Another long, hot Washington summer has come and gone and, as Leonard Cohen once put it, "the winter's tuning up." So are a lot of musicians, as we prepare for an eventful season, what with an unusually ambitious series of programs from the National Symphony Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov's last year as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a new production of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" from the Washington National Opera, and the usual gems from the Library of Congress, Dumbarton Church, the Clarice Smith Center and the other venues that provide us such a variety of musical culture.
Washington National Opera kicks off at the Kennedy Center on Sept. 17 with Giuseppe Verdi's gloomy "I Vespri Siciliani," one of those works far better known to connoisseurs than to the general public. Soprano Maria Guleghina and tenor Franco Farina may put it across to a wider audience: There will be seven performances, some conducted by WNO's general director, Placido Domingo, the others by Giovanni Reggioli.
The only chance to hear Domingo actually sing this year will come in an unusual hybrid titled "Trilogy" -- three fully staged individual acts from three different operas: Act 2 of Umberto Giordano's "Fedora," with Mirella Freni; Act 4 of Giuseppe Verdi's "Otello," with Barbara Frittoli as Desdemona; and Act 3 of Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow," with Leslie Mutchler as Hanna. Personally, I would rather have heard another of Domingo's matchless complete performances of "Otello," but Freni's "Fedora" ought to sweeten the pot somewhat. There will be seven performances, starting Sept. 24.
I confess that I find the big tunes in "Porgy and Bess" a lot more palatable than the entire opera, but those who feel otherwise will want to catch WNO's production, which opens Oct. 29. The cast will include (on different nights) Gordon Hawkins and Kevin Short as Porgy and Indira Mahajan and Morenike Fadayomi as Bess. There will be a total of 10 performances: Clearly, WNO is banking on a hit.
Many of the most interesting National Symphony Orchestra presentations take place next spring, with visits by Christoph von Dohnanyi and Kurt Masur, culminating in a rare performance of Symphony No. 8 by Gustav Mahler in June, under Music Director Leonard Slatkin. But there are some promising events this fall as well -- notably a return visit in November by the Belgian conductor Stephane Deneve with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and music by Rossini, Respighi, Grieg and the contemporary French composer Guillaume Connesson in tow. And who would want to miss the mostly Sibelius program led by Vladimir Ashkenazy later that month, complete with a performance by Ryu Goto of the great Violin Concerto?
In January, James Conlon will lead Act 1 of Wagner's "Die Walkure," with a cast that includes the thrilling soprano Anja Kampe. But the pick hit must be Lorin Maazel's all-Strauss program on Jan. 19, with two late masterpieces, "Metamorphosen" and the bejeweled "Four Last Songs," as sung by Katarina Karneus.
Regardless of how well Marin Alsop does when she makes history by taking the helm of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, many of us will miss the unusually tender and idiosyncratic conducting of Yuri Temirkanov enormously. Catch him while you can; I don't think he's going to be back very often. I'm especially looking forward to concerts at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Hall on Oct. 13-14 that will feature Mendelssohn's "Ruy Blas" Overture, Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 and the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Barry Douglas.
Highlights of the Washington Performing Arts Society's 40th-anniversary year include a performance of baroque music by the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli (Oct. 26); recitals by the violinists Midori (Oct. 23) and Hilary Hahn (Nov. 13) at the Kennedy Center, and by pianist Mitsuko Uchida at the Music Center at Strathmore (Nov. 15). On Jan. 18, the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Philharmonia of Russia and the Yale University Chorus -- interesting mix! -- will join forces at the Kennedy Center.
The Vocal Arts Society starts its season with a recital of Schubert songs by the startlingly intense and original British tenor Ian Bostridge at the Terrace Theater on Sept. 22. Make sure that you hear the brilliant coloratura tenor Lawrence Brownlee when he comes back to Washington on Jan. 5. Meanwhile, the WPAS-sponsored Patrick and Evelyn Swarthout Hayes Piano Series opens at the Terrace on Oct. 15 with a recital by Severin von Eckardstein.
The Virginia Opera will return to the George Mason Center for the Arts with a production of Verdi's "La Traviata" (Oct. 14 and 16), while Washington Concert Opera will present a double bill of Puccini's "Il Tabarro" and Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" at Lisner Auditorium on Oct. 30.
Remember that visits to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, the George Mason Center for the Arts in Fairfax, and the new Music Center at Strathmore can provide pleasures large and small. And don't forget the programs at the Hirshhorn Museum, the Phillips Collection, the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery and the many embassies and houses of worship that offer programs throughout the year. I'm especially fond of the every-Tuesday-at-noon programs offered by the Church of the Epiphany downtown.
Few cities can rival Washington as a bastion of collective musicmaking. Watch for performances by the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the Washington Chorus, the Master Chorale, the Cathedral Choral Society, the Washington Men's Camerata, the Washington Bach Consort and the many smaller groups presenting their work throughout the year. As for regional orchestras, we have the Alexandria Symphony, the American Youth Philharmonic, Eclipse, the Fairfax Symphony, the Mount Vernon Orchestra, the National Philharmonic and the Prince George's Philharmonic. For chamber music, check out offerings from the Capitol Woodwind Quintet, Washington Symphonic Brass, the Folger Consort and the 21st Century Consort as well.
Finally, the Kennedy Center offers a free show at 6 each and every night of the year -- the Millennium Stage series, which features plenty of music acts. Why not stop in for a visit? The quality of these concerts has improved substantially in recent years and, even if you hit upon a dud, you can step out to the back patio and gaze out at the Potomac, with the lights of Georgetown twinkling in the distance and the Washington evening beginning to unfold.