Written by NSO Violist, Mahoko Eguchi
In September, the National Symphony Orchestra launched a new program called Sound Health, a year-round community engagement initiative that sends musicians into local hospitals, pediatric units, and military health centers in the Washington, D.C. area. Sound Health aims to enhance the environment and experiences of patients, their family members, hospital staff and visitors, through live music and personal interaction. Music has the extraordinary power to bring people together, enhance our common experiences, and create a healthier, more enriching environment. NSO Violist, Mahoko Eguchi, shared this meaningful story about the healing power of music:
For several months, I taught violin to a soldier at a local center for the treatment of traumatic injuries*. She was a 26-year-old woman named Hilary* who suffered an acute brain injury during training before being deployed overseas. My lessons were a part of a volunteer organization created by a friend of mine which provides music lessons to the veterans. Hilary was going to play the violin as a part of her treatment for the brain damage. Playing the violin requires thinking about many different things simultaneously, which the doctors thought would help her healing process.
Needless to say, I didn't know Hilary prior to her injury, so am not sure how much of her personality and demeanor were affected. When I first saw her I was struck by her innocence and childlike excitement with starting her lessons. She was bright-eyed, and utterly ecstatic to play the violin. The last time she played the violin was when she was in high school. I started her with Suzuki Violin Book 1, which I usually use when I teach elementary students. She seemed to have remembered certain pieces from her childhood, so I decided to give her couple more short pieces. She struggled at first but was eager to keep trying.
After a few weekly lessons, her mother, who was taking care of her, told me that she practiced all the time. It was what made her the happiest. At lessons she often kept playing and ignored her mother's warning about the end of lesson, so that she wouldn't be late to her next doctor's appointment.
I've had some wonderful students in the past, who in return were grateful to me. However, this was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I had no doubt that I was changing her life and was making her happy by letting her play the violin and experience music every day. I was also quite sure that playing the violin would help her brain heal. Violinists have to think of hundreds of things at once. For instance, we need to hold the bow correctly; each finger needs to be in the right position, with the right shape, with correct balance, without tension. We need to hold the violin correctly; under the chin, over the shoulder, the right way, correct angle to the body. We need to keep the bow on the string correctly; straight, in the parallel position between the bridge and finger board; and keep it there. We need to have the left hand on the violin correctly, with nicely curved fingers, in the right position, and without tension. Only then do we get to play the notes and think about the correct intonation, rhythm, and sound. Hilary was trying to do them all.
Besides my experience with her, I've learned a lot just by visiting the trauma center regularly. I was mostly in their center for rehabilitation, so I encountered many amputees. They were training on treadmill, elliptical machines, weight machines or running and jumping with their prosthetic arms and/or legs (a lot better than I could ever dream of myself doing, I might add.) There was no darkness, sadness or depressing air there. They just went about their business. Their life went on. I felt humbled and honored every time I was there. I was grateful that Hilary was letting me teach her the violin.
*At the request of the medical center, it is not being identified, nor is Hilary the real name of the soldier.
'Tis the season at the National Symphony as we get ready for this week's NSO Pops: Happy Holidays! concerts. Each December brings the annual festive traditions, from Christmas trees to wreaths to garlands and lights, and last but not least, the candy canes! After every show, the Concert Hall ushers hand out candy canes as a special holiday treat for our audience members to enjoy on the way home. But what needs to happen first? Take a look!
16 boxes of candy canes (8,000 in all) and 80 bags ready for stuffing!
With help from some NSO Elves, we're ready to go!
Come celebrate the season with the NSO! NSO Pops: Happy Holidays! with Brian Stokes Mitchell and conductor Steven Reineke runs this Thursday through Saturday, December 12 - 14. Click here for tickets!
On stage at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, you've seen the violin, the trumpet, and the flute in a National Symphony Orchestra concert – just to name a few. But occasionally we have an instrument with the NSO that you may not have seen on our stage before. This week is an example of that – as part of our concerts this week, the instrumentation for Kodály's Suite from Háry János calls for an instrument called the cimbalom.
