Early Music to Hear in the 2011-12 Season

Catch the Library of Congress’s free concert series, some performances at Baltimore’s Shriver Hall, and lunchtime concerts by the Washington Bach Consort for some great early music picks

By: Charles T. Downey

Christine Pluhar of L’Arpeggiata
Most of the groups mentioned in my review of the Washington Early Music Festival have not made announcements about their plans for concerts in the 2011-12 season, but it is not too soon to put some early music events on your calendar. You do not want to miss some of the best historically informed performance ensembles coming to the Washington area in the upcoming season.

The free concert series at the Library of Congress generally includes at least a few early music events. This year you will want to hear the daredevil viola da gambla player Paolo Pandolfo, returning to the venue after an extraordinary concert there last year (January 28), the Tarantella program of Christina Pluhar’s ensemble L’Arpeggiata, known for mixing the highbrow and the popular (March 19), and Concerto Köln with cellist Jan Freiheit (April 26). We will have a complete preview of the Library of Congress series shortly: You can reserve seats to these free concerts through Ticketmaster, for the usual processing fees, or take a chance and show up early to wait on line for an unclaimed seat.

Our other season previews have already mentioned some ensembles and concert presenters that feature early music. The one early music event at Baltimore’s Shriver Hall is a performance by Montreal’s Les Violons du Roy with recorder player Maurice Steger (January 29), and Washington Performing Arts Society is bringing John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in an all-Beethoven program to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (November 19). On the highly recommended series at Dumbarton Oaks, visits from Ensemble Caprice (October 16 and 17) and the Boston Camerata (December 4 and 5) are good early music options.

The Dumbarton Concerts series presents the Norwegian vocal ensemble Nordic Voices in a candlelight concert of Renaissance settings of the Lamentations in the beautiful venue of a historic Georgetown church (February 11). Speaking of vocal ensembles you will want to hear, the Folger Consort will host the four women of Anonymous 4 in their annual New Year’s concerts at Washington National Cathedral (January 6 and 7), in a program of music by the medieval abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Imperfect amplification at that very large venue means that you should definitely splurge on the more expensive seats to be as close to the performers as possible.

Other locally based ensembles are also planning concerts you will want to hear. As already mentioned in earlier previews, Opera Lafayette is here to take care of your French Baroque needs and more, and all three of their performances are going to be worth hearing next season (October 24, January 21, and April 14 and 15). In exciting news, this local ensemble goes international next season, when they take their concert performance of Monsigny’s Le Roi et le fermier on the road to the Opéra Royal in Versailles, France.

For your monthly Bach fix, look no further than the series of free lunchtime concerts presented every season by the Washington Bach Consort, on the first Tuesday of the month from October to December and from March to May, at the Church of the Epiphany downtown. These excellent concerts begin at 12:10 PM, lasting about an hour, and the group collects a free-will offering. For the first time in a few years, the ensemble has also gone beyond its normally comfortable (and too often repeated) choices to create some interesting concerts for its subscriptions series, including a concert featuring a Scarlatti Missa Breve and Handel’s gorgeous Dixit Dominus (September 25), music by Christoph Graupner and Pergolesi (November 6), and what should be a fascinating performance of Bach’s contrapuntal masterpiece Die Kunst der Fuge (March 25). If you had let your Bach Consort subscription lapse, this could be a good year to rethink that decision.

The Folger Consort’s regular venue is the gorgeous, intimate Elizabethan theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and they will present several worthy concerts there next season. The local ensemble of singers known as Cathedra will join them for a program of musical settings of the King James Bible, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of that publication (September 30 to October 2). The group’s Christmas concert is generally one of the city’s best, next season focusing on music from the Spanish Renaissance (December 9 to 18). Also, soprano Yulia Van Doren will perform music by the talented 17th-century woman composer Francesca Caccini (March 16 to 18).

Other local ensembles and concert series, which feature early music but have not yet announced their 2011-12 seasons, include the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society, the Bach Sinfonia, Washington National Cathedral, and the local choir Chantry. No one who wants to hear music before Mozart has any reason to complain.

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