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Washington's Season to Come: 2013-2014

Here in Washington, there is relatively little to hear in the sleepy month of August, and one's ears start to think ahead to the fall. This city offers a lot of high-quality music, more than most people can afford to hear. What are the performances that you should mark on your calendar now, the ones you do not want to miss? Here are my picks for the Top 25 events in classical music in the season to come. As always, it was a difficult mark to keep to, so watch for our Classical Music Agenda (with ten top picks for each month) throughout the year for many more worthy choices.

Richard Wagner, whose 200th birthday is being commemorated this year, will get his due from the Kennedy Center's two major institutions. Washington National Opera, while still working up to its first Ring cycle, will open the fall season with Tristan und Isolde (September 15 to 27). The cast will be headlined by soprano Deborah Voigt, tenor Ian Storey, and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop, but the major draw will be the company's music director, Philippe Auguin, at the podium.

The National Symphony Orchestra joins the act a month later, when Christoph Eschenbach conducts a concert performance of Act III of Parsifal (October 10 to 12). This features tenor Nikolai Schukoff as Parsifal, baritone Thomas Hampson as Amfortas, and bass Yuri Vorobiev as Gurnemanz, backed up by the Washington Chorus.

Les Violons du Roy, the early music ensemble based in Quebec, is coming back to the area this season. We have enjoyed both of their last visits (in 2005 and 2012), and this time they will perform a concert with Stephanie Blythe (October 15) in the Music Center at Strathmore. Blythe, a voice to be reckoned with, will sing a Haydn cantata and some Handel arias, paired with orchestral suites by Bach and Telemann.

For the Benjamin Britten anniversary, also this year, Marin Alsop conducts one of the greatest sacred works of the 20th century, Britten's War Requiem, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (November 14 and 15 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall; November 16 at Strathmore). The soloists will be soprano Tamara Wilson, tenor Nicholas Phan, and baritone Ryan McKinny, with the University of Maryland Concert Choir and Peabody Children's Chorus.

We would hate to miss a recital by pianist Nelson Freire, and the next one he will give in the area is at Shriver Hall in Baltimore (November 17) -- finally making good on the recital he had to cancel two years ago, when he was replaced by André Watts. The program of music by Beethoven and Chopin (more details not yet announced) promises to show Freire in the best light. We have already named Freire "one of the finest and somewhat underrated pianists of our time," one who made his belated NSO debut only in 2012.

Armando Bayolo has put together a highly regarded new music series at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE, which we warmly recommend as a way to survey what is happening in some branches of contemporary music. In terms of the composers he champions, Bayolo and I are on different wavelengths, but when it comes to the chance to hear a complete performance of György Kurtág's Kafka Fragments (January 11), we see eye to eye. Violinist Martha Morrison and mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen will do the honors, followed by a newly commissioned film.

Opera Lafayette has the season covered in the category of obscure French opera you did not even know you wanted to hear but do. The Kennedy Center Terrace Theater will be the venue for French composer (and chess master) François-André Danican Philidor's Les Femmes Vengées (January 17), which was premiered in Paris in 1775, followed by performances in New York and Versailles. The company pairs this obscure work with the opera it likely influenced, Mozart's Così fan tutte.

Here at Ionarts, we always say yes to the Takács Quartet. We say yes twice when the Takács Quartet plays Bartók. So when the Takács Quartet plays all six of Bartók's string quartets, over the course of two evenings (January 21 and 22) in the Terrace Theater, we tell everyone we know YES.

Matthias Goerne returns for another Schubert song cycle with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano. After a psychologically disturbing Winterreise last year, they will perform Die schöne Müllerin (January 27) in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

The ballet highlight of the year looks to be Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, which will be presented by the Mariinsky Ballet (January 28 to February 2) in the Kennedy Center Opera House. No casting details have been announced yet.

We will be dedicating a large chunk of our winter reviewing schedule to the always excellent series of free concerts at the Library of Congress. We think your calendar needs to have marks for the Freiburger Barockorchester (February 4), one of the leading early music ensembles right now. Another Baroque event not to be missed will be a recital by Mitzi Meyerson (February 22), the harpsichordist known for her thoughtful and ultra-musical playing and her straight-talking candor. Balance those with something more contemporary, with a concert bringing together some champions of new music, the JACK Quartet and pianist Ursula Oppens (February 14).

If you, like me, missed the premiere of Jake Heggie's new opera Moby-Dick, it is coming in a staging at Washington National Opera (February 22 to March 8). The opera will star Carl Tanner (Ahab), Stephen Costello (Ishmael), and Matthew Worth (Starbuck).

Even better, we do not have to wait even a whole year since the last performance by Evgeny Kissin. The Russian pianist and Ionarts favorite performs a concert sponsored by Pro Musica Hebraica (February 24), an evening of Jewish poetry and music, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Focus on Bach's English Suites, when another harpsichordist we greatly admire, Jory Vinikour, plays half of them at the Phillips Collection (March 2). On the same day, make your way over to the National Gallery of Art, to hear the other half of them played on the piano by Peter Vinograde. A little birdie tells us that the price of regular tickets for the Phillips series is about to go up to $30 this season, a shame for what used to be a free concert series, but it is still quite a deal. The NGA series, of course, remains free, one of the great boons of life in the Federal city.

Right on schedule after his most recent recital, in 2012, pianist Murray Perahia returns to Washington (March 4). Well, to Maryland anyway, when Washington Performing Arts Society presents him again in the Music Center at Strathmore. The program has not been announced yet.

The composer anniversaries continue unabated in 2014, with Richard Strauss (150) commemorated by the National Symphony Orchestra in a concert performance of Der Rosenkavalier (March 8). Christoph Eschenbach leads a cast including Renée Fleming, Sarah Connolly, Marisol Montalvo, Franz Hawlata, Adrian Eröd, Steve Davislim, and the Washington Chorus. It is too much to hope for Die Frau ohne Schatten or Capriccio or Daphne or Die ägyptische Helena, but there will also be excerpts from Elektra and Salome later in the month (March 20 to 22).

Another chance to hear the lovely and powerhouse-voiced Tamara Wilson, when she stars in Verdi's Il Corsaro with the Washington Concert Opera (March 9), at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, joined by tenor Michael Fabiano and soprano Nicole Cabell.

The fabulous spring at the Library of Congress continues with a concert by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (April 5), which is probably the best early music ensemble currently playing, returning to Washington for the first time since 2005.

The most specialized niche of specialized niches in the specialized niche of classical music is the vocal recital. The best purveyor of this type of performance, Vocal Arts D.C., has another fine season on offer, headlined by a recital with countertenor Iestyn Davies (April 8), who will sing a program of Elizabethan ballads and other music with lutenist Thomas Dunford at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

The Bang on a Can All-Stars headline a Louis Andriessen Festival (April 11), sure to be full of delights, with the local premiere of Andriessen's Life, again on the new music series at the Atlas Center on H Street NE.

You will not want to miss Osmo Vänskä's return to the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra, in Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, Sibelius's Symphony No. 3, and Aho's Clarinet Concerto, with NSO debut of Martin Fröst as soloist (April 24 and 26) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

At least one more trip to Charm City is in order for the recital by Yevgeny Sudbin (May 3), at Baltimore's Hodson Hall. Scriabin is on the program.

Speaking of pianists we want to hear live, our picks conclude with the recital by recital by Martin Helmchen (May 10) presented by Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The program combines music by Bach and Schubert with what is shaping up as Helmchen's specialty, Schubert (Wanderer-Fantasie).

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