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NSO: The Inextinguishable

See my piece on the NSO's first season with Christoph Eschenbach at

National Symphony Orchestra Review: Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard and Pianist Nikolai Lugansky (Washingtonian, May 25):

Since the meltdown of the world's financial markets began, classical music institutions have been dropping like flies, freezing or cutting salaries in the case of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, declaring bankruptcy like the Philadelphia Orchestra, or folding altogether in the case of the Baltimore Opera. The National Symphony Orchestra seemed poised to founder, too, having gone through a couple years of wandering without a strong leader when the economic crisis hit.

In 2008, generous patrons Roger and Vicki Sant stepped in with a major donation -- call it a classical-music golden parachute -- to fund the salary of the NSO's music director. Suddenly, the NSO found itself with Christoph Eschenbach, a veteran conductor with an international reputation and with whom the musicians had a good rapport, taking the helm. The end of Eschenbach's first season as music director is approaching, and it has been a grand success. The latest evidence of this was this past weekend's concerts, with guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and pianist Nikolai Lugansky, heard on Saturday night.

Dausgaard, a respected Danish conductor, made his NSO debut with a program not unlike his 2008 appearance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra -- it opened with the same Sibelius tone poem, "En Saga." Dausgaard kept this short symphonic piece, reportedly describing an episode in Sibelius's own life, unmannered, almost plain, a square, driving voyage marked by crisp articulations and an insistent theme in the violas. [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
With Thomas Dausgaard (conductor) and Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

The other paradigm through which Nielsen's music is often defined is nationalism. Richard Taruskin once defined nationalist symphonies as "colonialism in disguise": the ideal of absolute music in the symphonic tradition, in that sense, could be interpreted as an extension of German nationalism. Writing about this possible interpretation of Nielsen's fourth symphony, Raymond Knapp wrote that national or other collectives have to judge the value of these musical statements made on their behalf, adding that for all the transcendentally minded symphonies composed since Beethoven's ninth, "there is no evidence (so far) that the cosmos actually appreciates any of the symphonies that have been offered up to it" (Raymond Knapp, "Carl Nielsen and the Nationalist Trap, or What, Exactly, is Inextinguishable?", in Carl Nielsen Studies, ed. Niels Krabbe).


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