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Live classical music is picking up steam, with robust fall seasons

Offerings include the Met premiere of ‘The Hours,’ Bernstein’s ‘Kaddish,’ Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O22 and Berliner Philharmoniker in the U.S.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington's performance of Mahler's “Resurrection” symphony at the Kennedy Center. (Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

For all of the shutdowns and setbacks endured by the performing arts over the past few years, the 2022-2023 season feels like the rubber truly hitting the road to recovery. Masked but undaunted, orchestras, ensembles and opera companies are forging forward with busy seasons that I can barely scratch the surface of here. (Among the more exciting returns to normal: Touring orchestras are back!) What follows are 10 highlights near and not-too-far that piqued one critic’s interest. (For more local and regional classical picks, be sure to take regular peeks at the Weekend section on Fridays through the season.)

Washington Bach Consort

Pardon the easy pun, but it’s hard to imagine a nicer way to get “Bach” to business than an afternoon with the Washington Bach Consort, whose three-tier season of Director’s Series, Chamber Series and Noontime Cantata concerts is well worth marking up your calendar. The consort’s 45th season opens Sept. 18 with a balance of new and old: The world premiere of Trevor Weston’s “A New Song” will be paired with Bach’s “Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde” (BWV 201) in a performance featuring soprano Sherezade Panthaki. Sept. 18 at National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW. bachconsort.org.

National Symphony Orchestra

With the vanishing of composer Philip Glass’s still-in-progress “Symphony No. 15” from the NSO calendar (it was to receive its already postponed world premiere in October), the season feels a bit loaded toward the spring, when music director Gianandrea Noseda and Co. resume the orchestra’s ongoing symphonic cycles of Beethoven and George Walker. But this fall still sports plenty of highlights.

Lovers of Prokofiev get two symphonic servings when John Storgårds leads the composer’s “Classical” symphony (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) and Noseda follows up with the rarely played “Symphony No. 6” (Oct. 22-23). A procession of talented soloists pay a visit to Kennedy Center, including violinists Leila Josefowicz (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Julian Rachlin (Oct. 27-29) and Anne Akiko Meyers (Nov. 10-12); pianist Cédric Tiberghien (Nov. 17 and 19); soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Dec. 1-3); and NSO cellist David Hardy, who takes on Britten’s “Cello Symphony” (Oct. 22-23). The opening gala on Sept. 24 features work by composer-in-residence Carlos Simon as well as the return of Daniil Trifonov, who is owed a proper audience after his last appearance to a scant and socially distanced assembly of listeners in May 2021. Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org.

Noseda and the National Symphony Orchestra return with full hearts — and rows of empty seats

Festival O22

Opera Philadelphia returns with its ambitious Festival O22, which features a staging of Rossini’s rarely performed “Otello” (starring tenor Khanyiso Gwenxane in his U.S. debut and tenor Lawrence Brownlee), as well as Toshio Hosokawa’s Noh-inspired vision of Poe’s “The Raven.” But I’m most excited for “Black Lodge” — a William S. Burroughs-inspired multimedia opera with music by composer David T. Little and a libretto by poet Anne Waldman. Billed as “part film screening and part industrial rock opera concert,” this vision of a ghostly bardo unites glam-opera band Timur & the Dime Museum with musicians from the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra for a night of I-have-no-idea-what. Sept. 21-Oct. 2, various times and locations. operaphila.org.

‘Requiem for the Enslaved’

If you’ve never taken in a concert at Boston’s sui generis Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, this might be the season to give it a go. On Sept. 18, New York Polyphony stages an afternoon musical “installation” in the museum’s lush courtyard devoted to music composed for England’s first queen, Mary I. On Oct. 23, the Boston-based Black arts institution Castle of Our Skins holds a 10th-anniversary celebration featuring music by Derrick Skye and Yaz Lancaster and world premieres by Bongani Ndodana-Breen and Renée C. Baker. But D.C. listeners may be most piqued by the Oct. 9 world premiere of Carlos Simon’s “Requiem for the Enslaved,” performed by the Boston-based Hub New Music, hip-hop artist Marco Pavé, trumpeter Jared Bailey and Simon on piano. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 25 Evans Way, Boston. gardnermuseum.org.