The cimbalom is a Hungarian instrument, similar to a hammered dulcimer. We've been fascinated with the cimbalom this week since the moment it arrived.
Our crew did indeed handle it with dignity, as they carefully unpacked it in the Green Room:
It needed some assembly upon arrival:
The Stage Crew carefully unpacked the legs:
And attached them to the instrument itself:
We think it's a beautiful instrument with a great sound! Look for it this weekend, on the left when you are looking at the stage (see the blue arrow on our stage plot below):
So who plays this amazing instrument? Meet Laurence Kaptain, one of the most distinguished performers of the cimbalom. We asked him a few questions to get to know him before his performances with the NSO:
How long have you been playing the cimbalom?
A little more than 30 years.
How were you first introduced to the instrument?
I grew up in Elgin, Illinois, an outer suburb of Chicago that had a small, closely knit Hungarian community. My father was born to Hungarian immigrants in the US, but they solely spoke Hungarian in the home. His two older brothers were both born in Hungary and had their early schooling there, so my dad went into kindergarten, in public schools, having to pick up English there.
I provide that context because they used to have gypsy bands play at summer picnics. At those picnics, they would have gypsy bands, including the cimbalom.
Where did you learn to play it?
I was a little self-taught, and then I went to study in Hungary in the early 1980s.
Have you performed the Háry János suite many times before?
I've performed it hundreds of times, and recorded it twice with the Chicago Symphony (Sir Georg Solti, and Maestro Neeme Järvi) and with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony.
What do you like about the piece?
Well, I only play on two movements and sit there for four. I must say that after all of these years, with the best orchestras I always hear something different and new. I'm sure that will be the case here with the National Symphony.
Where do you most often perform the cimbalom?
Over the years, I have played fairly regularly with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I've also played with three of the orchestras in Mexico City, the Montreal Symphony, and others. Sometimes college orchestras have me play, and I've done that at Eastman, Michigan, Illinois, Texas Tech, Baylor, St. Olaf, and others. I've also played with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Orpheus.
What other instruments do you play?
I'm trained as a percussionist and received the first Doctorate in Percussion Instruments from the University of Michigan.
Want to hear the cimbalom in action? The NSO will perform the Suite from Háry János November 14-16, 2013 at the Kennedy Center, along with Liszt's Piano Concerto No 2 with pianist Alice Sara Ott, and Prokofiev's Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet.
Written by Marissa Goodman, NSO Operations Intern.
Last Stand Quartet performance:
Friday, November 8th 6:00 PM
Click here to listen to the live webcast!
The October 2010 Millennium Stage performance featuring Maestro Christoph Eschenbach on the first half of the program, followed by a newly formed quartet (at the time) of NSO musicians, is a performance the quartet members look back on with fond memories. After the performance of the Beethoven String Quartet, Op. 59, No.3, Maestro Eschenbach made a point of expressing his desire that the musicians remain together as a quartet. Now called "The Last Stand Quartet," NSO musicians Joel Fuller, Alexandra Osborne, Mahoko Eguchi, and Rachel Young are happy to know Maestro shared the same desire as their own.
Last Stand Quartet members (left to right): Rachel Young, Mahoko Eguchi, Alexandra Osborne, Joel Fuller.
Photo by Steve Wilson
Many of us wondered how this quartet got its name. In the NSO publicity photo, all musicians are seated in order of seniority. While the Last Stand Quartet members have been with the NSO for up to 12 years, they each found themselves in this particular photo…at the last stand!
