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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The National Symphony Orchestra mixes contemporary and classical

 Conductor James Gaffigan by Margaretta K. Mitchell

Not Mozart nor Schumann nor guest pianist Ingrid Fliter could outshine the contemporary music of Fluss ohne Ufer ("Shoreless River") by German composer Detlev Glanert, a piece co-commissioned* and played by the National Symphony Orchestra in its U.S. debut last weekend at the Kennedy Center.
It was a full night at the NSO.

The youthful and energetic guest conductor, James Gaffigan, briefed the audience about the composition's background: It is about a shipwreck, love, a battle, and two occupants, one of whom was not supposed to be onboard. And the boat sinks. Mr. Gaffigan compared parts of it to Debussy and said the timing juxtaposed to last week's ship catastrophe off the coast of Italy was coincidental.

With ominous sounds, the basses quietly forebode the calamity about to occur.  Faint notes suggest the tension might be coming from offstage rather than from the orchestra itself, adding to the mystery. The music gradually transforms to produce scary images of a monster rising from the water's depths, giving Hitchcockian warning about the eminent tragedy.
Momentum builds to vibrant clashing and roar of waves. Cannons to right of them, cannons to left of them are heard with dynamic contributions from strings and horns adding to the ferocious ending which gradually converts to tranquility as water covers the boat, it sinks, and the music subsides to match the starting notes.
Mr. Glanert, 51, a native of Hamburg, helped the orchestra rehearse "Shoreless," Mr. Gaffigan said, and the composer was present for the Friday evening performance as well. When the orchestra finished playing his work, Mr. Glanert, smiling broadly, enthusiastically bounded upon stage to receive multiple ovations from the standing audience.
Composer Detlev Glanert

Ms. Fliter, who has performed with NSO every other year since 2008, played an audience favorite, Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, her fingers flying like speedy spiders building webs back and forth across the keyboard. She bobbed up and down on the piano bench displaying vitality and enthusiasm one can only envy. 
Not to be overlooked, two of composer Mozart's works began and ended the evening: Divertimento in D major, K. 136 and Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, "Jupiter," which turned out to be Mozart's last symphony. Program notes said nineteenth century critics began calling it "Jupiter" after the god, rather than the planet, presumably because of its "fugal finale" and emphasis on "stately trumpets and timpani." Timpani, finale, or sonata, a symphony orchestra can do no wrong with Mozart.

*Other co-commissioners of "Shoreless River" were Germany’s WDR-Cologne, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and the BBC for the BBC Proms in London.
Coming up:
What: A program of classical and contemporary music featuring soloist Jörg Widmann with Christoph Eschenbach conducting.
WIDMANN - Armonica
MOZART - Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
SCHUBERT - Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944 "The Great"
When: January 26-29, 2012
Where:  The Kennedy Center
Metro station: Foggy Bottom and ride the free shuttle (every 10 minutes) from there to KC (or walk it)
For more information and tickets: Click here or call 202-467-4600 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

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