Kennedy Center plans ambitious 2019-2020 season: NSO tours, “Otello,” Porgy and Bess” and a bounty of Beethoven

Mon Feb 04, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Russell Thomas will perform the title role in Verdi’s “Otello” in WNO’s 2019-20 season.

The Kennedy Center announced its classical music and opera programming for the 2019-2010 season today. Deborah Rutter, going into her sixth season as Kennedy Center president, has broadened the center’s repertoire far beyond what it was in previous years, to include  jazz, Broadway, and hip-hop. Even so, the venue’s classical music presenters remain the anchor of the institution.

Gianandrea Noseda will lead his third season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in its 89th season. The season includes ambitious travel plans, including a visit to Lincoln Center in New York in November 2019 and an 18-day tour to Japan and China in Spring 2020. Japanese violinist Akiko Suwanai will be the guest artist for this tour of Asia.

At the climax of the season is a three-week festival marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. On one hand, the choice of Beethoven is hardly daring or exciting; on the other, the event will pose a challenge to Noseda’s musicians: to perform all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies in just three weeks from May 28 to June 14, 2020. The NSO has also announced plans to record the entire cycle of symphonies for a future release.

Noseda will conduct a total of twelve programs with the NSO next season, the same number he is leading this season. Concerts not to be missed are Act II of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, starring Stephen Gould and Christine Goerke (November 13 and 15), the program the NSO will take to Lincoln Center; and two Mahler symphonies, the Fifth (February 20-22, 2020) and the Fourth (May 7-9).

An excellent roster of guest conductors will take the podium the rest of the season, including Marek Janowski leading Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (October 10-12), Manfred Honeck (January 30-February 1), Edward Gardner leading Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, the “Inextinguishable” (February 6-9), and David Robertson in music of Sibelius and Mnemosyne’s Pool by Steven Mackey.

After the current season, in which the NSO programmed only one piece composed by a woman, the 2019-2020 season will feature more women composers. Pieces by Jennifer Higdon, Florence Price, Julia Wolfe, Grażyna Bacewicz, and Salina Fisher will be heard. In addition the NSO will perform a special youth concert marking the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States—unfortunately titled “Girl Power!”—with music by Joan Tower, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Jessie Montgomery.

Some of music history’s most popular concertos are on the docket, featuring pianists Yefim Bronfman, Stephen Hough, Lang Lang, Nikolai Lugansky, Lise de la Salle, Olga Kern, Denis Kozhukhin, and Yuja Wang; organist Cameron Carpenter; and violinists Arabella Steinbacher, Akiko Suwanai, and Christian Tetzlaff. In other programs, the NSO will feature more of its principal musicians as soloists.


Washington National Opera presents the second season under general director Timothy O’Leary, working in partnership with artistic director Francesca Zambello. The marquee event is a rare production of Verdi’s Otello (October 26-November 19), with tenor Russell Thomas as the title character, a role he debuts on stage for the first time this spring with the Canadian Opera Company. Soprano Leah Crocetto and baritone George Gagnidze co-star, and Daniele Callegari conducts a potentially disruptive production directed by David Alden.

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and Italian tenor Roberto Aronica make company debuts in Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah (March 1-21). Mozart is not having an anniversary this year, but the company will mount two of his operas: The Magic Flute (November 2-23) with sets designed by Maurice Sendak, starring Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night; and Don Giovanni (February 29-March 22) led by new principal conductor Evan Rogister.

The season ends with a production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (May 9-23), starring Musa Ngqungwana and Kristin Lewis. Rounding out the season are new and recent operas: Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s Blue (March 15-28), in the Eisenhower Theater, as well as the eighth season of the American Opera Initiative’s annual festival of world premieres.

The Beethoven anniversary celebration extends to the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series, in its 23rd season under the leadership of Joseph Kalichstein. Big names return to the Terrace Theater, including the Takács Quartet performing all six of Bartók’s string quartets (October 15-16); violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja in her Kennedy Center debut, with cellist Jay Campbell in music from the 11th century to the present (January 21); the Dover Quartet, in the second year of its Kennedy Center residency (April 15); and pianist Maurizio Pollini playing an all-Beethoven concert in the Concert Hall (May 10).

Programming is generally more adventurous and wide-ranging, with half of the 2019-2020 Fortas concerts including pieces by living composers. Renée Fleming and the Emerson String Quartet perform a new work by André Previn (May 14); Joyce DiDonato takes the stage of the Eisenhower Theater for a program of opera arias by Handel and Purcell, accompanied by Il Pomo d’Oro orchestra (November 8-9); and all-male choir Cantus performs a new work by American composer Libby Larsen (November 13).

In a concert with an intriguing local angle, Richard Egarr will play on a new reproduction of the harpsichord once owned and played by George Washington’s granddaughter, Nelly Custis, at Mount Vernon. Soprano Rowan Pierce and theorbo player William Carter join Egarr to perform music Nelly herself may have performed (January 26, 2020).

Tickets for the Kennedy Center’s 2019-2020 season are now on sale. For more information, go to

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