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Meet Our Musicians: Steven Honigberg
Posted by Amy Drew

Steven Honigberg is a cellist with the National Symphony Orchestra

Steven Honigberg has been a member of the National Symphony since 1984. With cellist colleagues James Lee and David Teie, he will be featured in Penderecki's Concerto Grosso April 30 and May 1, 2015.

What university or conservatory did you attend?

The Juilliard School of Music, received a Master of Music degree

 

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

My favorite works to play in orchestra include Britten's War Requiem, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Bruckner's "Romantic" Symphony, Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony, Shostakovich Symphony No. 8, Debussy La Mer, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Stravinsky Petrouchka, Copland Symphony No. 3, Bernstein's West Side Story Dances, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Brahms Symphony No. 1, Strauss Death and Transfiguration, Beethoven Symphony No. 6, Hanson "Romantic" symphony and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler.

 

Do you have a pre-concert ritual or routine?

Eat light and get to the hall early to warm up.

 

Describe your favorite NSO moment:

My favorite moment was Rostropovich's return to Russia with the NSO in February of 1990. The press coverage and people who swarmed us, seemingly at all times, were not to be believed.

 

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

I like to listen to a variety of music outside the symphonic world when not working. It really depends upon my mood at the moment.

 

Did you grow up in a musical household?

Mother was and is currently a professional pianist who studied at the Eastman School and then with Marguerite Long in Paris. She gave her NY debut recital in Alice Tully Hall when I was 13. For a time my father was a composer and studied with Arthur Honegger in Paris. He also played the oboe in school. My father took me to all of my lessons as a child.

 

What did you want to be growing up?

I don't think I gave this very much thought. I was pretty much in the moment with my music and did not think about future work until I won a job here with the National Symphony in 1984.

 

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

Again this was not what I thought about very much. I knew that I enjoyed playing the cello and that I turned to the instrument in times of distress for emotional healing.

 

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

I love D.C.'s monuments, beauty in springtime, many fine restaurants and entertainment.

 

Where is your favorite D.C. hangout?

I enjoy visiting with my wonderful neighbors.

 

Do you have any pets?

My hobby is taking care of a large salt-water fish tank. I love its colors and underwater life. Sometimes after concerts I will view the tank in silence to relax.

 

What is your favorite way to spend your free time?

I take on various projects from time to time. They are mostly music related and technology oriented. Such as writing a biography on my teacher at Juilliard, Leonard Rose, and creating YouTube videos for educational purposes.

 

Favorite movie:

Amadeus – wonderful portrayal of Mozart and the time in which he lived.

 

Favorite book:

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

 

Favorite sports team:

I grew up in Chicago and became a big sports fan early in life. I still root for all Chicago teams.

 

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

I have 3 false front teeth – knocked out of my mouth playing hockey when I was 12. I received a 2-minute tripping penalty on the play.

 

Meet Our Musicians: Leah Arsenault
Posted by Amy Drew

Leah Arsenault is Assistant Principal Flute of the National Symphony Orchestra

We'd like to Welcome Leah Arsenault to the National Symphony! Leah won the position of Assistant Principal Flute in June 2014 and has been performing with the NSO ever since. Leah was happy to share more about herself now that she has had time to settle into life in Washington, DC. Be sure to look for her on stage at upcoming NSO performances!

 

What university or conservatory did you attend?

The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and The Colburn School

 

Was it for music?

yes    

 

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

Anything by Brahms or Dvořák.They both have such great writing for wind instruments.  

 

Do you have a pre-concert ritual or routine?

I like to eat a big meal and head to the hall early to focus and calm my mind.

 

Describe your favorite NSO moment:

This is my first season, so my favorite moment so far would be when I learned I got the job of course!

 

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

It's hard to choose, but I love listening to Brahms piano trios and and I also really enjoy listening to jazz, especially the old standards.     

 

Did you grow up in a musical household?

Neither of my parents are musicians, but they did require that both my brother and I take piano lessons.

 

What did you want to be growing up?

With the exception of a few months in the eighth grade when I thought I wanted to be an engineer, I've always wanted to be a musician.

 

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

Though I started out on piano, it wasn't until I started playing the flute that I found my calling in music and knew I wanted to focus on that specifically. It was probably my freshman year of high school that I started to realize that if I worked hard enough, I could really make it a career.

 

What is your favorite thing about living in the DC area?

People are so friendly here! And it's on the east coast. I'm definitely an east coaster at heart.

