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Virtual classical picks to pack the shortest month

by Michael Andor Brodeur, The Washington Post | February 14, 2021 at 2:10 a.m.

February is a short month in what already feels like a long year. But don't let it blow by without digging into its packed schedule (yes, these are snow references) of classical streams. Here are five to get you started.

◼️ Met Nightly Opera Streams

The Metropolitan Opera approaches a full year of its popular series of free Met Nightly Opera Streams, having run a two-week celebration of Black History Month, featuring performances from some of the greatest Black singers to take its stage. (Tune in today for Wagner's "Die Walküre" with the part of Sieglinde (portrayed by soprano Jessye Norman). Visit metopera.org.

◼️ IN Series

D.C.'s IN Series has its own highly bookmarkable digital program for Black History Month. Stanley J. Thurston's Heritage Signature Chorale is presenting "A Concert Highlighting Women Composers and Black Composers." And on Friday, it will present "The Reaction," works by Black composers and poets paired with a virtual guided tour of five local sites "essential to telling the story of African Americans in our nation's capital." Both programs will remain online through the month — as will the subscribers-only recital from bass-baritone Carl DuPont, pianist Gregory Thompson and actor KenYatta Rogers. Visit inseries.org.

◼️ Will Liverman

One last addition to your Black History Month listening list: In November, I was lucky enough to see a concert (just realized I could stop the sentence there) by baritone Will Liverman, who is set to star in the Met's 2021 premiere of Terrence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons's "Fire Shut Up in My Bones," the first opera by a Black composer to appear on the Met stage in its 140-year history. Today, he'll release "Dreams of a New Day — Songs by Black Composers," an album featuring works by Henry Burleigh, Margaret Bonds, Thomas Kerr, Robert Owens and Leslie Adams, as well as contemporary works by Damien Sneed and Shawn E. Okpebholo — including the world-premiere recording of Okpebholo's devastatingly beautiful "Two Black Churches." Visit cedillerecords.org.

Violinist Stella Chen (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Brandon Ilaw)
Violinist Stella Chen (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Brandon Ilaw)

◼️ Phillips Collection Sunday Concerts

The Phillips Collection in Washington has an 80th-anniversary music season to celebrate and is forging forth with a strong digital season of free Sunday concerts. Today, it presents pianist David Greilsammer performing his "Labyrinth" program, an appropriately titled maze of short piano works anchored by Leos Janacek's "On an Overgrown Path" and including pieces by Ligeti, Satie, Crumb, Beethoven, Bach and others. On Feb. 28, in partnership with the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Belgium, it presents violinist Stella Chen and pianist Albert Cano Smit playing a program of sonatas by Beethoven and Strauss — Violin Sonata in E-flat Major (Op. 12, No. 3) and Violin Sonata in E-flat Major (Op. 18), respectively — as well as Eugène Ysaye's arrangement of the sixth of Saint-Saen's "Etudes for piano" (Op. 52). Were it not for this blasted pandemic, we might have enjoyed the pairing of pianist/composer Aaron Diehl and percussionist/composer Tyshawn Sorey this month — a date now postponed to the fall. Visit phillipscollection.org for full programs and streams.

◼️ 30 Bach

And lastly, as you well know, 2021 marks the 336th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, and you're probably wondering two things: What's the wacky Latinate term for this occasion? (No idea, but stay tuned for his big sesquarcentennial in 2035!) And how should one best ring it in? That's a very personal question, but I'll be spending 30 minutes a week with "30 Bach." It's a 15-episode podcast, three years in the making, by pianist, law student and lifelong Bach-lover Lowry Yankwich, devoted to unpacking each of the composer's timeless Goldberg Variations through an all-star cast of guest interpreters, including Simone Dinnerstein, the Borromeo String Quartet, Imani Winds, Hie-Yon Choi and Mahan Esfahani. Throughout, the Variations' mystery and mastery are filtered through various lenses. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott — author of "Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning" — examines the music as a source of comfort, while jazz pianist Dan Tepfer digs into it as fuel (and foundation) for improvisation. Visit thirtybach.com.

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