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Classical Music Agenda (May 2012)

This is the last month with a full schedule of classical music performances for Washington, before the summer doldrums start to set in. For the summer, we will have a rundown of some of best festivals to travel to, but for now here are the ten most intriguing options for concerts to hear in the Washington area this month. For the complete schedule, follow the Calendar bar on the right side of the page.

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Rameau, Keyboard Suites, A. Hewitt

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Couperin, Keyboard Music, Vol. 1, A. Hewitt
If you have never heard of the music of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), it is no surprise. He was a successful Bohemian composer, but his music, like so much from the Baroque era, has been largely forgotten. This Saturday's performance of Zelenka's set of five Capriccios, by the Bach Sinfonia at Silver Spring's Cultural Arts Center (May 5, 8 pm), will be the first one heard in North America. Horn players R. J. Kelley and Alexandra Cook will do the honors on the solo parts. Tickets: $30.

This is the weekend for Baroque music, because Angela Hewitt will be performing in the area, at Baltimore's Shriver Hall (May 6, 5:30 pm). This is her first local concert since 2009, and she will be playing music of Rameau, Couperin, and Bach. Tickets: $38.

One of the best things that the Phillips Collection does is host a series of lectures and performances devoted to living composers. Next week, the museum has invited Dutch composer Michel van der Aa (b. 1970) to Washington: he will give an interactive talk about his theater works (May 9, 6 pm) and will also be present when members of the International Contemporary Ensemble perform some of his music (May 10, 6 pm). Tickets: $20.

For opera this month, our pick is the second performance of the Washington Concert Opera. It's not a rare opera or anything -- Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila (May 13, 6 pm) at Lisner Auditorium -- but we are looking forward to hearing Michelle DeYoung again. Tickets: $40 to $100.

The Debussy sesquicentennial is this year (born August 22, 1862), and the National Philharmonic is celebrating with the first-ever area performance of the composer's incidental music for the mystery play Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (May 19, 8 pm) in the Music Center at Strathmore. Tickets: $32 to $79.

In something much more traditional, we cannot pass up the chance to hear Bruckner's Te Deum, which will be given a relatively rare performance this month by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (May 24 and 25 in Baltimore, May 26 at Strathmore). Peter Oundjian conducts the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and it seems beyond cruel to the singers to pair the work with Beethoven's ninth symphony: fortunately, the Bruckner is scheduled first. Tickets: $34 to $98.

Speaking of voices we want to hear, bass-baritone Gidon Saks will give the final recital of the season for Vocal Arts D.C. -- May 30, 7:30 pm, in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Roger Vignoles will accompany a program of Handel, Shostakovich, Finzi, Musto, and Ibert. As shown in his turn as a venomous Hagen in Washington National Opera's concert performance of Götterdämmerung a couple years ago, Saks is a singer with a natural dramatic sense. Tickets: $45.

We have been quite pleased with the mini-tenure of Charles Dutoit, who has guided the Philadelphia Orchestra through a rocky period of leaderlessness and bankruptcy. Many listeners are excited for the new music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will take the reins this fall, but we are rather sad to see Dutoit go. We would not miss one more chance to hear him lead this fabled ensemble, when they come to the Music Center at Strathmore (May 11, 8 pm), presented by Washington Performing Arts Society. The program includes Shostakovich's fifth symphony, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and James Ehnes as soloist in Mendelssohn's ever-present violin concerto. Tickets: $40 to $105.

Another soloist we always want to hear, pianist Nelson Freire, makes his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra (May 17 to 19) at the Kennedy Center this month, playing the second Brahms piano concerto. Guest conductor Andreas Delfs will also lead a program of rarities, Haydn's Symphony No. 83 ("The Hen") and the second symphony by Kurt Weill. Tickets: $20 to $85.

Ballet with live music played by an orchestra rounds out our recommendations this month, with the visit of the Bolshoi Ballet (May 29 to June 3, in the Kennedy Center Opera House). They will perform the company's classic production of Coppélia (choreography by Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti, updated by Sergei Vikharev). The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra will play the gorgeous score by Léo Delibes, and Bolshoi star Nina Kaptsova will play the lead role, Swanilda, who figures out the mystery of the curious daughter of a toymaker (for only three of the scheduled performances). Tickets: $29 to $115.

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