Washington Performing Arts continues to mark their 50th anniversary during the 2016-17 season with an almost ridiculous bounty of appearances by great performers. I went through the entire schedule and found more than 25 shows I'd very much like to see. Narrowing it down to 10 was no easy task: I had to make hard choices, leaving Yuja Wang, Hilary Hahn, Daniil Trifonov, Eric Owens, and Yefim Bronfman -- all of whom are marvelous artists and worth seeing -- off the list in order to come up with a combination of new faces and the most interesting or potentially rewarding repertoire from the already well-established performers.
Here's the who, why, and when, listed in chronological order:
- Who: Cécile McLorin Salvant
Why: So many contenders, so little time. There's no shortage of young and interesting jazz vocalists out there right now, but there's only one Cécile McLorin Salvant. Still a few years shy of 30, the young woman from Miami seems destined to join the ranks of female singers we refer to by their first names only. She is the real deal.
When: October 29 & 30
- Who: Lucas Debargue
Why: Just how good is the largely self-taught pianist who killed it at last summer's Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow? There's only one to find out. His program features music by Scarletti, Beethoven, Chopin, and Ravel.
When: November 12
- Who: Danish String Quartet
Why: Another standout in a crowded field of young talent, the Danish String Quartet is the most exciting small ensemble I've seen perform in the past few years. They bring excellent musicianship, challenging and interesting repertoire, an exciting performance style, and a certain je nais se quoi that renders them unforgettable. Their program features Beethoven Quartets 2 and 18 (Opus 130), Opus 133, the Grosse fuge which was originally part of Op. 130, and Alfred Schnittke's Quartet No. 3, which quotes Beethoven's fuge.
When: February 2
- Who: Igor Levit
Why: My interest in Mr. Levit was piqued after reading Alex Ross' comments about his performance of the Goldberg Variations at New York's Park Armory last winter. I caught up with the pianist earlier this year in San Francisco, and discovered a musician who needs no theatrics to captivate an audience. The program is especially enticing: three pieces from Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Rzewski's Dreams II, and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations.
When: February 11
- Who: St. Petersburg Philharmonic
Why: Three words: Temirkanov, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich.
When: February 27
- Who: Brad Mehldau
Why: Mehldau is a pianist who incorporates disparate elements of jazz, rock, and classical so seamlessly into his playing that it's hard to tell where his true musical instincts lie. And he's so good it doesn't matter. A master of nuance, dynamics, and selecting surprising repertoire, his own compositions are as memorable as his forays into grunge rock and Bach. This program looks at Bach from a couple different angles, both Bach's and Mehldau's, probably with a few stops in between.
When: March 16
- Who: Anne-Sophie Mutter with Lambert Orkis
Why: Because she's Anne-Sophie Mutter, and she only gets better with time. She'll be performing with her longtime collaborative pianist Lambert Orkis in a program featuring Currier's Clockwork, plus music by Mozart, Respighi, and Saint-Saens .
When: April 8
- Who: Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin
Why: Programs featuring music for two pianists can be tricky. The right combination can produce fireworks, while even slight mismatches in musical temperaments or abilities can turn an exciting piece into a lukewarm muddle of goop. Having seen Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin perform together twice before, I assure you of fireworks on this program. Featuring music by Mozart, Debussy, and Stravinsky, including the four-handed version of The Rite of Spring, which in the hands of these two is an astonishing thing to experience.
When: May 1
- Who: Joyce DiDonato
Why: In general I'm not a fan of Baroque opera and period instruments, both of which feature prominently in this concert version of Handel's Ariodante, but there are two things about Joyce DiDonato giving me cause to make an exception in this case: first, she's among the very best of today's mezzo-sopranos; second, she elevates everything she's in to a level others performers can't. Add to this the presence of Christiane Karg and Joelle Harvey in the cast, and there's no reason to miss this performance, with music performed by the English Concert period ensemble.
When: May 2
- Who: Murray Perahia
Why: If you're under 65 years old, there's a good chance you've never even heard of Perahia, much less seen him perform, which is a damn shame. He plays with a combination of dexterity, grace, and fury, and no one plays quite like him. In fact, the only pianist I would get more excited about seeing perform live is Martha Argerich. The program hasn't been announced as of this writing, and frankly, it doesn't matter.
When: May 14