At first, it didn't seem like this year's Festival of the Arts Boca lineup boasted the star power of previous years. But whatever luster the event seemingly lacked shines through on closer inspection. The more you dive into the festival -- which begins on Thursday at the Mizner Park Amphitheater -- the more you discover that it's arguably the organizers' edgiest accumulation of talent ever assembled. Here's a look at the schedule, whose mix of controversial young talent and Asian concert-hall staples constitutes more than initially meets the eye. To purchase tickets, call 561/368-8445 or visit

March 7, 2013: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicks off the festival on an upbeat note, performing the timeless blend of Dixieland and traditional New Orleans jazz that it has been playing for the past 50 years.

March 8: Hailing from Japan’s Sado Island, the taiko drummers in Kodo have brought their country’s percussive rhythms to international audiences for more than 30 years. In addition to the flagship drums, the group dances, sings and performs on traditional Japanese instruments.

March 9 (afternoon): Armenian-American writer David Ignatius is one of our national political treasures, having garnered numerous industry awards for his news coverage, foreign correspondence and columns. He's also an accomplished novelist whose books are imbued with an insider's knowledge of Beltway politics and the news business; one of them, "Body of Lies," was adapted into a successful Hollywood thriller.

March 9 (evening): Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, the festival’s music director, welcomes the Boca Raton Symphonia as well as provocative violinist Amadeus Leopold, a 25-year-old Korean-American phenom with the gender-bending looks of a Tim Burton protagonist and a style that merges classical music with performance art. This is my most anticipated event at the festival.

March 10 (afternoon): Hispanic-American writer Patricia Engel turned countless heads with the publication of her 2010 short-story collection “Vida,” which communicated her recurring narrator’s search for identity as a daughter of the Colombian diaspora. The book has won numerous accolades, and one reviewer compared reading it to admiring pop art by Lichtenstein. Check out on Friday for an interview with Engel.

March 10 (evening): Defying gravity since 1986, China’s Peking Acrobats are internationally renowned for their fusion of traditional instrumentation, special effects and feats of gymnastic wonder. Their productions showcase somersaulting, contortionism, balancing skills, juggling dexterity and other jaw-dropping carnival benchmarks.

March 11: With a beard as impressive as his prose is powerful, Thomas Keneally is one of Australia’s cultural treasures. A literary lion and a walking historical encyclopedia, the onetime Catholic deacon has penned 32 novels and 17 nonfiction tomes, including Schindler’s Ark, the story of Oskar Schindler that inspired an Academy Award-winning film adaptation by Steven Spielberg.

March 12: Arguably the biggest political newsmaker in the Festival lineup this year, retired General George W. Casey Jr. was the senior coalition commander in the Iraq War from 2004 to 2007, trying to save his country's face and rebuild a battered nation amid a deeply unpopular conflict. Undaunted, he later graduated to Army Chief of Staff, where his improvements were manifold. Serving under presidents Bush and Obama, he led an organization of more than one million people and helped streamline the army into a more agile defense force.

March 13: In what promises to engender the headiest discussion at the festival, Harvard professor extraordinaire Michael Sandel will discuss his political philosophy of communitarianism. He is best known for his college course “Justice,” one of the most highly attended courses at Harvard for the past two decades, and whose discussion-oriented format was broadcast by the BBC in 2011.

March 14: Virtuoso organist Cameron Carpenter has drawn praise and controversy in equal measure, both for his extraordinary, Grammy-nominated renditions of difficult etudes and for his endorsement of virtual/digital pipe organs. Describing his sexuality as “radically inclusive,” Cameron is also known for his flamboyant performance attire. He will perform with the Boca Symphonia under Kitsopoulos’ conduction.

March 15: Miami’s nationally recognized New World Symphony will perform alongside a returning favorite from last year’s festival: Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa. Known for her composer-specific “projects” celebrating the music of Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Beethoven, Lisitsa launched her career on social media, and her videos now have more than 49 million hits on YouTube.

March 16: Probably the biggest-name draw at the 2013 festival, Audra McDonald has one of the best voices of her generation and remains one of the brightest stars on Broadway and the opera circuit. As comfortable crooning hymns as she is Songbook favorites and contemporary musical numbers, McDonald has won five Tony Awards and two Grammys, in addition to starring on four seasons of ABC’s medical drama “Private Practice.”