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Classical Beat
Posted at 11:52 PM ET, 03/06/2012

Kennedy Center 2012-13

The Kennedy Center’s annual season announcement is a fascinating placeholder for an event: the packed Eisenhower Theater listens to Michael Kaiser, in effect, read through the press releases. The highlight on Tuesday was the appearance of one of the puppets from the play “War Horse,” which, stomping and whinnying and eating sugar from Kaiser’s hand, was certainly enough to make me want to go see the show.
Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser (left) announces the Center's 2012-2013 season at the Family Theater on Tuesday. The horse featured is the title character in War Horse, created by Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa and operated by three puppeteers. (Daniel Schwart)
As for the season, a highlight is the festival Nordic Cool 2013, a title which lead to a diverting few minutes at our home thinking up other comparably cliched titles for future Kennedy Center festivals (“Latin Passion” and “The Inscrutable East” were among our favorites), though the festival itself has a lot to recommend it, including, on the musical front, visits from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (under Sakari Oramo) and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (led by Ilan Volkov).

A big question was how the Washington National Opera would emerge in its new configuration as Kennedy Center constituent, and the news is guardedly positive: at least, everything on the program is something I’ll be happy to see, an admittedly subjective criterion but not an inconsiderable one when the season has only five operas.


“Show Boat” was an open secret, since it’s a coproduction with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where it is just wrapping up its run. Less expected, certainly, were no fewer than two bel canto operas: “Anna Bolena” with Sondra Radvanovsky, who shone as Lucrezia Borgia here in 2008;
Sondra Radvanovsky made a Met role debut as Aida in February; now, she’s taking on “Anna Bolena” at the Washington National Opera. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Opera, Cory Weaver) (Cory Weaver - AP)
“Norma” with Angela Meade, making her stage debut in the role that helped her win the Met auditions in 2007, in a production by Anne Bogart (whose Glimmerglass “Carmen” last year I liked quite a lot). Then Patricia Racette makes her role debut as “Manon Lescaut,” and we get a Don Giovanni. There will be concerts by Nathan Gunn and Diana Damrau; a recital by Angela Meade in the Terrace Theater (which she might well blow open with her vocal power); a holiday run of “Hansel and Gretel” (which Francesca Zambello, WNO’s artistic advisor, denigrated to me as “pushing people in an oven” when I talked to her in January; evidently she was outvoted on this one); and two, count them, Opera in the Outfield broadcasts at Nationals Park.

The National Symphony Orchestra’s theme for 2012-13 is young artists, “young” evidently being anything under 43 given the inclusion of the pianist Jeremy Denk as one of the youthful debutants, and certainly not indicating “discovery” given that a season highlight is a 7-day residency by the pianist Lang Lang (including a two-piano recital with Christoph Eschenbach), and other young artists include Yuja Wang, Alisa Weilerstein, Jonathan Biss. Forget themes: there are some appealing debuts (the violinists Augustin Hadelich and Pekka Kuusisto, the conductors Vasily Petrenko and Juraj Valcuha), some strong returnees (Christoph Dohnanyi, Marek Janowski, Hugh Wolff), and highlights including the launch of the new organ and a performance at Carnegie Hall, Eschenbach’s first with the orchestra, honoring Mstislav Rostropovich with symphonies by Schnittke and Shostakovich. The orchestra is also trying to vary its programming: having artists play different concerti on different evenings, performing an evening of chamber music between two orchestral concerts, or introducing the “Beyond the Score” program from the Chicago Symphony that seeks to place works of music in a larger social and cultural context. It doesn’t feel like a particularly earth-shattering season, but it’s also not trying to be anything it’s not — except, possibly, young.

The highlights of the Fortas Chamber Music concerts, in my book, are the evening-length, fully-staged performance by Anonymous 4 of David Lang’s newly commissioned piece “Love Fail,” and the appearance of Dawn Upshaw with the Crash Ensemble from Dublin, reprising part of their performance on the striking CD Gra agus Bas. The Kennedy Center Chamber Players seem to be going through a shift, their entire programming for their four concerts not yet announced.

What’s missing? On my wish list might be a composer-in-residence; contemporary opera; more groups like the Crash Ensemble; in-house projects and/or commissions; and a bit more spark to the NSO’s programming. What do you wish you’d seen on the 2012-13 schedule, and what do you like about what’s there?

By  |  11:52 PM ET, 03/06/2012

Categories:  The Classical Beat

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