To some, hearing Frederica von Stade sing or seeing Spaulding Gray run through the avant-garde epic of his life is an education in itself.
But the organizers of the Kansas University Concert, Chamber Music and New Directions series won't stop there. They want the arts to reach out and touch people, even if their subscribers don't know a lot about the performance to begin with.
As in past seasons, the 1991-92 series will involve educational activities as well as a host of performances.
"As we plan for the future, the thing that's most important in creating a cultural environment is education," said Jacqueline Davis, the director of the three series. "When people walk into an event, they should know enough to have a good experience. They may not like it, but they at least can make an informed decision on its merits.''
THOSE educational efforts will include workshops and discussion panels, especially involving the performers in the New Directions Series. This season will include a piece co-commissioned by the series as well as a Native American flutist, an on-the-edge string quartet and you heard right the Bulgarian State Female Vocal Choir.
The Concert Series opens Sept. 28 with a concert featuring mezzo-soprano von Stade, a fixture with the world's great opera companies, and Jerry Hadley, a world-class tenor who won a Grammy Award in 1989 for his recording of Verdi's "Requiem.''
"Von Stade is not touring," said Davis, who announced the new season Friday. "She's under contract to perform in the fall with the Chicago Lyric Opera, so this is an easy run-out for her. I have been trying to get a performance with her for about three years.''
THE PAIR appeared on a recent recording of Jerome Kern's "Showboat.'' By coincidence, both von Stade and Hadley became available for the September date along with enough rehearsal time to prepare for the event, Davis said.
"They're excited about working together again," she said.
Closing out the season is a return engagement for the Garth Fagan Dance company, scheduled to appear April 8. The group will offer workshops in Lawrence as well as in other Kansas communities that don't have an extensive dance program.
Because of its ability to communicate with people outside dance, the Fagan company fits in well with Davis' education goals.
"My experience with that group is that the performers are trained to a way of life," she said. "Not only are they trained as dancers, but they're able to talk about their work with adults and children. It's a rare talent in artists, and we're going to use it here.''
OTHER performances in the Concert Series include the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico on Oct. 15, the Northern Sinfonia chamber orchestra on Jan. 24, violinist Joshua Bell on Feb. 7 and the New York City Opera National Company in "Tosca" on March 2. All the performances except Bell's will be in Hoch Auditorium; Bell will play in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.
In the New Directions Series, Spalding Gray will be appearing on two dates, Feb. 24 and 25, at Liberty Hall. A veteran actor of the Wooster Group, an avant-garde, deconstructionist theater collective that also included Willem DaFoe and Ron Vawter, Gray has developed a series of monologues about his life.
His most famous monologue, "Swimming to Cambodia," based on his experiences as a performer on the set of "The Killing Fields," was published in book form and filmed by director Jonathan Demme.
ON ONE night, Davis said, Gray is scheduled to perform "Monster in the Box," a monologue about an unfinished book, which he presented at the Serious Fun Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. On the second night, he could do anything from an older monologue to a discussion with the audience.
"He conjures up an event and he makes you think you're there," Davis said. "He has tremendous rapport with the audience.''
Again as part of the educational aspects of the New Directions Series, Gray's significant other, Renee Shafransky, is scheduled to lead writing workshops for students.
On Nov. 1 and 2, Liz Lerman and the Dance Exchange will present "The Good Jew?" a new work co-commissioned by Kansas University along with the Pittsburgh Dance Group, the Washington, D.C., Performing Arts Society and the Boston Dance Umbrella.
DAVIS SAID the work will examine the cultural roots of Judaism. Lerman will develop the piece through extensive advance work in the communities where it will be performed.
Rounding out the New Directions Series will be R. Carlos Nakai, a Native American flutist, on Sept. 19 at Haskell Auditorium, and the Bulgarian State Female Vocal Choir on March 19 in Hoch Auditorium. The Bulgarian choir offers a wide range of musical styles, and it's performed recently with the contemporary music quartet Kronos, which performed here in early 1990.
Another quartet noted for its contemporary take on music is the Turtle Island String Quartet, which is scheduled to perform Oct. 6 in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in the Chamber Music Series.
"I've heard them play a jazz transition, and their sound is very unusual for chamber music," Davis said. "I was very excited about the response.''
THE CHAMBER Music Series also includes the more traditional Cavani String Quartet on Sept. 15, Aequalis, a trio with percussion, on Nov. 12 and The Musicians of Swanne Alley, an early music ensemble, on April 2. All those performances will be in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.
Finally, the Concert Series will offer two special events: a return engagement of the Tulsa Ballet Theatre in "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 12 and the National Theatre of the Deaf's production of "Treasure Island" on Feb. 18. Again as part of the educational thrust of the series, Davis said, the Connecticut-based National Theatre will offer workshops for children and adults.
Season tickets are now on sale at the Murphy Hall Box Office.