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Embassy Series celebrates 20th anniversary of ‘musical diplomacy’
Diplomatic Pouch / August 21, 2014

By Larry Luxner From Portugal’s mournful fado music and Bosnian jazz singer Azra to Slovenian violinist Lana Trotovsek and Israel’s Ariel Quartet, the 16 scheduled events in this season’s Embassy Series promise to be varied and diverse as the popular musical tradition marks its 20th anniversary in business.

“We have a terrific lineup of concerts, with a lot of event related to causes — from South Africa to a memorial for Daniel Pearl to a Ukrainian month,” said Jerome Barry, founder of the Embassy Series. “We’re the only group in Washington that does this in the center of power, where all the embassies are.”

Since its establishment in 1994, said Barry, the series has sponsored musical events at 75 diplomatic missions throughout the nation’s capital.

“Many of these countries have different forms of government than we do, but we’re trying to unite people through musical performances,” he told us. “It’s gotten a lot of attention from people, and we’ve been featured on CNN.”

The season kicks off Sept. 9 with a concert at the Embassy of Slovenia. Performing works by Beethoven, Gershwin and others is Lana Trotovsek, a talented young violinist who’s already played at Vienna’s Konzerthaus as well as the Teatro la Fenice in Venice, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Muziekgebouw Frits Phillips in Eindhoven and elsewhere throughout Europe, China and the United States.

Moving from Slovenia to Slovakia, baritone Martin Babjak sings Sept. 18 with accompaniment by pianist Daniel Buranovsky. Known as one of Slovakia’s finest singers, Babjak has portrayed more than a dozen roles on stage including Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida, Count Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Count Danilo Iovitsch in Fran Lehár’s The Merry Widow and Figaro in Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

On Oct. 10, violinist Oleh Kaskiv of the troubled nation of Ukraine comes to the nation’s capital. As a soloist, he regularly performs with the National Symphony of Ukraine, the Odessa Philharmonic and other orchestras. Among other details, he plays a violin crafted by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesuu — one of history’s greatest violinmakers. The rare instrument is on loan to Kaskiv in recognition of his status as a world-class violinist.

Nov. 7 brings Bosnian jazz singer Azra to Washington. Her music reflects the lyrical melancholoy of Sevdah and Balkan folk, with sultry elements of Gypsy jazz and Andalucian flamenco. Her performances, said Barry, “illuminate an inner world forever marked by the war in her homeland, and her immigrant life in the United States.”

Raised in Bosnia on Tom Waits, Django Reinhardt, opera, classical music, Broadway musicals and U2, Azra — a dramatic mezzo-soprano — has successfully mixed those genres with the traditional music form of the Balkans. She will be accompanied by four musicians: accordionist Edo Sadikovic, drummer Brett Bowen, pianist Victor Mestas-Pérez and clarinetist Dexter Payne.

On Nov. 14, Japanese violinist Nane Iwata performs at her country’s embassy residence. Iwata, praised by the New York Times for her “lovely playing” and by New York Concert Review for “expansive lyricism,” has quickly established herself in versatile roles as a soloist, period performer, chamber musician, orchestral musician and educator.

She’s a frequent performer all over the world, making appearances in the United States, Japan, Germany, Austria, New Zealand and Cuba.

Six days later, Israel’s Ariel Quartet will perform works by Haydn, Ravel and Beethoven. The group has won many international prizes, and was recently lauded by the American Record Guide as “a consummate ensemble gifted with utter musicality and remarkable interpretive power.” The publication called the quartet’s performance of Beethoven’s Op. 132 “the pinnacle of the competition.”

Finally, on Dec. 12, the Embassy of Luxembourg hosts an evening devoted to the music of World Wars I and II — especially patriotic and nostalgic songs and music that gave the United States and the world comfort and solace during very difficult times. The Thomas Circle Singers will enhance the program on Dec. 13 with Christmas carols.

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