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“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!

Sounds of Summer: Jauvon Gilliam
Posted by Amy Drew

Jauvon Gilliam is the Principal Timpanist 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 Jauvon Gilliam had to say about his summer outside of life at the NSO.


Summer is always a busy and exciting time for the NSO musicians.  Many of us do lots of traveling to various music festivals or take vacations with family.  This summer will be especially packed for me.  It started off with the chance of a lifetime: playing a concerto at Carnegie Hall! 



Outside Jauvon's dressing room at Carnegie Hall.



I teamed up with Mark Yancich, timpanist of the Atlanta Symphony, and the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony to perform Oliverio's Dynasty, Double Timpani Concerto for an amazing experience, one that I'll never forget.



(From left) Mark Yancich, timpanist of the Atlanta Symphony and NSO principal timpani Jauvon Gilliam performing at Carnegie Hall on June 6.



The view of the stage from above.



After our annual 4th of July concert on the Capitol lawn, the frequent flyer miles begin to pile up. I'll spend a week in Pittsburgh for my annual timpani seminar, and then it's off to New Zealand for 3 weeks to play with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. My wife will be joining me in New Zealand and once that's done, we will head to Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. I'll finish off this summer by teaching a week at Florida State University, which will culminate in my first FSU football game.  Whew!


What’s On at Wolf Trap?
Posted by Amy Drew

It's that time of year again! Our classical season has come to a close and the NSO is ready to perform on the Filene Center's stage at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. This summer, the NSO will perform at the outdoor venue a total of ten times.



As a preview to the season, some of the National Symphony Orchestra's staff took a moment to reveal what they are looking forward to most this summer during NSO at Wolf Trap. With so many different genres and types of concerts, there is bound to be something the whole family can enjoy!



Carrie Graham, NSO Operations Intern

"I am most excited about hearing and assisting with the production of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky concert on June 21. I'm always captivated by performances that feature a concerto soloist, and the full 1812 Overture has been one of my favorite pieces for years. So far during my internship, I've only heard the NSO perform in the Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center, so I am looking forward to hearing the orchestra in an outdoor venue!"

On June 21 Emanuel Ax (pictured) will perform Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the program is Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and 1812 Overture conducted by Andrew Litton.


Krysta Cihi, Assistant Manager, Production and Operations

"I'm very excited for NSO at Wolf Trap! It's a nice change of scenery to work in an outdoor venue for the summer. This season, I'm most looking forward to the 1812 Overture and Audra McDonald concerts. For 1812, I am tasked with making arrangements for the "cannon" pyrotechnic effects. It's always fun watching the audience's reactions to the BOOMS, which will be expertly cued by our Interim Associate Librarian, Danielle Wilt.  Also, I am a big musical theatre fan, so I can't wait to see Audra perform. I heard her recording of "Stars and the Moon" when I was a kid and have loved her ever since."


Danielle Wilt, Interim Associate Librarian

"I am most looking forward to firing the "cannons" for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Each time this piece is programed at Wolf Trap it has been a standing tradition that one of the librarians takes the score and percussion/cannon part and coordinates with a pyro technician to create the effect of eleven cannon blasts for the finale of this festive piece. Though you will not see me on stage, I will be positioned somewhere where I will be able to see the conductor's cues. What you will hear is actually the detonation of mortars set at a safe distance away which will be triggered by the push of a button!"


Clara Wallace, Artistic Coordinator

"I'm most excited for the performance featuring Audra McDonald, on June 22, 2015.  My musical background is in voice, so it's always a treat when the NSO features singers.  Audra in particular is such a masterful performer, and I know it will be a night to remember."


Audra McDonald takes the stage on June 22 at 8:15pm to sing show tunes and pop standards.



Jim Hewitt, Personnel Manager

"I'm looking forward to our program on June 21 with Andrew Litton and Emanuel Ax, as I really enjoy working with both of those guys, and it includes some of my favorite repertoire.  But honestly, the concert I'm most excited about is the Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions show on July 18, because my son (a HUGE Pokémon fan) and I are going to see it together.  It's the ultimate "Take Your Kid to Work Day."


On July 18 at 8:30pm Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions fans can hear the franchise's music while watching clips from the video game.


