It isn't really a new idea at all, but if skillfully done, the rendering of lifelike objects in unlikely media is a technique that still has the power to impress, surprise and enchant. It can be argued, of course, that the clever still lifes of Paul Suttman on view at Franz Bader Gallery through Jan. 19, which consist of various fruits, bottles and paper bags executed in bronze, wood and stone, verge dangerously on the purely kitsch. They do in fact recall the sort of centerpieces one sometimes sees on dining room tables, such as a bowl of grapes formed of glass or jade, probably purchased on a trip to Hong Kong. But this artist is evidently fully aware of this potential pitfall, and to his credit manages to circumvent it.

Above all, there is Suttman's skill in direct carving of material. The large and beautifully finished mahogany bag of apples titled "Eve's Gift," for example, works as sculpture if only by virtue of its manifest craftsmanship. What is communicated in such works is the plain joy of making objects. And that, of course, is vital to the success of any artistic understanding.


Gian Carlo Menotti's opera "The Saint of Bleecker Street," the Washington Opera's final production in the Eisenhower Theater this season, will have its first performance Saturday night. Other vocal music this week will include a Martin Luther King Jr. Choral Tribute by the Choral Arts Society, Monday night at the Kennedy Center; the Folger Consort and the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys in "The Canterbury Tales," Friday and Saturday night at the Washington Cathedral; and soprano Faith Esham performing with National Musical Arts in a program of Menotti, Cowell and Beach, Friday night at the National Academy of Sciences. The National Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Jiri Belohlavak this week, with pianist Rudolf Firkusny as guest soloist. Pianist Brian Ganz will be the guest soloist with the National Chamber Orchestra, Friday night at the Duke Ellington School and Saturday night at Montgomery College. Other orchestral activity will include the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta with violinist Shlomo Mintz, Saturday in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; the Prince William Symphony, today at Gar-Field High School; the Andreyev Balalaika Orchestra, today at the Kennedy Center; an orchestra made up of members of the National, Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax symphonies with violinist Alexander Kerr in a benefit for the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, today at Washington Street United Methodist Church.

The Contemporary Music Forum will present a program of music of Japan, Monday night at the Corcoran Gallery. Other chamber music highlights of the week will include violinist Zvi Zeitlin with pianist Barry Snyder, tonight at the National Gallery; Steven Honigberg, cello, today at the Lyceum; the U.S. Marines Chamber Ensemble, today at the Marine Barracks; Rivka Golani, viola, Wednesday night at the Canadian Embassy; the Franciscan String Quartet, Thursday night at Strathmore Hall; the Friday Morning Music Club, Friday noon at the Sumner School; the International Music Society, Friday night at the German Embassy; the Ridge String Quartet, Friday night at the Corcoran Gallery.

Pianists of the week: Philip Hosford, today at the Phillips Collection; Aglaia Koras-Bain, tonight at Strathmore Hall; Rosa Park, 1 p.m. Wednesday in the IMF auditorium.


Maida Withers and the Dance Construction Company perform three of Withers's recent creations at Dance Place this afternoon. American Ballet Theatre returns to the Kennedy Center Opera House for a two-week visit commencing Tuesday evening with a program including "Ballet Imperial," "Brief Fling" and "Gaite Parisienne." Centerpiece of the engagement will be the premiere of the troupe's new production of the comedy classic "Coppelia," which has been out of the repertory for many years; the ballet will be given eight performances here starting Friday evening, featuring five casts of principals (Sunday night's performance will be a gala, with Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones in the lead roles). The spirited Jones Haywood Youth Dancers, directed by Capitol Ballet co-founder Doris Jones, performs a free program at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday at noon. Dance Place begins a new sequence of New Releases programs Saturday afternoon, free programs featuring new and experimental choreography throughout the dance season. New York's Bill Young & Dancers makes its area debut at Dance Place Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in a program of two recent works by Young.


"Awakenings" is cause for rejoicing, a literate and compassionate film in this season of chintz and barbarism. A sweetly stirring drama in the spirit of "Rain Man," it explores the mutual gain in a union between a spiritually handicapped man and his mentally disabled friend. Featured here are Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, attuned as bow and fiddle in their roles of a clinical psychiatrist and the catatonic patient he awakens from a sleep of 30 years.

As part of its retrospective exhibition on the photographer Paul Strand, the National Gallery of Art will present six of the artist's films. Among them are "Native Land" (1942), which deals with the La Folette Senate Committee's findings on the denial of civil rights to labor activists of the '30s, and "The Plow That Broke the Plain" (1936), which was financed by Roosevelt's Resettlement administration and addresses the growth and spread of the Dust Bowl. Also featured in the series is "Strand -- Under the Dark Cloth," Canadian filmmaker John Walker's film biography of the photographer. The films can be viewed daily between noon and 5:30 p.m., through Feb. 3.


See Stephen Wade outside Arena Stage! Actually, the Banjoman celebrates his new album at Wolf Trap's Barns on Wednesday, with help from some fine fretted friends.

Jazz guitarists are in luck this week: Bucky Pizzarelli holds forth at Cates Wednesday through Sunday, while Stanley Jordan is at the Barns for two shows on Thursday.

Together again: not only local faves Fat City, and Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp, but the Highwaymen! Okay, maybe you had to be there in the old folkie days, but that's what Saturday's Lisner concert is all about. Also aboard: Schooner Fare, Tom Paxton, Tommy Makem and young pip Pete Kennedy.