The quartet describes their sound as having "clarity with a core". "We're all romantics, so we play slow movements really well!" says LSQ violist, Mahoko Eguchi. While the quartet is still a young group, they often find themselves drawn to mid-Beethoven and have set the ambitious goal to play all the Beethoven quartets. "Mid-Beethoven is sort of our anchor," says LSQ cellist Rachel Young. There's no doubt the ensemble has fun with being a young group. "We are still young enough as a group, we haven't found what 'our music' is," says LSQ violinist Joel Fuller. Admitted by LSQ violinist Alexandra Osborne, sometimes the quartet gets together on rehearsal days to play and explore quartet repertoire just for fun!
The upcoming Millennium Stage performance by the Last Stand Quartet includes Schumann's String Quartet in A major. Interestingly, the musicians are performing Schumann's Symphony No. 1 this week with conductor John Storgårds. Many composers experimented with their own styles after hearing quartets perform some of their compositions, so it has been an interesting week for the quartet to rehearse the quartet alongside the symphony.
Playing as a member of a quartet requires a higher mix of vulnerability and teamwork than is usually found in orchestral playing. Each member must commit to every piece completely, combining personal musical opinions with the full quartet sound. The Last Stand Quartet has proven to possess these remarkable connections, as pointed out by Maestro Eschenbach himself.
Photo by Steve Wilson
Click here to watch the October 2010 Millennium Stage performance!
Click here to view the Last Stand Quartet's website!
Krysta Cihi is the Assistant Manager of Production and Operations for the National Symphony Orchestra.
Working in Production for the NSO means taking the details and ideas for a concert and translating them into the reality on stage. If all goes well, the audience should have no notion of the many moving pieces. They can sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful music they came to hear. We make sure everything is in its proper place: the chairs onstage, the lights up, the pianos tuned, and the conductor hanging upside down…
Wait a second—what's that?
This was probably my reaction when I first heard Assistant Conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl's idea for the NSO Family Spooktacular concerts, which took place this past Sunday. In the Halloween spirit, the musicians all dressed in costumes - from devils, witches, and Sonny and Cher, to the cast of Wizard of Oz (including the Yellow Brick Road!). Our Maestro's choice: A bat! And how do bats sleep? Upside-down, of course! So the task at hand: transform our conductor into a bat, to be revealed onstage hanging upside down, asleep in his cave. As you might imagine, several questions came to mind (what, when, where, how?) There were many things to consider, from the equipment, to the placement, to the surprise factor. What structure would we need? When in the concert will this occur? Where on stage should this happen? How can we do this successfully and safely? After some brainstorming and research, we devised a plan to bring the bat to life. Here is what it took!
The Making of the Bat Cave:
1 Aluminum Pull-up Bar
1 Cushion (…just in case!)
2 'Inversion Boots'
2 Bi-fold Panels (…to hide the bat until the big reveal!)
2 Stage Crew members
The Making of the Bat:
1 Set of Wings
1 Makeup Artist
The final result!
The concerts were a great success and the audience loved the bat effect!
And what did Ankush have to say?
"I wasn't sure how long I could last hanging upside down, but we did a test run on Thursday and it went well. Thanks so much to the administration for making it all happen and our stage crew for keeping me safe during the hanging and dismount! The effect of the entrance was well worth it!"
With a little creativity, anything's possible! Happy Halloween from the National Symphony Orchestra!
Click here for a special Halloween greeting from the NSO!
Every August, after the completion of the NSO @ Wolf Trap series, the musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra take a much deserved few weeks of vacation! This leaves the Kennedy Center Concert Hall empty for several weeks in a row, which almost never occurs during the season. The empty schedule gives us a rare opportunity to make improvements to the Concert Hall that would otherwise disrupt the regular rehearsal and concert schedule of the orchestra. Devotees may remember that last year's August vacation time was used to begin installation of the new Rubenstein Family Organ.
This month, the Kennedy Center facilities department has embarked on a very ambitious journey to repaint the Concert Hall from top to bottom. A complete recoloring of the hall has not occurred since 1997, when it was repainted in conjunction with renovations that occurred in that year. The chorister seats, on-stage boxes, and high-tech acoustical canopy (a gift of Bell Atlantic) were also added to the hall at that time. Additionally, each seating level was made handicap accessible during the renovations. Once completed, the Concert Hall will be painted with cream and soft gray colors, accented with the red carpeting and aluminum and faux gold ("Dutch metal") leaf.
