In the early 1930s, when she was 8 or 9 years old, Joan Mitchell wrote a poem. She still remembers the last line: "... and bleakness came through the trees without sound." The strangest thing about her touring retrospective "Joan Mitchell: Thirty-Six Years of Natural Expressionism," now on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, is how much of that eerie line -- that mood of grieving silence, that silvering of landscape -- still haunts her abstract art. Her adamance is awesome.


The National Symphony Orchestra will perform a world premiere this week. "Stykhira" ("Liturgical Hymn") by Rodion Shchedrin, secretary of the Soviet Composers' Union, arrived last month with a dedication to Mstislav Rostropovich (formerly a nonperson in the Soviet Union) but without any advance notice. The quickly revised program already featured music of Prokofiev and Glazunov. Anne-Sophie Mutter will be the soloist (in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1) and there will be a prelude concert of chamber music Thursday at 7:15.

On a smaller scale, the Brandenburg Ensemble performs Wednesday night in the Terrace Theater, with Alexander Schneider conducting and Ani and Ida Kavafian as violin and viola soloists. .

The Smithsonian Chamber Players will perform two Beethoven trios and a cello sonata on original instruments, tonight in the Hall of Musical Instruments. Notable violinists of the week will include Nigel Kennedy, Tuesday night in the Terrace Theater; Earl Carlyss, with pianist Ann Schein, tonight at the National Gallery; Shlomo Mintz, with Yefim Bronfman, Saturday night at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville; and Charles Treger, with Menaham Pressler, Friday night at the Library of Congress.

Other notable chamber music this week: the Martin Luther King Library Chamber Festival, this afternoon at the library; oboist Douglas Boyd with pianist Jeffrey Kahane, this afternoon in the Terrace Theater; Classical Inventions, this afternoon at Mount Vernon College; the Carnegie Trio, today at the Phillips Collection; the Virginia Chamber Players, today at the Lyceum, Alexandria; Claudio Jaffe', Brazilian cellist, with pianist Thomas Mastroianni, tonight in the Terrace Theater; the Mendelssohn String Quartet, Friday night at the Corcoran Gallery; and the Meliora String Quartet, Saturday at the Library of Congress.

The Folger Consort, with sopranos Jahana Arnold, Elizabeth Bulkley and Nancy Almquist, will give a program titled "Miracles and Mystic Visions," featuring medieval religious music, next weekend in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Vocal music of the Renaissance will be performed by the Washington Camerata, Saturday night in St. Columba's Episcopal Church. The Paul Hill Chorale will perform today in St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and the Arlington Metropolitan Chorus, directed by Barry Hemphill, will perform Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" and Rutter's "Requiem" today at the National Presbyterian Church.


The premieres of two works created for the company by guest choreographers Robert Small and Linda Caldwell will be featured in the new program by Improvisations Unlimited at the University of Maryland Wednesday through Saturday, along with Beverly Blossom's "Brides."

The Washington Ballet will present the premieres of "A Matter of Change" by James Canfield and "Ballades" by Kirk Peterson, as well as Choo-San Goh's "In the Glow of the Night," in its program at Lisner Auditorium Thursday through Saturday.

A professional tap dance troupe from Austin, Tex. -- Austin on Tap -- will make its area debut at the Publick Playhouse Saturday night.

At Dance Place Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, Toe Jam & Fresh Jelly -- the duo of notable Washington dancers Donna Gangloff and Mary Williford -- will perform solos and duets by choreographers Shapiro & Smith, Williford and Deborah Luster, Mark Dendy, Bebe Miller and Susan Marshall.


This weekend the American Film Institute begins its "Shakespeare on Film" program with the National Theatre of Great Britain's production of "Othello," starring Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay and Derek Jacobi. The film itself is routine theater on film. But Olivier's performance is one of the most physically audacious ever recorded. Later on in the program, which runs through April 20, two other adaptations of the Moor's tragedy will be screened, the first a silent version by the German director Buchowetzki with Emil Jannings, the second Orson Welles' seldom-seen 1952 version with Welles in the title role. Other films in the series are Welles' "Macbeth," Akira Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and Peter Brook's "King Lear." The movies will be screened in the AFI Theater at the Kennedy Center.

Also, beginning this weekend is the AFI's "BritFest," an 18-day festival of movies, television and video works from all over the United Kingdom. Included in the series is Peter Greenaway's "Belly of an Architect," Connie Templeman's "Nanou," Peter Wollen's "Friendship's Death" and "Ken Russell's ABC of British Music."


Linda Ronstadt's latest career expansion took her back to the songs of her father and her father's language, Spanish. Her "Canciones de mi Padre" tour, which includes most of the musicians appearing on the surprise hit album, comes to the Warner Wednesday through Saturday.

Geri Allen, the Howard University grad and stellar young jazz pianist, brings her hot octet to d.c. space on Friday, and vanguard trumpeter Lester Bowie brings his percolating Brass Fantasy there on Saturday.

Cleo Laine brings her sophisticated balladry and jazz inclinations to the Kennedy Center on Saturday.

WAMU's Winter Bluegrass Festival includes a fundraiser Saturday at Fairfax High School, with the Seldom Scene, Hot Rize and its alter ego, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, and Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals.


"Elmer Gantry" (at Ford's Theatre), a new musical based on Sinclair Lewis' celebrated novel, couldn't be more timely, chronicling, as it does, corruption in the world of evangelical religion. But this show has plenty of other assets as well: a strapping story, a beguiling score and, as Gantry and the female preacher he loves, two galvanizing leads -- Casey Biggs and Sharon Scruggs.