22 for ’22: Composers and performers to watch this year

‘Kaddish’

Those moved by Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” — or those unable to score a ticket for the Kennedy Center revival — might consider taking in another of Bernstein’s large-scale spiritual explorations. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under conductor James Conlon, takes on Bernstein’s “Kaddish,” featuring speakers Judith and Leah Pisar, soprano Diana Newman, the University of Maryland Concert Choir (led by Jason Ferdinand), and the Maryland State Boychoir (led by Stephen Holmes). Bernstein composed “Kaddish” in 1963 while still at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, dedicating it to President John F. Kennedy after learning of his assassination. The piece’s blend of sacred and secular, as well as the grief and hope churning at its core, make it an arresting counterpart (and counterpoint) to “Mass.” Oct. 6 and 9 at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, and Strathmore music hall, Bethesda. bsomusic.org.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra names Jonathon Heyward music director

New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic christens its super-spruced-up home at Lincoln Center’s new-and-improved David Geffen Hall with a powerhouse season. It opens with the world premiere of Marcos Balter’s “Oyá” (a “fantasia of sound and light” composed specifically for the hall). The orchestra then takes the acoustics of the hall for a spin with works by Respighi, John Adams and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Stride” by composer Tania León, who will receive her Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 4. Oct. 12-18 at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York. nyphil.org.

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São Paulo Symphony Orchestra

In addition to her roles as chief conductor of the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor of Ravinia Festival, music director of the National Orchestral Institute and Festival, and music director laureate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop is conductor of honor for the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. In October, she and the orchestra embark on a short run of dates in the United States, performing “Floresta Villa-Lobos” — a program of six composers interspersed with compositions by the Brazilian master Heitor Villa-Lobos. “The Amazon Concert” comes to Strathmore on Oct. 12 and proceeds to Carnegie Hall for a two-night engagement (with two programs) Oct. 14 and 15. Strathmore Music Hall, Bethesda. strathmore.org.

If conductor Marin Alsop’s done it, it’s probably because someone told her she couldn’t

Washington National Opera

The WNO kicks off the one-two punch of its fall season with a new production of Verdi’s “Il trovatore” (Oct. 22-Nov. 7) directed by Brenna Corner and featuring an exciting cast (Latonia Moore as Leonora! Raehann Bryce-Davis as Azucena! Ryan Speedo Green as Fernando!). But I’m already bracing for the 100-minute thrill ride that is Richard Strauss’s “Elektra” (Oct. 29-Nov. 12) arriving via a brand-new production by WNO artistic director Francesca Zambello and starring Christine Goerke in the title role. Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org.

If classical music keeps one thing from the pandemic, let it be the opera short

Berliner Philharmoniker

Hang onto that airfare, as conductor Kirill Petrenko brings the Berliner Philharmoniker to the United States for a limited string of appearances this fall: Carnegie Hall in New York (Nov. 10-12), Symphony Hall in Boston (Nov. 13), Chicago Symphony Center (Nov. 16), Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Nov. 18-19) and Hayes Hall in Naples, Fla. (Nov. 21-22). Depending on where and when you catch the orchestra, you’ll get one of two programs. One gathers Mozart’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in B flat (played by violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley) and music by Andrew Norman and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The other program presents Mahler’s sprawling Symphony No. 7 in its glorious five-movement entirety (i.e. it’s a lot of Nachtmusik). berliner-philharmoniker.de/en.

‘The Hours’

Those who instinctively associate Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-winning 1998 novel “The Hours” with Philip Glass’s undulating melodies from the 2002 film of the same name will have a bit of deprogramming to do before taking in the Metropolitan Opera’s world-premiere production. Pulitzer-winning composer Kevin Puts puts his own orchestral spin on the story of three women disconnected by time but united in turmoil, Greg Pierce supplies the libretto, and “Akhnaten” visionary Phelim McDermott directs. As for the core of the cast, it’s a power trio: Renée Fleming takes on the thoroughly modern Clarissa, Kelli O’Hara sings the desperate housewife, Laura, and Joyce DiDonato transforms into Virginia Woolf. I’d pack extra tissues. Nov. 22-Dec. 15 at the Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York. metopera.org.

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