Two weeks after the arrival of its new president and chief executive, Jenny Bilfield, the Washington Performing Arts Society has announced its 2013-14 season — a season programmed in part in the interim between the effective departure of Neale Perl, the organization’s longtime president and CEO, and Bilfield’s accession on April 1.
It’s hard to know who was responsible for what — some of the big orchestras must have been booked well before Perl’s departure — but the new season, if a little bit leaner than some past WPAS seasons, also feels a little bit fresher. This is in part because a range of younger artists are moving into the “star” slots: Simone Dinnerstein, Hilary Hahn, Yuja Wang, Jeremy Denk, and Benjamin Grosvenor are now all accounted “established talent” rather than “rising stars” (a step Grosvenor achieved in a mere two calendar years, since his 2012 WPAS debut).
It’s also because the organization seems to be putting more emphasis on the nonclassical offerings that have sometimes felt like mere tangents to its main mission. It has beefed up its dance offerings to 18 performances, including the Dance Theater of Harlem and Koresh Dance Ensemble. In addition to jazz names it has presented before — including the Brad Mehldau Trio, Esperanza Spalding and Wynton Marsalis with Jazz at Lincoln Center — it’s adding some new names, such as Jonathan Batiste and the Stay Human Band at the Howard Theatre. And it’s continuing to offer a few known quantities in world music: Anoushka Shankar, the Soweto Gospel Choir, Zakir Hussain.
On the classical front, there are arguably fewer big names — Alisa Weilerstein, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Louis Lortie and Murray Perahia among them — but there are certainly some big orchestras. The Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev are familiar visitors in Washington after their long Kennedy Center partnership; the St. Petersburg Philharmonic under Yuri Temirkanov is seen here less frequently. Both will play all-Russian programs (Stravinsky from the Mariinsky, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov from St. Petersburg). Gustavo Dudamel returns with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and John Corigliano’s First Symphony, and Gianandrea Noseda brings the Israel Philharmonic in an all-French program.
In the past, WPAS has sometimes seemed to book by the numbers, filling in a takeout-menu-like assortment of individual subscription series. The current season may not represent any one person’s vision for the organization, but it does manage to signal a measure of continuity while opening the door for a fresh beginning.