 

Do you have any pets?

I have a three-legged cat named Basil.

 

What is your favorite way to spend your free time?

There are so many ways! I am crazy about yoga and all things "mind and body" and love to hike and be active outdoors. I also love learning about and eating cheese and baking bread. One of my favorite things is to go out to hear live jazz.

 

Favorite book:

Current favorite is "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner.

 

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

I once catered a friend's backyard wedding for 70 guests. It was one of the most stressful things I've ever done.

O Christmas Tree…
Posted by Krysta Cihi

Krysta Cihi is the Asst. Manager of Production and Operations for the National Symphony.

December is here, and festive evergreens are all around: In Rockefeller Center, the White House… and of course, the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Each year the NSO Production staff and Crew are tasked with decking the Concert Hall with wreaths, garlands, bells and snowflakes… and of course, the Christmas trees! Here are some photos from this year's glittery fun, and a video to see the whole decorating process!

Bare trees, ready for decorating!

Believe it or not, these ornaments are for only ONE tree.

Santa's helper…

The finished product!

Meet Our Musicians: Aaron Goldman
Posted by Morgan Graby

Morgan Graby is the NSO Operations Intern.

 

On November 13th and 15th Aaron Goldman, Principal Flute of the NSO, will be the featured soloist performing Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major with cadenzas commissioned by the NSO from contemporary composer Lera Auerbach. I recently caught up with Aaron in between rehearsals to ask him a few questions about himself and his upcoming performance:

 

Aaron Goldman, Principal Flute (Photo Credit: Scott Suchman)

 

How long have you been playing the flute?

I started playing the flute when I was seven. I wanted to start playing when I was six, but my arms weren’t long enough to reach the end of the flute. I kept checking back with a local flute teacher every couple of months until I was big enough to play.

 

Where did you grow up as a child?

In Needham, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

 

And you lived there most of your life as you were growing up?

Yes, I lived there up through college. I left to go to college in Rochester, NY, and have lived in Michigan, then Florida, and now here (Washington DC).

 

How long have you been a member of the NSO?

This is my 9th season in the NSO; I started in 2006.

 

If you had to pick one, what would you say you like best: playing as a soloist, a member of the orchestra, or a member of a chamber group?

I would say playing in the orchestra because it encompasses all of those things you mention. As principal flute, I am often called on to be a soloist from within the orchestra, and I consider all orchestral musicians to be chamber musicians. They just have many more people to play with and those people are sometimes far away. I think one of the great joys and challenges of playing in an orchestra is walking the very fine line between leading and following, and always moving in that ambiguous world.

 

What’s your favorite part of your job as a musician?

Collaborating with my fellow musicians; I would say that’s the favorite aspect of my job. I find great fulfillment in making music with others.

 

How long have you been preparing this concerto?

The first time I ever worked on this piece was before my freshman year of high school…through most of my adult life I’ve worked on the G major (Mozart concerto) because it’s usually asked for in orchestral auditions. When they asked me if I would perform a Mozart concerto, I asked to do the D major so that I could go back to it after many years away…I started really working on it over the summer, re-evaluating it for myself, figuring out what it means to me and asking some artistic questions about it. I did most of the memorization in September. My rule of thumb for performing things from memory is to have whatever I’m playing fully memorized at least two months ahead of time. That gives me enough time to live with it to feel like I really know it.

 

How are the cadenzas in this piece different from the usual cadenzas you have prepared in the past?

There are numerous cadenzas written for this concerto, mostly by flutists. The ones I’ll be playing next week were written by Lera Auerbach especially for these performances. I love the idea of Mozart cadenzas written in the style of modern composers. Lera’s cadenzas fit perfectly into the Mozart concerto, but they still sound like her.

 

What’s it like to know you will be performing with an orchestra that you are also a member of, as opposed to being the soloist with an orchestra you are not a member of?

Playing with your own orchestra is easier in many ways. You know the people, the hall, and the conductor; there are no surprises. With unknown conductors, you don’t know how much freedom you will have…after working over the years with the Maestro I know he is very collaborative. I will feel very comfortable with him on the podium.

 

How do you mentally prepare right before going on stage?

Leading up to the performance, I imagine I will be in my backstage room doing long tones and flexibility exercises. I want to be as comfortable with the instrument as possible. It calms and centers me to know that I have control of the instrument and helps keeps my nerves from hijacking my focus.

 

What is your favorite way to celebrate when a performance is over?

