- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2000

Washington's 2000-01 classical-music and opera season holds the promise of something for almost everyone, but not much controversy. Even the frequently cranky Kennedy Center musicians just inked a two-year contract without a noisy walkout.
The U.S. economy continues to boom. The coffers of local arts organizations, while not always flush, are looking better than ever. The high-tech industry is providing a stable financial and audience base for this most transient of cities, so things are looking rosy for all the performing arts, which should now be ripe for innovation.
Caution, however, seems to be the watchword of music organizations this year. The classical music scene will be enjoyable and will appeal to the mass audience. But the new stuff you'll hear is pretty much old stuff that you've never had a chance to hear.
The Washington Opera probably has the best excuse for this kind of programming. Artistic Director Placido Domingo has big plans to increase the number of operas presented in coming seasons and may even commission a new opera. He also eventually must contend with a disruptive Opera House renovation, so perhaps it is best to play it safe this year.
The only innovation in the Washington Opera's new season will be its fall curtain raiser, Jules Massenet's "Don Quichotte" (Oct. 21 to Nov. 20), another lavish 19th-century French opera similar to last year's spectacular "Le Cid." Both are neglected today, not because they are bad but because they cost a fortune to mount.
Spectacle is what opera is about, and pulling this one back out of the closet is a welcome move. This is particularly so, since the production will star Washington's own Denyce Graves as Dulcinee, Quichotte's "impossible dream."
The company's new "Parsifal" also might be considered innovative, in the sense that we have not seen many of Richard Wagner's extravaganzas on the opera stage recently. What will make this opera sparkle is its cast of veteran Wagnerians, led by Mr. Domingo in the title role and all under the baton of the company's musical director, Heinz Fricke (Nov. 4 through 24).
The Washington Opera's fall stanza is rounded out with Giuseppe Verdi's "Il Trovatore," conducted by Mr. Domingo and featuring the "Anvil Chorus," the most rousing opera chorus ever (Oct. 28 to Nov. 25); the umpteenth production of Gioacchino Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" ("The Barber of Seville"), featuring a youthful cast under the direction of Marco Gandini (Dec. 23 to Jan. 25); and a welcome production of Gian Carlo Menotti's political thriller, "The Consul," with Joanna Porackova and Beverly O'Regan Thiele alternating as Magda (Dec. 30 to Jan. 26).
The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), whose Beethoven Festival concludes today, will begin its regular season next week. Under Leonard Slatkin's musical direction, the ensemble has assumed a "woodier" sound and has slowly altered the balance of orchestra personnel, with noticeably positive results. Experienced musicians have been added, such as this year's new principal horn, Martin Hackleman.
Maestro Slatkin has introduced plenty of new works since coming to Washington. Not all have been masterpieces, but concerts have become more interesting and less predictable under his tenure, as has the orchestra's sense of showmanship.
Somehow, though, this season seems less daring than seasons past. The orchestra is heavily promoting its pops season (starting in November), now that Marvin Hamlisch is principal pops conductor. But even the regular season, starting Wednesday, seems more heavily laden with lightweight works. Maybe it is the money thing again. Tried and true music fills the hall.
But it also is possible that the clever Mr. Slatkin is ahead of the curve. One of the problems with classical music in America is that it tends to tilt toward Europe for approval and relegate many of our own great composers to the disparaged category of "popular composers." Perhaps Mr. Slatkin is experimenting aggressively with blurring these traditional distinctions.
Besides the National Symphony's opening night gala Wednesday, which features a smattering of classical chestnuts to Broadway numbers, the orchestra also is mounting a rather limp tribute to Aaron Copland (Thursday through next Saturday). This is primarily the safe, "Appalachian Spring" Copland, not the spiky experimentalist — though the program does include his nifty Concerto for Clarinet and Strings with Harp and Piano.
More interesting will be programs featuring Kurt Weill's songs as interpreted by Ute Lemper (Sept. 28 through 30) and the return to Washington of popular Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie (Oct. 5 through 7). An interesting theme concert will be conducted by James Conlon from Nov. 16 through 18, focusing on musical treatments of the Prometheus legend by major composers, with works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Karoly Goldmark, Franz Liszt and Wagner — although I wonder why Aleksandr Scriabin's weirdly mesmerizing "Prometheus" is not on the program.
Classical music happens elsewhere in Washington, too, although in a more random fashion.
The Washington Performing Arts Society will showcase superstar Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel at DAR Constitution Hall on Oct. 4. On Oct. 30, the splendid Young Concert Artists Series will kick off its new season in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, with Czech pianist Martin Kasik in an all-Chopin recital.
The Master Chorale Chamber Singers will present Sergei Rachmaninoff's ravishing — and very Russian — "Vespers" on Nov. 11 at Georgetown's historic Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The Virginia Opera will be at the George Mason Center for the Arts in Fairfax to perform Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" the weekend of Dec. 1. Stephen Simon's Washington Chamber Symphony will break out of its baroque mode with Jacques Ibert's "Concertino da Camera for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra," with Gary Louie on the classical sax (Jan. 26 and 27).
Jazz is arguably America's real classical music, and jazz fans will want to note the appearances at the George Mason Center for the Arts of the Mingus Big Band (Oct. 28) and the granddaddies of the New Orleans sound, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Nov. 19).
Sadly, one Washington group that always can be counted on for lively and innovative programs — the In Series — is almost out. It's in serious trouble this year, having been evicted from its longtime home at Mount Vernon College's Hand Chapel by its new landlord, George Washington University. Carla Hubner's itinerant band is now roosting at several venues and could use monetary help.
At least it has influential friends, including the Czech and Chilean embassies and the Levine School of Music. Top picks for the fall season are a 1930s cabaret at the Czech Embassy (Friday through Oct. 1) and the company's "Las Vegas version" of Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" at Arlington's Clark Street Playhouse (Jan. 10 through 14).

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