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Janine Jansen with the NSO

Janine JansenVirginia composer Mason Bates, barely 30, was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra to deliver them a work for orchestra and on Thursday it arrived when “Liquid Interface” (could one possibly devise a more new-agey name?) received its World Premiere at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall under the direction of Leonard Slatkin.

Mr. Bates, Philadelphia-born, Virginia-raised, and Oakland-residing did, what every modern composer seems to do: He looked up “percussion” in the New Grove and included every mentioned instance in his score. Topping the glass harmonica, wind machine, Glockenspiel, washboard with spoon (I’m not kidding), crotales, high tam-tam, etc., etc. was a electronica-beat drum-pad at which the composer himself tapped his fingers to project irregular electronic thuds. Mozartian improvisatory genius it was not – but in all fairness, the whole affair sounded pleasant enough. Much like a Buddha-Bar lounge version of anonymous film music. The sort of thing I’d play in the background at a moderately hip dinner party. Washed-out sounds of rain and atmospheric whimsy were superimposed on music that was good to hear in the moment, but forgettable the next. Nocturnes for Neverland.

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F. Mendelssohn / M. Bruch, Violin Concertos, Romance, Jansen/Chailly/Gewandhaus
Janine Janson, the Dutch darling of the violin and current classical music downloads record holder, looking like a tall fairy princess, descended upon D.C. and brought the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with her. She sounded as elegant as she looked, light, clean, and other some such qualities that were admirable even as she undermined them here and there with playing that dug ever so deep into the romantic side of the concerto or else tried to prove (successfully, at that) that she is a speed demon with lightning fast and accurate fingers. She could probably have impressed the “finer ears” (Ivan Fischer’s phrase) in the audience with fewer of the flashy bits, and indeed, the filigrane elements were more to my liking. As it was, she crossed the “t’s” twice and dotted all the “i’s” with exclamation points… individualizing the concerto, grabbing it with vigor. Throwing in an electric vibrato (electric perhaps being the theme of the night), it all appealed directly to the heart and gut, even if the brain wanted to caution against the seduction. The NSO has had its Mendelssohn-drill with Ivan Fischer’s all-Mendelssohn program two weeks ago and continued where they had left off: They accompanied Ms. Janson very nicely, if not spectacularly.

Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, his Sixth Symphony, was the work for the second half and it showed a soft touch, confident (loud) brass, well shaped individual phrases that showed a care and attention to detail as one might not have expected from Maestro Slatkin in a work like this. Perhaps he lavished more care on it during rehearsal, this run of performances being, unbelievably, the first time that Slaktin performes the Tchaikovsky Sixth with the NSO. There was tension and drama in the third movement (the second and fourth sagged a little), the decibel level certainly strong enough to make the tummy tingle. Tubist (if that’s the word) Stephen Dumaine stood out for most excellent tubaing.

Repeat performances take place today, Friday, at 1.30PM and tomorrow, Saturday, at 8PM.