Elizabeth Schnobrick, Principal Librarian

"This year, I am most looking forward to our concert with Rufus Wainwright – I have a real soft spot for the Indie-Pop-Folk crowd. That said, one of my absolute favorite parts about Wolf Trap is that every year, I am completely surprised by at least one program. It's always something that I didn't expect to have a strong opinion about but once we get into rehearsal and performance, I find myself truly enjoying the concert. "

Rufus Wainwright performs at Wolf Trap on Friday, July 31 at 8:15pm.


Amy Drew, Administrative Assistant

"The show I'm looking forward to the most is Madama Butterfly on August 7. The last time I saw this opera performed was at the Kennedy Center several years ago, so it will be interesting to see how the production at Wolf Trap compares. My mom is also an opera lover, so I'm going to invite her to come along with me!"


Join the NSO and the Wolf Trap Opera for Puccini's Madama Butterfly on August 7 at 8:15pm.


Carly Gordon, Classical Music Press Intern

"I'm really excited for "The Music of John Williams" concert!  Back when I was a newly minted oboist in seventh-grade Beginning Band, the very first piece we learned how to play was the theme from Star Wars.  John Williams' music is so dramatic and infectious, equally fun to play as to listen to, and I can't wait to hear the NSO's take."


NSO at Wolf Trap conductor Emil de Cou leads "The Music of John Williams" on Saturday, August 8 at 8:15pm.


I Did It “My Way”
Posted by Amy Drew

Typically, for a concert, the audience arrives, they watch the performance, and they go home. But on Saturday, June 6th, it was not a typical night! The MyTix program, which offers discounted tickets at the Kennedy Center to 18-30 year olds and active U.S. military servicemembers, hosted a MyTix "My Way" Soirée. What does that mean, you ask? Here's a rundown of what was offered throughout the evening.


Before the show, free dance lessons were offered!

Dancers before the concert.


The MyTix crowd showed up for happy hour, where they received 50% off beer, wine, and soda at our intermission bars.


Specialty cocktails that were perfect for the occasion were featured at our intermission bars.


At 6:00 pm, the Seth Kibel Quintet took to the Millennium Stage and gave a free performance that everyone could enjoy.

As the concert time drew closer, crowds continued to pour into the sold out Concert Hall. Finally, it was show time! Four talented vocalists, Tony DeSare, Ryan Silverman, Storm Large, and Frankie Moreno paid tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra in style! The performance featured songs made famous by Sinatra, including "New York, New York" and "My Way".


Pictured clockwise from top left: Moreno, Silverman, DeSare, and Large


As soon as the concert was over, the after party began! The Seth Kibel Quartet returned to the Millennium Stage and performed until midnight.


The view of the party from above.

Even the outside of the Kennedy Center was "dressed" for the occasion.



NSO Pops conductor Steven Reineke, vocalists Tony DeSare, Ryan Silverman, Storm Large, and Frankie Moreno, as well as NSO musicians mingled with party attendees. A social photo booth featuring a life-size Frank Sinatra was open for prime photo ops.

Steven Reineke and Ryan Silverman even stopped by for a photo!


NSO Pops conductor Steven Reineke (second from left) and vocalist Ryan Silverman (second from right) pose with guests.


A great time was had by all involved!


Who’s That On Stage?
Posted by Amy Drew

On June 3rd, 2015, the NSO was pleased to host students from the DC Youth Orchestra Program (DCYOP) for a side-by-side rehearsal at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. For the orchestra, a side-by-side is a rehearsal with students playing alongside members of the NSO while receiving coaching.


Young musicians work with NSO players during the string sectional.


Founded in 1960, the DC Youth Orchestra Program (DCYOP) is the leading ensemble-based classical music education program in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. The mission of DCYOP is "music for young people; achievement for life!" DCYOP offers group lessons and ensemble training on all orchestral instruments for students ages 4 ½ to 18 and the program consists of six ensembles including the renowned Youth Orchestra. Leading the side-by-side rehearsal and sectionals were conductors Jason Love of the Columbia Orchestra, and Sylvia Alimena, former NSO hornist.

Winds, Brass, and Percussion gather on the Concert Hall stage to rehearse with Sylvia Alimena.