I don’t really have anything special that I plan to do. I usually like to relax quietly at home and start thinking of the next project.

 

For more information about Aaron Goldman's upcoming performance, please visit https://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=NPCSE.

 

NSO Youth Fellows Begin a New Season
Posted by Emily Heckel

Emily Heckel is the Program Coordinator for NSO Education.

 

For its 35th season, the NSO Youth Fellowship Program welcomed 11 new and 17 returning Youth Fellows for a total of 28 students. The Fellows range from 7th to 12th grade and play the violin, viola, cello, bass, harp, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, and percussion!

 

These students receive lessons with NSO musicians, participate in side-by-side rehearsals with the NSO, form chamber groups coached by an NSO musician, and perform in master classes and Millennium Stage recitals.

 

Many of our Youth Fellows have gone on to win positions in orchestras around the country including the orchestras of Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Oregon, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Utah, and San Diego, as well as our own National Symphony and Washington National Opera orchestras. One of our most recent grads, Emma Resmini, flute, graduated from our program at the age of 14 to attend the Curtis Institute of Music!

 

Diego Stine

 

As program coordinator, I have the pleasure of being in direct contact with the Youth Fellows and their parents on a daily basis. Among my various responsibilities are to communicate details of upcoming activities, program students to play on the Millennium Stage and in master classes, and manage the logistics for all program-related events.

 

Zola Bridges and Steven Honigberg, NSO Cellist

 

We have activities scheduled almost weekly from September through June. On average, a Youth Fellow will miss two days of school a month. At the end of this month, the Youth Fellows will come for a day to observe an NSO rehearsal of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Mozart, participate in a Question-and-Answer Session with Midori, and have a chamber ensemble rehearsal with their NSO coach.

Youth Fellows of 2013-2014 with Joshua Bell

 

 

I am very proud of the Youth Fellows' accomplishments, but mostly, I love to interact with them and see firsthand how a young student can become inspired by our NSO and gain lifelong motivation to create beautiful music.

 

Want to learn more? Hear from the students and their teachers themselves! http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/videos/?id=A76048

 

Water, Tea, and Bananas, Oh My!
Posted by Clara Wallace

Clara Wallace is the Artistic Coordinator for the National Symphony Orchestra.

Imagine you and four of your coworkers have just been told you'll be working from a bus for the next two months. Everything you need must fit in one large suitcase. You'll work closely with complete strangers in unfamiliar buildings. You'll shower, eat, and nap in those same buildings. When you learn your way around, you'll move to a new city and start over again. Most nights, you'll sleep on a moving bus.

To most people, that sounds terrible! To musicians, it's just another tour – and it's all going to be fine. That's what the rider is for, right?

A Performance/Concert Rider is a document that accompanies the contract made between the venue (often called "Presenter" or "Purchaser") and the performing group (often called "Performer" or "Producer"). It's one-stop-shopping for a wealth of information, from equipment requirements and lighting design to hospitality and complimentary ticket counts.

As Artistic Coordinator, I handle all the hospitality requests found in those riders. Most people have heard the crazy things some artists request, but NSO soloists rarely ask for anything more than bottled water, tea, and bananas.

I keep non-perishable hospitality items in a storage area near my desk, nicknamed the "Bodega." At any given time you can find sewing kits, cans of Coke, Tic-Tacs, hand sanitizer, and at least four different kinds of tea in there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bodega, packed with supplies.

 

In the weeks before a performance, I make a shopping list and check it against what I already have. Then I plan for things that may be trickier to find. For example, I once needed gluten-free muesli for an artist. I didn't even know what that was! After checking all the local grocery stores, I ended up ordering it from Amazon Prime for next-day delivery. Problem solved!

After I have everything the guest artist needs, I'm responsible for setting up and tearing down the dressing rooms and Green Room for each rehearsal and performance. About an hour before the artist arrives at the Kennedy Center, I take water, towels, and hospitality items down to the Concert Hall backstage area. A typical dressing room setup looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most Artists ask for some kind of tea.

 

If the NSO is hosting a large group, hospitality is often more involved. Here are a few examples of typical "Pops" show grocery carts and Green Room catering. "Pops" shows usually travel with more people than standard Classical, so the shopping lists are much longer. More people to feed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juices, granola bars, and lemons: just a few keys to hospitality success!

 

 

The Concert Hall Green Room is ready for artists.

