Musers & Performers

Performances are an integral part of the Tennessee Arts Academy experience. From the opening Overture Celebration to the final Finale Luncheon, a diverse group of artists and performing groups are featured at every Arts Academy event. Regional theatre, dance and music soloists and ensembles are showcased during a daily thirty-minute presentation in the Massey Performing Arts Center. On Sunday and Wednesday evenings a world-class artist is chosen to perform for TAA participants. The Belmont Mansion tour, the TAA art exhibitions, the TAA Carnival, Vendor Fair and Artist Market, and special event functions each include local artists as part of their program.

Please check back regularly for updates and information about the 2021 Tennessee Arts Academy.

Steven Banks

July 11, 2021 • 2:30 PM (CDT)


Recognized for his “glowing mahogany tone” (Seen and Heard International) and his “breathtaking” performances (Classical Voice of North Carolina), Steven Banks is establishing himself as an important young artist on the saxophone, which is rarely heard as a solo concert instrument. In 2019, Steven Banks captured first prize at the Young Concert Artists International auditions. This makes him the first saxophonist to earn a place on the Young Concert Artists roster in its sixty-year history. This season, Banks will make his New York debut at Merkin Concert Hall.

Banks has performed as a concerto soloist with the Durham Symphony and the North Carolina Symphony, and he regularly gives recitals at universities and appears on music series across the United States. His appearances this season will include performances with the Oregon Mozart Players, Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, Mary Baldwin University, Buffalo Chamber Music Society, Port Washington Library, and Tannery Pond. In addition to his solo work, Banks has an ongoing relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra, appearing with the ensemble under various conductors, including Alain Altinoglu, Roderick Cox, Jahja Ling, Matthias Pintscher, and Franz Welser-Most. He appears on a Naxos recording as baritone saxophonist of the award-winning Kenari Quartet. As a jazz performer, he has played alongside musicians affiliated with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Buddy Rich Big Band, and Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Banks is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in music education and performance, as well as newly commissioned works in the classical realm. In 2017, he gave a talk at the TEDxNorthwesternU conference that included ideas about how to change institutionalized prejudices against women and people of color. He has also written and given guest lectures on the history of black classical composers. As assistant professor of saxophone at Ithaca College, in Ithaca, New York, he makes a concerted effort to ensure that all music students feel supported in their everyday studies. Steven Banks appears by arrangement with Young Concert Artists, Inc. Please click here for program information regarding the Steven Banks Arts Academy performance.

About the Zorá Quartet
Named “the future of chamber music” in a concert review in Oregon Arts Watch, the Zorá Quartet leapt to national attention in 2015 when they won three major awards: the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, the Grand Prize and Gold Medal of the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, and the Coleman Chamber Music Competition in California. The quartet formed at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music under the tutelage of the Pacifica String Quartet. “Zorá” means “sunrise” in Bulgarian. Zora Quartet appears by arrangement with Young Concert Artists, Inc. 

About Xak Bjerken, accompanist
Pianist Xak Bjerken has appeared with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto Festival Orchestra, Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, the Schoenberg Ensemble, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Disney Hall. He is a professor of music at Cornell University, where he co-directs Mayfest, an international chamber music festival, with his wife, pianist Miri Yampolsky.

The performance by Steven Banks is made possible by generous gifts from Country Music Association Foundation; and Sara Savell, in memory of Las Savell.

Bravo! A Virtual Evening with Stephen Sondheim and Friends,
hosted by Aaron Lazar: Honoring America’s Arts Teachers
Interview Show and Performances

July 14, 2021 • 7:30 PM (CDT)

 Broadway, film, and television star Aaron Lazar will host a one-hour special program exclusively for the Tennessee Arts Academy on Wednesday, July 14. Bravo! A Virtual Evening with Stephen Sondheim and Friendshosted by Aaron Lazar: Honoring America’s Arts Teachers will feature an exclusive interview with celebrated musical theatre composer Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim will discuss his life, his shows, and the creative forces that have inspired and shaped his career. In tribute to Sondheim, Lazar will be joined by numerous performing arts celebrities including Vanessa Williams, James Lapine, Annaleigh Ashford, and others who will relate their own special Stephen Sondheim moment. Several will sing a Sondheim melody in honor of the famed composer. Tennessee Arts Academy educators will provide Aaron with questions to ask throughout the evening. They will also share their own unique perspective on the training they have received at the Academy and the impact it has had on their teaching and in turn, on their students. 


About Stephen Sondheim….

Stephen Sondheim is one of the most significant figures in twentieth-century theater. During his almost seventy-year career, his reinvention of the American musical has helped to bring new vitality, complexity, and sophistication to the form. The breadth and depth of his works explore the human experience with remarkable clarity and understanding. His innovative and award-winning music and lyrics are singular in their ability to create an emotional connection to the characters and the stage shows in which they appear. 


Sondheim's best-known works include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984) and Into the Woods (1987). He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959) Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965), and additional lyrics for Candide (1973). Anthologies of his work include Side By Side By Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), Putting It Together (1993/99) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010). For films, he composed the scores of Stavisky (1974), co-composed the score for Reds (1981) and wrote songs for Dick Tracy (1990) and the TV production Evening Primrose(1966). He co-authored the film The Last of Sheila (1973) and the play Getting Away with Murder (1996).

Sondheim has received an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer) and a special Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and a Laurence Olivier Award. In 1983, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awarded him the Gold Medal for Music in 2006. In 1990, he was appointed the first Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University. Additional awards he has received are a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 at the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts in 1996, the MacDowell Medal in 2013 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. He is on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, the national association of playwrights, composers, and lyricists, having served as its president from 1973 to 1981. In 1981, he founded Young Playwrights Inc. to develop and promote the work of American playwrights eighteen years and younger. His collected lyrics with attendant essays have been published in two volumes: Finishing the Hat (2010) and Look, I Made a Hat (2011). In 2010, the Broadway theater formerly known as Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed in his honor.