Here's what Evan Ross Solomon, Program Director for the DCYOP had to say about the experience:

"After a great year of hard work, rehearsals and concerts, it is an amazing opportunity and treat to be invited by the NSO to participate in a side-by-side sectional and rehearsal on the Concert Hall stage. The students of the DC Youth Orchestra Program's top ensemble, the Youth Orchestra, were coached by NSO musicians, and had the chance to play under two excellent conductors. For many of our students, this was their first time playing on the Concert Hall stage!"


The full orchestra rehearses on the Concert Hall stage with conductor Jason Love.


The most valuable part of the experience was the insight gained from sitting next to and working with the NSO musicians. DCYOP students benefited greatly from witnessing firsthand the level of focus and discipline the NSO musicians demonstrate in rehearsal and their music making.


This stage plot shows the seating for the rehearsal. Chairs marked with the letter "S" (45 total) were assigned to DCYOP students.


The repertoire for the rehearsal was España by Emmanuel Chabrier, and Les Preludes by Franz Liszt. Both of these works are very challenging for any youth orchestra and the DC Youth Orchestra students did a fantastic job with their preparation. Many musicians from the NSO commented on DCYOP's great energy and musicality. The side-by-side experience was both informative and inspiring to the members of the DC Youth Orchestra. To see and hear how the world class professional musicians of the NSO tackle and perform difficult works is one of the best learning opportunities for any young musician.

Jason Love leads the string section during the rehearsal.


"The side-by-side rehearsal was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was inspiring to see first-hand the dedication and effort the musicians put into perfecting their craft. " Caleb Diamond, DCYO Cellist


This is an experience that our students will not forget!

The DC Youth Orchestra Program would like to thank the NSO, the NSO musicians, and Carole Wysocki of the Kennedy Center's Education Department for making this tremendous event possible.


Evan Ross Solomon

Program Director, DC Youth Orchestra Program

The Steelpan Comes to the Symphony!
Posted by Amy Drew

As a follow-up to its 2012 Americas Tour, the NSO presents a vibrant rhythm-themed program on May 29 and 30, featuring this year's world premiere NSO Hechinger Commission. Eclectic young American composer Andy Akiho--described as "mold-breaking" and "vital" by the New York Times--has created Beneath Lighted Coffers, a brand-new concerto for steelpan and orchestra that will spotlight the NSO debut of young guest soloist Liam Teague, a native of Trinidad and Tobago hailed as the "Paganini of the Steelpan." 
Guest conductor Manuel López-Gómez, one of the most exciting young talents to emerge from the internationally renowned Venezuelan music program "El Sistema," also makes his NSO debut, highlighting two works by South American composers. Antonio Estévez's Mediodía en el llano brings Venezuela's "noon on the prairie" to glorious life with haunting beauty, while Alberto Ginastera's lush Estancia Suite features music from the composer's sweeping ballet inspired by the ranches of his Argentina homeland. 


Liam Teague tells us more about Beneath Lighted Coffers and how he got started with the steelpan.


How long have you been playing steelpan?

I started in the late 1980s when I was about 11 years old. So I would say I've been playing for over 30 years.


How were you first introduced to the instrument?

The steel pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, where I am from. My father had a Cub Scout troop when I was younger, and one of our members brought a steelpan to a troop meeting. It was there that I first fell in love with the instrument.


Where did you study?

I started learning the steelpan in Trinidad and then did both of my degrees at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in Dekalb, Illinois. I am an Associate Professor of Music and Head of Steelpan studies at NIU. I also co-direct the NIU Steelband along with Steel Pan legend Cliff Alexis.


Can you tell us a little about the Akiho concerto? Do you have a favorite part of the piece thus far?

The Concerto is unique, brilliant, beautiful and very challenging. Each movement is contrasting and Andy has me exploring a lot of new territory. For example, there are places in the Concerto where I am playing the chop sticks, striking the rim and skirt of the steelpan, scratching the steelpan with a percussion instrument called "dreadlocks", and playing in many mixed meters.

I love the entire piece, but the movement called "Oculus" is amazingly beautiful. I haven't been able to get through practicing this movement without breaking into tears, as it makes me think of my mother who passed away in January. I'll be ok for the performances, though.


Do you have a favorite performance you've given in the past, or a favorite venue where you've performed?

