Inside the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall & Arts Center, works of art grow like flowers in a greenhouse. Amid the Mary Collier Baker Theater’s rich wood paneling and burgundy upholstery, symphony concerts burst to life, fed by stunning acoustics. The Margaret W. and Joseph L. Fisher Art Gallery, on the other hand, lets the work hanging on the walls do the talking, trumpeting the skills of local visionaries as they explore the bounds of aesthetic media.
One of the oldest symphonic choruses in DC, Choral Arts has sung alongside the National Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Mariinsky Orchestra (among others), before 100,000 people in Red Square after the fall of communism and as carolers on The West Wing.
When the Rolling Stones wanted a chorus to sing with them during their last gig on their "50 and Counting" tour, they knew who to call: The Washington Chorus. That unexpected melding of talent is a testament to the group's stellar reputation—the Grammy-winning ensemble is noted for its ability to engage a wide range of audiences. And they've done just that for more than 50 seasons, delighting ears with a repertoire of classical masterpieces and modern compositions. Equally committed to enriching their community, the chorus performs free concerts throughout the greater D.C. area, sponsors a junior choir, and gently corrects anyone who misspells "requiem."
Music director Emil de Cou takes listeners on a sonic journey that sails the Virginia Chamber Orchestra's sound waves to baroque and neoclassical shores, then back through the romantic and contemporary coasts of jazz. The featured piece of the program, Grieg's Holberg Suite of 1884, takes the charming string movement to the late 17th century, when the playwright Ludvig Holberg lived and when flimsy top hats had to be filled with stale oatmeal so that they could stay upright. Maestro Cou mines more neoclassical splendor as violins, cello, and a four-part string orchestra resonate throughout the hall during Handel's concerti grossi from Twelve Grand Concertos, Opus 6. The orchestra breaks 20th-century ground with a composition by Washington native Duke Ellington. His “Solitude” gently exposes listeners to a heartbreakingly simple tune that has stood the test of time better than hand-whittled watches.
With Puppet Strings, the McLean Orchestra will perform Stravinsky's century-old ballet Petrouchka, which narrates the tale of a lovesick puppet who comes to life. Under the direction of the baton-wielding conductor Emil de Cou, more than 80 professional and hobbyist musicians weave together Petrouchka's solemn ode to unrequited love and bean burritos through gripping crescendos and emotive string playing. Supertitles will elucidate characters' thoughts in writing over the stage. Then the orchestra switches from puppet strings to cello strings with Antonin Dvorak's Concerto for Cello featuring cello soloist Amy Ward Butler. Derrieres can park themselves in any seat in the general-admission section with first-come, first-served seating.
The BSO's "Off the Cuff" series sends audiences on a journey through the lives and times of the evening's featured composers. Music Director Marin Alsop engages classical neophytes and veteran symphony-goers alike with her lively 90-minute concerts. Analyze This: Mahler and Freud delves into the subconscious of the composer and psychiatrist, re-creating a meeting between the two as Freud mentally pokes and prods at his subject's psyche. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony reveals the political drama of 1930s Russia, and Cinderella Suite explores Sergei Prokofiev's strained relationship with his fairy godmother. A free-for-all question-and-answer session follows each performance, and the evening concludes when several minor-league baseball players stop by to hit T-shirts into the crowd with a bat.