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Washington Season Preview, 2015-2016

Donald Runnicles
Almost nothing is happening now as far as classical music in Washington. Fall is just around the corner, and with it more concerts than one person can ever attend. (Trust me: this comes from personal experience.) At the end of every summer, Ionarts offers you a season preview for the upcoming year: what are the twenty-five concerts we think everyone should most want to attend? It was an exceptionally tough selection this year, because on the first run through all the announcements, there were sixty-some performances that seemed unmissable. Here it is, though, whittled down to be extra-selective: so save the date and arrange your budget accordingly.

1. The National Symphony Orchestra opens its subscription season with a program of Mozart (the overture to Magic Flute), Elgar (Serenade for Strings and Enigma Variations), and Strauss (Four Last Songs). The primary reason is not soprano Olga Peretyatko as soloist in the Strauss, although she is a singer we want to hear, but because Donald Runnicles will be at the podium. He is a fine conductor, and his commitment as music director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra ends in 2016. The NSO, let us not forget, is looking for a successor to Christoph Eschenbach, and Runnicles might be a possibility, if experience wins out over youth (October 1 to 3).

2. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is one of the singers you want to hear right now, and she gives a recital for Vocal Arts D.C. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (October 15).

3. Pianist András Schiff is undertaking an interesting Last Sonatas cycle. Washington Performing Arts presents the second installment (October 26) and third installment (February 24) in the Music Center at Strathmore.

4. Any calendar year with two recitals by Evgeny Kissin is a good year for Ionarts. Washington Performing Arts brings the Russian pianist to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for a recital of music by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Albeniz, and Larregla (October 28).

5. Cellist Steven Isserlis plays on gut strings, not always to the best effect in later music. His recital with fortepianist Robert Levin, playing an all-Beethoven program, should be top-notch when presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (October 29).

6. Composer Meredith Monk has appeared in the Washington suburbs a couple of times in recent years. Any performance of hers is worth hearing, and her concert with her vocal ensemble at the Library of Congress will also be free (October 30).

7. The recordings and performances of Bach Collegium Japan are first-rate. They will present a free concert of music by Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel with soprano Joanne Lunn, at the Library of Congress (November 4).

Matthias Pintscher
8. Matthias Pintscher, another possibility for the NSO music director position, comes back to Washington with France's renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain for a free concert at the Library of Congress. They will perform the world premiere of a new work for violin and piano by composer Hannah Lash, Varèse's Octandre, Pintscher's Profiles of Light, Ligeti's Chamber Concerto for 13 instrumentalists, and Berg's Chamber Concerto for piano, violin, and 13 winds (November 13)

9. The first major event in the Washington National Opera season will be the premiere of Philip Glass's new version of Appomattox, at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the opera's juxtaposition of the surrender of the Confederacy with the Civil Rights Era is timely (November 14 to 22).

10. Jiří Bělohlávek also takes the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra this season, in a concert of Beethoven (a piano concerto with Igor Levit as soloist), Mozart (Symphony No. 38), and Martinů (sixth symphony). The esteemed Czech conductor's contract with the Czech Philharmonic currently goes through 2017, so the successor speculation could extend to him (November 19 to 21).

11. You do not want to miss the chance to hear Kristian Bezuidenhout, especially on the fortepiano. He will play music of Mozart and C.P.E. Bach on that instrument in his recital at the Phillips Collection, which celebrates its 75th anniversary with an exceptional season (November 29).

12. We loved Europa Galante's Il Diario di Chiara recording last year, consisting of music composed for and played by one of Vivaldi's star students at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. The group plays a concert version of the program, with Fabio Biondi as soloist, at Shriver Hall in Baltimore (January 17).

available at Amazon
Après un rêve, S. Piau, S. Manoff

(released on May 31, 2011)
Naïve V 5250 | 59'
13. French soprano Sandrine Piau has long been on my wish list for a Washington recital or guest appearance. The Phillips Collection has finally granted my wish with a recital of music by Britten, Chausson, Debussy, Poulenc, Strauss, and Wolf with pianist Susan Manoff (February 7).

14. The contemporary vocal group Roomful of Teeth and American Contemporary Music Ensemble perform at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, in a concert of music by Purcell, Gavin Bryars, and Caroline Shaw (including her Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita) presented by Washington Performing Arts (February 13)

15. Jordi Savall is an international phenomenon, beyond his work as performer and conductor. The renowned viola da gamba player gives a solo recital at the Phillips Collection, called “The Spirit of the Viol,” with music by Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, Marin Marais, Tobias Hume, and others (March 6).

