Albeit too early, we're seeing signs of spring all over the DC region, from hints of green to tulips and daffodils budding out of the cold ground. Musically speaking, our rich plethora of world-class artists and ensembles are budding for an unforgettable Spring of amazing programs and performances. Hear from Linda Carducci, Bill Bukowsi, Nicole Lacroix, James Jacobs, and John Banther about which live concerts they are most excited about this season. The toughest part of all of this is choosing which performances to catch!
Note-Worthy Operas with Linda Carducci
I’m particularly looking to three spectacular opera productions this Spring, each of which encapsulates the essence of operatic drama and social significance.
Sunday, March 4, Washington Concert Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco, an important step in Verdi's career as a major opera composer. Based on Biblical stories, Nabucco explores the reign of Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar II, and his exile of Jews from their homeland. The opera is famous for is "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" ("Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate"), in which Jews long for their homeland. Verdi said, "This is the opera with which my artistic career really begins . . . it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star." WCO’s presentation is in concert form, and starts at 6:00 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium. Details at https://concertopera.org/events/nabucco.
Speaking of drama, Otello by Giuseppe Verdi, one of his later stagings of Shakespeare, is presented by Maryland Lyric Opera, March 3 and 5 at the Music Center at Strathmore. MDLO describes this masterpiece: "Otello delivers a thrilling response to Shakespeare’s play, from the violent storm that opens the opera . . . Verdi’s score abounds with fiery ardor, penetrating the darkest reaches of the soul to illuminate the fear and fragility of the heart." The cast is headed by tenor Gregory Kunde, led by Maestro Philippe Auguin. Details at Otello - Maryland Lyric Opera (mdlo.org).
Washington National Opera takes on a modern work that reflects timely societal challenges with the D.C. premiere of the acclaimed Blue by Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson, March 11-25 at Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. This heartbreaking work follows the joy and pain of an African-American family forever changed by violence. Maestros Joseph Young and Jonathan Taylor Rush will lead these performances, with noted singers Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter and Aaron Crouch. More information at https://www.kennedy-center.org/wno/home/2022-2023/blue/.
Choral Treasures this Spring with Bill Bukowski
Lovers of choral music who treasure the wealth of performance events in and around DC have much to anticipate this Spring. A fascinating one called Secret Byrd gets its US premiere at Washington National Cathedral March 4-5. William Byrd, whose 400th anniversary we celebrate this year, navigated deftly between the royal favor of Queen Elizabeth and the rigors of the Protestant Reformation, when practicing one’s faith could lead to arrest, torture, and death. His Mass for 5 voices will be sung by Cathedra in the candlelit crypt of the Bethlehem Chapel, in an immersive concert experience taking the audience back to Tudor England, when Catholics had to worship in secret. Their performance will even be interrupted by a loud knocking at the door! – a reminder of the costs of discipleship. (You can watch the trailer here.) Since its successful run on London’s West End there’s been a lot of interest; one performance is already sold out, and tickets may go quickly.
Another anniversary this year is the 150th birthday of Sergei Rachmaninoff. The Cathedral Choral Society, in conjunction with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will present To the Wild Sky, fusing the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred, Lord Tennyson with the music of Rachmaninoff – his choral symphony, The Bells – and Augusta Read Thomas’s Ring Out, Wild Bells. The concert is Sunday, March 19 at Washington National Cathedral.
This year also marks the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On Tuesday, April 4, The Washington Chorus will honor that dream with Scenes in the Life of a Martyr by Undine Smith Moore, coupled with Maurice Duruflé’s luminous Requiem. And there’s another performance of Duruflé’s Requiem – with Francis Poulenc’s Penitential Motets – on Sunday, April 2 with the Washington National Cathedral Choir.
Orchestral Highlights with Nicole Lacroix
There are so many orchestral, chamber music, solo recitals, dance, and theater performances available this spring, but here are three that caught my eye:
The movie Tár was a long riff on Mahler’s 5th Symphony, so if you want to do a deep dive into that masterwork, you have two opportunities the week of March 6th! Washington Performing Arts is presenting L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal with El Sistema alum (think Dudamel) Rafael Payare conducting the Mahler 5th as well as Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.2 with the powerful pianist Yefim Bronfman. Monday March 6th at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
On Friday, March 10th, at Strathmore, French conductor Fabien Gabel leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in an Off the Cuff (short, educational concert with Q & A) performance of Mahler’s 5th. The regular, full concert is Sunday the 12th. In another parallel to Tár, that concert will also feature Noah Bendix-Balgley, the first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic as soloist in his own Klezmer Concerto (in the film, Cate Blanchett played the conductor of the Berlin Phil, and her partner was its concertmaster).
