The Best of October’s Classical Music Shows in Washington

This month brings haunting vocal works and two of the world’s great pianists to town.

By: Sudip Bose

Can’t-Miss Shows

Peter Lieberson composed his Neruda Songs, based on five sonnets by Pablo Neruda, for his wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, one of the most magnificent singers of her time. When she died of cancer in 2006, the songs—gorgeous, passionate, and full of intensity—became a posthumous tribute to the couple’s love. Lieberson died last year, and his Songs are now a memorial to two great artists. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, who’s made the songs a staple of her repertoire, performs them October 4 through 6, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. Also on the program: music by Richard Wagner and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

I’ve been waiting for an Anton Bruckner revival for years—something to match the Gustav Mahler revival that began some decades ago. Judging by past performances, both in Washington and elsewhere, Eschenbach seems devoted to Bruckner’s music—how wonderful it would be if he would program a complete Bruckner cycle with the National Symphony Orchestra. On October 11 through 13, Eschenbach leads the NSO in Bruckner’s most popular work, the Symphony No. 7. Also featured: contralto Nathalie Stutzmann singing Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, in the stripped-down chamber arrangement by the great 20th-century symphonist Hans Werner Henze.

When Richard Goode plays the piano, the focus is always on the art, never the artist. Not for him are the histrionics of many a virtuoso; his recitals, though perhaps not note-perfect, are always penetrating, thoughtful, and deeply satisfying, and I would argue that nobody plays the Beethoven piano sonatas with keener intelligence. Hear him perform the last three Beethoven sonatas—Nos. 30, 31, and 32, the towering achievement of the entire set—at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 11, in a recital sponsored by the Washington Arts Performing Arts Society.

Other Highlights

October 4, at the Music Center at Strathmore, guest conductor Markus Stenz leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.” Violinist Kolja Blacher performs the infrequently heard Violin Concerto of Robert Schumann. Another relative rarity: “Chaos” from the ballet Les Éléments by the French Baroque composer Jean-Féry Rebel.

The season-opening recital from the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series features the Sphinx Virtuosi (an ensemble composed of talented young black and Latino instrumentalists) and the Catalyst Quartet in a program including works by Astor Piazzolla, Osvaldo Golijov, and Alberto Ginastera. Violinist Elena Urioste appears as soloist. October 10 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

About a decade before composing Carmen, Georges Bizet wrote Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), best known for its lovely duet “Au fond du temple saint.” The Virginia Opera performs this richly melodic work—on October 12 and 14, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts—with Anne Manson conducting, Tazewell Thompson directing, and Heather Buck, Chad A. Johnson, David Pershall, and Nathan Stark singing the opera’s four roles.

The National Philharmonic performs an all-Beethoven concert, October 13-14 at the Music Center at Strathmore. Piotr Gajewski conducts the Leonore Overture No. 3 and the Symphony No. 3 (the “Eroica”), with Orli Shaham the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 3—three of a kind, then?

Pianist Inon Barnatan appears at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 13 in an intriguing recital sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society In addition to Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, D. 959 and Maurice Ravel’s devilishly difficult Gaspard de la Nuit, Barnatan will perform music by Claude Debussy, Thomas Adès, and a fantasy on themes from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes arranged by Ronald Stevenson.

On October 14, the Kennedy Center Chamber Players perform sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn, as well as Mendelssohn’s Trio in D minor.

Conductor Juanjo Mena leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in music by Antonin Dvorak (excerpts from the Slavonic Dances) and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (the blazing Symphony No. 4). Benedetto Lupo, a refined and elegant pianist, performs Bela Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3. October 20 at the Music Center at Strathmore.

On October 21, a chamber ensemble comprised of musicians from the famed Academy of St. Martin in the Fields performs Johannes Brahms’s String Sextet No. 2, the Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet by Dmitri Shostakovich, and the great Mendelssohn Octet. Sponsored by the George Mason Center for the Arts.

The Cathedral Choral Society presents two iconic works featuring the organ at the National Cathedral on October 21: Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem and Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3. Also on the program: psalms by Marcel Dupré and Cesar Franck.

The New York Festival of Song presents an evening of politically themed songs by George and Ira Gershwin on October 22 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Sponsored by Vocal Arts DC.

Violinist Paul Huang and pianist Jessica Osborne appear on October 25 in a recital sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society. Featured are sonatas by Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, and Eugène Ysaÿe, as well as works by Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, and the Carmen Fantasy of Franz Waxman (more difficult—if that’s even possible—than Pablo de Sarasate’s famous version).

The Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series presents the Amernet String Quartet and pianist James Tocco in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Quartet No. 23, Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor (the “Serioso”), and Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor, one of the most searing and intense works in the literature. October 26 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Conductor Cornelius Meister leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 and Richard Strauss’s spritely Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche. Also, the orchestra’s concert master, Jonathan Carney, and principal cellist, Dariusz Skoraczewski, combine forces in Brahms’s Double Concerto. October 27 at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Over the course of a long and distinguished career, pianist András Schiff has specialized in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. His performance of Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier—on October 30 at the Music Center at Strathmore, in a recital sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society—promises to reveal the qualities informing Schiff’s approach to Bach, namely an abiding intelligence and probing curiosity when it comes to tempo, expression, and phrasing.

The magnificent, always revelatory Opera Lafayette brings a program called L’Invitation au Voyage to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 30. The performance of chamber works by Sébastien le Camus, Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, and Claude Debussy features the soprano Emmanuelle de Negri.

Soprano Christine Brewer appears at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 31 in a recital sponsored by Vocal Arts DC. On the program: songs by Spanish composers (including Joaquín Turina and Federico Mompou) and American music by Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and William Bolcom.