Washington has all the best ingredients for chamber music lovers: a range of appropriately sized venues with excellent, intimate acoustics, and a number of concert presenters that host performances by some of the world’s best musicians. In fact, there are really too many concerts for one person to hear, let alone afford. Of the concerts announced so far for next season, which are the best? We’ve laid out our top picks below. (To help reduce the vast number of choices, this post doesn’t even take into account the free concerts on offer. We’ll deal with those in a later entry.)
The Fortas Chamber Music series presents concerts in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, a venue where there are no bad seats either for eyes or ears. Foursomes that should be worth hearing next season include the Tokyo Quartet (October 26) and the superlative Takács Quartet (March 13).
Depending on how you feel about a trip to Rockville, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington hosts a surprisingly good concert series in its small auditorium: We’d like to hear the Daedalus Quartet, the winner of the 2001 Banff Competition for string quartets (September 25).
The JACK Quartet, one of the cutting-edge quartets in the world at the moment, will play an all-modern program including one of the Ives quartets in the Strathmore Mansion (November 5), part of the Post-Classical Ensemble’s wide-ranging Ives Project.
Another quartet generating a different sort of buzz with older music, the Hugo Wolf Quartett, will open the new season of the Dumbarton Concerts series (October 15), in Georgetown’s historic Dumbarton Church.
Although not announced yet, the Smithsonian Resident Associates series of concerts by the Emerson Quartet recommends itself, too, as does the residency of the pioneering Kronos Quartet at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park.
For us to recommend a trip to Baltimore, the concerts at Shriver Hall, on the Johns Hopkins campus, must be quite a draw (if you go, the sound is best in the balcony, but the seats up there are cramped and uncomfortable): We certainly recommend the St. Lawrence Quartet (October 9), as well as the third (!) area appearance by the Takács Quartet (April 15)—the first one will be at the Clarice Smith Center (November 12).
Slightly less of a drive, the Barns at Wolf Trap hosts the Discovery Series of chamber music concerts throughout the year. Put us down for the top-tier Jerusalem Quartet (March 2).
Sadly, two of the best venues for acoustics in the city will (or may) be silent this season. The restoration of the unique auditorium at the National Academy of Sciences is nearly complete, but concerts there, which used to be free of charge, will not resume until the fall of 2012 by the latest estimate. The Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Hammer Auditorium, a small hemispherical space that is almost perfect for chamber music, has hosted fewer and fewer concerts in recent years. One can only hope that at least some concerts will appear on their schedule eventually.
In addition to the big-name pianists brought here by Washington Performing Arts Society, including Leif Ove Andsnes, Murray Perahia, and András Schiff, we think keyboard fans should put the following performances on their calendars. The last two Washington recitals by Marc-André Hamelin have been as full of interpretative surprises and technical derring-do as they were woefully under-attended. Do not miss him playing two of his greatest composers, Chopin and Charles-Valentin Alkan, in the KenCen Terrace Theater, presented by Pro Musica Hebraica (April 2).
Finally, to see the piano equivalent of an Evel Knievel canyon jump, do not miss Jeremy Denk playing the finger-busting program of Ives’s Concord Sonata and Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata in the Music Center at Strathmore (November 4), part of the Post-Classical Ensemble’s Ives Project.
Among other worthwhile recitals, JCCGW will host the admirable Ingrid Fliter, who took second prize at the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 2000 (October 30), and newcomer Charlie Albright, who made a spectacular Washington debut this year (February 26). The always intriguing Joyce Yang will perform in the Barns at Wolf Trap (April 27), and Young Concert Artists will present teenage prodigy George Li in his Washington debut at the KenCen Terrace Theater (October 25). Finally, the Embassy Series will present Ran Dank, who made a splashy Washington debut last fall, in a venue yet to be announced but in cooperation with the Embassy of Israel (November 1).
Many recitals by instrumentalists, with accompanying pianists, will also be worth hearing. On the Fortas series at the KenCen Terrace Theater, we recommend the striking violinist Augustin Hadelich (December 7). A beautiful smaller venue, the historic Mansion at Strathmore hosts violist Wendy Richman, playing the world premiere of a new work by local composer Stephen Gorbos (December 8), and cellist Clancy Newman, winner of the Naumburg International Competition (January 29). Again from the Embassy Series, among many interesting concerts, we would choose the astoundingly gifted violinist Ray Chen at the Australian Embassy (March 16) and another talented young violinist, Bella Hristova, at the Bulgarian Embassy (March 23).
As usual, Embassy Series concerts are pricey, but the promise of an embassy chef’s cooking might sweeten the deal. If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, we recommend violinist Christian Tetzlaff with pianist Lars Vogt (October 30) and cellist Steven Isserlis (December 4), both at Shriver Hall in Baltimore, as well as the versatile violinist Rachel Barton Pine (April 13) in the Barns at Wolf Trap.
The chance to hear violinist Philippe Quint is yet another reason to make a trip to Rockville, where he will play with the trio he just joined, with cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Navah Perlman, at JCCGW (April 29). The Kennedy Center Chamber Players, a flexibly sized ensemble made up of players from the National Symphony Orchestra, performs a series of Sunday afternoon concerts in the Terrace Theater. Their best program next year is devoted to unusual pieces for septet and other combinations, including Martinu, Stravinsky, and Saint-Saëns (April 1). For Baroque music, a trip to Baltimore is in order to hear the Montreal-based chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy, at Shriver Hall with recorder player Maurice Steger (January 29).
In addition to a solo recital with Washington Performing Arts Society in January, violinist Joshua Bell will also come to North Bethesda with St. Martin in the Fields, the chamber orchestra that just made him its music director, for an all-Beethoven program (April 13), in the Music Center at Strathmore.
As far as beautiful venues go, there is none more lavishly appointed than the Music Room at Dumbarton Oaks. Tickets to the concert series there, sponsored by the Friends of Music, are generally available only by subscription, although some performances occasionally have unsold seats that become available close to concert time. The most alluring concerts on their season will be given by Ensemble Caprice, playing a program of Vivaldi and gypsy music that may have influenced him (October 16 and 17), the holiday program from Boston Camerata (December 4 and 5), and the return of the conductor-less ensemble A Far Cry (April 22 and 23).