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Washington Season Preview, 2008-2009

Jens Laurson, writing for WETA back in June, published a snapshot of What Not to Miss in the first half of the upcoming classical music season. Looking ahead at the entire 2008/09 season, here are the most striking concerts -- mark your calendars, and for many of them, start looking into buying your tickets sooner rather than later, to avoid seeing that SOLD OUT sign.

The familiar roster of star pianists return to Washington this season, and no one who loves the piano will want to miss András Schiff playing part of his Beethoven cycle (October 10), Maurizio Pollini (October 29), Evgeny Kissin playing lots of Chopin (March 1), or Krystian Zimerman returning to the U.S. after the exit of the Bush administration (April 8). Perhaps less high on the star wattage charts but well worth a listen, too, are Yevgeny Sudbin (January 24), Simone Dinnerstein (February 7), Olga Kern (March 22), Richard Goode (March 29), and Louis Lortie playing the complete Chopin etudes (May 2).

Other noteworthy recitals on the WPAS schedule come from violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Camerata Salzburg (October 11), violinist Vadim Repin and pianist Nikolai Lugansky (November 15), the Capuçon brothers with Nicolas Angelich (November 21), cellist Daniel Müller-Schott with pianist Angela Hewitt (December 15), and Frederica von Stade and Samuel Ramey (March 25).

As for visiting orchestras, put us down for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with Vladimir Jurowski and Leon Fleisher (February 26), the London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev and Alexei Volodin (!) (March 28), and Gustavo Dudamel conducting The Rite of Spring with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (April 6).

available at Amazon
Terezín | Theresienstadt, A. S. von Otter, B. Forsberg, D. Hope

(released March 25, 2008)
Deutsche Grammophon 477 6546
The main events of the VAS season are the recital by Anne Sofie von Otter, Daniel Hope, and Bengt Forsberg (April 30), with music from their devastating Terezín CD, followed closely by Magdalena Kožená (May 6). Additional recitals worth noting are the New York Festival of Song recital, led by Steven Blier, with two excellent young singers, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey and tenor Joseph Kaiser (November 14), soprano Susanna Phillips (March 26), the return of Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson (April 17), and Teddy Tahu Rhodes (May 12).

Full schedules are still being completed, but at the time of this writing, there are a few significant events at the Kennedy Center, including the second half of the Shostakovich cycle by the Emerson Quartet (November 5 and 6). Also, Opera Lafayette will give the modern premiere of Monsigny's Le Deserteur (January 29), and the Hilliard Ensemble returns to Washington (February 12). The Music Center at Strathmore will host the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with violinist Julia Fischer (February 24). Dumbarton Oaks will bring one of the nation's actual premier early music ensembles, the Boston Camerata, to its gorgeous Music Room (December 7 and 8).

There is contemporary music on the schedule at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park: the Kronos Quartet will perform Crumb's Black Angels (October 30), the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra will give a concert of modern Estonian music (November 9), and those crazy New York radicals will give one of their Bang on a Can Marathons, with Terry Riley (March 29, 3-9 pm). Also, cellist Steven Isserlis will play a recital (March 13).

Standing out from the many standard and frankly boring choral masterpieces being performed this season, Cathedral Choral Society will perform Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd (March 8) and City Choir of Washington will perform Handel's Israel in Egypt (November 22) and a welcome Lord Nelson Mass by Haydn (April 19).

The NSO begins its first rudderless season after the departure of Leonard Slatkin. There will be some fine programs from Principal Conductor Iván Fischer, and some interesting guest soloists, but more than a few hodge-podge programs that one could easily skip. Among the more interesting soloists are pianist Hélène Grimaud playing Beethoven's 4th piano concerto (October 2 to 4), cellist Steven Isserlis (October 23 to 25), pianist Yundi Li (January 22 to 24), violinist Leila Josefowicz playing a new concerto by Oliver Knussen (May 7 to 9), and soprano Karita Mattila (June 25 to 27).

Mark as particularly worthy the joint appearance of Leif Ove Andsnes and Ivan Volkov (January 15 to 17). Yes, Andsnes will play the Rachmaninov 3rd piano concerto, but Volkov will also conduct rarely heard works by Stravinsky and Crumb. Andre Previn and Anne-Sophie Mutter will give a joint concert (January 31), Charles Dutoit and pianist Yuja Wang will team up on the Prokofiev 2nd piano concerto and Stravinsky's Firebird (February 19 to 21), David Zinman will take the podium -- we could only wish permanently -- for some Brahms, Webern, and Schoenberg (April 23 to 25), and Helmuth Rilling will lead a performance of Haydn's Creation (April 30 to May 2).

The BSO's first season under Marin Alsop was an inspiring success, although it was due just as much to some exciting guest conductors as to Alsop. By comparison, her second season looks stale and oddly conventional, but at least the musicians' union has agreed to a new three-year contract, so the ensemble's future is secure for the moment. After the highly anticipated performances of Leonard Bernstein's psychedelic Mass (at the Meyerhoff, October 16 to 18, and the Kennedy Center on October 26), we look forward to the return of Yuri Temirkanov with Vadim Repin (March 26 to 29), a performance of Mahler's 6th symphony with Sasha Cooke (April 3 to 5), Nelson Freire playing the Beethoven 4th piano concerto, to compare with Hélène Grimaud (May 1 to 3), and Hilary Hahn premiering Jennifer Higdon's new violin concerto (June 4 to 7).

What about the smaller venues? The Corcoran's ticket prices can be steep, but their hall offers one of the best acoustics in the city. We look forward to a recital by pioneering pianist Benoît Delbecq (September 17), as well as chamber music concerts by Ionarts favorites, the Takács Quartet (November 9), the Auryn Quartet (February 8), and the Jupiter Quartet with violist Roger Tapping and cellist Natasha Brofsky (May 3).

