Hilary Hahn and a World Premiere at Strathmore

Hilary Hahn (Photo by Michael Patrick O’Leary)

Antón García Abril, Partita 1: Heart
Mozart, Sonata for Piano and Violin in G Major, K. 379
Antón García Abril, Partita 2: Immensity
Antón García Abril, Partita 3: Love
Copland, Sonata for Violin and Piano

Violinist Hilary Hahn’s recital Tuesday night at Strathmore was not just a concert. It was a test of the direction and leadership of one of the foremost arts organizations in the nation’s capital.

Why such high stakes? Since taking charge of Washington Performing Arts in 2013, President Jenny Bilfield has sought to shake up what she sees as the stodgy, traditional model of presenting classical music. The organization has increasingly focused on contemporary works, crossover artists and unconventional formats. The most lasting legacy could come from its initiative to commission new music for major artists. In Bilfield’s telling, she has been asking performers to come to her with projects they would actually like to do.

The fruits of such a conversation were on display Tuesday, with Hahn premiering the first three of six unaccompanied partitas for solo violin, which WPA commissioned from Spanish composer Antón García Abril at Hahn’s request…

Read the full review here (Washington Post, April 20, 2016).

Washington Performing Arts 2016-17 Season Preview

Daniil Trifonov will return to D.C. in a highly anticipated solo recital April 4 (Photo by Alexander Ivanov)

Here are the ten performances I’m personally looking forward to the most in the upcoming 2016-17 Washington Performing Arts season:

October 2016:

1. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, whose intense and highly expressive playing impressed me greatly in a recital with Inon Barnatan in 2014, will perform Bach’s complete solo cello suites in a single afternoon at the UDC Theatre of the Arts (October 16).

November 2016:

2. The fascinating young French pianist Lucas Debargue, who finished fourth in the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition and was self-taught into his teens, will perform a solo recital, featuring four Scarlatti sonatas, Beethoven’s Op. 10, No. 3 sonata, Chopin’s Ballad No.4, and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit at the UDC Theatre of the Arts (November 12).

3. Bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Susanna Phillips will perform a Schubert concert at the UDC Theatre of the Arts (November 13).

4. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, led by Semyon Bychkov, will perform Detlev Glanert’s Theatrum Bestiarum and Mahler’s Fifth (an over-programmed work, but the Concertgebouw is the best of the visiting orchestras) at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (November 29).

February 2017:

5. Yuri Temirkanov will be bringing the St. Petersburg Philharmonic to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (soloist: Nikolai Lugansky, excellent in the Brahms 1 with the NSO this season) and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (February 27).

April 2017

6.  Russian phenom Daniil Trifonov will return to D.C. with a solo recital at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, with works by Schumann, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky–the same program he’ll be bringing to Carnegie Hall in December and Shriver Hall in Baltimore two days before his D.C. recital (April 4).

7. Yefim Bronfman, the mighty Israeli-American pianist, will perform Bartok’s Suite Op. 14, Schumann’s Humoreske, Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, and three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka at the UDC Theatre of the Arts (April 25).

May 2017

8. In what should be a fascinating contrast in musical styles and temperaments, pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin will perform a rare duo concert at Strathmore.  The program features: Mozart’s Larghetto and Allegro for Two Pianos (completed by Paul Badura-Skoda), Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Debussy’s En blanc et noir, and a two-piano arrangement of Stravinksy’s Rite for Spring (May 1).

9. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and the English Concert will feature in a concert performance of Handel’s Ariodante at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (May 2).

10. Olivier Messiaen’s monumental Des canyons aux étoiles… will be performed in a free concert at DAR Constitution Hall, featuring the United States Air Force Band led by David Robertson and new video and photographic accompaniment (May 12). 




Four Quick Thoughts on the Washington Performing Arts 2016-17 Season


  1. The SHIFT Festival is crowding out Washington Performing Arts’ traditional presentations of visiting international orchestras. WPA and the Kennedy Center will be co-presenting the successor to the innovative Spring For Music Festival next March and April, bringing four lesser known American orchestras (the Boulder Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, and the Knights) to Washington.  But this means fewer dates and, crucially, less money for the pricey presentations of international orchestras, many of which were poorly sold this season.  Three top-flight orchestras will be on the schedule: the Royal Concertgebouw, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.  But D.C. audiences will be missing out on the Berlin Philharmonic on what looks like Simon Rattle’s final North American tour, even as the Berliners make East Coast stops in New York, Boston, and Toronto this November.


  1. WPA is continuing its shift in focus toward “contemporary classical,” new music, education, and outreach. In truth, the yawning rows of empty seats at many of the international orchestra concerts this season only confirm the sense that the traditional audience for traditional presentations of classical music is no longer what it used to be.  Under the leadership of President and CEO Jenny Bilfield, WPA has been making an incremental but emphatic shift in organizational focus toward presentations of commissions and premieres, less traditional ensembles, and its education and community outreach programs.  The landscape of classical music is shifting under everybody’s feet.  But is WPA risking alienating what remains of its dwindling, traditional base chasing after new audiences that may not even exist at all?


  1. WPA is, however, maintaining its traditionally strong roster of visiting pianists. The impressive season schedule not only includes established artists like András Schiff, Murray Perahia, Richard Goode, Yefim Bronfman, and Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin (in a duo recital!), but also arguably the hottest star in the piano world in Daniil Trifonov (playing a full recital on April 4), as well as a slew of up-and-comers on its Hayes Piano Series: Lucas Debargue, Tomer Gewirtzman, Igor Levit (making up a cancelled recital from May 2015), Javier Perianes, and Llŷr Williams.  Founder Patrick Hayes would have been proud of the assembly of talent featured on the series named in his honor.


  1. Programming may increasingly become a test of performers’ tastes. Jenny Bilfield has said she has been encouraging artists to suggest “projects they actually wanted to do, rather than the things they were ‘supposed’ to do.”  This kind of conversation, Bilfield said, led directly to the organization’s commissioning of new music for violinist Hilary Hahn from lesser known Spanish composer Antón García Abril—at Hahn’s suggestion.  How good is the music?  We’ll find out on Tuesday, when Hahn performs the first set of García Abril’s three partitas at Strathmore.  (She’ll perform the second set next season.)  But let’s keep in mind this project is coming from a violinist who has called Vieuxtemps’ Fourth Concerto one of her favorite pieces.  That said, there will always be a strong element of risk when commissioning any new work—and that is a risk WPA and Bilfield appear to be embracing wholeheartedly.

Ingolf Wunder Makes His Washington Debut Playing Schubert, Chopin, Liszt

(Photo by Patrick Walter/DG)

Schubert, Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960
Chopin, Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61
Liszt, Hexaméron, S. 392

Ingolf Wunder’s second-place finish at the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition propelled him to a coveted recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon and a fledgling international career. On Sunday at the Phillips Collection, the 30-year-old Austrian made his Washington debut with a promising, but uneven, recital displaying his robust and ambitious musicianship.

Ever fearless, Wunder opened with one of the most artistically challenging and elusive works in the piano repertoire: Schubert’s monumental final Sonata in B-flat. Wunder’s was a young man’s interpretation, full of febrile energy and volatile emotion. Where other pianists have found a cosmic spaciousness and poignant melancholy, Wunder emphasized surface drama and muscular sonorities…

Read the full review here (Washington Post, April 11, 2016)

Listen to Wunder’s performance of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie from the 2010 Chopin Competition on YouTube here.