NSO onstage in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the Filene Great Organ, before the 1997 renovations.
NSO onstage in the Concert Hall in 2012 with the new Rubenstein Family Organ.
Preparations for the painting began in mid-July, when crews installed plastic sheeting in the 1st and 2nd tier balconies to protect the chairs. Movable chairs in the box seating areas were relocated to the hallways.
Chairs in the box seating areas were moved into the hallways.
The orchestra played its final notes in the Concert Hall at a rehearsal on July 25. Because there were still three concerts left at Wolf Trap, the NSO rehearsed on the Eisenhower Theater stage on July 31 in preparation for both Bugs Bunny at the Symphony and Singin' in the Rain!
The crew setting the Eisenhower Theater stage for NSO rehearsal of Singin' in the Rain!
On July 29, painting began! In order to accomplish this massive undertaking, scaffolding was erected to allow the painting crew to access every nook and cranny of the hall. A system of stairways and wooden platforms can carry crew from the orchestra level floor clear up to the center of the ceiling. Additionally, a separate system of scaffolding was suspended above the stage to allow painters to access the ceiling above the performance area. In order to accommodate this, the acoustical canopy and the crystal chandeliers were lowered all the way down to the stage level. Watch your head!
View of the Concert Hall from the center of the chorister seats.
Crew can now reach all the way to ceiling by walking across wooden platforms on top of the scaffolding. Don't look down!
The acoustical canopy was lowered to stage level so scaffolding could be installed above.
The lull in rehearsal and performance activities also provided a great opportunity to clean all the crystal lighting fixtures in the Concert Hall. The stage crew has been hard at work cleaning each individual crystal from the sconces that line the balconies. Later in the month, the crew will move on to cleaning the chandeliers. Even though the chandeliers have been lowered down to the orchestra level, crew members will still need to use a ladder to reach the highest crystals in the arrangements. The current chandeliers and sconces were reconfigured from the original chandeliers, a gift from Norway, during the 1997 renovation.
The chandeliers were lowered all the way to orchestra level and will be cleaned in the coming weeks.
Criss, a member of the Concert Hall stage crew, cleans the crystal sconces on the first tier.
Devoted concertgoers: have no fear! The painting project will be completed just in time for our first concert of the season. So come join us to see Steven Reineke conduct the NSO Pops with Cirque de la Symphonie, September 19-22!
Dave George is the National Symphony Orchestra Operations Intern, Summer 2013.
Each summer, the National Symphony leaves the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to make its home at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Wolf Trap provides a scenic outdoor environment where visitors can relax and enjoy a picnic while listening to the NSO's range of classical and pops concerts, from the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration to Carmina Burana.
The crew finishes setting the stage at Wolf Trap.
This past Friday, the NSO performed waltzes by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, best known for its climactic cannon fire. A benefit of an outdoor venue such as Wolf Trap is that it allows the use of live pyrotechnics! While actual cannons can be used for 1812 Overture, this year's cannon volleys were achieved through concussion mortars, a pyrotechnic device that produce a jarring cannon-like sound. Concussion mortars consist of a heavy steel bar with an inner explosion chamber, which is loaded with pyrotechnic flash powder and fired with an electric trigger.
The pyrotechnic flash powder is poured into the steel cylinders seen below.
This year's cannon effects were provided by Pyrotecnico, a fireworks and pyrotechnics company, who arrived Friday afternoon to set up the equipment.
Step one was setting up the wire that connected the control panel to the concussion mortars themselves. For safety, the explosions must be fired from a minimum of 30 feet away, so they were positioned in a parking lot across from the main floor of the audience.
The pyrotechnician beginning the setup.
