- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Washington’s performing arts scene seems almost back to normal as the 2003-2004 season begins to unfold. True, organizations such as the “In” Series and the Washington Concert Opera remain in precarious financial situations, with full schedules yet to be announced. On the whole, though, the worst of the recession is behind us, and donations have stabilized for most institutions.

While the 2002-2003 season was a cautious one, programming innovations are beginning to pop up this autumn, with more concerts devoted to the laudable aim of recruiting younger audiences to replace the aging demographic in concert and recital halls. One of the best ways to do this, with apologies to our feminist friends, is to have an ensemble of hip, hot babes dressed in the latest revealing post-Madonna couture performing Beethoven, Bartok and John Adams with equally reckless abandon. The operatic version of this phenomenon, England’s “Opera Babes,” already has been scoring on the other side of the Atlantic. The New World, not to be outdone, now boasts the Ahn and Eroica Trios.

The Ahns — a piano trio of three New York-based Korean sisters — turned in an electrifying, albeit truncated (by a thunderstorm), performance this summer at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. They’ll return Oct. 4, fiddles blazing and hair flying, to perform contemporary and post-punk music at George Mason’s Center for the Arts. Their concert, based on their hit recording “Ahn Plugged” and featuring works by contemporary songwriters and composers, including the Doors and Kenji Bunch, should shatter some tired illusions about contemporary classical performers.

With equally abundant hair, the Eroica Trio is a more established piano-string ensemble that derives its name from the subtitle of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica” or “Heroic.” Heroic it is, having copped a prestigious Naumberg Award as early as 1991 and having issued several Grammy-nominated recordings. Less obviously hip than the Ahns, the Eroica nonetheless often programs established classical standards with new music. The trio will perform Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Prague Symphony at the George Mason Center for the Arts Nov. 16 and will return for two recitals at the Jewish Community Center’s Kreeger Auditorium in Rockville Dec. 6 and 7.

On the wilder side of modern, the increasingly daring Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) is kicking off its fall schedule Sept. 6 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Ring Auditorium with a bizarre music and film event assembled by D.J. Spooky, “that Subliminal Kid,” actually a nom de guerre of D.C. native Paul D. Miller. Mr. Spooky’s latest project is a digital mix of music that’s been brewed to accompany a digitized showing of D.W. Griffith’s still-controversial silent movie, “Birth of a Nation.” The WPAS event, billed as a “work in progress,” promises to range from hip-hop to experimental sounds. No doubt the late Frank Zappa would get into this. Mr. Spooky will be assisted by violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Not all young classical musicians are wild and crazy guys and gals, however. Now scheduled into a very palatable 2 p.m. Sunday time slot at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, the 2003-2004 stanza of the Young Concert Artists series (YCA) commences in October and promises a dazzling selection of young musicians who may be the stars of tomorrow. Scheduled this year are Russian-American baritone Anton Belov (Oct. 12), French violist Antoine Tamestit (Nov. 23), French trumpeter David Guerrier (Feb. 22, 2004) and Romanian cellist Laura Buruiana (March 21, 2004), who will be performing the gorgeous adaptation of Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata, accompanied by pianist Noreen Polera. Tickets are inexpensive at $25 a pop or $85 each for the series.

Not all of today’s interesting soloists are youngsters. Legendary Romantic lion Byron Janis returns to the area with an all-Chopin recital at the George Mason Center for the Arts Nov. 1. Sidelined for many years by arthritis, Mr. Janis has managed to get his career back together again and is now one of few remaining exemplars of the post-World War II generation of dashing pianists that included Arthur Rubinstein, Gary Graffman, Rudolf Serkin, Gina Bachauer and other keyboard immortals.

Washington’s largest performing arts companies, the Washington Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), are both mounting intriguing performances this season. The Washington Opera, helmed by Placido Domingo, continues to make the best of its space at Constitution Hall, where it will stage three more operas before moving back to the renovated Kennedy Center Opera House. The company’s season begins early this year, with an opening-night gala of Johann Strauss’ comic opera “Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat”). Possibly the greatest operatic tune fest ever written, the Waltz King’s masterpiece begins with a spectacular overture and never looks back. Conducted by Music Director Heinz Fricke and starring soprano June Anderson as Rosalinde, Strauss’ “flying mouse” first flaps his wings Sept. 6.

The Washington Opera opens its first-ever performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” Oct. 7 with Emmanuel Villaume at the orchestra’s helm. Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian stars in the title role. The company’s Constitution Hall stay comes to an end with a new production of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure” (“The Valkyries”) which opens Nov. 5. Placido Domingo sings the role of Siegmund, while Mr. Fricke conducts this massive and difficult score. Soprano Linda Watson is chief Valkyrie Brunnhilde, and Met star and Wolf Trap Opera alumnus baritone Alan Held also stars as Wotan. This is the company’s first production of “Walkure” since 1974.

The company will return to the Opera House in early spring with productions of Giacomo Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” Gioacchino Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” (“Cinderella”) and Giuseppe Verdi’s beloved “La Traviata” in the original 1853 version.

The NSO opens its curtain-raising Prelude Festival Sept. 4 with a program featuring Benjamin Schmid as soloist in Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26. The festival will conclude later in the month with Emanuel Ax performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503 in a program that also highlights Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 and Respighi’s noisy “Feste Romane.”

Nov. 20 through 22, the ensemble, under the baton of Mr. Slatkin, presents the world premiere of “Four Angels,” a new work by American composer Mark Adamo. Gustav Mahler’s massive song cycle, “Das Lied von der Erde” (“The Song of the Earth”) concludes the program.

The NSO will mount its second festival in December, highlighting the greatest hits of Tchaikovsky. The opening concert (Dec. 3) features soloists Gil Shaham (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Yefim Bronfman (piano).

When it comes to choral works, Washington is almost insanely blessed with perhaps the greatest number of professional and amateur singers in this country outside of New York. The result? A substantial number of professional and amateur chorales whose performances are too numerous to list extensively in any single article. Of these, the Choral Arts Society of Washington is perhaps the best-known.

Directed by Norman Scribner, the Society’s 39th season opens Nov. 18 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky” accompanied by the Baltimore Symphony under the baton of Yuri Temirkanov. Mr. Scribner will conduct the other half of this concert, which features works by Brahms. The society’s season also will include performances of Haydn’s magnificent oratorio “The Creation” (March 28, 2004, Concert Hall) and an evening of modern compositions featuring works by John Adams and Charles Ives. (May 14, 2004, Northern Virginia Community College’s Rachel Schlesinger Concert Hall in Alexandria.)

Tickets and information: Choral Arts Society: 202/244-3669, Ext. 10. George Mason University Center for the Arts: 703/993-2787. National Symphony Orchestra: 800/444-1324 or 202/467-4600. Washington Opera: 202/294-2400. Washington Performing Arts Society: 202/785-WPAS. Young Concert Artists Series: 202/331-0405.

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