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Classical Music Agenda: February 2012

Here they are, our monthly picks, no more than ten, for the best concerts to hear in the Washington area in the month to come. The complete calendar will run through the sidebar, or you can follow the link at the bottom of this post for a complete listing.

For your song recital needs this month, the best of the best will be mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, in recital with pianist Malcolm Martineau. Presented by Washington Performing Arts Society, the plain-spoken, golden-voiced Texan will sing a varied program of songs by Purcell, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Duparc, Wolf, Poulenc, and (you can't win 'em all) Sondheim. Her last recital in the area, in 2007, was the basis of her excellent French song recital disc, with none other than Malcolm Martineau at the piano. February 4, 3 pm, in the the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Tickets: $25 to $65.

If you like your music choral, preferably from before 1600, mark your calendar for the return visit of Nordic Voices, the fine a cappella vocal ensemble from Norway. Last heard in Washington in 2010, the group comes to the Dumbarton Concerts series this month with its Lamentations program, settings of the hyper-expressive book of the Bible by Victoria, Palestrina, Robert White, Gesualdo, and others. February 11, 8 pm, in the historic Dumbarton Church in Georgetown. Tickets: $33.

We have been very impressed by the Virginia Opera's season so far, with a slightly campy but gutsy Aida in October and a grimy, modern-day Hansel and Gretel in December. So, we recommend trying out the company's even riskier staging of a relatively new opera by Philip Glass, Orphée -- if nothing else, a good opportunity to celebrate the composer's 75th birthday this year. Young singers Matthew Worth, Sara Jakubiak, and Heather Buck lead the cast, under the baton of Steven Jarvi and in a production directed by Sam Helfrich. The production plays in Norfolk and Richmond, before coming to the GMU Center for the Arts in Fairfax, on February 10 and 12. Tickets: $44 to $86.

Some people do not like the opera productions of British director Jonathan Miller, but his critically praised, updated staging of Mozart's Così fan tutte, created for Covent Garden, is coming to Washington National Opera this month. Miller will reportedly be adapting the production to set it specifically in Washington, D.C. Musically, you are in good hands with Philippe Auguin at the podium, and a cast that includes Elizabeth Futral, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, William Shimell, and Christine Brandes. February 25 to March 15, Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets: $25 to $300.

Washington Performing Arts Society has found another regular in pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (shown at right, with fish -- anyone who enjoys fishing is OK in my book), who returns to Washington this month. After an excellent 2008 recital and a less successful 2009 multimedia recital, the Norwegian pianist is bringing an odd assortment of Haydn, Debussy, Bartók, and Chopin. February 12, 7 pm, Music Center at Strathmore. Tickets: $23 to $80.

One could celebrate the John Cage Centenary -- he was born on September 5, 1912 -- by not listening to John Cage, say for a period of 4'33". For a good chance to hear one of the composer's best -- and actually tolerable -- pieces, the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano will be the focus of a recital by Adam Tendler, the latest musician invited by the Mobtown Modern series in Baltimore. Students from the Sound Art program at MICA will sample the concert and create remixes of the performance for post-concert listening. February 14, 8 pm, 2640 Space, Baltimore. Tickets: $10. (Ionarts is not responsible for any relationships ruined by taking your date to this event on Valentine's Day.)

Any visit by German violinist Julia Fischer is going to make our cut, even though the venue chosen by Washington Performing Arts Society this month is not ideal. With pianist Milana Chernyavska she plays a program that is far from a blockbuster, with two sonatas by Beethoven and Saint-Saëns, plus one of the unaccompanied sonatas by Ysaÿe, no. 1 to compare with the no. 3 played by Joshua Bell last week. February 18, 8 pm, Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. Tickets: $40.

It will be hard to choose between Fischer's recital and the Leipzig String Quartet, playing the same evening, albeit much farther afield. Not sure what they will play yet, but the chance to hear them in the intimate acoustic of the home auditorium built by Lorin Maazel at his house in Rappahannock County, the Châteauville Foundation, will be worth the drive to Castleton Farms, Va. February 18, 7 pm. Tickets: $45.

Even better, the Leipzig String Quartet will play a free concert here in town, on the Concordia D.C. series at the United Church (1920 G St. NW) on Valentine's Day (February 14, 7:30 pm).

Speaking of Lorin Maazel, the American conductor has been on a roll in local appearances recently. He will be at the podium for the Leap Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, an orchestra that used to come to Washington quite regularly and now returns, thanks to WPAS, after a long absence. To go with two Mozart chestnuts, try Sibelius's seventh symphony and Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier Suite on for size -- the must-hear event of the month. February 29, 8 pm, Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Tickets: $65 to $250.

We end this list with the world premiere performance of Fragile, a collaboration between the experimental dance group from Japan, Eiko and Koma, and the Kronos Quartet -- just because it is always good to include something of which one has absolutely no idea what to expect. The work is a multimedia "happening" that occurs over two consecutive evenings, sort of like a museum installation. The audience can stay for all of the eight hours, experiencing a range of performances (some dance, some music, some dance and music), or for only part of it. This is not for the whole family, as there will be nudity, but the performances are free, so you will waste only your time if you don't like it. February 22 and 23, 5 to 9 pm, Clarice Smith Center. Tickets: Free.

See the full calendar for the month of February.

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