However, what looks like a quick jaunt across a parking lot is a much longer route for the wire hookup. NSO Stage Manager, Donald Tillett, fed nearly 300 ft. of wire from the orchestra level and through 3 separate underground pipes which led to the parking lot.
The large spool of wiring.
Out one pipe and into the next…
… Through the final pipe under the road.
After the wiring was completed, it was time to test out the cannon sounds. The pyrotechnician created three different mixtures of powder to provide for three different volumes of explosions from which to choose. This year, NSO Principal Librarian, Marcia Farabee, operated the trigger herself, a first time experience for her. While Marcia has cued cannons for 1812 Overture a number of times before, this was her first time firing the explosions.
Marcia receives instructions on operating the trigger.
"It was quite a different experience to actually cue them on time and in time, since there was no delay," Marcia noted. "And, since they were not a quarter mile away, they were MUCH louder!" Real cannons are typically positioned much further away, so one has to account for the delay between when they are fired to the moment the sound reaches the audience. Real cannons must therefore be cued earlier than they actually fall in the musical score in order to sync with the orchestra's playing. The concussion mortars, on the other hand, were practically instant with the push of a button. For the performance, Marcia positioned herself near the side of the audience, with a music stand and score, following along in the music in order to cue the cannons in the proper place. "One of the more interesting aspects of this one," Marcia said, "was that I could not see the orchestra, just hear them. So, using earplugs was not an option!"
Seventeen concussion mortars, ready for firing.
From the audience, one could not only hear the thunderous booms but see bright flashes that lit up the whole parking lot. The "cannons" proved an exciting conclusion to the 1812 Overture and to the concert as a whole. The audience had fun, and so did Marcia! "To use the 'gun' control was exhilarating to say the least! "
The NSO will conclude its summer season at Wolf Trap this weekend with Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II and Singin' in the Rain. We hope to see you there!
When asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" how many kids say, "I want to play the cello in a major orchestra with a famous conductor and travel the world"? But that's what happened to National Symphony Orchestra cellist Yvonne Caruthers, originally from Spokane, WA. "I didn't grow up in a family of musicians, I grew up in a family that went backpacking in the North Cascade mountains. We skinny-dipped in icy cold lakes, caught fish for breakfast, and watched baby mountain goats frolic in snowfields. No wonder my peers in music school thought I was.....different."
In Search of the Perfect G-String is based on Yvonne's life experiences. And what a life it's been---from student days at Tanglewood to great concert halls around the world, interspersed, of course, with countless hours in lonely practice rooms, which also gave her time to speculate on (ahem), 'personal' items.
"At first I thought I'd assemble my stories into a book, but the publishing world has gotten increasingly complicated in the past few years, so I put the project on hold. One day it occurred to me that these stories could come to life onstage, which is, after all, where I spend a good deal of time."
At first Yvonne was hesitant about playing her cello during a theatrical performance. "Since I associate important events with the music I heard or played at that time, it seems right to play my cello during the show. It takes practice, but practicing is second nature to me."
Is there a story behind the title? "Of course there is! But you'll have to come to the show to find out."
In Search of the Perfect G-String, 60 mins, appropriate for mature teens and older
Where: Caos on F, 923 F St NW, Washington, DC, 20004.
Closest Metro stop: Gallery Place
When: Sat, July 13, 3pm
Fri, July 19, 8:45pm
Sun, July 21, 7pm
Fri, July 26, 6:15pm
Sun, July 28, 4pm
Tickets and Passes: Priced at $17, tickets are available at capitalfringe.org or by calling 866-811-4111
Photos and more info: Available at http://bit.ly/12TKQ44
Fringe Festival contact: Laura Gross, 202-207-3645, c: 202-255-2054, email@example.com
On Twitter : #capitalfringe13, #ISPGS, @CapitalFringe, @ISPGS
You know it's nearly summer as the days get longer, the weather gets warmer… and the NSO wraps up its 2012-13 classical season and moves out to Wolf Trap!
