Alive with opportunities for both listening and playing, the theme of Washington D.C.’s classical music scene is, above all, outreach. Starting at the top, the National Symphony Orchestra serves as the representative of D.C. both locally and internationally; it plays for official ceremonies and Heads of State around the world. It also sets the standard for reaching out to the local community, drawing listeners in and making classical music accessible via a variety of programs, from traveling residencies to instrument workshops for youngsters.
The D.C. classical music scene branches out beyond the banks of the Potomac with top quality area groups that serve as vehicles for professional musicianship. These include internationally-renowned orchestras such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as professional regional groups such as the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra and the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. Each group does its own educational outreach in the local community through outdoor summer concert series and workshops in the public school systems.
Cosmopolitan D.C. also expands the boundaries of the classical music model. With international communities from around the world, classical music groups – as they are defined from different perspectives – are plentiful. The Pan American Symphony Orchestra, for example, focuses on Latin American classical music and development of the arts in Latin America, while the American Balalaika Symphony merges the sound of a full orchestra with traditional Russian instruments.
There is also an active choral scene. The Cathedral Choral Society, the resident chorus of the National Cathedral, puts together concerts and outreach programs – even sing-alongs! There’s also the Choral Arts Society, which collaborates with the National Symphony to create programming, including an annual Martin Luther King tribute. Plenty of professional and regional groups exist as well, like the Washington Chorus, the Alexandria Choral Society, the Capital Hill Chorus, the Fairfax Choral Society and the Master Singers of Virginia.
The D.C. area is also a haven for community arts and research centers, many of which sponsor resident artists. The National Chamber Ensemble, for example, is the resident group of the Artisphere urban arts center, while the Folger Consort is an early music group based out of the Shakespeare Library.
These ensembles are only a starting point for delving into the rich classical music scene in Washington D.C. With such a variety of professional, regional and local groups, it’s possible to hear a different concert each day of the week. (Jenna Makowski)