As part of The Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool 2013 Festival, The National Symphony Orchestra presented an evening of Nordic music of the past and present.
Book ending the evening was two pieces by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The first, and lesser known of the two, was Night Ride and Sunrise – a tone poem for orchestra. The NSO should be commended for tackling this odd piece for the first time since 1982. The string section, doubling as a galloping horse, navigated through the repetitive rhythms of the accompaniment with great ease and fluid dynamics. The levels between sections were greatly enhanced by Maestro Christoph Eschenbach’s meticulous conducting, as if he were a sound engineer mixing for a darkened theater. In addition, the mournful flute and oboe duet in the challenging 24/16 section was playfully mastered amidst the dynamic strings.
Two contemporary pieces rounded out the evening: a haunting and somewhat mysterious piece by Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho; and the true star of the evening: Magnus Lindberg’s Violin Concerto, performed by Pekka Kuusisto.
Finnish composer Lindberg first presented his piece at the Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival in 2006. The piece, a premier for the NSO, was written using a smaller chamber orchestra (to honor Mozart) but was greatly influenced by the works of Sibelius. Between the ever steady strings to the horns that appear out of nowhere, Lindberg truly got into the Nordic mood while adding his own contemporary stamp.
Mr. Kuusisto’s rendition of this masterful concerto was a brilliant conversation between the soloist and his accompanying orchestra. The way he spoke to them with his violin and his body language was part of the passion and artistry of the soloist. During his final cadenza, Mr. Kuusisto intensely navigated through the pizzicato and legato sections flawlessly, all while his peers in the string section were watching with awe.
The NSO is one of the premier orchestras in the country and Mestro Eschenbach should be commended for his playful conducting style while keeping the rich Nordic tradition alive.
Running time:Two hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
National Symphony Orchestra: Pekka Kuusisto, Violin, plays Lindberg played from February 28-March 2, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Here is more information on Nordic Cool 2013 performances. For future Kennedy Center events, visit their website.