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The Best of October’s Classical Music Shows in Washington

This month brings haunting vocal works and two of the world’s great pianists to town.

Two of the world’s great pianists come to town this month. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Can’t-Miss Shows

Peter Lieberson composed his
Neruda Songs, based on five sonnets by Pablo Neruda, for his wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, one
of the most magnificent singers of her time. When she died of cancer in 2006, the
songs—gorgeous, passionate, and full of intensity—became a posthumous tribute to the
couple’s love. Lieberson died last year, and his
Songs are now a memorial to two great artists. Mezzo-soprano
Kelley O’Connor, who’s made the songs a staple of her repertoire, performs them October 4 through
6, with
Christoph Eschenbach conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. Also on
the program: music by Richard Wagner and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

I’ve been waiting for an Anton Bruckner revival for years—something to match the Gustav
Mahler revival that began some decades ago. Judging by past performances, both in
Washington and elsewhere,
Eschenbach seems devoted to Bruckner’s music—how wonderful it would be if he would program a
complete Bruckner cycle with the National Symphony Orchestra.
On October 11 through 13, Eschenbach leads the NSO in Bruckner’s most popular work,
the Symphony No. 7. Also featured: contralto
Nathalie Stutzmann singing Richard Wagner’s
Wesendonck Lieder, in the stripped-down chamber arrangement by the great 20th-century symphonist Hans
Werner Henze.

Richard Goode plays the piano, the focus is always on the art, never the artist. Not for him are
the histrionics of many a virtuoso; his recitals, though perhaps not note-perfect,
are always penetrating, thoughtful, and deeply satisfying, and I would argue that
nobody plays the Beethoven piano sonatas with keener intelligence. Hear him perform
the last three Beethoven sonatas—Nos. 30, 31, and 32, the towering achievement of
the entire set—at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 11, in a recital sponsored
by the Washington Arts Performing Arts Society.

Other Highlights

October 4, at the Music Center at Strathmore, guest conductor
Markus Stenz leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 3, the “Eroica.” Violinist
Kolja Blacher performs the infrequently heard Violin Concerto of Robert Schumann. Another relative
rarity: “Chaos” from the ballet
Les Éléments by the French Baroque composer Jean-Féry Rebel.

The season-opening recital from the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series
features the
Sphinx Virtuosi (an ensemble composed of talented young black and Latino instrumentalists) and the
Catalyst Quartet in a program including works by Astor Piazzolla, Osvaldo Golijov,
and Alberto Ginastera. Violinist
Elena Urioste appears as soloist. October 10 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

About a decade before composing Carmen, Georges Bizet wrote
Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), best known for its lovely duet “Au fond du temple saint.” The Virginia Opera
performs this richly melodic work—on October 12 and 14, at George Mason University’s
Center for the Arts—with
Anne Manson conducting,
Tazewell Thompson directing, and
Heather Buck,
Chad A. Johnson,
David Pershall, and
Nathan Stark singing the opera’s four roles.

The National Philharmonic performs an all-Beethoven
concert, October 13-14 at the Music Center at Strathmore. Piotr Gajewski conducts
Leonore Overture No. 3 and the Symphony No. 3 (the “Eroica”), with
Orli Shaham the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 3—three of a kind, then?

Inon Barnatan appears at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 13 in an intriguing recital
sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society In addition to
Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, D. 959 and Maurice Ravel’s devilishly difficult

Gaspard de la Nuit, Barnatan will perform music by Claude Debussy, Thomas Adès, and a fantasy on themes
from Benjamin Britten’s
Peter Grimes arranged by Ronald Stevenson.

On October 14, the Kennedy Center Chamber Players perform
sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn, as well as Mendelssohn’s Trio
in D minor.

Juanjo Mena leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in music by Antonin Dvorak
(excerpts from the
Slavonic Dances) and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (the blazing Symphony No. 4).
Benedetto Lupo, a refined and elegant pianist, performs Bela Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3. October
20 at the Music Center at Strathmore.

On October 21, a chamber ensemble comprised of musicians from the famed Academy of
St. Martin in the Fields performs Johannes Brahms’s String Sextet No. 2, the Prelude
and Scherzo for String Octet by Dmitri Shostakovich, and the great Mendelssohn Octet.
Sponsored by the George Mason Center for the Arts.

Cathedral Choral Society presents two iconic works featuring the organ at the National Cathedral on October
21: Maurice Duruflé’s
Requiem and Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3. Also on the program: psalms by Marcel Dupré
and Cesar Franck.

New York Festival of Song presents an evening of politically themed songs by George and Ira Gershwin on October
22 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Sponsored by Vocal Arts DC.

Paul Huang and pianist
Jessica Osborne appear on October 25 in a recital sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society. Featured are sonatas by Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, and Eugène Ysaÿe,
as well as works by Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, and the
Carmen Fantasy of Franz Waxman (more difficult—if that’s even possible—than Pablo de Sarasate’s
famous version).

The Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series
presents the Amernet String Quartet and pianist James Tocco in Franz Joseph Haydn’s
Quartet No. 23, Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor (the “Serioso”), and Franck’s Piano
Quintet in F Minor, one of the most searing and intense works in the literature. October
26 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Conductor Cornelius Meister leads the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
in Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 and Richard Strauss’s spritely
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche. Also, the orchestra’s concert master,
Jonathan Carney, and principal cellist,
Dariusz Skoraczewski, combine forces in Brahms’s Double Concerto. October 27 at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Over the course of a long and distinguished career, pianist
András Schiff has specialized in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. His performance of Book II
The Well-Tempered Clavier—on October 30 at the Music Center at Strathmore, in a recital sponsored by the Washington
Performing Arts Society
—promises to reveal the qualities informing
Schiff’s approach to Bach, namely an abiding intelligence and probing curiosity when
it comes to tempo, expression, and phrasing.

The magnificent, always revelatory Opera Lafayette brings
a program called L’Invitation au Voyage to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October
30. The performance of chamber works by Sébastien le Camus, Elizabeth Jacquet de la
Guerre, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, and Claude Debussy
features the soprano
Emmanuelle de Negri.

Christine Brewer appears at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on October 31 in a recital sponsored
by Vocal Arts DC. On the program: songs by Spanish composers
(including Joaquín Turina and Federico Mompou) and American music by Aaron Copland,
Samuel Barber, and William Bolcom.