16. Kent Nagano comes to town with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program pairs Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with the equally radical Jeux by Debussy. Daniil Trifonov will do something unusual, to be sure, with Prokofiev's third piano concerto (March 15)

17. Andreas Staier's recordings on various historical keyboard instruments are among my favorites. He will give a harpsichord recital at the Library of Congress, with music by d’Anglebert, Clérambault, Louis Couperin, Fischer, Froberger, and Muffat, preceded by his own pre-concert conversation, which will be well worth hearing. (March 19)

18. Local performances of the Venice Baroque Orchestra have always been memorable. The celebrated group returns to Washington with a concert at Dumbarton Oaks. Andrea Marcon leads from the harpsichord in music by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, George Frideric Handel, and Pietro Locatelli (April 10 and 11).

19. Ionarts favorite Mariss Jansons comes to Washington with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, presented by Washington Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program combines Korngold's violin concerto, with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist, and Mahler's fifth symphony (April 12).

Hugh Wolff
20. Hugh Wolff, one-time assistant conductor under Mstislav Rostropovich at the NSO, may be on the music director speculation list. A favorite guest conductor, he returns to lead the National Symphony Orchestra in a program of unexpected American music, including Barber's overture to The School for Scandal Ives's Symphony No. 2. Anne Akiko Meyers will also be the soloist in the new violin concerto by Mason Bates (April 14 and 16).

21. Michael Tilson Thomas returns to Washington with the San Francisco Symphony, presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program combines Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, the latter with Sasha Cooke and Simon O’Neill as soloists (April 16).

22. Ionarts regulars know that we will travel far and wide to hear the Takács Quartet. The beloved string quartet comes to the area twice this season, on the Fortas series at the Kennedy Center (April 20) and to Shriver Hall in Baltimore (November 15).

23. The major operatic event of the season is the first-ever complete performances of Wagner's Ring Cycle by the Washington National Opera. The third cycle, with Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, is probably the one to hear, but it is already almost sold out; Catherine Foster sings the role in the first and second cycles. Washington has already seen most of Francesca Zambello's staging, but don't let that stop you (April 30 to May 22).

Ana Caterina Antonacci
24. Ana Caterina Antonacci's last recital in Washington was a revelation. Vocal Arts D.C. brings the Italian soprano back for a recital in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, with music by Berlioz, Debussy, Respighi, Ravel, Poulenc, Duparc, Fauré, and Falla. On the same day, unfortunately, and too close together is the Washington Performing Arts recital by pianist Murray Perahia at Strathmore (May 1). We will probably choose La Antonacci.

25. Christoph Eschenbach is still music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, and he conducts Haydn's Symphony No. 104 ("London") and Schumann's Symphony No. 4, with Leila Josefowicz as soloist in the world premiere of Sean Shepherd's violin concerto (June 2 to 4).

To have a fair chance of selecting only twenty-five performances, dance had to be put in a completely separate category this year. There is a lot that we want to see and hear, beginning with Twyla Tharp's 50th anniversary, which will be celebrated in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. The program pairs the jazz choreography Yowzie with Preludes and Fugues, set to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, all to recorded music (November 11 to 14)

With live music, which is what we always prefer, will be American Ballet Theater's performance of Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty (January 27 to 31), the Mariinsky Ballet's Raymonda (February 23 to 28), the New York City Ballet's La Sylphide (March 1 to 6), and the Royal Swedish Ballet's performance of Mats Ek's Juliet and Romeo (June 1 to 4), all in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Finally, Mark Morris Dance Group will have live music for their performance at the GMU Center for the Arts, with choreographies to music of Bach, Debussy, Milhaud, and Richard Rodgers (February 19 and 20). As part of a major festival celebrating the Martha Graham Dance Company at the Library of Congress, the legendary American company performs three of their namesake's ballets commissioned by the Library, Appalachian Spring, Cave of the Heart, and an excerpt from Dark Meadow, plus a new ballet by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg, set to music by Irving Fine (April 1 and 2).

Just for good measure, you will want to see French actress Juliette Binoche in the new staging of Sophocles' Antigone, which will play at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater (October 22 to 25).


Anonymous said...

I would also add the concert version of Wagner's Rienzi from the National Philharmonic

Gary said...

Can you give us the list of 61? I'm curious what was left out. I rely a lot on your recommendations -- often it is the deciding factor when I am trying to decide whether to go to a particular concert or not.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Gary. I already deleted that larger list, but in future years, I will publish a longer list as an addendum. All of those "almost chosen" and then some will appear in my monthly concert agendas, too.