Every performance is memorable and I feel honored to share the beauty, versatility and profundity of Trinidad and Tobago's national instrument with the world. I am really looking forward to the premiere of the Concerto, and working with such a brilliant conductor, orchestra, and composer.


What other instruments do you play?

I played the violin and recorder for a number of years and have actually adapted some violin repertoire onto the steelpan, e.g. Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Paganini's Moto Perpetuo.


What do you like to do when you're not playing music?

I love being with my wife, Lorena, and our kids, Jaden (7) and Jeida (2)

I enjoy looking at football (soccer), especially Barcelona and Manchester United. I'm a big NBA fan as well.


Tell us something interesting or unexpected about yourself.

I love helping to make other people happy.


Any other comments you wish to share:

I'm just really grateful for the opportunity to perform with this great orchestra and I hope that the piece goes from strength to strength. The steelpan's versatility is not always familiar to many people around the world, so I relish opportunities like these to educate the public.

It is a fascinating instrument which can convincingly be integrated into almost any musical situation.

Meet Our Musicians: Ira Gold
Posted by Amy Drew

Ira Gold is a bassist with the National Symphony Orchestra

Ira Gold has been a member of the National Symphony since 2005. Find out about Ira's favorite composer, favorite sports team, and more!


Photo by Scott Suchman.


What university or conservatory did you attend?

Boston University (BM), Rice University (MM) 


Was it for music? 

Yes, both schools.


What is your favorite piece (or pieces) to play in the orchestra? 

I love anything by Dvořák, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky, or Janáček. 


Describe your favorite NSO moment

We performed Brahms's First Symphony with Christoph Eschenbach in February of 2008 (soon after that he was named our Music Director). The last page of the piece was some of the most exciting music making I've ever felt in an orchestra concert.  There was a real visceral feeling to it, almost as if it was the first performance of the piece ever.... 


What are three songs or pieces you love to listen to? 

My favorite composer is Bach, so I am often listening to his solo pieces for violin or cello, or his chamber music.   


Did you grow up in a musical household? 

Yes.  Both of my parents studied violin from childhood through college.  My mother is a private violin teacher and my father studied violin and bow making in college.  He opened up his own violin shop in 1979 and has been in business in Houston, TX, ever since.  When I wasn't in school, at a sports practice or game, or rehearsal/concert, I was at my Dad's shop, watching him re-hair bows, restore a violin top, or any kind of repair.  I worked for him at various times, learning the basics of the business.  It's given me a deep appreciation and understanding of how string instruments are constructed, how each part of it works and contributes to the sound.  There are so many nuances in string instrument set up, and a professional musician like myself needs to know those things.  My brother played cello for a few years and my sister played violin, but they eventually moved on to other interests.   


What did you want to be growing up? 

I love basketball deeply...played on teams for years as a teenager and felt very connected to it.  But whether it was a fear of failure or skepticism of whether I was any good, I decided to focus on music. 


When did you know you wanted to be a professional classical musician?

I was a sophomore in high school, and decided that I was going to push myself to be the best bassist and musician.  It became an obsession.  Practicing many hours, participating in youth orchestras, competitions, summer festivals, and ultimately planning to go to a fine music school in college, which worked out for me in both of my degree programs.   


What is your favorite thing about living in the D.C. area? 

The green space.  I love the beautiful view I have driving to work every day--Rock Creek Park and 16th Street are basically the woods so it doesn't feel like you are driving in a city. 


Where is your favorite D.C. hangout? 

I commute many hours between NSO, Peabody Conservatory, and my home life.  I actually prefer the bike and running trails as a "hangout" location more than any other restaurant or establishment.  But I do love great sushi - no particular place of loyalty.  


Do you have any pets?

Yes, our German Shorthaired Pointer, Tia, is 4 years old.  We rescued her when she was 1.  She is my running and training partner.  She's quite the hunter, too!   


What is your favorite way to spend your free time?

My daughter (Lena, almost 2) and I have been going to the park almost every day for a few months--we play chase, go on the swing, the slide, kick the ball, and take note of buses that go by.  She also points out the airplanes overhead or the caterpillars along the park's edge.  When I have alone time I enjoy walking, running, biking, yoga--movement is the key.  My wife and I love to cook so we are always exploring new recipes.  


