Classical music has been struggling, like many forms of media these days, with the double bogeyman of economic recession and the looming threat of irrelevance. These challenges have some organizations on the ropes. But they are also leading to some creative and constructive ideas that are on their way to becoming trends in the field and that are evident in the Washington area this season.
One trend is curatorial thinking. Gone are the days when it was enough to present a few great pieces by great composers: Now, more
programs are offered around a theme, or as part of a larger, museum-like festival exploring a period or composer. A pioneer of this kind of musical curation is Joseph Horowitz, co-founder of Washington’s Post-Classical Ensemble, who has been curating orchestra festivals for a couple of decades; his next venture here is “The Ives Project” (Nov. 3-5), which includes concerts, recordings, a master class and a symposium, with artists including the JACK Quartet
and the pianist Jeremy Denk, already noted for his interpretation of Ives’s “Concord” sonata.
(Sonja Werner) - CRITIC’S PICK: Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Oct. 26.
This isn’t the only fall “show” on the music scene. There’s the two-month “Mutual Inspirations Festival,” a celebration of Dvorak sponsored by the Czech Embassy in partnership with several Washington organizations, through Oct. 28. There’s a Franz Liszt Bicentenary Project at the Library of Congress, with panels and concerts from Oct. 19 through Nov. 5, including Louis Lortie playing the second and third parts of “Les Annees de Pelerinage” (Oct. 19) and a concert with soloists from the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the pianist Jeno Jando exploring “Liszt’s legacy” entirely through the music of another Hungarian composer, Bela Bartok (Oct. 25). (These festivals sometimes interpret their subjects rather loosely.)
Curatorial thinking also takes place on the level of individual concerts. The Folger Consort is a group that specializes in themed seasons and concerts; “A New Song” (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) celebrates the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible with music by English composers inspired by this epochal 1611 translation. The Washington Bach Consort offers “A Vintage Year: 1685” (Sept. 25), celebrating three major composers who happened to be born then: Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.
It’s even possible to curate music yourself: In January, you can compare two performances of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, one by Zuill Bailey on a modern instrument (Jan. 7 at the Music Center at Strathmore) and one by Paolo Pandolfo on viola da gamba (Jan. 28 at the Library of Congress).
The other heartening trend is the increasing presence of new music; a lot of today’s most interesting composers are showing up in Washington this season. Many of them are performers themselves. Gabriel Kahane is a singer-composer-songwriter whose latest song cycle, “The Memory Palace,” will be offered by the New York Festival of Song on Oct. 22 at George Washington University’s Marvin Center, presented by Vocal Arts DC. Derek Bermel, a clarinet soloist and outstanding composer, will have a world premiere on an eclectic concert for Chinese and Western instruments, featuring works by Chen Yi, Zhou Long and others, at the Freer on Nov. 3; he’s also on the Verge Ensemble’s multi-piano program Sept. 18.