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Monday, June 24, 2013

A star-studded evening at the National Symphony Orchestra

Jean-Yves Thibaudet/Cincinnati
How was I so lucky to be able to attend the best performance of the year by the National Symphony Orchestra?  Or, at least, of the six concerts I heard?

My $11 seat three rows from the front at the Kennedy Center Friday night on the "piano side" was equivalent to a 50-yard chair when the Redskins play Dallas. 

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, born in Lyon, France in 1961 and "one of today's most sought after soloists," according to the program which quotes verbatim from his website, did dazzle with his performance of Camille Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 103, "Egyptian."  His fingers raced up and down the keyboard faster than a fan's blades turn in summer, and the magical music we heard coming from the piano was truly astonishing, given the pounding inflected upon it by Thibaudet. He was up and down from the bench so frequently one guesses he never need exercise.

At the end the crowd roared, and the pianist, who has played around the world for three decades and recorded more than 50 albums, returned to the stage for three encores which ended the first part of the program.

At intermission in the aisle was a woman, about 80, complimenting Thibaudet's performance:  "I've traveled around the world," she said, and it was about time the National Symphony put on a really good show.  "Shut up," said the man (her husband?) as he guided her up the aisle with his hands on her shoulders.  "No one wants to hear you!"  (I was taken aback, more by him than by her.)

It was a spectacular evening, beginning with Edvard Grieg's familiar Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, and ending with Witold Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra. 

Krzysztof Urbanski was the guest conductor

The guest conductor making his NSO debut was Krzysztof Urbanski, the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the chief conductor for the Trondheim Symfoniorkester and the principal guest conductor of the Tokyo Symphony. Quite the showman himself who has won many awards and conducted all of Poland's major orchestras, Urbanski, age 29, was a a danseur at the podium to watch him weave and wave the baton and urge the orchestra to follow his commands.  His modern, upswept hair style might be worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Meanwhile,  Thibaudet's wardrobe, the program noted, was designed by Vivienne Westwood.  It included a diamond oblong belt buckle of about 2.5 by 1.5 inches, a diamond-filled emerald cut brooch (about 2 by 1 inches) hanging from a necklace, and a single diamond-studded earring. A black satin jacket and black patent-leather shoes complemented his score.

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