Gianandrea Noseda and the National Symphony Orchestra are going places.
In 2020, conductor and orchestra are performing and recording all nine Beethoven symphonies over 18 days, part of the worldwide commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Over another 18 days, they’ll tour Japan and China. And this November, they’ll travel to New York’s Lincoln Center, with Christine Goerke and Stephen Gould singing Act II of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.”
Those are some of the highlights of the Kennedy Center’s classical season in 2019-2020, announced Monday by the administrative and artistic heads of the NSO, the Washington National Opera and the Fortas Chamber Concerts.
As Beethoven saturates the field in 2020, it’s nice that the NSO is offering the cycle in such a concentrated form. Doing all of the symphonies together, Noseda said last week, “makes the challenge even higher, how to build up this monument, this cathedral, from note one of the first symphony to the last note of the Ninth.” Noseda came to wide international attention the last time he performed the cycle in 2005 with the BBC Philharmonic, and set records in the then-infant medium of digital downloads.
“For a conductor,” he said, “it is always nice to go back and see how those pieces have developed in your life.”
As for the international invitations, they’re not so much a reflection of the orchestra’s progress under Noseda as they are of Noseda’s fame, since they must have come in about the time he took over.
“The third season is a good one to start,” he said. “Is it an ideal one? I don’t know. You have to plan a tour much in advance.” But, he added, “I think we are proceeding well. The new players in the orchestra are bringing new wind, and the orchestra is reinvigorating itself.”
The real motto of the Kennedy Center’s classical seasons could be “Familiar Works With a Few New Touches.” Case in point: Renée Fleming, the star soprano, will be appearing in two new works. With the NSO and Noseda, she’ll sing Kevin Puts’s “Brightness of Light” (an expansion of his earlier Georgia O’Keeffe work) with Rod Gilfry. And in the Fortas series, she’ll join the Emerson Quartet in a new work, “Penelope,” by the venerable André Previn. Her own Kennedy Center series, Voices, will present the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in her program “In War and Peace,” relating to her 2016 recording project, in November.
The Washington National Opera’s main news is that it is stepping up its laudable longtime commitment, under Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, to hiring women and artists of color. Tenor Russell Thomas, who last appeared here as “Don Carlo,” will sing Verdi’s “Otello” to open the season; “Porgy and Bess” will return to close it. And a major focus is the local premiere of “Blue” by Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson, about a black family whose teenage son is killed by a white police officer (the opera, directed by Thompson, will have its world premiere at Zambello’s Glimmerglass festival this summer). Soloman Howard, a D.C. native who is singing around the world, is the recipient of this year’s Marian Anderson award and will give a solo recital in November.
“The next season came together first by knowing we had Russell,” Zambello said. “I think some things should be cast with certain physical types, and the role of Otello is one of them.” From there, the season described a natural arc from “Blue” to “Porgy” “as we contemplate race and how we treat it in opera,” Zambello said.
WNO is offering six mainstage operas this year rather than five, though “Blue” is effectively replacing the one-hour new opera from the American Opera Initiative. Also coming are “The Magic Flute” (in the production by the late children’s book author/illustrator Maurice Sendak, conducted by Eun Sun Kim); “Don Giovanni” (conducted by the company’s new music director, Evan Rogister, who will also lead “Porgy and Bess”); and “Samson and Delilah,” with J’Nai Bridges as Delilah.
“Designing an opera season is about creating an alchemy of balance,” said Tim O’Leary, the general director of WNO, adding, “Standard works are the most welcoming points of entry for many of the new audiences that we are bringing in.” That said, the company hopes that “Blue” will reach people who had no particular interest in the art form; community leaders are being contacted for outreach initiatives throughout the city.
The Fortas series is also opening with a repeat of a classic: the Takacs Quartet’s Bartok cycle, which coincided with a blizzard the last time they did it here, magnificently, in 2014. Some of the season’s less-conventional highlights include a recital by the brilliant and unorthodox violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja in January and a program in which Richard Egarr explores music that George Washington’s granddaughter Nelly Custis might have played, on a replica of her own harpsichord.
The Chineke! orchestra, a British ensemble of black and minority musicians, will perform with the wunderkind cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason; the vocal ensemble Cantus will offer a new work by Libby Larsen; and the Dover Quartet will continue its three-year residency. Then there are the classics: Pamela Frank and Peter Serkin in an all-Bach program and, inevitably, more Beethoven, in recitals by piano eminence Maurizio Pollini and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.