Our final concert series at the Kennedy Center 'til fall is tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday. We're going out in style with two piano concertos (on different programs), as well as a Concerto for Orchestra, and well-loved music from Peer Gynt. The NSO's second bassoonist Steven Wilson (featured alongside principal bassoonist Sue Heineman in the movement In the Hall of the Mountain King) tells us all about that here: https://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/videos/?id=A81242
After we bid adieu to spring and the KC, it's off to Wolf Trap for our summer series at the Filene Center. Among other great shows, we'll live vicariously through penguins in Frozen Planet, feel the joy of victory at Video Games Live: Bonus Round!, and admire our country in America the Beautiful. More info on our summer schedule is here: http://www.wolftrap.org/Filene_Center/NSO.aspx.
Come celebrate the solstice with the NSO!
"Chirp, Chirp! Chirp, Chirp!" Hello everyone, I'm Chester the Cricket! Well, at least this week that's who I'm pretending to be. In reality, I am violinist Nicolas Kendall, and I will be playing the part of the famous little cricket who found his way from the beautiful Connecticut country-side all the way to the middle of Times Square, New York City. No, I don't have 6 legs - nor do I live under rocks, logs, in meadows, and along roadways - but this week I will be chirping and singing with my violin, along with the National Symphony Orchestra and a small troupe of amazing actors, on the stage of the Kennedy Center. Through the language of music, we will bring the exciting adventure of "The Cricket in Times Square" to life! "CHIRP!"
It's an exciting thing for me to be a part of this production, as it's a homecoming of sorts. I grew up in Silver Spring, MD, where we had our fair share of little crickets hanging around dark corners of my family's basement (I wonder how many of them knew Chester...)! Some of my favorite memories of growing up in the D.C. area are of playing with the National Symphony Orchestra on the stage of the Kennedy Center. The orchestra is like family to me. In fact, it's true! My cousin, Dan Foster, is principal viola, and my uncle (Dan's father), William Foster, plays alongside him in the same section. Dan and I also play together in a string quartet with NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef, and my sister, Yumi Kendall! We call ourselves the Dryden String Quartet. Fun, right? So you see, it IS home to me!
On another note, it's always very meaningful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Chris Brubeck, the amazing composer who created all of the music you will hear us play. Chris is the son of the legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, and is also a very close friend of mine. Several years back, Chris wrote a violin concerto for me in which I improvise right on the spot! For the score of "The Cricket in Times Square" Chris has written notes that will make the music virtually jump off the page, and which capture the essence of each character in the story. Playing Chester the cricket, Chris has me leaping from one end of the violin to the other!
In addition to the musical score, our stage director, Scot Reese, has some exciting stage directions planned for me. Who knows, this may mean that I'll be hopping about the hall during the show as I play Chester the Cricket (and you might just hear some chirping under your seat)! As a member of my band, Time for Three, I have grown accustomed to using performance spaces in unexpected ways to help tell stories. One of the exciting aspects of the career I've chosen is knowing that there are a lot of unknowns when walking into a creative process. Even when I'm playing a concerto with an orchestra, or a club date with Time for Three, I never really know what the sound will be like, what kind of personalities I will be collaborating with, or who will show up that evening to hear the show. There is so much adapting, give and take, reciprocal energy, improvising, that makes life as an artist constantly adventurous and exciting. It really helps that I get to work with incredibly gifted people, and true professionals who constantly bring their "A" game! That makes the discovery of the unknown so much fun!
...And that will be exactly what happens when we all show up for rehearsal onstage! Together, under Scot's direction and the masterful baton of the ever-so-awesome maestro Steve Reineke, all 80 plus of us onstage will come together and, for the first time ever, make "The Cricket in Times Square" CHIRP to life!
To see violinist Nick Kendall chirping away as the Cricket in The Cricket in Times Square, visit the NSO website for tickets!
Nick can also be found on Twitter at @NicolasKendall.
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