In his second season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center, Christoph Eschenbach is continuing to chart an established, Central European route. Meat and potatoes are staples of the Central European diet, and there are a lot of meat-and-potatoes works on the 2011-12 season: “Carmina Burana,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” a concert performance of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” and some meaty works like Bruckner’s Ninth.
This season doesn’t quite have the star wattage of Eschenbach’s inaugural season, though there are certainly some notable names. Joshua Bell is the featured soloist at the season-opening gala; Lorin Maazel leads the orchestra in a program including the Grieg piano concerto (with Simon Trpceski in his NSO debut); Peter Serkin appears on a program of contemporary and 20th-century music led by Oliver Knussen; and Nelson Freire makes his NSO debut in the Brahms 2nd piano concerto.
Eschenbach continues his two-season focus on Beethoven, and brings along a few works new to the orchestra, including NSO co-commissions by Detlef Glanert and Osvaldo Golijov (though this year’s Hechinger commission, to be performed in May and June, remains officially TBD). But the orchestra’s focus on big choral works seems slightly redundant: the NSO has never before done “Elijah,” but Kennedy Center audiences have certainly had opportunities to hear it given Washington’s active choral scene.
This year’s festival turns the spotlight on the heart of the classical music canon: Vienna, Budapest and Prague will be celebrated in chamber music concerts and no fewer than six NSO programs (including Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater” with Anne Schwanewilms and Nathalie Stutzmann in their NSO debuts). The NSO has already gotten a good look at Budapest in its seasons under the Hungarian maestro Ivan Fischer; nonetheless it will offer Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” again, as well as “Bluebeard’s Castle” and music by Kodaly, Liszt, Janacek, and the Strausses. In a co-production with WPAS, the Vienna Philharmonic will appear with Lorin Maazel in an abridgement of the orchestral music from Wagner’s tetralogy called “The Ring without Words” (this is Viennese?). Among this festival’s real highlights may be the chamber concerts, including performances by the Takacs Quartet and two recitals with Eschenbach as pianist to the baritone Matthias Goerne (in “Winterreise”) and the violinist Dan Zhu (in Mozart violin sonatas).
Other interesting tidbits on the Fortas chamber music series are a Germanically tinged program by the contemporary ensemble eighth blackbird (the program includes a choreographed version of “Pierrot Lunaire” and songs by Kurt Weill, sung by Lucy Shelton); Ute Lemper’s appearance with the Vogler Quartet in a version of the Berlin/Paris program she’s been doing for some time; the debuts of two young groups, the Puella Trio from Prague and the Morgenstern Trio from the US; and a recital by the violinist Augustin Hadelich, who gave a lovely Kennedy Center recital with WPAS in 2009.
The Kennedy Center announcement included mention of the Washington National Opera’s program, a sign of the forthcoming formal affiliation between the two groups, which will take effect on July 1.