For classical music programmers, fall is the time when you bring out the big guns, and spring is when you do more unusual programs or themed festivals. This season, this philosophy is making for a more interesting spring for Washington’s classical music lovers. Whether your thing is the high classical tradition or living American composers, the area’s musical offerings run the gamut — with a particularly strong showing of exciting new-music concerts signaling that Washington may be awakening from its long sleep in the arms of musical tradition.
Spring preview — Classical: Concert highlights for 2012
Most anticipated event: The Vienna Philharmonic represents the best and worst of classical tradition. Best: superb playing. Worst: hidebound conservatism, including the glacial pace of admitting women to its august ranks. But it hasn’t been to Washington in almost nine years, and its Feb. 29 concert — led by a local, Lorin Maazel — will certainly be one of the events of the season, for better or worse.
Most surprising event: I talk a lot about American opera, and the stereotypes of American opera — it’s supposedly accessible, melodious, influenced by Broadway musicals, colored by Menotti. And I point out often that the composer Dominick Argento has written a lot of good American operas that bucked those stereotypes, and should be better remembered and more often revived. Imagine my delight to see the University of Maryland doing just that, honoring this important living composer on his 85th birthday with a multi-part birthday celebration involving full staged performances of two of his operas, “Miss Havisham’s Fire” and “Postcards From Morocco,” plus a full complement of concerts, recitals, and lectures. Don’t miss “A Water Bird Talk,” an engaging monodrama, or “Miss Manners on Music.” Anyone interested in talking about American opera would do well to attend. March 30-April 29, Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland.
Secret tip: Marc-Andre Hamelin’s last recital in Washington was one of my favorite concerts in 2011. He returns this spring for an intriguing recital exploring the music of France’s two most successful 19th-century pianist-composers, Chopin and Alkan, and the reason why one is remembered and the other is virtually forgotten. Presented by Pro Musica Hebraica in the Kennedy Center’s diminutive Terrace Theater, the event is almost sure to sell out. April 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Most familiar event: The Kennedy Center is mounting a festival of Vienna, Budapest and Prague! It’s like hosting a festival in Washington to celebrate the Mall: shining a spotlight on something that’s central to, even ubiquitous in our daily lives. For classical music fans, this festival offers an excuse to hear Beethoven and Strauss — composers who are hardly underperformed in regular years. All right: there are a lot of concerts of a lot of repertory we love: Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” Schubert’s “Winterreise” with Matthias Goerne, and a lot of the great Bartok repertory that is already well known to NSO audiences thanks to the Hungarian roots of the orchestra’s last principal conductor, Ivan Fischer. And, of course, we get the Vienna Philharmonic. There will surely be some musical highlights, but as a festival, it might as well be titled “Business as Usual, Only More So.” Feb. 25-March 29.