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If America Sings, Will Anyone Listen?

Patricia Racette, sopranoThe folks at Vocal Arts Society have devoted many years of intense work and lots of generously donated money to bringing the world's best singers to Washington to present song recitals. It is a genre of performance that may not be glamorous and may not draw huge crowds, but to those who love and appreciate fine singing, their concert series is a regular delight. As it approaches its 20th season, VAS has undertaken the sponsorship and organization of a major festival, America Sings in the Nation's Capital, devoted to the championing of American song. Beginning this Friday at the Library of Congress, with a concert of American music by Tapestry and Friends (February 19, 8 pm), a schedule burgeoning with concerts has been compiled, consisting of some recitals hosted by VAS and many other concerts by associated presenters.

The best part of the concept is that many of these concerts, like that first one at the Library of Congress, are free, including the other events this weekend, a recital by soprano Brooke Evers at Westmoreland United Church of Christ (February 20, 7 pm) and an intriguing recital of music by Washington-based composers performed by Washington's own character tenor Robert Baker at the Phillips Collection (February 21, 4 pm -- well, free with the price of admission to the museum). The marquee event is a Festival Showcase in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (April 10, 2 pm). It will be led by American soprano Patricia Racette (pictured at right), whom you may remember, among other things, as the knockout Jenůfa with Washington National Opera a couple years ago.

Other major events that are part of the festival include the recital by Gerald Finley (March 17, 7:30 pm) at the Austrian Embassy (program yet to be announced, but hopefully to feature some Ives), the VAS recital by Patricia Racette (April 9, 7:30 pm) at the Austrian Embassy, the recital by Anthony Dean Griffey (May 5, 7:30 pm) at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, and the recital by American soprano Christine Brewer (March 7, 7:30 pm), also in the Terrace Theater (admittedly more for the Gluck, Marx, and Strauss songs than the American ones). Also, John Adams will conduct his own setting of the poetry of Walt Whitman, The Wound-Dresser, with Eric Owens and the National Symphony Orchestra (May 13 to 15).

True, much of the calendar is padded with the run of the recent musical Light in the Piazza, which we do not recommend, and a revue of Duke Ellington tunes (Sophisticated Ladies, which looks interesting) -- both at Arena Stage -- and the revival of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at Washington National Opera, which we do recommend. Even so, everyone who thinks that not enough American music is performed on classical music programs and those who are curious to hear more should start marking your calendars now.

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