April Classical Music Preview

The best concerts and recitals in the month of April—including a farewell concert by a Washington icon.

By: Sudip Bose

Can't-Miss Shows:

The pianist Marc-André Hamelin is equal parts intellectual and virtuoso--in this latter regard, there isn't anything, however fiendish and challenging, that he cannot play. His recital at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on April 2, sponsored by Pro Musica Hebraica, features music by two giants of the piano, one legendary, the other undeservedly unknown: Frédéric Chopin (including the Sonata No. 3) and Charles-Valentin Alkan, a composer Hamelin has embraced and made his own.

The chamber ensemble eighth blackbird, much heralded for its performances of contemporary music, presents one of the early 20th century's seminal works: Arnold Schoenberg's expressionist masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire, based on a cycle of 21 poems by Albert Giraud. The performance, on April 3 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, part of the Fortas Chamber Music series, will be staged cabaret-style, with guest artists Lucy Shelton (soprano), Elyssa Dole (dancer), and Matthew Duvall (percussionist). Also on the program: works by Kurt Weill, Alban Berg, and George Perle. 

The German conductor and Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling leads the National Symphony Orchestra in three performances of Felix Mendelssohn's moving 1846 oratorio, Elijah, April 5-7 at the KenCen. Joining the orchestra will be soprano Marlis Petersen, mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung, baritone Russell Braun, tenor James Taylor, and the University of Maryland Concert Choir.

In 1965, Norman Scribner, who had been an organist at the National Cathedral as well as a keyboardist with the National Symphony, founded the Choral Arts Society of Washington. Under Scribner's leadership, the group has become a DC cultural institution. Scribner's valedictory performance will take place April 22--and what a way to ease into retirement: Johannes Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem, one of the masterpieces of choral music and a work long associated with Scribner. Sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Other Highlights:

The venerable Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, founded by Neville Marriner in 1958, has a new music director: violinist Joshua Bell. Bell and his new ensemble bring an all-Beethoven program to the Music Center at Strathmore April 13, including the Coriolan Overture, the Symphony No. 4, and the towering Violin Concerto, arguably the greatest work in the violin repertoire.

The impossibly young French conductor Lionel Bringuier (he's 24) makes a guest appearance with the Baltimore Symphony at the Music Center at Strathmore on April 14, in an all-Russian program: Modest Mussorgsky' Night on Bald Mountain, Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto (with concertmaster Jonathan Carney as soloist), Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, and Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

Conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy leads the European Union Youth Orchestra, which features 116 musicians from all 27 EU countries, in a concert sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society on April 15. The program includes Aaron Copland's Outdoor Overture, Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 (with soloist Pinchas Zukerman), and Richard Strauss's lush, sprawling An Alpine Symphony.

Guest conductor Andrew Litton leads the National Symphony Orchestra in performances of two English works--Frank Bridge's The Sea and Edward Elgar's gorgeous Symphony No. 1. Joining him will be pianist Stephen Hough, who performs one of the two lesser-known Rachmaninoff concertos: the First. April 19-21 at the Kennedy Center.

The young instrumentalists who make up the Daedalus Quartet (violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson, and cellist Thomas Kraines) bring an intriguing program to the Phillips Collection April 22: all three string quartets by the American composer Fred Lerdahl. 

The second performance this month of Beethoven's Violin Concerto will take place April 26 at the Music Center at Strathmore, with the young German violinist Arabella Steinbacher as soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Guest conductor Jun Märkl also conducts the Euryanthe Overture by Carl Maria von Weber and Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 3, the "Rhenish."

Two Russian superstar instrumentalists--violist Yuri Bashmet and cellist Mischa Maisky--appear with the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore on April 27. Bashmet conducts and Maisky appears as soloist in Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1 and Tchaikovsky's Nocturne in D minor. Also on the program: Mahler's orchestration of Franz Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet and Brahms's B minor String Quintet. 

Violinist Sarah Chang appears with the National Philharmonic, led by conductor Piotr Gajewski, in Mendelssohn's iconic Violin Concerto. Gajewski will also lead the orchestra in Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Brahms's Symphony No. 3. April 28-29 at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Giuseppe Verdi's stirring opera Nabucco has never been produced by the Washington National Opera until now. Music director Philippe Auguin conducts, with Franco Vassallo and Csilla Boross as Nabucco and Abigaille. Opening night is April 28, and performances run through May 21.