Festival: Washington area admirers of Frederic Chopin are in for a treat--actually a series of artfully mixed treats--this month. The Chopin Festival, sponsored by the Polish Ministry of Culture and the Arts under the patronage of the Polish and French ambassadors, begins today with a concert for young people by pianist Roman Markowicz at the Levine School of Music. Events continue through Nov. 29, which brings a program by violinist Janice Martin, cellist Steven Honigberg and pianist Carol Honigberg at La Maison Francaise. A festival highlight will be a performance of both Chopin piano concertos Wednesday in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater by the Festival Orchestra of Poland with pianist-conductor Krystian Zimerman.
One-of-a-kind events will include a lecture on "The 19th-Century Geopolitical Forces That Influenced Chopin" by historian Adam Zamoyski tomorrow at the Kreeger Museum; a showing of Andrzej Zulawski's film "Blue Note," with participation by pianist Janusz Olejniczak, Saturday at the National Gallery; a program of Chopin songs, with Olejniczak accompanying soprano Olga Pasiecznik, Nov. 14 and 15 at Dumbarton Oaks; a "Chopin Improvised Concert" by pianist Adam Makowicz on Nov. 16 at La Maison Francaise; a lecture on "Chopin and Delacroix" by Arlette Serullaz, director of the Delacroix Museum in Paris, Nov. 17 at the Phillips Collection; a reading of letters written by Chopin and George Sand by Elzbieta Czyzewska and Mathieu Carriere, with piano music played by Olejniczak, Nov. 19 in the Terrace Theater.
Piano recitals will be given by some of Poland's finest pianists: Ewa Osinska, Friday at the International Finance Corp.; Wojciech Switala, Nov. 18 at the Polish Embassy and Nov. 21 at the Phillips Collection; Juana Zayas, Nov. 22 at La Maison Francaise.
The festival's artistic director and organizer (with the assistance of the Alliance Francaise) is Malgorzata Markowska, daughter of the eminent Polish conductor Andrzej Markowski, who gives her late father credit for making the festival possible. "My father's name gave me entree," she says. "It opened for me many doors that would otherwise have been closed." For more information, call 202-234-7911, Ext. 18.
Oh, Susannah! The story of Susannah and the elders from the Book of Daniel has inspired two stylistically contrasted operatic masterpieces in the English language. Handel's "Susanna," dating from 1749, is one of his last theatrical masterpieces, thinly disguised as an oratorio but operatic in its musical style and dramatic impact. Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah," which is now in production at the Washington Opera, could never be mistaken for an oratorio, but sometimes it might remind you of an old-time prayer meeting, complete with feverish preaching and gospel tunes. Other segments have square-dance tunes that may start audience members dancing in the aisles, and arias that have the flavor of Appalachian folk tunes.
Its libretto, written by the composer, transforms the Bible story into something deeper, more complex and uniquely American. It is not only a story of old men lusting after a young woman and damning her with false accusations, but also a slashing indictment of holier-than-thou hypocrisy that is as valid today as it was when Carlisle Floyd wrote it in 1955.
"Susannah" has been a perennial favorite with audiences from its first performance, not only in America but abroad. The sets and costumes for the Washington Opera's production (for which tickets are still available) have already seen service in America's leading opera houses in New York, Chicago and Houston.
It is nearly unique among American operas ("Porgy and Bess" being the primary exception) in having two excellent recordings. The most recent, ironically, is a French production from the Opera de Lyon, issued on the Virgin label, conducted by its American-born conductor Kent Nagano and offering a stellar array of American singers--Cheryl Studer, Samuel Ramey and Jerry Hadley--in the principal roles.
An earlier recording of a production by the New Orleans Opera, issued on the VAI label, has not only musical but historic interest to compensate for its pre-digital sound, with performances by such great American singers of the past as Phyllis Curtin, Norman Treigle and Richard Cassilly.
Souvenirs on CD: This is the busiest time of year in the recording industry. Several excellent new recordings feature musicians who have recently performed or will perform in Washington.
Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, who played recently at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, has recorded a harp arrangement of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" on the Telarc label. It is refreshing to hear such overexposed music played with a different spin, although I am also currently fascinated by the latest recording with a violin soloist--Anne-Sophie Mutter on Deutsche Grammophon. A film clip of parts of Mutter's performance can be viewed via her page at the Internet book and music store Amazon.com--the first classical music video shown on Amazon.
Flutist Emmanuel Pahud, who performed recently at the Kennedy Center as principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic, has a new recording on EMI of Mozart's Quartets for Flute and Strings (he has already recorded Mozart's flute concertos). Like a previous Berlin principal flutist, James Galway, he is building a busy career as a chamber musician and concerto soloist, but unlike Galway, he shows no inclination to quit his orchestra job. Busy? "It's a delicate balance," he says. "The orchestra's complex sonorities are fascinating . . . and playing alone requires a different kind of stamina."
Steven Honigberg, a National Symphony cellist and very active chamber musician (he directs the concert series at the Holocaust Museum and will participate in the final program of this month's Chopin Festival) is heard on the Albany label in a new recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Piano Quintet and Suite for Piano Left Hand and Strings. Also in the Chopin Festival, the Festival Orchestra of Poland with pianist-conductor Krystian Zimerman has recorded the two Chopin piano concertos for Deutsche Grammophon.
Music on Video: The first four volumes of "Chicago Symphony Orchestra Historic Telecasts," issued by Video Artists International, present Fritz Reiner, George Szell, Leopold Stokowski and Pierre Monteux in some of their favorite repertoire in concerts telecast between 1954 and 1962. Video recordings tell a lot about a conductor's style that is not evident in audio. Besides their appeal to hard-core music lovers, these tapes will be useful to students of conducting.