Speaking of fine acoustics, the free concert series at the LoC is focused largely on contemporary music this season: pianist Christopher Taylor will play a Messiaen Centennial Concert (October 25), the Takács Quartet will partner with Muzsikás (November 14), there will be tributes to Charles Wuorinen (December 5) and Elliott Carter (December 11 and 12). Most importantly, György and Márta Kurtág will collaborate with the Keller String Quartet in a Hommage à Bartók (February 7). Of course, there will be some good string quartets, including the Belcea Quartet (March 5) and Quatuor Mosaïques (April 18). Continuing a disappointing trend from last season, there is only one major historically informed performance ensemble this season, Collegium Vocale Gent with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout (October 17).

Alexandre Tharaud, pianist
For our Baroque music fix, the French Embassy will host Baroque violinist Patrick Bismuth and his ensemble La Tempesta (October 9), as well as Les Paladins led by Jérôme Correas (November 12). Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras will perform with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia (October 28), and as promised by Roland Celette, pianist Alexandre Tharaud will finally give a recital (October 24). Also, Paavali Jumppanen will ring in the Messiaen Year with a rendition of Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus (December 16).

The list of pianists to hear is made longer at the city's embassies, with Till Fellner appearing at the Austrian Embassy (March 4 -- also reportedly at the National Gallery of Art on December 7), Benjamin Moser at the German Embassy (April 17), and Christopher Hinterhuber celebrating Haydn's 200th birthday at the Austrian Embassy (May 15). Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke will also give a recital at the Austrian Embassy (May 4).

The truly devoted listener thinks nothing of the drive to Baltimore, especially for the excellent series at Johns Hopkins' Shriver Hall. Several pianists will join forces for Leon Fleisher 80th Birthday Celebration (October 5). Other noteworthy performances include contralto Ewa Podleś (October 19), harpischordist Richard Egarr playing the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in a free concert at the Baltimore Museum of Art (November 5), pianists Ingrid Fliter (January 18) and Radu Lupu (February 18), tenor Ian Bostridge (April 5), and flutist Emmanuel Pahud with harpischordist Trevor Pinnock (May 3).

Renée Fleming, National Symphony Orchestra Season Opening Ball Concert, September 16, 2007, photo by Scott Suchman
Renée Fleming, National Symphony Orchestra Season Opening Ball Concert, September 16, 2007, photo by Scott Suchman
Most worthy of notice from Washington National Opera this season is Renée Fleming making her company debut singing Lucrezia Borgia (November 1 to 17), as well as the Santa Fe Opera production of Peter Grimes with Patricia Racette (March 21 to April 4), and the next installment of Francesca Zambello's American Ring cycle, Siegfried (May 2 to 17).

Happily, the little opera companies in the area will offer some more exciting fare outside of Mozart-to-Puccini war horse territory. Baltimore's Opera Vivente will mount a production of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea (March 6 to 14), and the feisty American Opera Theater will present Philip Glass's Hydrogen Jukebox (January 2009). Peabody Chamber Opera will perform one of my favorites, Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen (November 20 to 23), as well as the premiere of Melissa Shiflett's opera on the story of Freud's patient Dora (April 23 to 26). Not to be outdone, Maryland Opera Studio will present another of my favorites, Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream (November 20 to 24), and Handel's Xerxes (April 18 to 26). Tickets to any of these much more interesting operas will cost far less than most seats at Washington National Opera.

NOT MENTIONED (partial list):

George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
  • Kirov Orchestra, with pianist Alexei Volodin (November 14, 8 pm)
  • Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman, piano (November 23, 4 pm)
  • Academy of Ancient Music, Brandenburg Concertos (March 22, 4 pm)
  • National Philharmonic of Russia, with pianist Denis Matsuev (April 24, 8 pm)
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington
  • Jerusalem String Quartet (April 26, 7:30 pm)


Garth Trinkl said...

"Continuing a disappointing trend from last season, there is only one major historically informed performance ensemble this season, Collegium Vocale Gent with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout (October 17)."

Well, at least the Quatour Mosaiques, the Geringas Baryton Trio, and Ludwig Semerjian are offering _minor_ historically informed performances this coming season (and jazz concerts seem to be down, despite 'anomalies' such as the Frank Zappa mini-film festival to complement the Rosanne Cash and Mark O'Connor post-Presidential Election euphoria event.)

And do you know for a fact that the Collegium Vocale Gent will not be performing their program of works by the late James Tenney, Steve Reich, and selections from Philip Glass's "Einstein on the Beach?"

Charles T. Downey said...

Well, Garth, I made the assumption since Kristian Bezuidenhout was announced as playing the fortepiano with them. It's still an OK season at the LoC, but I still have the definite impression that this year is not stacking up to my memories of past seasons there.

Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks, Charles.

Actually, I was looking at the wrong web page, and I only later saw that the Collegium Vocale Gent and Kristian Bezuidenhout (with whom I am unfamiliar) will be playing 'The Haydn Songbook' (with piano) in Washington. The James Tenney, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass 'Einstein On the Beach' selections program is a Collegium Vocale Gent American new classical music tribute a fortnight earlier, and only in Belgium.

While I probably would not have picked the Haydn Songbook evening given the strong alternatives (it sounds more like a National Gallery program than a LOC program, to me), I will need to remain open-minded about historically informed practice programming.

Otherwise, given the important Elliot Carter and Olivier Messiaen autumn tributes, and without knowing the programming details for the other announced ensembles, the season looks to me somewhat more promising than the mixed and compromised programming of the past half-decade or so (several evenings of which did, however, have major European and Israeli Embassy support for programming of Baroque, Classic/Romantic, and some contemporary music).