1997-98 Arts Preview

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At the Kennedy Center,
A Long-Awaited Hearing
Rendering of the new Kennedy Center Concert Hall
This artist's rendering shows the reconstructed Kennedy Center Concert Hall, which will reopen Oct. 24 after a 10-month renovation.
Rendering by Interface Multimedia

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 1997

The most hotly anticipated classical music event of the year?

No question about it-the opening of the new Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Oct. 24. With luck, this mammoth, $10 million-plus renovation will provide the finest large venue for classical music the nation's capital has ever known. As yet, very little information has been released about the music planned for the gala Opening Night but, in a strange way, it doesn't even matter that much. After all, a concert lasts only a couple of hours, so we'll be listening with an ear toward the acoustics the next hundred concerts, the next thousand concerts. This will likely be our principal venue for classical concert music for many years, so, whatever the program, let's hope it sounds good.

In the meantime, the members of the National Symphony Orchestra are hardly sitting back and resting up for October. Indeed, last Friday, the orchestra, under music director Leonard Slatkin, launched a Beethoven Festival of unusual range and breadth that will ring through some of the other Kennedy Center theaters until Sept. 19. All nine symphonies will be played (as well as an excerpt from a supposed Beethoven "Tenth," reconstructed by a contemporary British musicologist). And don't forget the piano concertos and a healthy sampling of Beethoven's other works for orchestra, chamber ensemble and solo instruments.

Then, in late September, the NSO takes off to Europe for a three-week tour that will take it through much of Germany, and to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna. The concerts in the last two cities ought to be particularly interesting. The NSO, plagued from the beginning by less than responsive acoustics in its permanent homes, will be playing in two of the three concert halls generally considered the best on the planet the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna. (The third hall on this elite list is Boston's Symphony Hall, although some would place Carnegie Hall right up there with them.) Vienna is said to have some of the toughest critics in Europe; it should be interesting, at least, to see how our New World "home team" goes over in the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler.

Music will ring through a beloved Washington landmark once again when the Library of Congress reopens its historic Coolidge Auditorium on Oct. 30. Closed since 1990 for renovation, the 500-seat auditorium will commence its new season with a series of gala events, including a Brahms and Schubert festival and performances by the Juilliard String Quartet. The reopening is just in time to mark the centenary of the Library of Congress's music division and its rich collection of music manuscripts, rare instruments, and memorabilia from important figures in the history of music, dance and theater.

The Washington Opera begins its season with a rare summit collaboration by the city's two most influential musicians-in-residence. Placido Domingo, the thoughtful and clarion dramatic tenor who is also the general director of the Washington Opera, will sing the role of Canio in Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci," while Slatkin, paying a visit from the hall next door, will conduct the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Other productions this fall will include Gounod's sweet (if somewhat undersexed) setting of "Romeo et Juliette" and Donizetti's sturdy, tuneful "L'Elisir d'Amore." As usual, the Washington Opera is already all but sold out for its entire run; call now if you want to snag a spare ticket.

One finds no sets, no scenery and very little acting in performances by the Washington Concert Opera but the group can usually be relied upon to provide a stirring evening. Verdi's "Attila" just opened on Friday; there will be one more performance tonight at Lisner Auditorium. Meanwhile, the company's rendition of Bellini's lyrical showcase for the soprano voice, "La Sonnambula," will arrive in October. And don't forget that the Norfolk-based Virginia Opera pays us several visits every year; its Washington season opens with Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" at the George Mason University Center for the Arts.

We hear an awful lot of good singing in this city. Much of the credit for this happy state of affairs is due to the Vocal Arts Society, which presents some of the smartest and most expressive singers around in serious and uncompromising concerts at La Maison Francaise. Anybody who saw Helen Donath sing the Marschallin in the Washington Opera's "Der Rosenkavalier" two seasons ago won't want to miss her Washington recital on Sept. 18. Other highlights of the Vocal Arts Society calendar include recitals by soprano Norah Amsellem and the great Wagnerian bass James Morris (this last event will take place at Lisner Auditorium). Meanwhile, the celebrated young mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore will be appearing at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 5 under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Let's not ignore all the other orchestras in the area, for some of them offer engaging concerts indeed. The Arlington Symphony, under Ruben Vartanyan, will open with two ambitious and challenging masterpieces, Mozart's Symphony No. 40 and the Beethoven Ninth. The Washington Chamber Symphony, under the ebullient direction of Stephen Simon, will start its season with music by Purcell, Elgar's glorious Serenade in E Minor and a complete rendition of that early example of performance art, "Facade" by William Walton and Edith Sitwell. Watch for the chamber symphony's all-Handel program at the end of October and remember that they put on vastly entertaining children's concerts.

Look for regular Sunday evening concerts by the National Gallery Orchestra in the West Garden Court of the gallery itself; the acoustics could stand some improvement but the atmosphere is appropriately contemplative. And then we have the Alexandria Symphony, the Fairfax Symphony, the Mount Vernon Orchestra, the Falls Church Chamber Orchestra, the Prince George's Philharmonic, and, for those willing to take a drive, the Annapolis Symphony, among others.

A substantial number of classical "stars" will pass through Washington this season-among them pianists John Browning, Alicia de Larrocha, Andras Schiff and Peter Serkin, the last two in a program of piano duets. The accomplished and soulful Lark Quartet will grace the carefully chosen series of programs presented by the Dumbarton Concert Series. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma will offer an idiosyncratic take on the tangos of Astor Piazzolla. And Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman are only the two most famous of the six players on a program of Brahms's complete string sextets at the Kennedy Center in November. Violinists who will be playing in town this year include Pamela Frank, Christian Tetzlaff and the controversial Sarah Chang.

Washington is famed for the excellence of its choral music. You can often find something terrific simply by walking down to a local house of worship; around the holidays, there are celebratory programs everywhere and a dizzying variety of "Messiah" performances. Two other programs that promise to stand out are Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," featuring the Oratorio Society under the direction of Norman Scribner, and the Paul Hill Chorale's performance of Handel's Coronation Anthems, Haydn's "Lord Nelson Mass" and some selections from Handel's "Water Music."

For those willing to try something a little out of the ordinary, composer Philip Glass and choreographer Susan Marshall will present the latest of Glass's several scores written to accompany films by Jean Cocteau, "Les Enfants Terribles." If you liked the Three Tenors, you'd best try out Barbara Conrad, Florence Quivar, Faye Robinson and a dozen others in a vast show called "Symphony With the Divas." Then there's B.J. Ward, with her smart and hilarious "Stand-Up Opera" performances-spoofs on singers, performances, plots and operatic conventions. Humor and music don't always mix, but Ward seems to me the logical heir to the extraordinary comedian Anna Russell and she has a fine, agile voice to boot.

A few valuable concerts that shouldn't be overlooked: the rapt, enormously thoughtful pianist Ignat Solzhensitsyn solo recital at the GMU Center for the Arts; the Theater Chamber Players presentation of David Del Tredici's early "Four Songs on Poems of James Joyce," featuring Phyllis Bryn-Julson, the soprano with whom Del Tredici has worked for so many years; the 20th Century Consort's tribute to Charles Dickens, with music by Dominick Argento and Jon Deak; the ongoing treats from the Folger Consort; the Washington Bach Consort's noon concerts at the Church of the Epiphany; and the continuing series of Embassy Concerts presented (and often sung) by Jerome Barry. It promises to be another exciting season and we'll be on the aisle to "tell all about it."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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