The National Symphony Orchestra will be in Europe this week and next, but there will be plenty of orchestral activity in Washington, beginning with three concerts today: the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Royal Air Force Marching Band and the BBC Chorus commemorating the Battle of Britain's 50th anniversary in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; the National Gallery Orchestra, conducted by George Manos, performing Nielsen, Ravel and Beethoven at the National Gallery of Art; and the Virginia Chamber Orchestra at St. Rita's Catholic Church, Alexandria. A Japanese orchestra, the Kazue Sawai Koto Ensemble, will play in the Terrace Theater Wednesday night, while the Czech Philharmonic is playing in the Concert Hall.

Next weekend's orchestral activity will include the Fairfax Symphony and the Reston Chorale, Friday at George Mason University; the Smithsonian Chamber Players, Friday at the National Museum of American History; the Amadeus Orchestra, Saturday in St. Thomas a Becket Church, Great Falls; and the Jupiter Symphony, conducted by Jens Nygaard, with pianist Lilian Kallir, Saturday at the University of Maryland.

Daniel Barenboim will be the pianist of the week, tomorrow night at the Kennedy Center; Richard Goode should give an outstanding recital Thursday in the Terrace Theater; and Sara Wolfensohn will perform an interesting piano program Wednesday at the Organization of American States. But there will be scores of other pianists performing, lecturing and listening at the American Liszt Society's festival, this week at Catholic University. Players will include: Marilyn Neely, Edward Newman and Raymond Jackson, Thursday afternoon; Bronislawa Kawalla, Thursday evening; Thomas Schumacher, Anne Koscielny and Michael Lewin, Friday afternoon; Patrick Rucker and Ich Choo Moon, Saturday morning; and Stephen Sachs, Andre Luis Rangel, Elzbieta Tarnawska and Linda Jiorle-Nagy, Saturday afternoon.

Other highlights of the week: tenor Alfredo Kraus, Friday evening at the Kennedy Center; the Folger Consort, in a program of German Renaissance music all next weekend and P.D.Q. Bach Saturday evening at the Kennedy Center.

Also worth noting: Fischer Duo (cello and piano) today at the Phillips Collection; La Rodinella, early music ensemble, tomorrow night at the Round House Theatre; the DeReggi Inter-Arts Ensemble, presenting the works of Ulrich Suesse, including the world premiere of a multimedia work, Friday night at Strathmore Hall; Ignacio Alcover, cello, and Kathryn Brake, piano, Saturday at Anderson House. DANCE

Native Washingtonian Stephan Koplowitz returns to Dance Place this afternoon with his path-breaking New York-based troupe in a program in the continuing "New Dance U.S.A." festival. The elegant San Francisco Ballet brings repertory programs featuring ballets by Leonid Jacobson, James Kudelka, William Forsythe and the troupe's artistic director Helgi Tomasson to the Kennedy Center Opera House this week starting Tuesday evening, followed by the East Coast premiere of Tomasson's new production of "The Sleeping Beauty," Friday through Sunday. One of the most unusual programs of this or any recent season will be the free collaborative event, "Union Station Dancing," which will disperse performances by Washingtonians Liz Lerman and Djimo Kouyate and New Yorkers Marta Renzi and Stephan Koplowitz throughout the halls, balconies, staircases and fountains of Union Station Thursday and Friday evenings; it's a joint production by Dance Place and Dancing in the Streets, which launches a national tour of dance in public spaces with these performances. Marta Renzi and her Project Company will present recent repertory of their own, concluding the month-long "New Dance U.S.A." festival at Dance Place Saturday and Sunday. POP MUSIC

Most are Texas bred, some are L.A.-refined and all write with passion and panache: Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Dave Alvin, Butch Hancock, Katy Moffat, Tim Russell, Steve Young, Greg Trooper are all at the Birchmere on Tuesday. Take notes.

Mahamoud Ahmed is the great voice of Ethiopian music and he makes his Washington debut Friday at Kilimanjaro's.

Buck Hill, the only Capital Hill who belongs in the company of Dexter Gordon and Johnny Hodges, unveils his new Muse album at Trumpets Friday and Saturday.

The non-Eurythmic Dave Stewart joins with singer Barbara Gaskin at the Bayou Saturday, for those who miss Richard and Linda Thompson.

The elegant vocalist Cleo Laine and conductor John Dankworth mark the first pop concert at George Mason University's new Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday.

James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band and Alex Houser celebrate the music of Jelly Roll Morton with rare authenticity: at the Terrace Theater Friday. THEATER

Arena Stage's production of Bertolt Brecht's "Caucasian Chalk Circle" is like nothing so much as a three-dimensional storybook, set in some unnameable faraway land that is all faraway lands, a pan-national folk festival in which the playwright's tale of motherhood and treachery is but one element of a richly theatrical whole.