BOOK IT DANNO: Dan Hirsch made a name for himself by bringing indie and international acts to the MFA. Last week, he was put in charge of music programming at ArtsEmerson.
The theater district's ArtsEmerson project keeps getting more and more interesting. First, Executive Director Rob Orchard announced a fall-winter program that includes a festival of Irish theater, a celebration of director Peter Brook, and F. Murray Abraham in The Merchant of Venice. Then last week, Orchard announced that he had recruited Dan Hirsch as director of music programs, a part-time position. Hirsch, a 32-year-old Boston-area native, made a name for himself transforming the Museum of Fine Arts' music programming from 2004 to 2008 by booking indie and international acts like Antony and the Johnsons, King Sunny Adé, Grizzly Bear, José González, and Joanna Newsom. His first show at ArtsEmerson's lavishly renovated 590-seat Paramount Theatre at Downtown Crossing will be indie acts Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu on October 10.
For the past two years, Hirsch has been similarly expanding the scope of the Cambridge-based WorldMusic/CRASHarts. When he made that move, Hirsch tells me over iced coffee at Central Square's 1369 Coffee House, he had been growing restless with the limitations of the MFA's Remis Auditorium and Calderwood Courtyard. At CRASHarts, he booked a variety of venues from the Brattle Theatre to the ICA and Berklee Performance Center. Now, he says, he's attracted to working as a presenter in a branded home venue. He was also enticed by Orchard's vision: presenting "international work drawn from around the world, work that blurs genres," as well as creating a "festival culture" that's rare in Boston in the areas of music and theatre.
Hirsch has the flexibility to book not only the Paramount, but also the ArtsEmerson Paramount Center's Black Box Theatre, and eventually the 1186-seat Cutler Majestic Theatre. But right now he's focused on the Paramount, with its potential for contemporary classical, jazz, and experimental rock. "Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu play in clubs but they also play in museums and performing-arts centers, festivals of all different kinds. There are aspects of both bands that get lost when they're playing in a rock club — the variety of textures, the complexity of the rhythms. So I think putting them in that kind of setting is showcasing something else about what they do."
Hirsch also hopes to initiate collaborations and give a home to commissioned works in a workshop setting. For an example, he points to a recent collaboration between David Byrne and Annie Clark, a/k/a St. Vincent, commissioned by the Bang on a Can ensemble Asphalt Orchestra. "To give those kinds of people space, which is a precious commodity — to have a stage and full sound system and to get to put stuff on for an audience before it's really premiered and get a reaction to it — that's a valuable thing to do."