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Sounds of Summer: David Murray
Posted by David Murray

David Murray is Second Trombone for the National Symphony Orchestra.

Photo by Scott Suchman.


Things are still in full swing for the NSO over the summer.  Between the concert schedule for NSO at Wolf Trap, 'A Capitol Fourth' from the Capitol Lawn, teaching and coaching for the NSO Summer Music Institute, and individual preparation for upcoming performances, the music plays on in D.C.  Luckily we still have some time here and there to get out and enjoy the warm weather!


The low brass section for this year's 'A Capitol Fourth' concert during a rehearsal.


On the off hours, this summer's unplanned theme has been about exploring the beautiful Virginia countryside.  It started in raucous fashion by taking a ride out of Manassas behind a beautifully restored steam locomotive owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad.  As a railfan it was a thrill to see a stunning machine back in excursion service, and to see so many people come out to witness it back on home rails. 


David took time for a selfie with the steam locomotive!


Not limited to just rail travel in the region, I recently purchased a BMW convertible… well-timed to put the top down and experience the rolling terrain, fresh air, and historic architecture in the central part of the Commonwealth.  From Harpers Ferry to Charlottesville, this little Bavarian Beauty loves the winding roads, leaving a smile on my face the whole way through.  Luckily there's still room in the trunk for my trombone, so no excuses not to stay in shape after a day of driving!


Enjoying the Blue Ridge Mountains (left) and taking in the sights in Waterford, VA (right)


On the music front for August, I will tuck the BMW away and fly to Santa Cruz, CA to participate in the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra.  Under the direction of conductor Marin Alsop, the two week festival celebrates new orchestral music from both preeminent and emerging composers.  It fulfills an important mission for today's musicians, that we celebrate new music and give it a deserving forum for performance.  Among the many featured artists this year is Mason Bates, Composer-in-Residence for the Kennedy Center!


Sounds of Summer: Heather LeDoux Green
Posted by Amy Drew

Heather LeDoux Green is a First Violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra.


Photo by Scott Suchman


Summer is here, and the NSO season is winding down. Our musicians head to Wolf Trap and perform on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at the Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day concerts. Even with all these exciting performances, many of our musicians find a way to sharpen their musical skills by performing with other ensembles, and some even find time to relax and take a vacation. Here's what Heather LeDoux Green had to say about her summer outside of life at the NSO.


For the last four summers, my family has taken a vacation with two other NSO families: the Mulcahys (Craig Mulcahy is the NSO's principal trombone) and the Wilsons (Steven Wilson is a bassoonist and Kathryn Meany Wilson plays English horn with the NSO). Our children are the same ages and have fun together.  This summer we'll go to Williamsburg. I've included photos of last year's trip to the Chesapeake Bay. (One serious, one less so)


The Greens, the Mulcahys, and the Wilsons (from left to right) at the Chesapeake Bay during summer 2014.
Sounds of Summer: Joy Branagan
Posted by Amy Drew

Joy Branagan has a temporary position with the National Symphony Orchestra.



Summer is here, and the NSO season is winding down. Our musicians head to Wolf Trap and perform on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at the Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day concerts. Even with all these exciting performances, many of our musicians find a way to sharpen their musical skills by performing with other ensembles, and some even find time to relax and take a vacation. Here's what Joy Branagan had to say about her summer outside of life at the NSO.


My cousin lives and works in Geneva, Switzerland, so NSO English horn player, Kathryn Meany Wilson, and I decided to take a trip to visit her and explore the area around Geneva.  We visited Yvoire, Lyon, and Annecy, France, and Montreux and Mürren, Switzerland. 

France gave me a chance to practice speaking the language, and we enjoyed a gorgeous bike ride, great meals, and, of course, some good shopping. 


Joy and Kathryn in Lyon, France.

Enjoying biking at Lac d'Annecy.



We spent two days in Mürren (in the Jungfrau region), hiking, going to the top of the famous Schilthorn, and playing alphorn! 


Kathryn and Joy at the top of the Schilthorn.



A friend of mine met up with us and brought his carbon-fiber collapsible alphorns.  We hiked a little bit, and then we played the alphorn in the Alps! 


The beautiful view while hiking.


Joy playing the alphorn, and a view of the alphorn's bell overlooking the village below.


