by Michael Caruso

For those of us who follow the local performing arts scene, we often — mistakenly — think that Philadelphia’s only performing arts center is the one located at Broad & Spruce Streets in Center City. And yet, there’s another performing arts center in the city that predates the Kimmel Center by three decades.

Located at 3680 Walnut St. in West Philadelphia, next door to the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1971. It boasts three theaters: the imposing 960-seat Zellerbach, the more intimate 211-seat Harold Prince and the pocket-sized 120-seat Bruce Montgomery. Its 2017-18 season, dubbed “Annenberg Center Live,” ranges in style from a survey of all of Beethoven’s string quartets by the Daedalus Quartet to the Annenberg debuts of both Ballet X and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

The moving force behind the Annenberg Center’s exciting season is Christopher Gruits, its recently named executive and artistic director. Gruits received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the former vice president and executive producer of presentations at the Interlochen (Michigan) Center for the Arts and the former director of e-strategy at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He is also a newly minted resident of East Falls.

“My wife and I wanted a home in a community with lots of trees,” he told me. “We first looked at Chestnut Hill, but we chose East Falls because it was a shorter commute to West Philadelphia.”

Gruits explained that he was drawn to the position at the Annenberg Center because it brings together arts and culture on the one hand within the larger setting of an Ivy League education at Penn on the other hand. The impetus behind his hiring was a $15 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from Keith and Katherine Sachs of Rydal to establish the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation with its hub at the Annenberg Center.

“It’s the perfect time for a new and different look at including the arts and culture within the context of students’ education,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit for the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts since we’re already located right next to the Annenberg School for Communication. The Annenberg Center is Philadelphia’s “second” big venue for performances. And it’s especially exciting considering the incredible development here in the University City section of West Philadelphia, just across the river from Center City.”

Gruits spoke of the many connections he forged with national and internationally acclaimed performers and ensembles when he worked at Carnegie Hall — and his intention to bring many of them to Philadelphia. “Dance is back in a big way,” he exclaimed. “And ensembles that haven’t performed here in 15 years are also returning. We’ll be presenting scores of world and local premieres.

“There are countless individual artists and ensembles that play New York City and then play D.C. and simply skip over Philadelphia because there’s not a venue suitable to present them. Now there will be. Dance, jazz, world music, classical music — we’ll be offering all of them. We’ll be going beyond reaching out to students and getting them interested in studying the arts and culture to inviting the entire community to our campus for what I think of as a uniquely American style of the performing arts.”

Joining Ballet X for the 2017-18 season will be Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Raphael Xavier, L.A. Dance Project, DanzAbierta, Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble and the American Musical Film Series. Mark Morris will be the Annenberg Center’s artist-in-residence. The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia will be the Center’s orchestra-in-residence and is scheduled to present three concerts.

The Cuba Festival includes performances by the Pedrito Martinez Group, the Alfredo Rodriguez Trio, Dayme Arocena, the Chucho Valdes Trio, and Jazz Epistles. Theatrical events include “A Period of Animate Existence” by the Pig Iron Theatre Company, Haruki Murakami’s “Sleep,” and “Sancho: an Act of Remembrance.” The holidays will be marked by “Irish Christmas in America” and “Canadian Brass Christmas.” Even the Peking Acrobats will give two performances.

Launching the roster will be the Daedalus Quartet playing Beethoven’s String Quartets Nos. 4, 16 and 9 Sunday, Sept. 10, 3 p.m., in the Harold Prince Theater. For ticket information and listings of the entire 2017-18 season at the Annenberg Center, call 215-898-3900 or visit

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