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NSO Opens Its New Season

See my review of the season opening gala concert from the National Symphony Orchestra:

National Symphony Orchestra’s Season-Opening Gala Performance (The Washingtonian, September 27):

available at Amazon
Bruch / Mendelssohn / Mozart, Violin Concertos, J. Bell, ASMF, N. Marriner / English Chamber Orchestra, P. Maag
In cultural terms, the bad economic climate has spared Washington, which has lost neither its opera company nor its most important local orchestra, both now permanently associated with the Kennedy Center. The National Symphony Orchestra, in fact, ended up with a new music director, Christoph Eschenbach, who led a remarkably good debut season last year. The continued generosity of local patrons of the arts has made possible the extension of Eschenbach’s contract with the NSO, for two more years, at least through the 2014-15 season. David Rubinstein, the chairman of the Kennedy Center, has also donated a large sum of money to purchase and install a new theater organ in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The old organ, one of the most notoriously bad and unreliable instruments in the city, will be replaced some time next year. Both of these announcements were the centerpiece of Sunday night's NSO season-opening gala performance, in celebration of both the NSO’s 80th anniversary and the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy Center.

Musical stars were on hand to mark the event and dazzle the high-powered audience. The evening started with violinist Joshua Bell, who played the latest of umpteen performances of Max Bruch’s jewel-like first violin concerto. (This past week alone, he has performed the piece at season openers and gala performances in Colorado and Dallas, all part of the jet-setting schedule of a performer at Bell’s level.) It’s a piece of angelic sweetness, Bell’s specialty. He excelled at the tender themes of the first and second movements, drawing them out with an attention to arching line and purity of intonation and tone color. At the podium, Eschenbach kept the level of the orchestra carefully calibrated to Bell’s sound, never covering him, but also giving a much-needed energy boost to the fast concluding movement. Gasps of excitement filled the auditorium when Bell announced that he would play one of his most famous encores, the “Meditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs. The piece is a syrupy concoction that is played so often and so poorly -- not here. Bell gave a performance that was light on the sugar but filled with a tender nostalgia. [Continue reading]
Anne Midgette, With much to celebrate, NSO does just that (Washington Post, September 27)

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