Beginning in September, the National Gallery of Art will host free classical concerts—music to our ears. Photograph courtesy of Creative Commons
Along with the Library of Congress, the other major series of free concerts in Washington is hosted by the National Gallery of Art. These concerts are free and require no reservation or ticket. All seats are first-come, first-served, so early arrival is recommended, since at some concerts many empty seats remain, while at others a line forms long in advance and overfill seating is packed or exceeded. Concerts are generally offered on Sunday evenings (beginning at 6:30 PM), or on Wednesdays at lunchtime (beginning at 12:10 PM).
The only drawback of the NGA series is its main venue, the pretty but acoustically challenged West Garden Court, where most Sunday concerts take place (one should enter through the doors at Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue, Northwest, which open at 6PM). It is a large stone-walled room with a particularly live, wet acoustic that does not flatter all types of performances. A central fountain and numerous trees and plants give a large portion of the seats unsatisfactory sight lines. Wednesday concerts are generally presented in the lecture hall on the ground floor of the West Building, and some performances do happen in other locations in either the East or West Building, so check the Web site carefully before you attend.
The performers featured on this series are a mixture of local ensembles, including several ensembles resident at the museum, and visiting musicians. They are generally very good performances, with interesting choices of music, and occasionally there are excellent concerts to be heard. Top picks on the 2011-12 season include the ongoing complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets, which begins with the NGA String Quartet (October 2) and continues with the Talich Quartet (November 6) and the Pacifica Quartet (December 4). Washington Performing Arts Society is co-hosting the broadcast of the entertaining radio show From the Top, with pianist Christopher O’Riley and some talented child and teen musicians (October 16).
A series of concerts in tribute to Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer celebrating a 200th birthday this year, features the Hanson-Kong piano duo (October 23), the Genova and Dimitrov piano duo (October 30), pianist Alexandre Dossin and organist Stephen Ackert, who directs the music programs at the museum (November 16), and pianist Steven Spooner (November 27). The JACK Quartet plays a program of Hosokawa and Ives (April 11), part of an extensive Japanese-American Music Festival.
Early music programs include a concert of Mediterranean music by the Rose Ensemble (December 11) and Christmas music by countertenor Thomas Mark Fallon (December 18). Local ensembles featured on the series include Catholic University’s Rome Trio (September 18), the early music ensemble Harmonious Blacksmith (September 25), and the newly created Phillips Camerata (February 19). The National Gallery of Art’s resident ensembles include the NGA Orchestra (November 20). One of its appearances is with the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra (October 9), although one never knows with an orchestra from Saint Petersburg. There is also the NGA New Music Ensemble (November 9), the NGA Vocal Ensemble (January 29), the NGA Chamber Players (January 15), and the NGA Piano Trio (March 4 and May 6).
Check the Web site for a complete listing, although the entire series has not yet been announced publicly.