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KenCen's New Season

The Kennedy Center's annual season announcement is its own form of performance art. Michael Kaiser stands up and reads his way through the highlights of the entire season, discipline by discipline: a veritable Homeric catalogue of names that take on, as the minutes pass, a kind of reassuring cadence of their own.

The news today was good. The main interest, at least for me, lay in Christoph Eschenbach's inaugural NSO season, and happily, there's a lot to like. The season has a personal stamp: it features pieces by composers Eschenbach has championed, and performances by artists who have long-standing relationships with him (Renee Fleming, Lang Lang, Christian Tetzlaff, Radu Lupu, and more). He's leading 10 of the 24 weeks himself, offering a cross-section of his own interests, from Mahler to new music (it was, he said in the press release, his idea to commission Peter Lieberson to write a piece for the Kennedy Center's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's inauguration) to piano performance. He's the soloist in the Beethoven 1st concerto; the season includes all five of the Beethoven piano concerti, the violin concerto, and the triple concerto with three NSO soloists.
(My official report, with more details, appears in the Washington Post. I'll put in the link as soon as it goes up.)
(read more after the jump)

Some of the season's features happen to coincide with my own personal interests. I'm all over any season that focuses on orchestral song (we're getting "Four Last Songs" with Renee Fleming on the opening gala followed by "Kindertotenlieder" with Nathalie Stutzmann, Zemlinsky's "Lyric Symphony" with Twyla Robinson and Matthias Goerne, Golijov's "She Was Here" (actually orchestrations of Schubert songs) with Dawn Upshaw, Pintscher's "Herodiade-Fragmente," and, possibly in the category, Bernstein's "Kaddish" symphony). And I was so delighted to see Messiaen's "Turangalila-Symphonie" on the program that I hardly cared whether or not it was too obvious a choice as a contribution to the Kennedy Center's annual entry in the cultural-tourism sweepstakes: this year, the festival is called "Maximum India." (Eschenbach is also conducting Anoushka Shankar in a sitar concerto.)

Chamber music is writ large at the Kennedy Center this year, too, though I have concerns about whether the series title "Chamber Music Across America" is likely to sell many tickets. (I still fantasize about finding a more appealing term for "chamber music," one that might signal to classical music newbies that this is exactly the kind of music most likely to appeal to them.) The series is basically an amalgam of the Fortas Chamber Music programs and the Kennedy Center Chamber Players, both given a little extra oomph. The distinctive twist was the idea of pairing ensembles -- the Juilliard Quartet and the Afiara Quartet, the Orion Quartet and Windscape, the Emerson Quartet and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio -- to play together in different combinations on the three main concerts. A problem with the Fortas concerts is that there aren't enough of them to feel as if they were really a curated series: it feels more like a lot of good concerts put together.

By Anne Midgette  |  March 2, 2010; 7:01 PM ET
Categories:  Washington , news  
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Turangalila as part of an Indian program... that is just magical! But still, any reason to bust out Turangalila is worth it.

Coincidentally, I'm someone who finds chamber music a turn off. My attention span is too short (which is probably why I like opera- colour! movement! sparkles!) unless I'm in the front row and can see the way the players are all communicating with each other.

Posted by: ianw2 | March 2, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Ditto ianw2. Turangalila all the way, baybee.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 2, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Ditto to Turangalila-I lived in TX when Eschenbach conducted the Houston Symphony in this. One of the most stunning orchestral performances I've ever seen/heard.

Posted by: brichapman | March 3, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Ditto to Turangalila-I lived in TX when Eschenbach conducted the Houston Symphony in this. One of the most stunning orchestral performances I've ever seen/heard.

And not a score in sight for him.

Posted by: brichapman | March 3, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

I, too, am enthused about Turangalila, although, in my mind, it's not one of Messiaen's best scores. With that said, it does pack an emotional punch. I still recall the last time the NSO programmed the work; Leonard Slatkin was on the podium about 5-6 years ago and, just before the downbeat, he picked up the microphone, turned to the audience, and said, "We've locked all the doors." Much hilarity ensued, but no one departed before the 70-minute work concluded. As I recall, Pierre-Laurent Aimard played the fearsomely difficult piano part; I can't recall who played the ondes martenot.

Posted by: 74umgrad1 | March 3, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Unlike Post critic Charles T. Downey writing elsewhere, I can easily overlook the use of Beethoven in marketing the next NSO season, given the strong representation of masterpieces from the first two thirds of the twentieth century (including a substantial fragment of the Mahler Symphony #10 under Susanna Mälkki; Stravinsky’s Le Chant du rossignol and Bartok’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin both on the same program under Xian Zhang; and two weaker, but still chromatically rich, early 20th c. masterpieces, Webern’s Im Sommerwind and Berg’s Three Pieces, under Christoph Eschenbach.)

And a season which includes both the Prokofiev Symphony #6 and the Shostakovich Symphony #10 begins to recall the seriousness of Rostropovich’s best NSO programming (which, however, included much better representation of the best classical music of the last third of the twentieth century, including the world premiere of Penderecki's Polish Requiem.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | March 3, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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