John Baldessari's art prods imagination. His parables-in-pictures invite your mind to play. It requires mental hopping -- from the tiny to the vast, from the tragic to the goofy, from the now to the remembered -- to get what he is getting at. To read his broken narratives you have to think askew.

Askewness is, in fact, the subject of a photo work composed by Baldessari in 1972-1973. Now on exhibit in his touring retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, it's based on a story told by Nellie Monk, then Mrs. Thelonious. The pianist, she recalled, once "nailed a clock to the wall a very slight angle, just enough to make me furious. We argued about it for two hours, but he wouldn't let me change it. Finally, I got used to it. Now anything can hang at any angle, and it doesn't bother me at all."

Baldessari's piece, accordingly, is a little off. "A Different Kind of Order (The Thelonious Monk Story)," is a sequence of news photographs of natural disasters -- of telephone poles a-toppled, and houses jumbled by an earthquake, and fishing boats half sunk. The frames that frame these images are themselves atilt. They jitter on the wall.

Baldessari's show is at the Hirshhorn until Jan. 6.


The opera season opens at top speed this week, with four productions ranging (intentionally) from the sublime to the ridiculous. The one that will attract the most attention is the opening of the Washington Opera's season, Saturday night at the Kennedy Center, with Strauss's "Salome" starring Maria Ewing. Also on a highly varied operatic bill of fare:

David Clenny's "La Contessa dei Vampiri," presented under the auspices of the Handel Festival Orchestra, Monday evening in the Terrace Theater; Prince George's Opera presenting Verdi's "La Traviata," Friday and Sunday at Prince George's Community College and Nov. 6 in Lisner Auditorium. There will also be a program of opera highlights Friday evening in the Terrace Theater.

Flutist James Galway will be the National Symphony Orchestra's guest soloist this week, performing the Khachaturian concerto and joining NSO principal flutist Toshiko Kohno in Cimarosa's Concertante for Two Flutes. At George Mason University's new Center for the Arts, the Leningrad Conservatory Chamber Orchestra will give a concert this afternoon. Other orchestral activity this week: the Washington Philharmonic, tonight at the Metropolitan AME Church; the Prince William Symphony, Saturday night at Gar-Field High School.

Wednesday night's concert in the Terrace Theater will be devoted entirely to music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Mel Powell.

One of the best free concerts in Washington every year is the Kennedy Center/Friedheim Awards concert and competition, held to pick the best piece of new music by an American composer. The finalists in this event are usually of high quality, and many later find their way into the standard contemporary repertoire. This year's concert will be held at 3 p.m. today in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Another very special annual event, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, is the Maryland Handel Festival, which attracts considerable international attention and attendance from musicians, scholars and critics. Highlights this year, along with scholarly lectures and symposiums, will include two rarely heard works: the opera "Agrippina," Saturday afternoon in the University of Maryland's Tawes Recital Hall, and the oratorio "Joseph and His Brethren," next Sunday afternoon in the university's Memorial Chapel. Other events in the Tawes Recital Hall will include a chamber program Thursday evening and a young artists' recital Friday evening.

Pianists of the week include Evelyne Crochet, today at the Phillips Collection; Shura Cherkassky, tonight at the National Gallery; and Coleman Blumfield, Saturday afternoon in the Terrace Theater. Vocal recitals will be given by Beverly Benda, soprano, and James Golterman, tenor, tonight at First Christian Church; Willow Johnson, mezzo-soprano, Tuesday night at George Mason University; Rosa Lamoreaux, soprano, with guitarist William Feasely, Wednesday, noon at the National Building Museum; Daniel Lichti, baritone, performing Schubert's "Die Winterreise," Thursday night at the Canadian Embassy.


The superb Monnaie Dance Group/Mark Morris presents the final performance of its week-long visit at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater this afternoon. At Dance Place this evening, Washington's Adrain Bolton Dance Company performs works by Bolton, Peter Romero, James Thurston and the late Jason Taylor. The celebrated Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, the junior troupe of Ailey's American Dance Theatre, performs two matinee programs at Lisner Auditorium Saturday afternoon. Solo performance artist John Kelly presents his latest work, "Love of a Poet," based on Robert Schumann's song cycle "Dichterliebe," with accompanist Fernando Torm-Toha, at Dance Place Saturday night and Sunday afternoon; the event is part of the Washington Performing Arts Society's 25th-annniversary New Performance Series.


If Lyle Lovett plasters his hair down, there may be room for one or two more folks at his Sunday-Monday acoustic performances at the Birchmere.

If only the Call could collect on the superlatives that have been accumulating over the last decade: Michael Been and crew make great, and intelligent, American rock-and-roll. At the Bayou on Monday.

Bo knows Diddley (etc.): Mr. Diddley will be at Anton's 1201 Club Tuesday through Sunday, with the usual beat.