Critic’s Choice for 2019-20

Mon Aug 19, 2019 at 8:53 pm
Christine Goerke (here with Andreas Schager in the Met’s “Götterdämmerung”) will debut the role of Isolde with the National Symphony Orchestra November 13 and 15. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

At the start of the summer, some parts of Washington’s upcoming classical music season looked very much in doubt. The National Philharmonic salvaged its canceled season with an eleventh-hour fund-raising campaign. Sadly the management and musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra cannot agree on financial details as their lockout continues into its eighth week.

The good news is that the season ahead brims with excellent listening in spite of it all. At least thirty options rose to the top of the list as summer began to wane. Here are the concerts that made the final cut, and they include chamber music, orchestras, song recitals, and opera, ranging from early music to postmodern.


Rachel Barton Pine and Jory Vinikour. National Gallery of Art. October 6.

This free concert series on the National Mall, with performances most Sunday afternoons and several other days, is a Washington jewel. Among the offerings this season are several appearances by women violinists playing in a range of musical styles. The first pairs the incomparable Rachel Barton Pine with brilliant harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, in a program spotlighting sonatas of Bach for violin and harpsichord, recorded by the duo last year.

Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber. Vocal Arts DC. October 18.

This pairing remains the world’s best in performing German songs with an ideal distillation of musical insight and poetic diction. The Vocal Arts program on offer this season, an evening of Mahler songs at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, will likely reach the same heights as the duo’s previous recitals for this eminent series. The selections include Kindertotenlieder, as well as songs from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Verdi’s Otello. Washington National Opera. October 26-November 16.

Russell Thomas sang the title role of Verdi’s late masterpiece on stage for the first time earlier this year with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. In the centerpiece of Washington National Opera’s season, he will take up the mantle of the fatally jealous Moor again in the company’s first staging of this opera in two decades. Soprano Leah Crocetto and baritone George Gagnidze round out what should be an excellent cast, in David Alden’s production from English National

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Act II. National Symphony Orchestra led by Gianandrea Noseda, with Stephen Gould and Christine Goerke. November 13 and 15.

At the peak of what looks to be an excellent third season for the National Symphony Orchestra’s music director, Gianandrea Noseda leads a concert performance of the middle act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. This will be the tantalizing first taste of Christine Goerke’s Isolde, which the NSO and Noseda will take on the road later that weekend to Carnegie Hall, and DC audiences can hear it first. Stephen Gould co-stars as the other half of the doomed title couple, joined by Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne and Günther Groissböck as King Mark.

Composer Suzanne Farrin will be featured in an ICE program at the Library of Congress on May 8.

Stile Antico and Folger Consort. Washington National Cathedral. February 7-8.

The British chamber choir Stile Antico are leading interpreters of Renaissance polyphony. Their recordings and live performances here have been nearly unparalleled in beauty. The group will come to town again to perform the crystalline sacred music of Palestrina under the Gothic vault of Washington National Cathedral. In polychoral showpieces from Venice’s Basilica of San Marco by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, the Renaissance brass instruments and organ of the Folger Consort will round out a grand soundscape.

Budapest Festival Orchestra led by Iván Fischer. Music Center at Strathmore. February 21.

Iván Fischer, beloved former principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, returns to Washington with his acclaimed ensemble, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, presented by Washington Performing Arts. The program includes Blumine, the slow movement Mahler cut from his First Symphony, as well as his song cycle Kindertotenlieder, sung by German contralto Gerhild Romberger. The other composer featured is Dvořák, with the well-known Eighth Symphony and a less familiar movement from Four Choruses.

Beethoven’s Leonore (1805 version). Opera Lafayette. February 26.

Opera Lafayette concludes its project unearthing the sources of Beethoven’s Fidelio, with this production of the first version of Beethoven’s opera, known as Leonore. Antony Walker and Washington Concert Opera have already proven the worthiness of the music Beethoven later cut from the score. Ryan Brown will lead this staged version of the opera at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater.

Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. Washington Concert Opera. April 5.

Washington National Opera last staged Simon Boccanegra, one of Verdi’s gloomiest operas, two decades ago. The piece finally returns to the Federal City under the baton of Antony Walker and his Washington Concert Opera. A concert performance might be easier in terms of understanding the libretto’s convoluted plot, where the sublime music of this often maligned masterpiece can shine. The cast reunites several WCO regulars, including Lester Lynch, Marina Costa-Jackson, Charles Castronovo, and Musa Ngqungwana.

International Contemporary Ensemble and Suzanne Farrin. Library of Congress. May 8.

The other outstanding free concert series in the District of Columbia, sponsored by the Library of Congress, is offering a few more concerts this coming season than it has in recent years. Among many excellent options, one unusual program stands out, featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble and composer Suzanne Farrin on the Ondes Martenot, the quirky instrument that is part Star Trek weapon and part human voice. The music, all composed or arranged by women, includes works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Sofia Gubaidulina, Ashley Fure, Yvonne Loriod (arranging her husband, Olivier Messiaen), and Farrin herself.

Evgeny Kissin. Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. May 18.

Probably too much of Beethoven’s music will be performed in the upcoming season, to be continued until the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth on December 17, 2020. Of all the commemorations, the one that tops the list is this all-Beethoven recital by pianist Evgeny Kissin, presented at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s home in Baltimore. Kissin will play three of the composer’s favorite sonatas—the “Pathétique,” “Tempest,” and “Waldstein”—plus the “Eroica” Variations and Fugue, likely followed by who knows how many encores.

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