I have been playing horn for 30 years now, and this was one of the best moments of my life.  To play an instrument that is an ancestor of my horn, in the most beautiful place I've ever seen, was truly an honor and an inspiration. 


Getting Personal with Personnel
Posted by Carrie Graham

Carrie Graham is the NSO Operations Intern.


Before I began my summer internship with the National Symphony Orchestra, most of my exposure to orchestra had come from the perspective of an audience member or from listening to recordings. I could not possibly have imagined the inner workings of the administrative departments that work behind the scenes to produce a concert. Through this internship, I have had the invaluable opportunity to learn about the different areas of the NSO, such as operations, artistic, development, education, and personnel.

The Personnel Department interested me the most because of the way they serve as a liaison between the musicians and the other departments of the administrative office. I recently had the chance to sit down with Jim Hewitt, Personnel Manager, and Laura Hearn, Assistant Personnel Manager of the NSO, to learn more about their roles within the orchestra.


Welcome to the Personnel Department!


One Personnel Manager is always present at each orchestra rehearsal and concert. Jim describes Laura and himself as "the first line of communication between music and management": they are there to answer any questions and provide help for musicians if needed. At rehearsals, you can hear the Personnel team making important announcements to the orchestra, so that everyone is on the same page about schedules, rehearsal orders, and any other logistical matters.


Laura Hearn, Assistant Personnel Manager and Jim Hewitt, Personnel Manager for the NSO.


In order to be best informed on the many facets of the NSO and how they will affect the musicians, Jim and Laura regularly attend meetings with the Artistic Department, the Operations Department, the Orchestra Committee, and the Music Library. Through these meetings, they learn about rehearsal plans from the conductor, which musicians are needed for the repertoire being performed, and more.


Jim calling the orchestra onstage for a rehearsal.


Both of our Personnel Managers have musical backgrounds. Laura studied violin performance in college, and Jim played the trumpet. Each expressed that early on in their careers, they knew they had an interest in working closely with an orchestra.

Without the behind the scenes work of our wonderful Personnel Managers and the other administrative departments of the NSO, rehearsals and concerts would not run as smoothly as they do. I've had an invaluable experience working with the NSO and learning firsthand about the diverse array of work and collaboration that goes into producing a concert!




A Summer with the NSO: Part 2
Posted by Amy Drew

The National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute (SMI) may be over for the summer, but SMI violinist Naomi D'Amato had a lot to share about her time at the Kennedy Center. SMI concluded on Sunday, July 26th, with a final performance on the evening of the 25th of Wagner's Overture to Die Meistersinger and Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Naomi is currently studying Accounting and Political Science at the University of Texas as Dallas. Here's what she shared with us:


The NSO's Summer Music Institute is both a celebration of achievement and a learning environment full of new challenges. As a returning SMI participant, I was able to build on the training I received last summer and work towards the next level of growth.


Arriving at the Kennedy Center!


I am a rising junior at the University of Texas at Dallas and am thankful for the opportunity to be a violin fellow at SMI while living in D.C. Studying at the Kennedy Center for the past month has better equipped me to make important education and career decisions. The variety of exposure provided through SMI has given me new ideas and insights into how I can use music to communicate and better serve others.

I am thankful to have experienced growth through orchestral training, chamber music coaching, and private violin lessons. Ms. Schulze, our conductor, takes genuine interest in each student which creates a rehearsal environment that is both informative and inspiring. It is so valuable to learn major orchestral repertoire that included Strauss's Don Juan, Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, and Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Our performances were live-streamed and recorded which allow us to share our music with an even wider audience. Side-by-side rehearsals with the NSO are such a valuable aspect of our orchestral preparation and being part of the SMI orchestra has both sharpened my technical skills and enhanced my musical awareness.


Naomi onstage with David Brubaker, who has a one-year violin position with the NSO, during an NSO side-by-side.


Preparing movements of the Schubert Octet was a highlight of my SMI experience. Our group was coached by Mr. Truman Harris, NSO Assistant Principal Bassoon, and well as Carole Tafoya Evans, NSO second violinist. Our group performed on the Millennium Stage and was also selected for a radio recording/interview on Sirius/XM. I loved exchanging ideas with my peers and feel that being part of this chamber group improved my communication skills.


'Selfie' with our chamber coach Truman Harris, NSO Assistant Principal Bassoonist.

The Schubert Octet, in the studio at Sirius XM (left) and striking a pose outside the Kennedy Center (right).    


