Washington Performing Arts Society Trims Schedule, Not Quality

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

There are slightly fewer concerts on the Washington Performing Arts Society's calendar for the 2009-10 season. There will be less jazz, less world music, and -- as yet -- no dance at all. Some of this is due, of course, to the recession. But on the classical side of the equation, WPAS's core mission, the reductions also have to do with artists' availability: Some performers are not touring next season, while other ensembles have been compelled to cancel planned tours altogether.

"We don't do quotas at WPAS," says the organization's president, Neale Perl. "If the artists that we want to present are not available, we're not going to fill dates just to fill a calendar."

Perl's further assertion that WPAS "would never cut back quality" is supported by the four groups on the Orchestra Series at the Kennedy Center: the New York Philharmonic with Riccardo Muti; the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recently crowned the world's best orchestra by Gramophone magazine, under Mariss Jansons; the San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas; and, of course, wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel, returning for a third WPAS engagement in two seasons, this time with his brand-new orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

For subscribers, having fewer orchestras on the series means a 20 percent savings, Perl says. And a new WPAS policy allows subscribers to pay for their subscriptions in monthly installments.

WPAS is also introducing two mid-priced series in a new venue, the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. The Encore Series brings back young artists who have debuted in the Hayes Piano or Kreeger String series in years past: cellist Alisa Weilerstein, violinist Julia Fischer and impressive pianist Yuja Wang. Sessions@Sixth focuses on emerging jazz artists, such as bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding and sitar player Anoushka Shankar. The point, Perl says, is to help guide players from their debuts to greater name recognition in the Washington area; the setting is ostensibly more informal than your standard concert and pricing targets a younger crowd.

Highlights of the 2009-10 season's classical series include the first Washington recital in 16 years by pianist Radu Lupu, a vocal-orchestral performance by the silver-haired and mellifluous Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas, a Schumann recital by Mitsuko Uchida and a mysterious non-series event involving a performance of "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Leif Ove Andsnes in what is billed as a "multi-sensory tour." (Video will probably be involved.)

There is also a high rate of return from this past season: violinist Joshua Bell, and pianists Jeremy Denk (who will also perform a solo recital), Maurizio Pollini and Angela Hewitt. Pianist Vladimir Feltsmann will also perform. And the Philadelphia Orchestra will demonstrate at Strathmore, with principal conductor Charles Dutoit, whether it is managing to retain the fabled "Philadelphia sound" at a time when the orchestra has no music director, no president and no chairman of its board.

Rafal Blechacz, who won the Chopin Prize in 2005, and the as-yet-undetermined winner of this year's Van Cliburn piano competition will be featured on the Hayes series, while Viviane Hagner, the violinist, comes to WPAS for the first time on the Kreeger series. Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins and Sweet Honey in the Rock are among the jazz and gospel offerings, respectively, while Michael Feinstein will offer a big-band "Sinatra Project."

Featured stars will continue to make their voices heard, as well as their music, via WPAS podcasts and interviews with American Public Media's Brian Newhouse, which for the last few months have been free on the WPAS Web site. Podcasts remain archived, so listeners can still hear voices from the 2008-09 season with Bell, and pianists Leon Fleisher and Evgeny Kissin among them.

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