A Vibrant Legacy in Classical Music

For nearly 60 years, classical music has been a renowned and treasured cornerstone of all Washington Performing Arts programming, igniting transformative experiences for artists and audiences alike.  

As the initial classical music programmers in D.C., preceding the opening of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts has a rich history of orchestral and recital performances. Washington Performing Arts strives to ensure classical music remains vibrant, forward-facing, and cherished by longtime patrons and newcomers alike. 

The traditions of classical music are anchored in history while simultaneously evolving through the work of living artists through the creation of new work and new programs. Fostering collaborations and partnerships with artists and organizations, and developing special projects and commissions are major focus points in our work. Audiences eagerly anticipate debuts and regular appearances by premier performers throughout the arc of their careers.  

New Audiences Discover Artists in Several Ways: 

“Wherever [Graves] goes, she reaches back and touches the people that helped her achieve the success she has. […] She’s attained great stardom, but she never forgets where she came from.”

– Doug Wheeler, President Emeritus of Washington Performing Arts
Vocalist Denyce Graves performs “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” for the audience gathered on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol for the PBS National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2009. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy/Released)
Pianist Jenny Lin, 2021

Ever Wondered Who Launched the Careers of Such Artists as Denyce Graves, Lang Lang, and Yuja Wang?

Our audience members know the answer to this question, but the expanse of artists might surprise even the most seasoned fan of Washington Performing Arts. Classical music artists treasure Washington Performing Arts as a creative partner and “home base” in Washington. Here is a glance at our history of debuts, including those who began as part of our iconic Hayes Piano Series at the Kennedy Center.

Pianist Premieres

Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Leif Ove Andsnes
Emanuel Ax
Alfred Brendel
Yefim Bronfman
Jeremy Denk
Simone Dinnerstein
Richard Goode
Marc-Andre Hamelin
Angela Hewitt
Lang Lang

Igor Levit
Murray Perahia
Ursula Oppens
Beatrice Rana
Ann Schein
Andras Schiff
Grigory Sokolov
Jean-Yves Thibaudet
James Tocco
Daniil Trifonov
Yuja Wang

Vocalists & Strings

Kathleen Battle, soprano
Denyce Graves, soprano
Hilary Hahn, violin
Paul Huang, violin
Midori, violin
Gil Shaham, violin
Alisa Weilerstein, cello

We Work Deeply with Artists to Explore Creative Ideas.

We love digging deeply into the music, history, community connections, and shared ideas that bring artists and audiences closer together.

Whether the ideas begin with an artist or community partner or from within the Washington Performing Arts team, partnerships and collaborations amplify one of our core values: to be the organization that artists want to partner with and that arts patrons trust for lifelong enjoyment and learning. 

Developing partnerships is one of our superpowers.

Recent partnerships and collaborations have brought multi-series recitals by pianist Sir András Schiff; a global simulcast with Yo-Yo Ma from the National Cathedral; headline performances with D.C. theatre star Nova Y. Payton; an interactive, performance-based walk with the global symbol of compassion and human rights, Little Amal; and a series of recitals honoring the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Other partnerships and collaborations include:

  • Presentations of Domestic and International Orchestras
    • SHIFT Festival
    • Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and Sphinx Virtuosi
  • Collaborations with The United States Air Force Band
  • Live-streamed concert with Yo-Yo Ma presented in partnership at the National Cathedral 
  • András Schiff’s Last Sonatas program
  • Long relationships with Curtis Institute, Peabody Conservatory, and Shenandoah Conservatory 
  • Initiatives supporting emerging artists, including our Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Recital and Awardees
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Dancer Damien Woetzel perform at Savoy Elementary School, 2012.

Commissions & Special Projects Advance Our Mission

As much as we invest in launching emerging artists with our Hayes Piano Series, we also are dedicated to introducing new works by living composers. We have commissioned artists from all over the world – from as far away as Taiwan, and as close as from Washington, D.C. Commissioned work supports visionary artists in their work and carries the Washington Performing Arts name worldwide. It is thrilling to see recordings, videos, and performances proliferate as performers take these new works to audiences around the globe. Explore a sample culled from the past 10 years.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Recital

The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Memorial Award and Recital is an annual celebration of the late Supreme Court Justice’s life, legacy, and passion for music. Each year, a distinguished artist is given the opportunity to choose a musical talent deserving of wider recognition, to be presented in recital in the nation’s capital. The Recital establishes a continuous, creative lineage between Justice Ginsburg’s love of music, the recognized artists she championed and befriended, and the future of the vocal and instrumental arts in which she took such delight.

We Don’t Own or Operate Our Own Venue, & That’s a Bonus

Washington Performing Arts performances take place in venues and neighborhoods throughout the Capital region. From formal spaces like The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Music Center at Strathmorewhere Washington Performing Arts was the earliest anchor in classical programmingto Sixth & I, Library of Congress, churches, and more. The city is truly our stage. The ability to connect audiences and artists in unique and special places of varying capacities and styles underscores our belief in the unifying power of the arts everywhere.