Schubert Octet on the Millennium Stage. Watch the performance here.


Weekly private lessons with NSO second violinist, Mr. Peter Haase, were especially helpful in guiding my thoughts about upcoming career decisions. For the past two summers Mr. Haase has not only taught me violin, but acted as a mentor in asking me questions that helped me form future goals. I really enjoyed working on Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with Mr. Haase because that is his favorite piece and he shared many valuable insights. It was so encouraging to learn from Mr. Haase because of his belief that training enables talent. He repeatedly stated, "It isn't that you can't do it, rather that you haven't properly taken the challenge apart and figured it out." Mr. Haase's professional expertise and the genuine interest he took in supporting me will be a continued encouragement in my daily practice.


Naomi in a private lesson with NSO second violinist, Peter Haase.


Living in the heart of D.C. and being exposed to the cultural and historical significance of our nation's capital is a valuable and unique aspect of SMI. Celebrating July 4th on Capitol Hill, spending a morning at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and trying a free yoga class in Georgetown are several of the new experiences that I really enjoyed. Student musicians spend long hours in small practice rooms meticulously shaping tiny details. The opportunity to step back and view the important role of our national performing arts center is refreshing and encourages us to continue our studies with new ideas and fresh motivation.

SMI musicians are so thankful for the generous sponsorship of the National Trustees, artistic support of the National Symphony and continued dedication of the NSO Education office.  I am grateful to be an SMI participant because these rich and impactful summer experiences are life-changing. In addition to the rehearsals and classes, I especially value the special friendships formed with other students from across the U.S. Building relationships and sharing ideas with talented and hard-working peers is motivational. SMI experiences will continue to inspire me to learn and to share my love of music with others.



A Summer with the NSO
Posted by Amy Drew

The National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute (SMI) is in full swing here at the Kennedy Center! 60 participants ages 15-20 are now learning their way around the Kennedy Center, taking lessons and attending master classes with NSO musicians, and rehearsing and performing both chamber and full orchestra repertoire. This year, the Institute began on June 29th and will run through July 26th.

SMI cellist Angelese Pepper took some time out of her busy schedule to tell us about her experience. Angelese comes to SMI from Arizona, where she just completed her freshman year of college at the University of Arizona.


SMI student Angelese Pepper with her cello.


SMI has to be my favorite summer music activity. This year is my third year in the Institute, and each year has been so different in many ways. This year has certainly been one to remember! Every participant here is so incredibly talented on their instruments and it makes me feel so honored to be part of such a fantastic group of bright, young people. This year, I was assigned to be first cello in the Mendelssohn Octet for the chamber music portion of the Institute, and I must say this has probably been one of my most rewarding chamber music experiences.


Angelese's chamber group performing on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Watch the performance here.

Angelese (top right) and her group are all smiles after their performance!


Our coach, NSO cellist Glenn Garlick, was extremely informative about the music and boosted us to an extremely high level, but also told us funny stories about the NSO, former NSO music director Mstislav Rostropovich, and other musical stories that I will treasure for a very long time. 

Other aspects of the Institute include orchestra, private lessons, conducting class, enrichment, Pilates, and other classes about posture and creative entrepreneurship. The orchestra has always been incredible, but this year we played some very difficult repertoire. While we did admittedly struggle a bit, the side-by-side with the NSO helped us tremendously. I definitely think the side-by-side rehearsals with NSO musicians bring us up to a whole new level of understanding of the music. In my experience this year, I had some trouble with fingerings and bow strokes, but with the help with my NSO stand partner I felt so much more comfortable and I sounded a lot better. After the side-by-side I felt like we all had a better understanding and therefore were able to give all we had in the performance! 

Lastly, my private lessons are probably the most important part of my progress in the Institute. I was very nervous for my first private lesson, since I hadn't taken cello lessons for a year (I was an organ performance major for my first year in college). Although it was overwhelming and I felt frustrated, I think this is a great way for me to get back into the cello again. Getting myself back up to my desired level of playing has been a struggle lately, but I know I can achieve my goals with discipline, practice, and motivation, which I feel the Institute has begun to put back into me this summer. I am so grateful to be given this opportunity again, and I will always treasure my memories and experiences with the NSO, the Kennedy Center, and D.C.


The final SMI concert will be held on Saturday, July 25th, at 7:00 pm in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. Details can be found here.