 

During the performance I remain available in case there are any artist needs. A happy artist keeps the show running smoothly! Once the show is over, I assist the artist with any post-concert activities, like receptions or CD signings and help them out to their car. Once this happens, I clean up and go home for some rest before preparing for the next week's performances!

The NSO Experience through the Eyes of a Music Librarian
Posted by

Hinano Ishii is the NSO Operations Intern.

As the 2013-2014 Season comes to a finale, the National Symphony Orchestra salutes seven extraordinary orchestra veterans who have served between 28 and 47 years in the NSO. Marcia Farabee, one of the seven departing members, has played a significant role in the orchestra that is often unrecognized by audiences – the Principal Music Librarian.

Our tireless librarians are the people behind the music making. Marcia, along with our two other librarians Elizabeth Schnobrick and Danielle Wilt, prepare music for the entire orchestra. In addition to acquiring the exact music score, the librarians also mark accurate bowings for strings, transpositions, conductor cuts, page turns, and any other markings required in the orchestra parts. In honor of her retirement, I've asked Marcia if she could share her favorite NSO memories!

1990 NSO Russia Tour
Growing up during the Cold War, Marcia never imagined herself going to Russia until the NSO tour in 1990. She recalls the orchestra's concert on the Red Square to be one of the most amazing experiences in her lifetime. Mstislav Rostropovich, or better known as "Slava,"was a Russian cellist and NSO Music Director at the time who was exiled from Russia because of his public oppositions to the Soviet Union's restriction in the arts. This was the first time in decades that Slava conducted in his homeland Russia, making this emotional experience extraordinary for all.

NSO Residency Programs: From Alaska to Louisiana
Marcia absolutely loved the NSO residency programs; the orchestra took great pride in making a musical impact on people who may never have the opportunity to hear an orchestra performance again. Working with the states' arts council allowed the musicians to become involved with people at every corner of the United States, which of course came with many stories. When the NSO trombones landed in Barrow, Alaska (the northernmost city in the U.S. Brrr!), they were greeted by a polar bear. At a different residency, people on porches with welcome signs warmly cheered the orchestra as the NSO tour buses pulled into the small-town of Marksville, Louisiana. Marcia expressed, "You see the impact on people, and you know why you want to do this...this was a huge event in their lives."

1988 Touring the Mediterranean
In August of 1988, Marcia remembers the NSO performances in the Acropolis of Athens and Pompei to be "truly amazing." Despite the physical discomfort of the hot weather, the orchestra had a phenomenal time performing in these ancient cities because "it's something that never happens!"

Behind-the-scenes
Working backstage during rehearsals and concerts has given Marcia the opportunity to talk to hundreds of world-class artists and conductors. She finds it fascinating to see the different sides of musicians (on-stage and off-stage) and to gain a glimpse of what makes them who they are. She hopes to preserve this incredible vision vivid in her mind throughout her lifetime.

Marcia plans to continue her contribution to orchestras by providing guidance and creative consulting for small to medium orchestras. Best wishes to you, Marcia, and thank you for your service to the NSO!

 

Our Pianist Lisa introduces herself as the Cleaning Crew to our Conductor...
Posted by

Hinano Ishii is the NSO Operations Intern.

Before the first rehearsal of our upcoming 2001: A Space Odyssey (which will be performed by the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, July 19th from 8:30 PM at Wolf Trap), NSO's pianist Lisa Emenheiser introduced herself backstage as the "cleaning crew" to conductor Emil de Cou, holding out four or five different kinds of scrubbing brushes.

Normally, people make a trip to Home Depot when they need necessary tools to fix the floors or paint the walls. In Lisa's case, she stopped by her local Home Depot to grab a couple of kitchen and bathroom scrubbing brushes to play on her piano!

The music for 2001: A Space Odyssey includes Atmospheres composed by György Ligeti. This piece calls for the lid to be removed from the grand piano, as the sounds come from bristles sweeping the strings inside. Two pianists, each standing on opposite sides of the top-less piano, will reach over to draw the various types of bristles across specific parts of the strings.

The Scotch-Brite Hand and Nail brush, which often comes in handy for cleaning dirty sinks, is used in the upper register to create high pitch noises. Scrubbing brushes are not the only equipment used on the piano strings at this concert. Lisa and guest keyboardist, Eric Schnobrick, also sweep cloth on the lower-middle strings to create the quiet yet spine-chilling sound, and jazz rakes to produce the loudest sound effect.

