Things to Do

Ways to Get Your Summer Classical-Music Fix

Most concert venues won’t start their new seasons until fall, but you can still catch classical music in the Washington area this summer

Lorin Maazel's concert hall at his property, Castleton Farms. Photo courtesy of Castleton Farms.

Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, we are officially in the summer classical-music season. After mid-June, many concert venues around town will be shuttered or mostly dark until September. There is still music to be heard, but it may mean taking a short (or long) drive to another destination. Here are some of the best options.


Lorin Maazel, the 81-year-old star conductor and former music director of the New York Philharmonic, has a country house in Rappahannock County. Several years ago, he built a concert hall in his house and started to host performances there, in a bucolic landscape complete with farm animals, a tranquil pond, and views of the Shenandoah mountains. In 2009, he made these semiregular performances at his property, Castleton Farms, into a summer festival, modeled after Glyndebourne in Great Britain. Rechristened the Castleton Festival the program features young instrumentalists and singers who are given training and a major résumé-building boost. Now in its third year, the event has drawn widespread media attention, including from international publications such as the Financial Times and Opernwelt. The opera productions this year include Puccini’s ever-popular La Bohème, a double-bill of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale and Falla’s Master Pedro’s Puppet Show, and a double-bill of Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins and Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.

Other one-off performances include recitals with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, concerts by the Festival Orchestra, and a few performances in other venues, including the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, the Music Center at Strathmore (a Shakespeare extravaganza including recitations by Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons on June 30), and the Inn at Little Washington. The festival runs June 25 through July 24.

For a much shorter drive, check out the two venues at Wolf Trap. The summer schedule kicks off this weekend with a visit by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, who present a staging of the G&S classic H.M.S. Pinafore (June 3 and 4) in the outdoor Filene Center. Tickets on the lawn are only $8, while a seat under the roof ranges from $32 to $50. The Wolf Trap Opera Company has planned two staged productions in the Barns, where there are fewer seats and a small orchestra pit but also air conditioning and no mosquitoes. The company’s season opens with a rarely performed opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Le Donne Curiose (June 17, 19, and 25), a comic opera adapted from a play by Carlo Goldoni, about two women in Venice who have an elaborate plan to satisfy their curiosity about what goes on inside their husbands’ gentlemen’s club (in the British sense of that term). The other opera is Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann (August 5, 7, 11, and 13). In between, the company gives a one-night staged performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, in the Filene Center (July 22, 8:15 PM).

Additional events include a multimedia exploration of the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann, with music performed by Wolf Trap’s young artists (August 12, 7:30 PM), and a performance of Opera’s Greatest Hits, featuring some of the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s esteemed alumni singers, including Alan Held, Stephanie Blythe, and Denyce Graves (August 24, 8 PM).

In July and August, the National Symphony Orchestra decamps from the Kennedy Center and pitches its tent at Wolf Trap. The programs are not likely to satisfy any serious musical cravings but are heavy on light entertainment: an all-Tchaikovsky program with Caroline Goulding (July 7), a wildly popular video-game music program (July 8), a similar gambit with Disney movie music (August 4), and plenty of Broadway light fare. Building on the success of the Lord of the Rings screenings with live music in recent years, there will be screenings of Casablanca (July 30) and martial arts films (August 5) accompanied by live music from the NSO. In particular, you may feel inclined to support the five Juilliard-trained siblings known as the 5 Browns (July 28), after the ordeal the family went through earlier this year.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra also does the summer-light thing, but with only two concerts—featuring music by film composer John Williams (July 21) and George Gershwin (July 28)—at Strathmore.

The Kreeger Museum hosts its annual June Chamber Festival (June 10, 14, and 17), featuring the American Chamber Players in the beautiful acoustic of the museum’s Great Hall.

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center invites talented student musicians to participate in its National Orchestral Institute every summer, and the faculty and students present concerts of chamber and orchestral music. Conductors Matthias Pintscher, Michael Stern, and Carlo Rizzi lead the three orchestral programs this year (June 9 through July 2).

The National Symphony Orchestra also hosts a Summer Music Institute at the Kennedy Center in July, and the young musicians perform as an orchestra in free performances in KenCen’s Concert Hall (July 10 and 24).

Artscape, the wacky free arts festival in Baltimore, returns for its 30th anniversary, including seve
ral performances of classical music, opera, and much more. Even the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is offering a free concert at the Meyerhoff (July 15 through July 17).

In much the same vein, the Capital Fringe Festival returns this year with a slew of performances in and around DC’s Penn Quarter and Mount Vernon Square. The program will not be announced until later this month, but in past years it has included productions of new operas (July 7 through July 24).

The scrappy little company known as Opera Bel Cantanti offers a few more performances of Gounod’s charming opera Roméo et Juliette, based on Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. This production features a small chamber-size orchestra in the auditorium of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville (June 3, 5, 10, and 12).

Considering how often Verdi’s operatic Requiem Mass is performed in the area, it seems a stretch to recommend it, but the upcoming performances by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra features the rising young soprano Angela Meade, who caused quite a sensation last summer at Caramoor (June 9, 10, and 12 in Baltimore; June 11 at Strathmore).

The dynamic young local choir known as the 18th Street Singers gives its (late) spring concert this Sunday in the KenCen’s Terrace Theater, with an intriguing program featuring Frank Martin’s splendid Mass for Double Choir (June 5).

One might say that the only thing worse than another performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana is a sing-along performance of it, but in case you have always wanted to try singing the piece yourself, you have two opportunities to do so this summer, with the Cathedral Choral Society at Washington National Cathedral (June 26) or with musicians from the University of Maryland at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park (August 7).

The Kennedy Center presents some international dance companies this summer, including the Ballet Nacional de Cuba with an anthology of scenes from classic ballets and a full staging of Don Quixote (May 31 through June 5); the Royal Danish Ballet with productions of Bournonville’s “ Napoli” and “ A Folk Tale” (June 7 through 11); and the Caracalla Dance Theater’s production of Zayed and the Dream (July 15 and 16).

Four companies perform this summer at Wolf Trap: the modern-dance troupe Doug Varone and Dancers (June 28), the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (July 12), Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence (August 2), and Ballet West (August 23).

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter

More>> After Hours Blog | Arts & Events | Happy Hour Finder | Calendar of Events