Sounds of Summer: Nurit Bar-Josef
Posted by Amy Drew

Nurit Bar-Josef is the Concertmaster for the National Symphony Orchestra.


Photo by Steven Wilson.


Summer is here, and the NSO season is winding down. Our musicians head to Wolf Trap and perform on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at the Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day concerts. Even with all these exciting performances, many of our musicians find a way to sharpen their musical skills by performing with other ensembles, and some even find time to relax and take a vacation. Here's what Nurit Bar-Josef had to say about her summer outside of life at the NSO.


I'll be performing on James Ehnes's Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival series in Seattle, WA. Then, I'll be spending time with my husband, Erich, at the Britt Festival in Southern Oregon, where he plays bassoon. Afterwards, he and I will be doing a California coast tour with our dog, along with some camping and driving back cross country to D.C. Finally, we'll head up to a private island with no running water or electricity on the coast of Maine just off of Round Pond. 


Several photos from the island off the coast of Maine where Nurit and her husband will stay this summer.



“Fire!” on the Fourth
Posted by Elizabeth Cusato Schnobrick

Elizabeth Cusato Schnobrick is the Principal Librarian for the National Symphony Orchestra.


Photo by Scott Suchman.


7:00 AM seems very early in the morning to be standing in the middle of Arlington National Cemetery next to a couple dozen 6' tall men and a row of cannons.

For 364 days a year, the job of the National Symphony Orchestra Librarians is to get the right music to the right place at the right time. When we do our job very well, nobody knows the librarians are there at all. But one day every year, the Principal Librarian of the NSO gets to be part of a much louder job. When Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture starts to play under the fireworks, I will be telling four 5,700 pound cannons when to fire as they "play along" with the orchestra - live, on national television.

The men who fire the cannons are the Presidential Salute Battery, the 1st Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment - The Old Guard. These men are the best of the best at what they do. They can load, fire, and reload the cannons in seconds, timing dangerous work precisely, and looking calm and polished the entire time.

But they are not professional musicians. That's where I come in!


CPT Lance R. Bailey, Platoon Leader, members of the Presidential Salute Battery (The Old Guard), and Elizabeth Cusato Schnobrick, Principal Librarian, National Symphony Orchestra.


On July 4, my job is to stand backstage during the concert with soldiers from The Old Guard. As the Orchestra plays 1812 Overture, I will point to the soldier next to me for each cannon shot, and the soldier will say "Fire!" into a radio. At the other end of the radio, the Captain will cue the gunners to fire a cannon. The shots come very quickly, and each cue to fire will cycle through the four cannons while the others reload and prepare for their next turn. To make it more interesting, the cannons are positioned quite a ways away from the orchestra (seems smart!), so I have to give my cue about a second ahead of when each BOOM needs to be heard. By the end of the 3 minutes of music, there will have been 29 cannon blasts, all precisely timed to fit in with the orchestra.

If you're able, I hope you'll join the National Symphony Orchestra, me, and The Presidential Salute Battery for a fantastic A Capitol Fourth concert this July 4. Come join us on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol or tune in to your local PBS station. There's no better way to celebrate Independence Day!


Join the NSO for A Capitol Fourth on Saturday, July 4 at 8:00 PM.

Sounds of Summer: Sue Heineman
Posted by Amy Drew

Sue Heineman is the Principal Bassoonist for the National Symphony Orchestra.


Photo by Scott Suchman.


Summer is here, and the NSO season is winding down. Our musicians head to Wolf Trap and perform on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at the Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day concerts. Even with all these exciting performances, many of our musicians find a way to sharpen their musical skills by performing with other ensembles, and some even find time to relax and take a vacation. Here's what Sue Heineman had to say about her summer outside of life at the NSO.


This summer I'll be returning for my fifth summer at the Grand Teton Music Festival. This is a definite highlight of the year because it combines my love of music with my love of outdoor adventure. I always take my boots, bike, and tent for days off and some years I extend my time out west. Last summer my partner Bill joined me at the end of the festival and we spent the next couple weeks cycling to Boulder, Colorado. I blogged it here for those interested in that sort of thing. 

Here are a couple photos from the first day's entry — one of the bassoon section after the final concert (me on left with my colleagues from the San Antonio and San Francisco Symphonies) and one of Bill the next day as we set off on our journey. 


NSO principal bassoon Sue Heineman (at left) with the 2014 Grand Teton Music Festival bassoon section.



