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Season Preview

Where classical music will be this fall in the D.C. area

Wed Sep 23, 2020 at 10:51 am
Musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra perform in the era of social distancing. Photo: Kennedy Center

The coronavirus pandemic continues to sicken and kill Americans. Its destructive impact on businesses includes devastation in the arts sector, just as the fall season of classical music would normally be getting under way. Rather than a traditional fall round-up of the best concerts to hear through the end of the year, Washington Classical Review has to ask a sad question instead. What, if any, live music do we look forward to hearing this fall?

On September 4, Maryland moved into Phase 3 of reopening, meaning that performing arts centers can open at 50% capacity, with up to 100 people allowed at indoor venues and 250 people outdoors. In October, the artistic director of Maryland Opera, James Harp, will accompany groups of singers in free concerts of arias at non-traditional places around Maryland, including a vineyard, a restaurant, and a Catholic community.

Virginia was the first local government to enter Phase 3, with restrictions similar to Maryland’s in place since mid-summer. Even so, only one local presenter in northern Virginia has announced regular in-person live performances. Classical Movements, a company that in normal times arranges tours for musical ensembles, has extended the series of outdoor performances it launched in late June in the garden of its historic building in Alexandria.

Programs are on offer from September 19 to October 4, before the autumn air begins to make outdoor listening less tolerable. The last in the series will feature members of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Septet for winds and strings and Piazzolla’s Oblivion, with Emmanuel Trifilio on the bandoneon. ASO music director James Ross will conduct for the first time since the shutdown began (October 3 and 4).

The District of Columbia remains in Phase 2 of its reopening plan, which more strictly limits live performances for the time being. At the Kennedy Center and everywhere else in the nation’s capital, most of the season’s performances were pushed back until 2021. On September 16, however, the Kennedy Center released the dates for a few live concerts this fall with audiences limited to 50 people, in compliance with health restrictions on indoor gatherings.

As announced this summer, audiences will be seated on the stage of the Kennedy Center Opera House. Patrons will be safely distanced from one another, and masks will be required. If the city moves to Phase 3, live audience size would increase; those who do not wish to attend can listen to a livestream, but only for some concerts. In addition to intriguing chamber concerts by members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Dover Quartet and Escher String Quartet will team up for an evening of string octets by Shostakovich, Enescu, and Mendelssohn (October 20).

Other presenters are offering all-virtual seasons. Opera Lafayette will continue presenting rare works of 18th-century opera with Philidor’s Le Maréchal ferrant. Ryan Brown will conduct a cast including Dominique Côté, Pascale Beaudin, and Joshua Conyers at the Reddert Ranch in Mancos, Colorado. The setting, where the cast will quarantine together for a safe period before the performance, echoes Nick Olcott’s English-language adaptation of the opera to the 19th-century American West (October 9 to 11).

UrbanArias, one of the city’s plucky pocket opera companies, has teamed up with other small outfits in the Decameron Opera Coalition. As part of a lineup of short new works, UrbanArias will stream its performance of The Roost, by librettist John de los Santos and composer Marc Migó. The 10-minute work is billed as “a sexy comedy about expecting parents in lock-down” (October 16).

The National Museum of Asian Art continues its series of concerts, often combining eastern and western music, in digital format. The most interesting is a recital by pianist Yael Weiss, which pairs two Beethoven sonatas (No. 27 and No. 28) with music by Syrian native Malek Jandali, Turkish composer Aslihan Keçebasoglu, Afghan composer Milad Yousufi, Jordanian composer Saed Haddad, and Sidney Boquiren of the Philippines (October 17).

Matthew Robertson will conduct live performances of the chamber choir The Thirteen, to be streamed with some recorded performances online. If pandemic conditions improve, some tickets may be available to hear these concerts in person. Their October program will pair Heinrich Schütz’s Musikalisches Exequien, performed in a church here, with Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden, performed by singers from around the country (October 23).

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra plans to perform its monthly concerts in the Music Center at Strathmore, livestreaming them to a virtual audience. The program featuring Robert DiLutis as soloist in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, composed for Benny Goodman, holds particular interest. In addition to Grieg’s Holberg Suite, it will include Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Novelette in A Major and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Grass, Poem for Piano, Strings & Percussion (October 24).

Shriver Hall has put its fall season online, consisting of three concerts starting in October. One program stands out from the rest: a concert of piano duo repertoire played by Garrick Ohlsson and Kirill Gerstein. In addition to Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Ravel’s La Valse, there are two works by Ferruccio Busoni, Fantasia contrappuntistica and his arrangement of a Mozart piano concerto (November 8).

The Library of Congress offers a relatively full season of excellent concerts, all presented online, with performances by the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, the Jack Quartet, and Ensemble Dal Niente, among others. In particular, the Takács Quartet kicks off a Beethoven festival that will run through most of the month of December. On offer are some unusual arrangements of the composer’s symphonies, for solo and duo piano, among others (November 20 to December 18).

The Candlelight Concert Society hosts three virtual concerts this season, beginning with a recital by pianist Maxim Lando, who won a Gilmore Young Artist Award this year, on September 26. Later in the year, the Borromeo Quartet offers an alluring program featuring Schittke’s String Quartet No. 3, bookended by late Beethoven works for string quartet, the Grosse Fugue (quoted in the Schnittke piece) and String Quartet No. 13 (December 12).

Since we are all working from home now, it is kind of the city’s lunchtime concert series presenters to offer their regular concerts online. The Church of the Epiphany continues its Tuesday series at 12:10 p.m. but streaming all week on demand.

The Washington Bach Consort has moved its monthly Bach cantata series to virtual format this fall. The series culminates in a performance of the six cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio, streamed on the six days on which Bach intended them to be performed, throughout the twelve days of Christmas (December 25 to January 6). No promises about the partridge in a pear tree.

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