Daring operas, tributes to Russia, notable recitals


You may have heard that classical music is dying. Even dead already. Well, look again.

The 2002-2003 lineup offers a remarkable array of enticements. Local musical organizations are gearing up for major undertakings, stretching their boundaries. Guest artists and ensembles promise considerable spice as well.

Giving the season a particularly novel twist is the Vivat! St. Petersburg Festival, which will find the whole city of Baltimore celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the great Russian city.

Yuri Temirkanov, who had the idea for the festival, will lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in colorful repertoire that has a connection to St. Petersburg. The Baltimore Opera Company will tackle one of the most daring and absorbing of 20th-century operas, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which has the distinction of having offended Stalin. (Any opera that offended him has got to be worth hearing.)

Opera Vivente will dig up a rarity by Stravinsky for the festival; the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the Handel Choir will explore sublime Russian church music; and local chamber groups will help celebrate, too. And the Shriver Hall Concert Series will bring in some of today's finest Russian talents for the occasion.

(Festival events are marked VIVAT in the calendar that follows.)

It's a season of transitions - the BSO welcomes a new concertmaster and principal cellist; Anne Harrigan offers her finale as music director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, which she founded; the Concert Artists of Baltimore heads out of downtown for a much better venue beyond the Beltway; the Washington Opera tries out Constitution Hall, while the Kennedy Center Opera House gets a makeover.

Above all, it's a season of daring. In addition to taking a risk on Shostakovich, Baltimore Opera offers a fresh look at the neglected Lakme by Delibes. In addition to Stravinsky, Opera Vivente dusts off Puccini's first, little-known opera, Le Villi. Peabody Opera has slated such unusual fare as Britten's Albert Herring and a double bill of Kurt Weill and Udo Zimmermann. (The Peabody Symphony gets into the opera groove, too, with an entire act - in concert form - from Wagner's Die Walkure, starring James Morris.)

More novelty: Opera Lafayette offers Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie (in concert form) at the Clarice Smith Center. Washington Opera revives Barber's Vanessa, with the great Kiri Te Kanawa in one of her final operatic appearances.

On the choral front, look for such hardly over-performed masterworks as Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (Baltimore Choral Arts Society) and Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle (Concert Artists).

Count on some noteworthy vocal recitals, too, including those by John Shirley-Quirk and Janice Chandler (Community Concerts at Second), Hyunah Yu (Shriver Hall) and Cecilia Bartoli (Washington Performing Arts). The Baltimore Symphony debut by baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky looks like a winner as well.

Piano fans will not want to miss appearances by the likes of Murray Perahia, Arcadi Volodos and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Shriver Hall); Valentina Lisitsa and Alexei Kuznetsoff (Baltimore Chamber Orchestra); Marc-Andre Hamelin (Clarice Smith); or Richard Goode (Peabody).

For violin aficionados, how about Frank Peter Zimmermann (playing a rare Busoni concerto with the BSO) and Sarah Chang (Clarice Smith), just for starters? Violist Yuri Bashmet and cellist Steven Isserlis (BSO) promise equal rewards.

And with such great orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, London Philharmonic and Kirov visiting Washington, there's more reason than ever to hop on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

In short, even a random sampling of this season's calendar is bound to turn up something worth hearing. Classical music fans are in for quite a ride.

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