- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Washington’s upcoming 2005-2006 classical music season —dominated, as always, by the larger ensembles — seems as if it’s in suspended animation. While the Washington National Opera’s Placido Domingo remains wildly popular and probably could become the company’s general director for life if he wanted, big changes are coming soon for the Baltimore and National Symphony Orchestras.

With the BSO a competitive presence at the new Strathmore Music Center, its 90th concert season marks the farewell tour of Music Director Yuri Temirkanov. The orchestra’s programming for the upcoming season is, in a way, marking time with little that is truly adventurous. It actually might be more interesting to speculate on the impact incoming Music Director Marin Alsop will have on next season’s schedule. Area premieres, perhaps, for the works on her new all-Kurt Weill hit CD, recorded with England’s Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra?

One welcome BSO innovation this year is its teaming with Darin Atwater’s 75 piece African-American ensemble, the Soulful Symphony, in a concert series at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. Washington’s first chance to hear these musicians at Strathmore will be Dec. 10, when they present a Christmas concert featuring Duke Ellington’s take on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” and Quincy Jones’ gospel update of Handel’s “Messiah.” This should prove bracing holiday fare for jaded classical palates.

The Kennedy Center has already kicked off its institutional season this month with its ongoing Prelude Festival. The NSO will open at the festival on Thursday and Friday with cellist Alisa Weilerstein performing Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Capriccio Espagnol” along with works by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, all under the baton of guest conductor Peter Oundjian.

As with the BSO, the NSO’s new season is not loaded with surprises — but there are a few. At the first Family Concert in the NSO’s 75th anniversary season, maestro Leonard Slatkin ascends the podium to conduct the first in what is promised to be a series of world-premiere NSO-commissioned works highlighting traditional American tales. David Del Tredici’s “Rip Van Winkle” — a musical portrait of Washington Irving’s legendary sleepyhead — debuts Nov. 20.

Reviving genuine operatic excitement from two seasons back, James Conlon will conduct the NSO (Jan. 12 through 14) in concerts that return electrifying soprano Anja Kampe to the capital, where she wowed Washington National Opera audiences at Constitution Hall by singing an unexpectedly brilliant Sieglinde to Mr. Domingo’s Siegmund in Wagner’s “Die Walkure.” She will reprise some of those moments at the KenCen. Call the box office now, or you’ll miss out.

Maestro Slatkin will lead the NSO in the world premiere of Roberto Sierra’s “Missa Latina” (Feb. 2 through 4) and will return with a cast of thousands, or thereabouts, to mount performances of Gustav Mahler’s epic Symphony Number 8 (June 8 through 10). Mr. Slatkin is slated to lead the NSO through the 2007-2008 season; his successor has not yet been announced.

Meanwhile, other ensembles and venues in the area are well worth noting. On seemingly firmer footing this year, the In Series gets off to an attention-grabbing start by “Remembering Harold Arlen,” which celebrates the popular American songwriter of “Over the Rainbow” in a centennial tribute at the Source Theatre (Oct. 1 through 15).

The following month, again at Source, the company celebrates the 150th anniversary of poet Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and his Civil War years in Washington with a cabaret of music and poetry (Nov. 11 through 16). For information and directions, go to https://www.embassyseries.org.

Music programs at Washington’s various foreign embassies were superb last year, though somewhat underpublicized. In particular, the Austrian and Swiss embassies’ provocative concerts — unearthing rarely heard, startlingly beautiful music by Erich Korngold and other Jewish composers who were derailed or murdered by the Nazis — were pearls beyond price.

Highlights for this year’s Embassy Series’ fall stanza include the series’ first Brazilian concert, in the Mayflower Hotel’s Colonial Room, featuring clarinet quintet Sujeito a Guincho performing works by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim and others (September 11); a politically incorrect (for conservatives) “Cuban Experience” with food and music at the Cuban Interests Section (Oct. 14); a rare look at the chamber music of Leos Janacek and Bohuslav Martinu at the Embassy of Slovakia (Nov. 3 and 4); and a tribute to Georges Enescu at the Romanian Embassy (Nov. 11).

Easily overshadowed by the Kennedy Center and the glamorous new Strathmore and Clarice Smith centers in Maryland, the area’s first real suburban concert venue, George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax City, has a full menu of concert appearances by world-renowned classical artists. It also serves as home to the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, a fine ensemble that frequently is overshadowed by its larger, better-funded peers.

With a limited series, the FSO’s repertoire rarely goes off the deep end, but concerts are always enjoyable. A highlight this year will be its Nov. 12 concert featuring popular classical guitar soloist Christopher Parkening in the local premiere of late film composer Elmer Bernstein’s Guitar Concerto as well as the immortal “Adagio” from Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.”

Fall highlights also include the increasingly polished Virginia Opera. It will be at George Mason the weekend of Oct. 14 performing Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.” If you can’t get enough Verdiana, Opera Verdi Europa’s performance of that composer’s “Macbeth” will happen at the Fairfax venue Nov. 6.

Speaking of opera, let’s not forget WNO’s Domingo Crew in the District. The maestro himself will stage his own season premiere this year at Leesburg’s River Creek Club, hosting the second annual Domingo Cup Golf Tournament. Meanwhile, National Public Radio will broadcast a recorded performance of last year’s smash “Billy Budd” Sept. 10.

The company opens its real season in the Kennedy Center Opera House with Verdi’s “Il Vespri Siciliani” (Sept. 12). This will be followed by the gala “Trilogy” — three individual opera acts featuring Mr. Domingo and Famous Friends, including Mirella Freni (Sept. 24) — and is sure to sell out. “Porgy and Bess” opens Oct. 29 and runs for nearly a month.

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