It's that time again.
The fall arts season begins this weekend, and in this city that means a bewildering array of choices -- and that's just at the Kennedy Center. Here are fifteen reasons to put down the screens and get out of the house between now and the holidays, listed in chronological order.
1. Word Becomes Flesh
What: Word Becomes Flesh
Why: Marc Bamuthi Joseph's multidisciplinary work melds theater, hip-hop, dance, and music to explore black male identity in the letters of a father to his unborn son. This is an encore run of the production that won five Helen Hayes Awards, performed by the original team.
When: September 7 - October 8 at Theater Alliance.
Why: Aida is the the grandest of grand operas. Its popularity rests on its huge musical numbers, big choruses, romantic arias, and massive scale. The characters lack the depth of the composer's best works, but with the right cast and a compelling production it can be a knockout. On both of those counts Washington National Opera's season opener looks very promising: two talented rotating casts of Verdi veterans and a production that was a huge hit in its San Francisco debut. As the points in the love triangle driving the action, Tamara Wilson and Leah Crocetto take turns in the title role; Ekaterina Semenchuk and Marina Prudenskaya are Amneris; Yonghoon Lee and Carl Tanner sing Radames.
When: September 9 - 23 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
3. I Killed My Mother
What: I Killed My Mother
Why: The Romanian playwright András Visky spent his early childhood in a gulag, which left him with a taste for what he calls "barracks dramaturgy." I Killed My Mother is about an abandoned orphan named Bernadette who was raised in an institution, and as an adult must navigate a world that holds no comfort for her using highly sharpened tools she's developed along the way. Pictured above: András Visky.
When: September 9 - 16 at Spooky Action Theater.
4. Sphinx Virtuosi
What: Sphinx Virtuosi
Why: The mission of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization is to improve diversity in the world of classical music performers and audiences through education, training, and performance. The Virtuosi are a professional chamber orchestra comprised of Sphinx alumni. Their annual tours include sold out Carnegie Hall performances and garner excellent reviews. The program for this concert includes music by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Vaughn Williams, Michael Abels, and Jimmy Lopez. Presented by Washington Performing Arts.
When: October 15 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
5. Mariinsky Ballet: La Bayadère
What: Mariinsky Ballet: La Bayadère
Why: I was always skeptical of Russian friends who told me they never went to see American ballet companies because they were inferior to their Russian counterparts. When I finally saw the Bolshoi and Mariinsky companies I realized they were right. The classic La Bayadère is the kind of piece that shows why.
When: October 17 - 22 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
6. Lila Downs
What: Lila Downs
Why: Downs mixes musical genres from around the globe into stirring anthems and laments which are best experienced in her rousing performances. Her songs uplift and probe deeply, and she attracts enthusiastic audiences. On top of all that, her voice is pure gold.
When: October 20 at the Strathmore Music Center.
7. Martha Argerich & the Orchestra di Santa Celilia
What: Martha Argerich and the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia
Why: Argerich is classical music's own unicorn -- a legendary performer who's notorious for frustrating audiences by canceling performances and thrilling them when she actually shows up and plays. She doesn't perform in the U.S. often, and this season Washington Performing Arts has scored big time by having her on their schedule twice this season. The first is an appearance with the Roman orchestra that specializes in Italian repertoire. They'll perform music by Respighi and Verdi. She'll join them for Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, a work in which the pianist plays as both soloist and part of the orchestra. Not to be missed. Argerich is scheduled to return to D.C. in March for a recital with Itzhak Perlman.
When: October 25 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
8. Nikolai Lugansky
What: Nikolai Lugansky
Why: After performing at the Kennedy Center last winter with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the gifted pianist returns for his first local recital in over a decade. He'll perform pieces by Schumann, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff. Presented by Washington Performing Arts.
