ART

Renee Stout's sculpture is precious and powerful. Her works, on view at B.R. Kornblatt through Wednesday, are toned and textured an earthy brown, punctuated with gemlike bits of colors and suffused with an air of dustiness and age. Minutely detailed and finely crafted, each of her small fetish sculptures and life-size tableaux is assembled from a collection of found objects ranging from old lace to bullets, from bones to jars of mysterious powders. She derives these charms from both the traditions of her African ancestors and from Native American medicine practices. CLASSICAL

The National Symphony Orchestra will perform the world premiere of Richard Wernick's Piano Concerto this week with Lambert Orkis as piano soloist and Mstislav Rostropovich conducting. The program will also include baritone Hakan Hagegard in Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder." Other orchestras active in a very busy week will include the National Gallery Orchestra with George Manos conducting and Agustin Anievas as piano soloist, tonight at the National Gallery, and the Brandenburg Ensemble Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Randall Craig Fleischer will conduct the NSO tomorrow night with cellist Zvi Plesser, winner of the NSO Young Artists Competition, as soloist.

One of the week's vocal highlights will be a Monteverdi program presented by the Taverner Choir & Consort, Friday night at the Washington Cathedral. Also noteworthy will be Opera Americana's production of "The Beggar's Opera," Friday and Saturday nights at Gadsby's Tavern Museum; a benefit choral concert today at Westmoreland United Church of Christ; the Ambassadors Choral Ensemble, today at All Souls Episcopal Church; Ilana Boin, soprano, with pianist George Peachey, in a lunchtime recital Wednesday at Lisner Auditorium.

Several orchestras will be featuring vocal soloists this week, including the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra in its eighth annual "Happy Birthday, Mozart" concert, Saturday night in the Tawes Recital Hall; the Fairfax Symphony, featuring soprano Dorothy Kingston and baritone David Troup, in a Valentine's Pops program, Friday night at the McLean Hilton; the McLean Orchestra in "An Evening at the Opera," Saturday night at Langley High School; and the Prince George's Philharmonic, with soprano Linda Mabbs, Saturday night at Prince George's Community College.

Mozart's String Quintet in G Minor, one of his most emotionally expressive pieces, will be performed by the Theater Chamber Players, together with music of Stravinsky and Raoul Pleskow, Saturday night in the Terrace Theater and next Sunday afternoon at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. Other chamber music highlights of the week will include Jean-Pierre Rampal today at the Kennedy Center; the U.S. Marine Chamber Ensemble, today at the Marine Barracks; Hesperus, exploring the ancient roots of the blues, today at Meridian House International; Tilmann Wick, cello, today at the Phillips; the USA Philharmonic Society, presenting Stravinsky's "Soldier's Tale," Wednesday night in the Terrace Theater; the Friday Morning Music Club, Thursday morning at Strathmore Hall and Friday noon at the Sumner School.

Pianists of the week: Rina Dokshinsky, today in the Terrace Theater; Thomas Pandolfi, tomorrow night at the German Embassy; Dang Thai Son, Saturday afternoon in the Terrace Theater. FILM

The National Museum of Natural History presents selections from the 1990 Margaret Mead Film Festival, today from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, same hours. At 11 a.m. both days, there will be a memorial to Latvian filmmaker Andris Slapins, who was shot to death Jan. 20 as he filmed an attack by Soviet internal security on the Latvian Interior Ministry building in Riga. William Fitzhugh, curator of the museum's department of anthropology, will discuss the filmmaker's life and work, before a special showing of Slapins's "Chukotka: Coast of Memories." The screenings begin at 12:30 p.m. with "The Japanese Version," a look at the way Japan incorporates American culture into its own, and end with "The Yidishe Gauchos," a history of a little-known Argentine town populated by Jewish cowboys. And it's all free. POP MUSIC

World War III -- the Band, tomorrow at the Bayou.

Carmen McRae's latest album is a tribute to the late Sarah Vaughan; every performance is a treat to the ars. Tuesday through Sunday at Anton's.

Three fine songwriters -- Bill Staines, Julie Gold and Hugh Moffat -- share stage and stories at the Birchmere on Tuesday. THEATER

Cliched and awkward it may be, but Cheryl West's "Before It Hits Home," now at Arena, is also great theater. The story of a young black man with AIDS who has no choice but to go home to die, the play sounds as if it would be the kind of thing you rush to avoid. Instead it's full of life, humor and the right kind of scariness -- the kind that keeps you on edge, afraid of what you'll see but unable to look away. Audiences feel the tension: They murmur, shout, groan and laugh as the play makes its points. Tazewell Thompson's assured, iconographic staging sometimes achieves the expressionistic power of opera, and there are two powerhouse performances by Trazana Beverley and Sandra Reaves-Phillips -- the latter a reason all by herself to buy a ticket.

Jon Spelman is the performance artist as storyteller, and onstage at Woolly Mammoth Monday and Tuesday nights through Feb. 12, he's as comfortable as an old sweater. Spelman is companionable rather than assaultive, a rumpled reflective man in whom experiences such as nearly sinking into a volcano have bred a certain thoughtfulness about mortality. Sweet-natured, funny and sometimes moving, he's definitely worth spending a couple of hours with.