gala concert featuring the four visiting choirs and the Yale Alumni Chorus.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim Choral Ensemble posing for a group photo.
Sri Lanka’s Muslim Choral Ensemble. (Photo courtesy of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas)

Two talks will also be offered in conjunction with the choral festival. Micah Hendler, founding director of the Israeli-Palestinian YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus will discuss how choral music can be used as a bridge between communities in conflict on Wednesday, June 13, at 5:30 p.m. in Sudler Recital of William L. Harkness Hall, 100 Wall St. American composer Jake Runestad will give a preconcert talk on Saturday, June 16, at 5 p.m. before the performance of his “The Hope of Loving” by the Yale Alumni Chorus and Haven String Quartet at 6 p.m. His talk will also take place in Sudler Hall.

Town hall and The Racial Imaginary

Young people who serve as festival fellows will host a Town Hall meeting exploring the themes of Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” on Thursday, June 7, at 5:30 p.m. at the New Haven Free Public Library Ives Branch, 133 Elm St. This public discussion about racial inequality is free and open to the public.

Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine (Photo credit: Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

Citizen: An American Lyric” was chosen as New Haven’s selection for the annual program “The Big Read.” An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, Big Read is meant to broaden our understanding of the world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. “Citizen” is the first work of poetry to become a New York Times bestseller for multiple weeks on the paperback nonfiction list. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry and was also a finalist for the award in criticism — the first time in the history of those awards that a book was a finalist in more than one category.

Citizen” combines lyric prose with internal monologues, visual art, slogans, photographs, quotes, film scripts, and more to explore racism.  

Rankine, the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale, was honored in 2016 with a MacArthur Fellowship, and used some of her $625,000 award to build the interdisciplinary The Racial Imaginary Institute to explore the idea of race.

Numerous events have been held in New Haven since April in conjunction with the Big Read, and others will be offered as part of the festival. Individual events are listed on the festival’s website.

Ideas (in thought and action!)

All of the following events are free.

  • Sunday, June 10 — Yale historian Timothy Snyder will discuss his new book “The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America” at 1:30 p.m. at the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St.
  • Tuesday, June 12 — In a talk titled “I’ll Be Your Qubit!” quantum physicist Michel Devoret and visual artist Martha W. Lewis will investigate the relationships between science and art in a conversation moderated by Yale Quantum Institute (YQI) manager Florian Carle. The talk is free, but seating is limited and will be on first-come basis at the YQI, 17 Hillhouse Ave.
  • In connection with this talk, there will be three artist-led tours for the interactive installation  “I’ll Be Your Qubit,” a collaboration between Lewis, Devoret, YQI researcher Stefan Krastanov, and Carle. The installation is a special quantum diagram one can move through, turning the interior space of the QYI into an oversized quantum experiment. Tours will take place on Sunday, June 10 at noon, Tuesday, June 12 at 1:30 p.m., and Thursday, June 14 at 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 13 George Cameron, Yale political scientist and director of the Yale Program in European Union Studies, will give a talk on “Germany and the European Union” at 12:30 p.m. in Sudler Hall.
  • Wednesday, June 13 — Yale alumnus Itamar Kubovy, executive producer of Pilobulus, and Bruce Mau, chief creative of Massive Change Network, will discuss “Designing for the Five Senses: Storytelling in an Oversaturated World” at 5:30 p.m. at the Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St.
  • Thursday, June 14 — Nahid Siamdoust, a postdoctoral associate and lecturer at Yale’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, will discuss her book “Soundtrack of the Revolution: The Politics of Music in Iran,” an alternative history of revolutionary Iran viewed through the field of music, at 12:30 p.m. in Sudler Hall.
  • Tuesday, June 19 — Judith A. Chevalier, the William S. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Economics at the Yale School of Management, and alumnus Steve Mentz will be on a panel discussing “Risk, Anxiety, and Generosity: Defining the Culture of Money from Shakespeare to Today” at 5:30 p.m. at the Yale Center for British Art. The panel will draw parallels between the characters in the “The Merchant of Venice” and the behavior of modern consumers and investors.
A scene from The Merchant of Venice.
A scene from “The Merchant of Venice.” (Photo courtesy of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas)
  • Wednesday, June 20 — Alumnus Scott Freiman, recognized as an expert on the music of the Beatles and who taught a Yale course on “The Beatles in the Studio,” will talk about the cultural impact of the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at 5:30 p.m. at the Yale Center for British Art.
  • Thursday, June 21 — Yale curators will take part in a panel discussion on “Curation and the Democracy of Arts” at 5:30 p.m. at the Yale University Art Gallery.
  • Friday, June 22 — Jock Reynolds, who ends his 20-year term as the Henry J. Heinz II director of the Yale University Art Gallery, will join in conversation with Yale curator Pamela Franks (future director of the Williams College Museum of Art) and Yale alumnus and artist Titus Kaphar about “New Haven 2040: Looking Toward the Next 20 Years of Art and Culture” at 1:30 p.m. at the Yale University Art Gallery.
  • Saturday, June 23 — Joan Channick, chair of the theater management department at Yale School of Drama, will moderate a panel discussion, titled “The Art of Crossing Cultures,” among women artists from Hong Kong at 2:30 p.m. at the Yale University Art Gallery. Participants will explore what happens when artists encounter different cultures and audiences.

More walking tours

In addition to tours of city gardens, parks, churches, local farms, and historic and other sites, there will be tours taking place on the Yale campus. These include a tour of the Yale campus on Sunday, June 17, at 11 a.m. from the Yale Visitor Center; a tour of Rudolph Hall, home of the Yale School of Architecture on Tuesday, June 19, at 3 p.m.; and a tour of Yale’s new residential colleges on Friday, June 22 at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 23, at 11 a.m.

Exhibition talks & tours

Several events will take place at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 121 Wall St., in conjunction with the exhibit “Text and Textile,” on view through Aug. 12. A screening of the film “Hindle Wakes,” about a mill girl who becomes romantically involved with the boss’s son will take place on Tuesday, June 12, at noon. A weaving/crafting event for children will be held in conjunction with the screening. “Text & Textile: The Literature and Song of Resistance,” a reading program of literary texts about the situation and struggles of weavers, mill-girls, milleners, sweat-shop seamstresses, and other textile workers in New Haven and throughout the Northeast and in Europe, will be held at noon on Wednesday, June 13, at the library. A tour of the exhibit “Texts and Textile” will take place on Friday, June 15, at 1:30 p.m.

A comics panel from illustrator Nadir Balan’s “THE COURIER: TALES FROM THE GREAT WAR”
Join award-winning comic-book illustrator Nadir Balan for a look at “The Courier: Tales from the Great War.” (Image courtesy of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas/New Haven Museum)

Award-winning comic book illustrator Nadir Balan, an operations associate at Yale School of Drama, will lead a tour and discussion of the New Haven Museum’s “The Courier: Tales from the Great War,” an exhibit based on the WWI diary and scrapbook of Lt. Philip H. English of New Haven. He’ll discuss his graphic-style murals about English’s participation in the war during the tour, which takes place on Wednesday, June 13, at 1:30 p.m.

A invertebrate paleontology tour of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History will be offered on Friday, June 15, at three times: 3 p.m., 3:20 p.m., and 3:40 p.m. The museum’s collections represent a world-class record of the history of the Earth and its cultures. Space is limited; reservations are recommended.

The many festival events not listed here range from sound sculpture installations to bike and boat tours. There will be master classes and workshops with festival artists and opportunities to join other festival-goers while sampling New Haven food and drink in communal gatherings. Visit the festival website for more information on these and other events.

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