Helen Mirren will take the celebrity spotlight at the concert part of next month’s Academy of Music 162nd Anniversary Concert and Ball, Academy leaders announced Wednesday.
The English actress — one of only two dozen actors to have won an Emmy, a Tony, and an Oscar — hasn’t worked out exactly what she will be doing with or alongside the Philadelphia Orchestra for the Jan. 26 fundraiser.
“We are pretty excited by Helen Mirren, who is one classy lady and multi-talented,” said Academy chairman Caroline B. “Cackie” Rogers. “She doesn’t sing or play the banjo,” said Rogers, referring to Steve Martin’s appearance last year. “I thought Steve Martin was amazing and Martin Short was terrific, but we have to keep switching it up.”
Mirren’s father, Vasily Petrovich Mironoff, played viola with the London Philharmonic, “and although she says she doesn’t have a musical bone in her body, she certainly grew up in that world,” Rogers said. “That means she understands that our orchestra is really something special.”
Mirren, 73, has performed with symphony orchestras before. She and Jeremy Irons recited extended excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2011 as Lorin Maazel conducted Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play with the Castleton Symphony Orchestra for the Castleton Festival in Strathmore, outside of Washington.
Her participation here will likely be more along the lines of Al Pacino’s at the 2015 iteration of the Academy bash, when he recited a monologue from Richard III while the orchestra played parts of the Walton score for the 1955 film. Mirren received an Academy Award and others for her title role in The Queen (2006), and has recently finished filming a four-part drama for HBO as the title character in Catherine the Great.
Previous guests for the Academy Anniversary Concert have included Sting, Billy Joel, and Paul Simon. The thinking behind those choices was to attract a somewhat younger crowd to the annual event, which has been held every year since the Academy’s centenary in 1957 — except in 2016, when it was snowed-out.
But orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will once again conduct the concert this year, “finds it a little bit easier if the guest artist is not necessarily a musician,” Rogers said. “That sounds counter-intuitive, but we want him and our musicians to be the focal point, and there have been instances where a performing musician comes in and brings their own band [to augment the orchestra], which sort of eclipses the orchestra, and that’s not what it’s all about.”
Proceeds from the event are split between the orchestra and restoration of the Academy of Music, which is ongoing. Beyond the money raised, the annual event is meant to bring attention to the building.
“We do earn money from the ball, but it’s also about the fact that we are in front of people’s faces so they don’t forget about the Academy,” Rogers said. “We need to up our game in terms of major gift solicitation to keep her sparkling and safe.”