Here’s an illustration of what’s wrong with the presenting system. When Ivan Fischer was principal conductor of the NSO, the Budapest Festival Orchestra -- which he founded, and which remains his main orchestra and calling card -- toured the US, but never came to DC. Next year, however, Fischer and the BFO are coming to Washington. One might surmise that the desire of the Kennedy Center and the Washington Performing Arts Society not to present competing events effectively kept Washington audiences from getting to know a significant side of their own conductor until after he was gone.
The relative lateness of WPAS’s announcement -- season announcements are often made as early as January and February -- reflects a positive effect of the ongoing financial crisis among non-profit organizations: when finances are less certain, artists can’t always be booked as far in advance. I don’t applaud financial hardship, but I do applaud increasing flexibility in a field where bookings two and three years in advance have been the norm and have tended to handicap presenters in their ability to respond to what’s actually going on in the arts now, at any given moment.
It would be nice to say that WPAS’s announcement reflected a corresponding excitement and pizzazz, but the 2011-12 season seems to be sticking to the tried and true. It’s a formula that works for classical presenters, and it’s hard to criticize WPAS for seeking out the biggest names in the field. Many will be thrilled to hear that next season they can experience, again, the violinists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman (who both played here this year), the Emerson Quartet and Wu Han (who already make frequent DC appearances) the Philadelphia Orchestra under Charles Dutoit (annual visitors, and always welcome), the violinist Gil Shaham, the pianist Murray Perahia.
Other welcome repeat returners (who have played here, if not all with WPAS, recently) include the pianists Simone Dinnerstein, Leif Ove Andsnes, Yefim Bronfman, Jonathan Biss, and Jeremy Denk, and the violinists Vadim Repin, Julia Fischer, and Stefan Jackiw. One returnee didn’t manage to play at all: Till Fellner, the Austrian pianist, will open the season on October 1, making up for the recital he had to cancel this past January due to a strained muscle in his hand.
The orchestral offerings are slightly more subdued: apart from Vienna, Philly, and the BFO, Washington can hear the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique under John Eliot Gardiner in an all-Beethoven program on November 19, and the European Union Youth Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy on April 15 (Pinchas Zukerman will play Bruch’s first violin concerto). WPAS will also co-present Norman Scribner’s final concert at the helm of the Choral Arts Society, the Brahms Requiem in May. In addition to the jazz offerings (Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis), world music (Anoushka Shankar), and dance (Savion Glover, Pilobolus), there’s candy for vocal fans: recitalists include Idina Menzel (November 6) and the great Audra McDonald (October 4).
As for Fischer and the BFO, they’re presenting, what else, a Hungarian program celebrating the 130th anniversary of Bela Bartok, with Andras Schiff as soloist in the 2nd piano concerto. But don’t worry, there’s something more conventional on that program as well: it concludes with Schubert’s 9th.