About Aaron Lazar….

Since his 2005 critically acclaimed performance as Fabrizio Nacarelli in the Tony Award winning hit The Light in the Piazza, Aaron Lazar has established himself as Broadway’s most versatile leading man. His eleven Broadway production appearances include playing opposite seventeen-time Grammy Award winner Sting in the latter’s epic musical The Last Ship; originating roles in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury; the world premiere of Impressionism with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen; and the world premiere of A Tale of Two Cities. Lazar appeared in Sir Trevor Nunn’s revival of Oklahoma; starred in the first Broadway revival of Les Miserables; performed the role of Sam in the global phenomenon Mamma Mia; and made his debut in the longest running show in Broadway history, The Phantom of the Opera. Most recently, Lazar starred in the first national tour of Dear Evan Hansen as Larry Murphy.

Lazar’s film credits include The Wolf of Wall Street (opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie); This is Where I Leave You (as Tina Fey’s workaholic husband Barry); J. Edgar (as Prosecutor Wilentz); and the recent blockbusters Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game. On television, Lazar has appeared in more than a dozen shows for the major networks including QuanticoThe Strain, Disney’s Girl Meets WorldThe BlacklistBlue Bloods, The Good Wife,The Following, New AmsterdamAll My Children, and many others. This past season, Lazar starred opposite Kim Cattrall in the gothic-soap series Filthy Rich.

Lazar’s symphony credits include Billy Bigelow in Carousel with the Boston Pops, Lt. Cable in South Pacific at the Hollywood Bowl, Paul in Company (live with the New York Philharmonic), and multiple appearances with both the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Other notable appearances include the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra at Masada and the English National Opera Orchestra at the Coliseum in London’s West End. Lazar’s voice can be heard on numerous Broadway cast albums and dozens of television commercials. He is an honorary board member of the Tennessee Arts Academy Foundation, as well as an alumnus of Duke University and the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. Lazar is the proud father of two boys—Julian and Adrian. 

A Virtual Evening With Stephen Sondheim And Friends, hosted by Aaron Lazar: Honoring America's Arts Teachers is made possible by a generous gift from Pat and Thane Smith.

Three by Ballet Memphis
Professional Ballet Company

Thursday • July 15 • 1:00 PM


In this program for the Tennessee Arts Academy, Ballet Memphis will perform three works—the duet from Water of the Flowery Mill, highlights from the ballet Paquita, and Being Here with Other People. The first work, Water of the Flowery Mill, was choreographed by American choreographer Matthew Neenan for Ballet Memphis in 2010. Danced to music by Tchaikovsky, the piece was inspired by the 1944 painting of the same name by artist Arshile Gorky. Paquita, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa with music by Ludwig Minkus, is a three-act ballet that tells the story of Paquita, a young woman who falls in love with a noble man. The ballet is rarely performed in its entirety in the West; however, the third act remains a staple in the repertoire of ballet companies across the world. No longer performed as a narrative work, the dance is now used as a vehicle for virtuosity, artistry, and exceptional corps de ballet work. Being Here with Other People was choreographed by Ballet Memphis’s artistic director Steven McMahon in 2009. The dance is a response to the joyous music of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major. After the program, McMahon will host a question and answer session for the audience. Click here for complete program information.

About Ballet Memphis
Ballet Memphis aspires to reveal and celebrate the universality of the human experience through dance. The company performs classical ballet and is a leader in the creation of new work that builds American dance using the catalog of American music, often finding inspiration in the Memphis sound. The Ballet Memphis School offers ballet training for students ages three and older, while adult students enjoy ballet, tap, and Pilates classes. Ballet Memphis is entering its thirty-fifth season.

The appearance of Ballet Memphis is made possible by generous gifts from Bobby Jean Frost, in memory of Donna Frost; the Lingner Gift Fund; and Bill and Jeanette Watkins.

Cumberland County Playhouse
Producing Theatre During a Global Pandemic: Scenes from Three Cumberland County Playhouse Productions

Friday • July 16 • 1:00 PM


In 2020, the pandemic brought many changes to Cumberland County Playhouse’s original season lineup. The topical Alabama Story, for example, was a small cast show that the Playhouse decided to perform for both a limited in-person and live-stream audience simultaneously. Coming out of the pandemic, the Playhouse’s theme of “rebuild and renew, recommit to the community we share, and redefine the stories we tell,” helped drive the company’s decision to include the Pulitzer Prize winning Driving Miss Daisy and Godspell, a musical that celebrates love and community, in its 2021 season. Academy participants will be treated to scenes from all three of these productions, which Cumberland County Playhouse’s producing director Bryce McDonald will introduce and members of the company will perform. After the performances, McDonald and artistic director Britt Hancock will hold a question-and-answer session.

The Cumberland County Playhouse is the only major non-profit professional performing arts resource in rural Tennessee and one of the ten largest professional theatres in rural America. It serves more than eighty thousand visitors every year and has two indoor stages, one outdoor stage, theatre for young audience productions, a comprehensive education program, and a concert series. The Cumberland County Playhouse provides arts opportunities to a vast region that is under-served by other arts resources, including rural East and Middle Tennessee, North Georgia, Northern Alabama, Southern Kentucky, and metropolitan Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville.

The appearance of Cumberland County Playhouse is made possible by a generous gift from Pat and Thane Smith.