Critic’s Choice for the 2017-18 Season

Tue Aug 22, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Dorothea Röschmann will perform a recital for Vocal Arts DC February 8, 2018.

Fans of classical music and opera consume music in all the ways possible in the digital era. We listen to recordings, we watch high-definition simulcasts in movie theaters, and we stream videos and radio broadcasts. For most of us, though, nothing is as visceral or as likely to affect us emotionally as a live performance.

As the new season opens, Washingtonians have to make tough choices about their concert budgets and time commitments. How to choose among all the options for new opera, old opera, visiting orchestras, international soloists, and early music coming to our area? Which will turn out to be the best combinations of performers, repertory, and venue? Here are ten performances no listener with wide-ranging tastes in all those areas will want to miss in the 2017-18 season.


Gisle Kverndokk: Letters from Ruth. Alisa Jordheim, New York Opera Society. September 24, 2017.

Winning the award for best revival of a moribund concert series is the National Gallery of Art. A world premiere kicks off a fine season of free concerts with this staged reading of a new opera based on the diaries of Ruth Maier. An Austrian Jew who fled Vienna for Norway, only to be deported to Germany in 1942, she was killed at Auschwitz. This performance, coinciding with an exhibit on Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, is the first in a promising series of “Music + Art” concerts on themes aligned with art shows at the city’s largest museum.

Mariinsky Orchestra, with Valery Gergiev and Daniil Trifonov. November 12, 2017.

Valery Gergiev has put together a program of orchestral blockbusters for the upcoming tour of his Mariinsky Orchestra. At their stop in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, presented by Washington Performing Arts, Gergiev will lead Strauss’s virtuosic tour de force Don Juan, as well as Prokofiev’s bone-chilling Sixth Symphony and the pounding Iron Foundry of Soviet Futurist composer Alexander Mosolov. In case that were not enough, possessed pianist Daniil Trifonov will also give the first hearing of a new piano concerto of his own composition.

Bellini: La Straniera. Washington Concert Opera. November 19, 2017.

Any opera fan who is not yet a regular at Washington Concert Opera should be. Most of the operas on their schedule, just two per season, are rarities one is unlikely to hear elsewhere. Artistic director Antony Walker is an astute judge of voices, meaning that the three WCO debuts for this fall’s concert of Bellini’s La Straniera—soprano Amanda Woodbury, tenor Gerard Schneider, and mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings—will be worth hearing. The same goes for the spring performance, Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan(February 18, 2018).

Missy Mazzoli’s opera “Proving Up” will receive its world premiere at Washington National Opera January 19, 2018.

Missy Mazzoli: Proving Up. Washington National Opera. January 19 and 21, 2018.

Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek scored a major critical success with their first opera, Breaking the Waves, presented by Opera Philadelphia one year ago. The duo reunites for a new opera, Proving Up, which will receive its world premiere at the Kennedy Center as part of Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. The story, drawn from a short story by Karen Russell, concerns families in Nebraska who seek a way around the Homestead Act, which requires land claims to prove ownership of a house with at least one glass window. In order to “prove up,” they hire a young man to transport the single window they can afford, by pooling their resources, from house to house for each inspection.

Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau. Vocal Arts DC. February 8, 2018.

After a long renovation the Kennedy Center reopens the Terrace Theater this fall. That is good news for a number of presenters, including the always worthwhile Lieder recital series presented by Vocal Arts DC. At the top of their upcoming season is what promises to be a stellar concert by soprano Dorothea Röschmann and consummate accompanist Malcolm Martineau. The program will include Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, both highlights of Röschmann’s repertory. The rest of the season includes established stars like mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and tenor Christoph Prégardien, as well as some rising young singers you will want to get to know.

National Symphony Orchestra and  Donald Runnicles. March 1-3, 2018.

This is the debut season for the NSO’s new music director, Gianandrea Noseda, but the Italian conductor’s repertory choices for his first season are heavy on familiar chestnuts, with a few interesting pieces (Webern’s Passacaglia and Dallapiccola’s Partita among them). The concert likely to be the high point of the season will be led by Donald Runnicles, whose work with the orchestra in recent years has been stellar. It will consist entirely of Mahler’s ground-breaking Tenth Symphony (in the Deryck Cooke completion), so do not arrive late.

Verdi: Don Carlo. Washington National Opera. March 3-17, 2018.

Washington National Opera made a wrong turn over the summer by not renewing the contract of its music director, Philippe Auguin. Hear what we will all be missing in the final production of his tenure, Verdi’s Don Carlo. The original French version would be preferable to whichever of the Italian revisions is planned for this spring, but a cast headed by stellar young singers Leah Crocetto, Jamie Barton, and Russell Thomas should heal all ills. 

Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Shriver Hall, Baltimore. March 11, 2018.

Concerts on the first half of another superb season from Baltimore’s finest recital series will be held at alternate venues, while Shriver Hall undergoes a needed renovation. By the time of the recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the series should be back in its home. The French pianist, a legendary technician of sound at the keyboard, will pair Nikolai Obukhov’s Révelation and György Ligeti’s Musica ricercata with Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata.

Les Violons du Roy, with Bernard Labadie and Isabelle Faust. May 3, 2018.

Two concerts reaching the Top 10 level in past years separately featured Les Violons du Roy and Isabelle Faust. This season the Canadian early music ensemble and the compelling German violinist join forces for this all-Bach program at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. In addition to three of the composer’s violin concertos, including the famous one for two violins, conductor Bernard Labadie offers a selection of transcriptions of Bach’s most contrapuntal music.

Evgeny Kissin. Washington Performing Arts. May 16, 2018.

Among the handful of superstar pianists to come to Washington this season, the lead name has to be Evgeny Kissin. After a hiatus from performing, for among other things his wedding to a childhood friend this past spring, Kissin returns to the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, presented by Washington Performing Arts. Like Aimard earlier in the season, Kissin will also play Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, paired with a selection of Rachmaninoff.

Evgeny Kissin performs a recital for Washington Performing Arts May 16, 2018.

One Response to “Critic’s Choice for the 2017-18 Season”

  1. Posted Sep 23, 2017 at 7:20 pm by Norman Holly

    A welcome resource! Happy to have you aboard.

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