Favorite movie:  

The Natural 


Favorite book:  

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  


Favorite sports team: 

Houston Astros


Name one thing people would be surprised to know about you. 

Everyone seems surprised I am from Texas, maybe because I have no accent - some think I'm a Yankee.  But, yeah, I'm a Houston boy.  Yee-haw!!!! 



NSO Salutes Departing Members
Posted by Amy Drew

The National Symphony Orchestra salutes four members of the National Symphony Orchestra who are departing at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 season. Together, they have given more than 140 years of service to the National Symphony Orchestra.


Paula Sisson Akbar


24 Years of Service


Dennis Piwowarski


31 Years of Service


Robert Blatt


47 Years of Service


Vernon Summers


40 Years of Service




Each year during one of the final concerts of the season, the NSO honors their departing members with a speech and gifts. Following the concert, current and past members of the orchestra, staff, family, and friends gather in a celebration. Each departing member is recognized and given a special tribute by members of the orchestra. After their tribute, each retiree's photo is hung on the wall, joining all those that have departed over the years.


Orchestra members and friends gather for the celebration. Photo by William Haroutounian.

Skits and musical acts are performed in honor of each retiree. Photo by William Haroutounian.


The cake for the celebration! Photo by William Haroutounian.



This year, we would like to feature Paula Sisson Akbar, who was a member of the First Violin section from 1991-2015. Paula was kind enough to share some of her favorite photos from over the years and answer a few questions for us:


Do you have any plans for retirement?

Yes, besides my Bucket List, which includes a road trip across the US and a walking pilgrimage in England, I plan to paint/collage, garden, take acting lessons, write, spend more time in Mexico and Greece, and start a shop. In reality, I'll probably sit around in my jammies sipping tea and reading murder mysteries until the end of time. BTW, my list will be different next week.


Performing a children's concert with regularly engaged extra percussionist, Joe Connell, during a residency in Kentucky.

Paula and her sweetie take a silly photo while the NSO was on tour in Buenos Aires.

Paula and Athabaskan fiddler, Bill Stevens, during the 1992 Alaska residency.



What are you looking forward to most about retirement?

I'm looking forward to the freedom of a blank schedule. At least for a while.


Are you planning on staying in the area?

Yes, I love Maryland and DC and Virginia and Delaware.


One of the perks of working in the nation's capital – a trip to the White House! Here, members of the NSO met President Barack Obama in 2012.


What will you miss the most about the NSO?

The orchestra is full of bright, ambitious, conscious, forward-thinking people of great integrity. I will miss my colleagues terribly. I will miss performing music to such a high standard. And it will be extremely difficult to sit in the audience when I'd rather be on stage or backstage.


Paula with NSO colleagues (from left: Linda Schroeder, retired member Dotian Levalier, former music director Leonard Slatkin, retired member Elisabeth Adkins, Paula Akbar, and Holly Hamilton)

With Mary Chapin Carpenter at a concert at Wolf Trap in August 2014.

Backstage at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall with strong men, Derek and Jarek, after the December 2014 Cirque de la Symphonie performance.

We take Halloween very seriously around here! The first violin section as "The Wizard of Oz" in 2013.


Do you plan on staying involved in music in any way?

OF COURSE I PLAN ON STAYING INVOLVED IN MUSIC!! MUSIC IS MY MIDDLE NAME!! I'd love to play some shows, maybe chamber music on a cruise ship, tour with a troupe of gypsy musicians. . . . To paraphrase Ringo Starr, "I'm on my feet and I'm doing what I love to do, and I'm in a profession, as a musician, where we can go on for as long as we can go on."


Paula shows her love of music by taking extra time out of her schedule to coach chamber music students at the NSO's Summer Music Institute in 2010.

Paula with Viva Violins!, a group that performs concerts for youth. Photo by Carol Pratt. (from left: Jane Bowyer Stewart, student, Holly Hamilton, Elisabeth Adkins, and Paula Akbar)


Tell us anything else you would like!

I'm savoring every rehearsal and concert from now until my last service at Wolf Trap in August.


Paula truly is one-of-a-kind and we will miss her! Photo by Tim Coburn Photography.


We thank all our departing members for their service to the NSO and wish them the best!


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