The Phillips Collection is home to the longest-running series of concerts in the District. Photograph courtesy of Creative Commons
Some of the places where one can hear concerts in Washington were built for that purpose in private homes. Like the gorgeously appointed music room constructed by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss at Dumbarton Oaks, the wood-paneled music room built by Duncan Phillips. The room is in his home on 21st Street, Northwest, and is now the location of a long-running series of concerts at the Phillips Collection, going strong since 1941—the longest uninterrupted concert series of its kind in the nation’s capital. From October to May, the museum hosts a concert on most Sundays, with some holiday weekends excluded, beginning at 4 PM. These concerts used to be free, but one still had to pay the price of admission to the museum to go. The system now in place, with a $20 ticket with entrance to the collection included, still makes these concerts an affordable option for Sunday afternoon listening, pleasantly combined with an early arrival to see some art. Because of the small size of the music room, listeners are advised to stake out a seat early.
The performances at the Phillips Collection have tended to vary widely, with some big-name musicians and with others unknown, both promising and not so much. In past seasons, there have been concerts I have decided to miss, others I would not have missed for any reason, and some very rewarding surprises. On the current season, in the category of not to be missed, mark your calendar for the season opener (October 2), when minimalist composer Philip Glass will give a piano recital followed by a dinner, with the proceeds going to support the Phillips concert series and FreshFarm Markets. Also top-notch are a recital by soprano Haeran Hong, who won the Queen Elisabeth Voice Competition this year (November 6); a recital by British countertenor Iestyn Davies (December 4); a recital by pianist Steven Osborne, who has produced some great recordings on the Hyperion label (March 11); and a concert by the Daedalus String Quartet (April 22).
Count us curious to get a first hearing of performers like the famaQ string quartet from the Czech Republic (October 16), playing a program of Czech music by Dvorak, Martinu, and Husa; teenage pianist Kate Liu, who won big at the New York International Piano Competition last year (November 27); pianist Roman Rabinovich, a winner at the Artur Rubinstein Competition (March 25); and violinist Miranda Cuckson, in a folk music-themed recital (April 15).
The other noteworthy development for the Phillips Collection series is that next season, in honor of the museum’s 90th anniversary, it will host performances by a new ensemble-in-residence. The Phillips Camerata will bring together, in different combinations, a number of fine musicians from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. They will play programs of unusual music, including a string quartet by Glenn Gould (the legendary and legendarily difficult pianist who made his American debut at the Phillips in 1955) and Weber’s Op. 34 clarinet quartet (October 9); a French and Spanish program at the National Gallery of Art (February 19); and piano quintets by Shostakovich and Schumann (May 27). The ensemble’s harpist, Bridget Kibby, also performs with violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins (November 13).
The Phillips Collection also hosts an innovative Leading European Composers series, for which it invites a prominent living composer to speak about and lead performances of his or her music, usually on Thursday evenings. Past composers featured include Erkki-Sven Tüür, Tristan Murail, Olli Kortekangas, and José Luis Greco. Next year’s series has not yet been announced. Check the museum’s Web site for the rest of their musical offerings. Excerpts from the Sunday concert series, the Coda series (of post-concert discussions with the performers), and the composer series can be downloaded as podcasts, as MP3 files or through iTunes.