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Cellist Weilerstein Shines at NSO Season Opener

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, photo by Lucio Lecce
Cellist Alisa Weilerstein’s inspired performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme was the high point of the National Symphony Orchestra’s Season Opening Concert Saturday evening at the Kennedy Center. The color, beauty, and detail that Weilerstein brought forth from her instrument equaled that of the fashionable evening gowns worn by the female orchestral players on stage and the grand audience eager to dance the night away at the Opening Ball following the performance. Weilerstein, age 26 and a frequent visitor to the D.C. area, is remarkable in that she always aims to exceed her own goals. It is from this stratospherically ideal level of music making, full of effortless intensity through detail, that an audience may begin to be inspired, and souls touched or quieted.

Without Weilerstein’s gripping performance, the less positive aspects of the event might have outweighed the positive. These included Principal Conductor Iván Fischer’s much regretted absence, a missed opportunity to create interest and capital for himself socially and the NSO musically in the community – the NSO agreeably bends over backwards to exceed Fischer’s own stratospheric musical expectations but did not seem invigorated by Itzhak Perlman’s conducting. Resultant low points included the harrowing struggle of Perlman (violin) and Pinchas Zukerman (viola and conductor) to play unison material together in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, though the second movement was nice, and the trombonist grossly flubbing the elephant roar solo in Ravel’s Bolero. Investment bank and primary benefactor of the evening Morgan Stanley’s turbulent week in the financial markets could not have helped the general mood.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Energetic, if A Bit Ragged, NSO Opener Is All in Fun (Washington Post, September 22)

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, Economy Strikes a Sour Note at the NSO Opener (Washington Post, September 22)
During post-intermission remarks, Kennedy Center Chairman, and co-founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group (private equity) Stephen Schwarzman wished Morgan Stanley “and the financial system well because the entire country benefits from it,” and noted that $2 million was raised that evening ($2.2 million was raised last year). NSO Board Chairperson Ann Jordan (wife of Vernon Jordan) then commended the NSO musicians in her gracious remarks. Alan Greenspan was in attendance.

On an evening tainted with external uncertainty, the NSO could have provided a pristine musical escape for an affluent audience of 2,500 people collectively facing hundreds of millions of dollars or more of financial losses. The evening was further undermined by whoever programmed Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Wiener Blut. Of course the literal translation of the waltzes contains the word “blood,” the program notes point out that title actually should be interpreted as Viennese “strength” or “courage” instead of blood on the street. Ominously, the program notes go further to point out that Strauss, Jr.’s work was tragically undermined by the Vienna Stock Exchange’s collapse one week after the work’s premiere during the opening of the Vienna Exhibition in 1873. Thankfully, Weilerstein’s cello playing left positive memories.

The first concerts of the NSO's fall season will feature Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the first to ride the ever-turning carousel of conductors in this essentially leaderless season, in a performance of Shostakovich's fifth symphony and Beethoven's fourth piano concerto, with Hélène Grimaud (October 2 to 4).

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