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Fischer’s Farewell

Iván Fischer, conductor
Iván Fischer, conductor
Iván Fischer began his final weekend of performances as National Symphony Orchestra Principal Conductor with a program of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, heard last night before a large audience. Stepping aside for Music Director Designate Christoph Eschenbach's arrival this fall, Fischer will be missed, particularly his imaginative, personal programming and youthful energy of someone whose career is ascendant, yet not peaked. Memorable programs include Czech Bouquet, Bartók’s Wooden Prince, and recently a HIP B Minor Mass. Fortunately, Fischer’s farewell program focused on showcasing the orchestra without the distraction of a concerto soloist. Further uniting the program, as it was remarked in the program notes -- by musicologist Peter Laki -- Stravinsky was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov.

Thursday’s performance began 20+ minutes late, due to thunderstorms that delayed some musicians and audience members. Not all made it, since many back row string players moved up a row. The NSO last performed Scheherazade in November 2007 under the baton of Roberto Minczuk. Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef again led the exotic story telling of Sultana Scheherazade, which was strongly reinforced by other wind and horn soloists. Placing the harpist, who often accompanies the violin soloist, in the front row directly in front of Fischer and a few seats away from Bar-Josef was strikingly effective, even though the harp’s tuning began to drop by the end of the piece. The chronic lack of precision of the NSO’s upper string sections, where the principals on the front row strike a note, followed by each subsequent row fractions of a second later, was seemingly something Fischer was unable to eliminate given his less than frequent visits to Washington. A few times the first [and second--Ed.] violins, divided on the opposite sides of the stage, were completely uncoordinated when attempting to begin a lyrical phrase in unison. Hopefully Eschenbach, working full time, will crack the whip to bring the NSO consistently to world-class standards, which begins with being able to play the score in polished ensemble.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Iván Fischer concludes NSO tenure with program playing to both their strengths (Washington Post, June 5)

---, Ivan Fischer at the NSO (Washington Post, June 3)
Laki also mentions in the program notes that Stravinsky based much of the thematic material of The Rite of Spring on published folk tunes, even though he denied it publicly. Listening to the earthy, primal opening with that in mind led to a different listening experience. Premiered to a shocked mob in 1913 and now nearing its hundredth birthday, The Rite of Spring, with the wonderment of its polyrhythmic, polytonal, and pentatonic/octatonic touches, still appeals ninety-seven years later. Fischer, conducting from memory, evoked a sense of tragic beauty through the story of pagan sacrifice. Upon exiting the Kennedy Center, it was interesting to experience Dale Chihuly’s illuminated glass Red Reeds in the front “fire fountain” as part of the VSA Festival sponsored by the International Organization on Arts and Disability.

This concert repeats today (June 4, 1:30 pm) and tomorrow (June 5, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.


Bill@deepkimchee said...

Did you mean the First AND Second violins being divided on opposite stage sides? I'd never heard of dividing just the Firsts.

I would hope that the two violin sections would get divided in future--having heard many pieces played both ways (divided vs. adjacent), I've come to the preference for keeping them divided in the "old" style, so that the dialogue between First and Second violins that so many composers wrote can be discerned much more clearly.

Michael Lodico said...

Dear Bill,

Indeed, I did mean that first AND second violins were divided on opposite sides of the stage. My apologies. Hope you are able to attend and let us know what you think of the performance.



jfl said...

What, now BOTH violin sections were split? This is getting crazier and crazier. :-)