Who knew that house cleaning products can be used to play instruments! Our pianists are thrilled to play with the various Home Depot gears in the music Atmospheres as used in the ground-breaking 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Audiences will enjoy the National Symphony Orchestra's live performance while watching the enigmatic and compelling film on an enormous screen at Wolf Trap. Before the performance, join us in celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing with NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin and our conductor Emil de Cou at a free discussion event from 7pm on the Associates Deck!

(Left to right: Emil de Cou, Lisa Emenheiser, Eric Schnobrick)

 

NSO at Wolf Trap: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Posted by Emil de Cou

THUS SPAKE KUBRICK AND CLARKE

Playbill note by Emil de Cou, NSO at Wolf Trap Festival Conductor

Prepare to watch one of the greatest silent films ever made. Or rather, four of them to be precise, each an elaborate chapter of the past and the future as envisioned by two unlikely collaborators: Stanley Kubrick, a New York born film director who made his home in England, and Arthur C. Clarke, an English-born science fiction writer who made his home in Sri Lanka.

I say "silent" because there is precious little spoken dialogue in this two and a half-hour film.  There are animal grunts, a bit of space station chit-chat, and some memorable dialogue between a computer named Hal and an astronaut named Dave, but for the most part 2001: A Space Odyssey is a sensual journey. Desolate landscapes, planetary events, spaceship trajectories and kaleidoscopic worm holes are the stuff of this cult feast of iconic imagery.

No less iconic is the score, which, like the screenplay, is more collage than narrative. Kubrick originally commissioned a full score from the great Hollywood composer Alex North, but when studio executives anxiously requested to see early previews of the film, Kubrick swapped in classical masterpieces at the last minute.  He liked what he heard, and the rest is music history:  Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra became synonymous with celestial phenomena, along with Johann Strauss II's Blue Danube Waltz, György Ligeti's Atmosphères, and Aram Khachaturian's Suite from the ballet Gayane. As Disney did with Fantasia, Kubrick mined the classical repertoire for its ineffable ability to communicate timeless human emotion: fear, hope, love, loss and the stuff that dreams are made of.

Though words like "epic," "classic," and "cult" are often used to describe 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is at its core a rather disjointed four-act play.  In Act One ("The Dawn of Man") early hominids are disturbed by the emergence of an unidentifiable alien object. In Act Two ("TMA-1") we join a space journey that hints at further disruptions in the cosmos  Act Three ("Jupiter Mission") is the core of the film, with its chilling encounter between man, as portrayed by the peerless Keir Dullea, and computer, played by the deadpan-voiced Hal. Act Four ("Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite") brings us to the outer limits of time and space, enrapturing us with the curious face of the Space Child.

Should you seek coherence and meaning between these four chapters, don't look to Kubrick or Clarke.  In numerous interviews after the film's 1968 premiere, and in decades afterwards, they eschewed explanation, allowing the film to speak for itself. Meanwhile, sociologists, anthropologists, poets, philosophers, college students and all manner of armchair filmmakers have analyzed every frame.  A sequel, 2010: Space Odyssey Two, helped clear up a few plot lines (like why Hal went bonkers), but much is, and will always be, left to the imagination.

Kubrick and Clarke were themselves cult figures in their respective genres, but with 2001 they influenced multiple generations of filmmakers, whose work often directly or indirectly pays tribute.  The AlienStar WarsStar Trek, Matrix, and Terminator series all borrow heavily from2001 in their mythological battles and classical music scores. When I see Dave playing chess with Hal, I think of Matthew Broderick in War Games. When I see Dave winding down a colorful wormhole I think Jodie Foster in Contact.  When Dave crosses through a revolving corridor I think of Julia Roberts in Helix, the film within the film Notting Hill.  Last but not least, is the terrifying spacewalk, brilliantly re-imagined by Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

Though 2001 is, on the surface, a story of technology, it is at its core a human story: the thirst for knowledge and the discovery of the unknown, with all its comedic asides. It's hard not to laugh as we watch 1960s "mod" stewardesses attempting to defy gravity, while space travelers watch movies on seatbacks and Skype birthday greetings home.  Eating is always a challenge, as is the, a-hem, other essential function: Kubrick winks by showing us the Zero-Gravity Toilet. And of course there is the growing sense of entitlement in the voice of Hal who, anxious about his imminent demise, advises Dave to "take a stress pill." 

