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Richard Strauss' 150th birthday celebrated in Dresden, Leipzig, Salzburg in 2014

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Composer Richard Strauss' 150th birthday is being celebrated this year in the German cities of Dresden and Leipzig, plus Salzburg, Austria, with one of the tribute concerts conducted by Kennedy Center's music director Christoph Eschenbach.

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Strauss (1864-1949) debuted nine of his 15 operas in Dresden. These included three of his most popular ones, "Salome" (1905) -- later it had trouble with censors in New York, London, and Vienna; "Der Rosenkavalier" (1911); and "Elektra" (1909).

Dresden's Semper Opera began its celebration of Munich-born Strauss with a new production of "Elektra" in January. It will be presented again in June.

Stars include celebrated Strauss interpreter Anne Schwanewilms, a soprano born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and Dresden-born René Pape, termed "the world's most charismatic bass" by "Opera News".

The Dresden festival also presents two early Strauss works (at age 10, he wrote his first published pieces), and a ballet tribute:

  • Strauss' first opera, the 1894 three-act "Guntram", premieres in concert Feb. 23. Strauss described it as "an apprentice piece by a fully fledged Wagnerian, seeking out his own path to full musical independence." Wagner's 200th birthday celebrations were held throughout Germany in 2013, and some continue this year.
  • "Fire Famine" (1901), a sung poem, will be semi-staged in the Dresden Royal Palace courtyard in June.

Additional better-known Strauss operas in the Dresden tribute are "Salome" (1905) in March, and "Ariadne auf Naxos" (1912), in March and April.

The birthday concert will be on his actual birthday June 11 at Staatskapelle Dresden, closely linked with Strauss for 60 years. Several other Strauss concerts will be presented at the 466-year-old Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the world's oldest orchestras.

As the new orchestra-in-residence at Austria's Salzburg Easter Festival, Staatskapelle Dresden will offer three other Strauss concerts, plus a new production of "Arabella", starring Renée Fleming in the title role.

(Fleming, renowned for her Strauss roles -- actually, all her roles -- will perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2. Her performance of the National Anthem at the 2003 World Series was star-crossed; she forgot some of the lyrics.)

The Leipzig Opera and the Leipzig Gewandhaus celebrate Strauss from April through July.

Christoph Eschenbach, who also conducts Washington's National Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic, will conduct a Strauss program with famed pianist Lang Lang in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on May 24.

Leipzig this year is also celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second oldest son among Johann Sebastian Bach's 20 children.

Leipzig's ten C.P.E. Bach-related concerts began Jan. 21 with "From Bach to Jazz". Daily events are scheduled from March 6 through July 20, plus others in November and December.

Leipzig was home to the Bachs, Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, among other major composers and musicians. Its musical history dates back more than eight centuries, to 1212.

Richard Strauss -- who also composed "Die Frau ohne Schatten", and tone poems "Till Eulenspiegel", "Also sprach Zarathustra", and "Don Quixote" -- once said, "I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-rate second-rate composer!" The composer was quoted in the authoritative three-volume biography "Richard Strauss" (Faber & Faber) by the late conductor Norman Del Mar, a leading authority on the composer.

The Strauss festivals honoring this undoubtedly first rate composer will be, undoubtedly, first rate.

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