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National Symphony Season Opening Ball Concert

available at Amazon
Bach, Violin Concertos, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, J. Bell
(Sony, 2014)
The National Symphony Orchestra opened their 84th season -- the ensemble's 44th in the Kennedy Center -- Sunday evening with violinist Joshua Bell and soprano Kelli O’Hara as guest artists. Following a performance of the National Anthem, under Music Director Christoph Eschenbach’s vivacious baton, the orchestra was hustled through Bernstein’s overture to Candide, which allowed opportunities galore for solos from the principal chairs. Much like the glitter and sparkling of sequins and jewels adorning many in the audience and onstage (the ladies of the orchestra wore ball gowns), the concert was largely without focus. In other words, musical flash was on the menu, and delivered in great quantity.

Joshua Bell joined the orchestra for Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, a showpiece that put the audience on the edge of their seats rather than sitting back in their chairs to absorb longer musical thoughts. Bell’s clear, sweet sound was breathtaking and contrasted nicely to the darker tone drawn out of his violin in Ravel’s Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra, which followed. Ravel demands that the violinist play quite high notes on the fatter of their strings to help create this effect. The orchestra musicians, through Ravel’s imaginative orchestration, reinforced Bell’s earthy interpretation of the gypsy “hoedown” roots of the piece. Bell’s lyrical encore from the Nigel Hess’ film score Ladies in Lavender helped smooth the transition to the Pops selections comprising the second half of the program.

NSO Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and soprano Kelli O’Hara, singing with heavy amplification, offered a number of songs. Most memorable was Bernstein's Glitter and be Gay, from Candide, which includes the material from the boisterous coda in the overture heard at the beginning of the concert. Autumn Leaves, en français, and La Vie en Rose of Edith Piaf fame were quite fun. Maestro Eschenbach retook the podium to close the concert with Ravel’s La Valse, a surreal neo-Romantic Viennese waltz full of intoxicated impulses that the orchestra relished.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Josh Bell meets Kelli O’Hara: NSO shows pops side in season-opening gala (Washington Post September 23)
Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein spoke to the audience following intermission. In addition to graciously introducing the new Kennedy Center President, Deborah Rutter, Rubenstein announced the December 4th groundbreaking of the Kennedy Center Expansion Project on the south grounds and jutting over the river. Rubenstein proudly stated that the groundbreaking will be done using the shovel used by President Lyndon Johnson at the Kennedy Center’s groundbreaking fifty years ago, and that the new facility will be dedicated on May 29, 2017, John F. Kennedy’s one-hundredth birthday. Due to a successful capital campaign, no federal funds will be used for the Expansion Project, thus making it a “gift to the federal government.”

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