When: November 1 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
9. The Isley Brothers
What: The Isley Brothers
Why: Formed in 1954, the Isley Brothers have been around an astonishingly long time. Their career has had four distinct creative eras, all of which have produced genre-defining classics. The r&b classics begin with 1959's "Shout," and include their 1961 cover of "Twist and Shout." In 1969 they broke away from Motown Records and released "It's Your Thing," kicking off their most fruitful and influential era during which they combined funk, r&b and rock and roll in a way that came to define soul music through blistering originals like "That Lady," and "Fight the Power" and transformative, sometime radical cover versions of songs by white pop artists like CSN&Y, Seals and Crofts, Todd Rundgren, and Carole King, distinguished by the phenomenal guitar work of Ernie Isley and Ronald Isley's expressive vocals. In the 80's the band's sound morphed again focusing on an urban adult contemporary sound, during which Ernie and Marvin Isley, along with band member Chris Jasper, left to form their own group, Isley Jasper Isley. During the 80's and 90's hip hop artists sampled Isley Brothers songs in some of the era's most influential tracks, and the fourth era culminated in the group working with producer R Kelly on 2003's Body Kiss, which topped the Billboard album charts at number one. Incredibly enough, they're still making solid albums, including the just-released Power of Peace -- a collaboration with Carlos Santana that has a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" that might just melt your face off. That they've still got it, and they're still bringing it to the stage after more than 60 years is something to be admired, celebrated, and experienced in person.
When: November 5 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
10. Noseda & the NSO play Beethoven
What: Gianandrea Noseda & NSO perform Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, aka "Eroica"
Why: This season is Noseda's first as the orchestra's leader, and one way to gain insight into a conductor's individual strengths is to hear what he or she can do with the core rep. A performance of Beethoven's first groundbreaking symphony should give the audience a hint of what's in store for the NSO's new era.
When: November 9 - 11 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
11. Leila Josefowicz
What: Leila Josefowicz
Why: After more than two decades as a celebrated soloist and collaborator, Josefowicz remains one of today's most compelling musicians. She's performing with her longtime collaborator, pianist John Novacek. The program traverses wide ground, from Sibelius and Prokofiev to Bernd Zimmerman and Kaija Saariaho, with Mahler's Adagietto somewhere in the middle of it all.
When: November 11 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
12. Daniil Trifonov & the Mariisnky Orchestra
What: Daniil Trifonov and the Mariinsky Orchestra
Why: Although years of uneven performances with orchestras around the world have dimmed the luster of conductor Valery Gergiev, he's usually at his best when leading his powerful home team. There are two works of great interest on the program. The first is a rare performance of what remains of Alexander Mosolov's The Iron Foundry, an early example of Soviet "futurist music, written between 1926-27. The "futurist" movement deliberately wanted to create music that was a renunciation of the country's long preoccupation with its own strain of Romanticism. The Iron Foundry is one movement from a ballet suite called "Steel," the rest of which has been lost. Of even greater interest is the opportunity to hear the masterful Daniil Trifonov perform his own recently composed piano concerto. Presented by Washington Performing Arts.
When: November 12 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
13. Yuja Wang & the NSO
What: Gianandrea Noseda, Yuja Wang, and the NSO
Why: Another chance to hear Noseda take on a classic -- the expansive rhythms of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. There's also Yuja taking on Prokofiev's left-hand busting Piano Concerto No. 5, which for many will be the real draw, and understandably so.
When: November 30; December 1, 2 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
14. Liv Ullman's
What: Private Confessions
Why: Because some of us need an antidote for holiday cheer. This is the U.S. premiere of Liv Ullmann's theatrical adaptation of her late husband Ingmar Bergman's 1996 film. Eschewing a linear narrative in favor creating an ineluctable emotional response, Ullmann stages a series of “'confessions' which delve into the realms of infidelity, family relationships, loneliness, and the weighty results of keeping secrets deep within." Ho ho ho. Come the day after Thanksgiving, this one won't get here fast enough.
When: December 6 - 9 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.
15. Storm Large's Holiday Ordeal
What: Storm Large
Why: If the name sounds familiar, you've probably seen her fronting Pink Martini or performing with the Knights. Storm (aka The Girl with the LOVER Tattoo) presents a holiday show for those of us with an aversion to holiday shows. And since it's Storm, her "Holiday Ordeal" promises to be sexy, funny, and intelligent. Leave the kids at home for this one -- it might get a little risqué. Presented by Washington Performing Arts.
When: December 9 at Sixth & I.
Recommendations for late winter and spring performances will come after the holidays.
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