By Megan O’Brien, deputy inside editor
In a city famous for its annual marathon, baseball team and Revolutionary history, the annual Celebrity Series establishes Boston as an international artistic beacon.
The Celebrity Series, an organization that brings performing artists to Boston, launched its 2015-2016 series this week, shepherding in a medley of musical, dance and theater performances through mid-May.
“The mission is to bring in artists who inspire and enrich the community,” Gary Dunning, president and executive director of the Celebrity Series, said. “That’s part of a larger vision statement for greater Boston where performing arts are a lifelong, shared and valued experience. I want to present artists that you would otherwise have to travel to see perform.”
Dance companies, composers, vocalists and instrumentalists all feature on the bill. The most highly-anticipated act this year is Yo Yo Ma, cello prodigy, who is billed to perform on Nov. 17 at Symphony Hall.
Planning for each season begins two to three years in advance, though communication with some acts starts as far as four to five years ahead of time, Dunning said.
Factors ranging from technical skill to a prospective act’s originality are important criteria to Dunning, but other circumstances, like the last time the performer appeared in Boston, play into selecting who makes it onto the Celebrity Series calendar as well.
“It’s a combination of availability, venue [and] does the artist meet criteria?” Dunning said. “Even when we bring in young artists, I want to know the same thing – are they mature enough that they’ve developed their own voice to their music?”
Finding a voice is also the subject of Celebrity Series veteran Rob Kapilow’s What Makes it Great? program, premiering at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on Nov. 6.
Kapilow dissects symphony compositions with musicians playing selected sections at the end. He has likened the program to visiting a museum with an art expert or watching a Patriots game on instant replay. Some compositions that have been analyzed range from the styles of Mozart to the jazz of Duke Ellington.
“You take a small amount of music, you get inside it, plug musical examples, get the audience to interact and then you perform the piece,” Kapilow said.
He has performed nearly 40 of these programs for the Celebrity Series in the last 18 years.
“The Celebrity Series is a fantastic audience. People have already heard all this music and have exposure to it, so their [ear] is pretty fantastic,” Kapilow said. “To have great music, there must be great listeners.”
The Celebrity Series also showcases local artists, like jazz trio Children of the Light. The group’s pianist, Danilo Pérez, serves as the artistic director of the Global Jazz Institute at the Berklee College of Music.
“We’re really striving to bring light into everything, inside and outside of the bandstand,” Pérez said. “We hope what we’re doing inspires [the audience] to be a positive force in the world. We’re like [the Bat Signal]. When there are a lot of problems in the world, that’s when we come out.”
In addition to the main program, the Celebrity Series organizes community and educational events through an initiative called Arts for All! Dunning said the community-based programming reflects the range of artists presented during the regular series and introduces people to the boons of live performance. The programs reach neighborhoods without access to the performing arts, Dunning said.
One act on the initiative’s schedule is Sol y Canto, a Pan-Latin acoustic ensemble set to give a culinary-themed multimedia performance with the Boston Public Quartet at Northeastern’s Fenway Center on Nov. 15.
Brian Amador, member of the Latin sextet, has performed on both the main and community stages for the Celebrity Series and said he sees no difference between the two, as both unite him with audiences full of eager ears.
“I think the arts speak to all Bostonians, no matter their background. The arts are for everybody,” Dunning said. “Not everyone can be a world class artist, but everyone can benefit from them.”
Photo courtesy Celebrity Series of Boston