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The Library of Congress Free Classical Music Concerts Preview

There are so many free cultural events in Washington, but the free concerts put on by the Library of Congress are worth listening to

The Coolidge Auditorium is home to some of DC's best concerts. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user David W Oliver

Washingtonians can be spoiled by getting so much culture for free, from the museums of the Smithsonian to the startling number of free concerts one can hear each season. Some of the best concerts every year, free or otherwise, are presented by the Library of Congress on a long-standing free concert series. These concerts recommend themselves, not least for the gorgeous acoustic of the auditorium named for Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the patron who helped establish a concert series at the library in 1925. Listeners can reserve tickets in advance through Ticketmaster, for the usual processing fees, or you can show up early to wait for an unclaimed seat. The Coolidge Auditorium is on the lower floor of the Jefferson Building: enter through the door under the large staircase at the First Street, Southeast, entrance. Again, due to security checks at the door, early arrival is recommended.

Among the highlights of the upcoming season are concerts for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt: a recital of Liszt’s Les Années de Pèlerinage by Canadian pianist Louis Lortie (October 19), an evening of songs from Liszt’s time by baritone Martin Bruns and fortepianist Christoph Hammer (October 22); and a program of music by Bartók, a fellow Hungarian composer, with members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and pianist Jenő Jandó (October 25). New York’s audacious Cygnus Ensemble visits twice, first with some guest artists in a program pairing Fritz Kreisler with modern composer Harold Meltzer (February 3). This concert highlights the Fritz Kreisler Collection at the Library of Congress, including performances on Kreisler’s priceless Guarneri del Gesù violin. They will also provide live music for a fascinating performance of a new version of Samuel Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu (March 7).

The Library’s Coolidge Auditorium is one of the best venues in the city to hear that most intimate genre of music, the string quartet, up close and personal. The string quartets visiting next season include the Borromeo Quartet, playing the Library’s set of Stradivarius instruments, with pianist Seymour Lipkin (December 17); the Modigliani Quartet playing music by Arriaga, Beethoven, and Dohnányi (March 23); the Elias Quartet with Jonathan Biss in an all-Czech concert (March 28); the Arditti Quartet in a daring, all-modern program with pianist Stephen Drury (April 10); and France’s outstanding Quatuor Diotima playing Schubert, Beethoven, and Smetana (April 13).

We have already recommended some of the early music concerts next season at the Library of Congress. For music before Mozart, there will be viola da gamba player Paolo Pandolfo (January 28), soprano Julianne Baird and Preethi De Silva on harpsichord and fortepiano in a C.P.E. Bach tribute (March 9), Christina Pluhar’s ensemble L’Arpeggiata (March 19), Juilliard Baroque in all-Bach concert (April 14), Concerto Köln (April 20), and cellist Tanya Tomkins playing all of Bach’s cello suites (April 28).

Rounding out the season are violinist Daniel Hope (October 28), Bulgarian-born pianists Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov (October 29), the Mozart Piano Quartet (November 4), violist Roberto Díaz (November 5), and pianist Leon Fleisher and friends (March 8). Most concerts on the series are introduced by a pre-concert lecture or panel discussion, which provides information about the music you will hear.

Additional events at the Library of Congress include film screenings, lectures and presentations, and concerts of other sorts of music, including concerts at other venues. See the full schedule on the Library of Congress Web site.

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