If you are wondering why the amazing Keir Dullea, who plays Dave, seems so familiar, and yet so forgotten, well, to an extent he is and was: a well-regarded stage actor before and after 2001, he never again achieved the stature of such a leading role in film. His quiet beauty and controlled anguish carries the film ― much of the movie is just him, a disembodied voice and the camera.  Perhaps his range was limited, perhaps he had a lousy agent, but most likely, as with Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho, the actor and character became irrevocably, indelibly fused.

Considering how much film-with-orchestra has become an essential part of our summers together with NSO at Wolf Trap, it comes as a surprise that this concert this is the NSO debut of this production, presented by arrangement with Warner Bros., Southbank Centre London, and the British Film Institute.  How wonderful that this timeless space odyssey can now become part of our summer under the stars!

NSO at Wolf Trap: An Evening of Tchaikovsky, Ravel & Rossini
Posted by Emil de Cou

HI-YO, NSO AT WOLF TRAP!

Emil de Cou is the NSO at Wolf Trap Festival Conductor

Witty exchanges among composers are as rare as they are apocryphal.  Rare, because composers, cooped up in their studies with music forever running through their head, much of which will never be heard outside their imagination, are generally not the life of a party; what barbs they deliver are often at each other and at an ungrateful world. And apocryphal because they are handed down so many times that their accuracy becomes diminished. Still, the oral history of classical music is filled with as many ripostes as there are notes.

Among my favorites is the exchange that reportedly occurred between the great French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the great American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937) while Ravel was touring America in 1928.  Gershwin expressed an interest in studying with Ravel, to which the Frenchman replied: “Why would you want to be a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?”  When Ravel inquired as to how much money Gershwin earned, the reply provoked him to say, “Perhaps I should be studying with you!” 

Money may not be the measure of success for a composer, but if there was a Forbes list of the richest composers all three of this concert’s composers would be near the top; all enjoyed the fruits of their labors while alive. Ravel’s success was perhaps the most surprising.  Repeatedly rejected by the musical establishment ― denied medals and prizes, forced out of conservatories ― he ended up usurping all of his peers in popularity.  Boléro is one of the most frequently performed works in the repertoire, as are La Valse, Rapsodie espagnol, Daphnis et Chloé, his masterful orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and the two piano concertos, one of which we will hear performed by the masterful young (well, younger than me) pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the baton of our wonderful friend of the NSO, Andrew Litton.

Ravel’s popular success goes beyond profitability: his deft orchestration and sparing use of instrumental colors up-ended the heavy-handed Germanic styles that dominated the orchestral world in the late 19th century.  Like his French peers Chabrier, Satie, and Debussy, Ravel infused the classical music world with an impressionistic less-is-more aesthetic that broadened the palette of composition.  We owe as much of what we love about music ― not just in the concert hall, but in the musical theater, standards, jazz and even pop arrangements ― to Ravel’s elegant simplicity as we do to Bach’s structure and Wagner’s bombast.

That this program matches a French composer and a French pianist should not be considered favoritism.  Ravel, born of Basque and Swiss heritage, mined sources from Moscow to Harlem.  You’ll have no trouble detecting the jazz infusions in the Piano Concerto in G major.  Thibaudet is equally at home with Gershwin and Grofé as he is with the standard repertoire with the world’s major orchestras.  You can also hear his playing in Dario Marinelli’s film scores for Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, the latter of which is the most brilliant use of the typewriter as a musical instrument since Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter.

Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, lassoed by The Lone Ranger, became an American standardthrough no fault of its own. As the theme music for an adventure show that passed effortlessly from radio to film to television, the staccato “March of the Swiss Soldiers” was a logical accompaniment to hoof beats in pursuit.  That a tuneful work by Rossini (1792-1868) permanently entered our musical vocabulary should really not come as a surprise: at a time when opera was mainstream entertainment, Rossini was the most popular composer alive.  And prolific and enduring too:  though his cantatas and sacred works are rarely performed today, ten of his 39 operas remain in the standard repertoire of major opera houses.  Alas, his most famous work, The Barber of Seville, was also co-opted by another hero of popular culture, Bugs Bunny.

We conclude the evening with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, the triumphant achievement of the louder-faster-higher school of Russian music.  Though received with mixed reviews, in part because of its programmatic rather than formal structure, it remains a staple of the concert hall and the recording resume of every major conductor and orchestra.* Urgent, romantic and poetic, in it Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) struggles to maintain to the traditional German sonata architecture of a symphony, but inevitably spills from the head into the heart.

From France and Italy and Russia, with love.

*The NSO recorded it under its third music director, Antal Dorati, in 1972.

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