Sue's partner, Bill, on their bike excursion last summer.



This summer Bill and I will be doing a similar "bikepacking" trip in Slovenia. The NSO performed in Ljubljana on a tour in 2002 and the city and countryside were so beautiful many of us said we'd love to return some day. A mere 13 years later, I'm finally doing it! We'll go armed with maps, iPhones and a basic knowledge of the area, but one of the beauties of this sort of travel is that you can be flexible and make up the itinerary as you go. Our guide book pointed out an ancient music festival that coincides with our trip, so if our route takes us near Radovljica we may even check out a concert.


The Making of NSO at Wolf Trap
Posted by Krysta Cihi

Krysta Cihi is the Assistant Manager of Production and Operations for the NSO.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to produce a live orchestra concert? As an audience member, one only sees the final product: the musicians, the soloist, and the conductor making music together. What the audience doesn't see is what goes on backstage and behind the scenes for the days, weeks, and months beforehand. Each NSO concert has many moving parts and many people—programmers, personnel managers, music librarians, production staff, stagehands, and more—who work together to plan and execute a successful performance.

When the NSO makes its summer home at Wolf Trap, there are even more steps involved. Here's how it all comes together!

First, we need to transport the instruments and equipment to Wolf Trap via tractor trailer. The instruments are packed in road cases, which keep them safe on the journey. How do you fit an entire orchestra into a 53' trailer? Luckily, we have Ron Moore, who has been the NSO's truck driver for many years. He has transported NSO equipment all over the country and is a wizard with space efficiency. Ron creates a floor plan for the trailer, the crew loads the cases, and then they're off to Wolf Trap!

A summertime favorite for many audience members at Wolf Trap are the NSO movie nights, where the symphony plays the score to a feature film, with a large video screen above the stage and on the lawn. The NSO has performed many classic films in past seasons, including Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, West Side Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more. The 2015 NSO at Wolf Trap season kicked off with the 1985 cult classic, Back to the Future.

Because Wolf Trap is an indoor/outdoor venue, there is one important factor when it comes to movies at Wolf Trap: It needs to be dark to see the screens. Therefore, all technical preparation for video shows needs to happen overnight. Depending on Wolf Trap's performance schedule, this may mean starting at 9pm, 11pm, or even 1am! This past weekend, it was the latter.

We begin with an empty stage on which the projection screen is built.

For Back to the Future, we used an 18 by 32-foot screen onstage. The Wolf Trap crew assembles the screen, which then gets flown above the orchestra.

From there, the acoustic orchestra shell is built. The shell is assembled in pieces, weighing thousands of pounds, to create the ceiling, side, and back walls. Hydraulic hoses are used to lift the shell panels off the ground just enough that a crew of stagehands can push each piece into place. First, the ceiling panels are raised.

Then the shell walls are assembled.

Once the shell is in place, the video equipment can be set up and tested. Two video projectors are stacked on a platform behind the back shell wall. There is a small opening in the wall through which the lenses project the image onto the screen. On the lawn, projectors are set up within a truck at the top of the hill. Using two projectors per screen provides a brighter image and also serves as a safety net in case of technical difficulties. When the projectors are in place, the video technicians work to precisely align the overlying images.

Backstage, the video source material is set up, which contains the feature film as well as a special conductor version. The conductor video, played on a small video monitor by the podium, contains the movie footage, as well as timecode and punches and streamers, which serve as a visual metronome. This is how the conductor keeps the orchestra in sync with the movie. For certain films, you may also see the conductor and orchestra wearing headsets or headphones. This is for the "click track," which, as it sounds, provides clicks to indicate the tempo of the music.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Trap crew empties the tractor trailer, and NSO Stage Manager, Don Tillett, sets the stage with chairs, music stands, and percussion instruments, so that everything is ready for the next day's rehearsal. The instrument cases are placed backstage for easy access. By the end of these overnight technical calls, we aim to be 100% ready for the dress rehearsal and show the next day.

Overnight calls can be long and tiring. But lucky for us, Don's wife Judy packed the NSO staff a "midnight" (or 3am!) snack to keep us going through the night.

This time around, everyone headed home from Wolf Trap around 5:30am, just in time for a sunrise nap. The orchestra arrived for an afternoon rehearsal, and later that night, we had a great performance of Back to the Future. Now onto the next show!

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