April 21-23 at the Kennedy Center. My 8-year-old grandson still talks about his excitement at being taken to hear Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy three years ago. He was mesmerized by the way the music made the story come alive for him. Shakespeare’s tragic tale is one of the offerings in the National Symphony Orchestra’s Music Tells the Story. Gianandrea Noseda conducts Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Berio’s Folk Songs, and the world premiere of Carlos Simon’s Songs of Separation featuring J’Nai Bridges.
May 5-7 at Maryland Hall and Strathmore, José-Luis Novo leads the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra in the Korngold Violin Concerto featuring soloist James Ehnes and the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. A feel-good concert par excellence.
James Jacobs' Chamber Music Picks
On Sunday, March 19, the Kennedy Center Chamber Players perform an eclectic program at the Terrace Theater that includes a rare performance of Vox Balanae, the 1971 work by George Crumb based on songs of the humpback whale in which the flute player has to sing and whistle, the cellist has to retune his instrument, the piano is electronically amplified while its strings are strummed with a glass rod, and all three performers wear eye masks. Also on the concert will be Valerie Coleman’s exuberant work for woodwind quintet, Tzigane, inspired by the folk music of Eastern Europe, as well as Lutoslawski’s Partita for violin and piano and Beethoven’s Quintet for piano and winds.
On Friday, April 21 at The Barns at Wolf Trap, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center gives a rare live performance of a wonderful work that makes occasional appearances on the WETA Classical playlist: the Sextet for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano by the Hungarian composer Erno Dohnanyi, a work from 1935 that embraces diverse influences, plumbing Mahlerian depths one minute while adapting a jazzy Gershwin-like attitude the next. Also on the program are two of my favorite works by Dohnanyi’s early mentor Johannes Brahms: the trios for clarinet, cello and piano and horn, violin and piano.
A few days later, on Thursday, April 27, the Justice Forum at Kennedy Center’s REACH will play host to the Isidore String Quartet in an exciting program that begins with excerpts from Bach’s Art of the Fugue, continues with Awakening by the jazz pianist and composer Billy Childs, a work by the Zimbabwean-Japanese composer Nokuthula Ngwenyama inspired by Haydn’s Sunrise quartet and the vistas of the Arizona desert, and the Second String Quartet of Benjamin Britten. This concert is part of the Kennedy Center’s “Green Shoots” initiative featuring up-and-coming chamber music groups.
New Music with John Banther
The Washington DC area is filled with acclaimed concert series and venues, and with that there is no shortage of artists coming to the area to perform a wide range of music and styles.
On March 25 the Balourdet String Quartet and flutist Adam W. Sadberry perform at Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Washington DC. One of the works is by Villa-Lobos and features not just a slightly unusual combination of flute and cello, but also an extended technique on the flute that gives the work its name, The Jet Whistle. In a variety of music, they also play works by Hugo Wolf, Felix Mendelssohn, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Amy Beach.
Looking to April 2/3 at Dumbarton Oaks, Dutch harp virtuoso Lavina Meijer returns, this time with violist Nadia Sirota. Meijer is one of today’s most acclaimed harp soloists and plays a wide range of music from classical, jazz, experimental, and more. Sirota isn’t just a soloist on the viola, but also has a Peabody award, and for several years was a Creative Partner the New York Philharmonic. The repertoire isn’t listed yet but will feature works by an impressive list of composers, Philip Glass, Caroline Shaw, Marcos Balter, Ellen Reid, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, Nico Muhly, and Lavina Meijer herself.
The award-winning Claremont Trio has appeared on Front Row Washington before, stemming from a previous Washington DC visit. Praised by Strad Magazine as “one of America’s finest young chamber groups.” they return to the area to perform on May 7 to perform at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, located in Rockville, Maryland. Three works are listed on the program, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel's Trio in D Minor, Op. 11, Kati Agócs’ Trio No. 1, Queen of Hearts, and Antonin Dvorak’s Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 “Dumky.”
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