‘National Symphony Orchestra Season Opening Ball Concert’ featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Christoph Eschenbach, and Cameron Carpenter at The Kennedy Center by Derek Mong


The eighty-third season of the National Symphony Orchestra kicked off with a bang on Sunday evening with a glamorous concert full of pomp and circumstance at the at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Concert Hall, featuring legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductor Christoph Eschenbach, and organist Cameron Carpenter. With three Supreme Court Justices in the audience and a dazzling terrace ball after the performance, the Season Opening Ball Concert showcased one of our city’s finest treasures—The National Symphony Orchestra—in the most extravagant and opulent fashion.

Conductor Christoph Eschenbach.

Conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

The evening began with the playing of the National Anthem, followed by the Fantasy-Overture from Tchaikovsky’s widely popular Romeo and Juliet. Composed between the years of 1968 and 1980, Tchaikovsky’s famous piece is based on the Shakespeare work of the same name. The piece features a reflection on the narrative arc of the play, carefully constructed in a sonata form—which follows the literary program in a logical, musical structure. While many may not know the work by name, selections from it have been featured in shows from everything from Sesame Street to South Park. The National Symphony Orchestra demonstrated their versatility with piece, from tender violin solos to the powerful chords of the final bars, as conductor Christoph Eschenbach made a bold statement with the first selection about the sheer power and universality of live orchestral music.

Yo-Yo Ma. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Yo-Yo Ma. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

The evening continued with Variations on a Rocco Theme, Op. 33, which featured the acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Originally composed in 1876, the piece featured minimal instrumentation with a pair of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, strings, and the solo cello. Saying that watching Yo-Yo Ma’s performance is a testament to his mastery of craft would be a gross understatement; his intense precision is matched only by the fluid passion and emotion he delivers to each note, communicating intentionality with each body movement, using only his cello as a type of symphonic narration. All I can say is “Bravo!”

To rousing applause, Yo-Yo Ma came back for an encore, performing a brief but moving selection called Appalachia Waltz from one of his first studio works composed by Mark O’Connor. The piece fused traditional European classical style with Americana-styled Western music like bluegrass and folk, creating a unique sound fit for the legendary musical icon.

Following a brief intermission, David Rubenstein—the Chair of The Kennedy Center’s Board of Trustees—announced that 1.3 million dollars had been raised throughout the evening to support the National Symphony Orchestra’s endeavors. These initiatives include a newly established program called Sound Health, in which the National Symphony Orchestra travels to various medical centers to play for recovering patients.

The second half of the evening began with a true symphonic classic—selections from Bizet’s opera Carmen, which included March of the Smugglers, Habanera, Nocturne, Song of the Toreador, The Changing of the Guard, and Danse Bohème. Composed in 1873-1874, the piece is simply iconic, widely recognized for the classic opera of the same name. As one of the most widely performed operas in the world, Carmen has long been a concert hall favorite, and the National Symphony Orchestra honored this iconic classic justice with their vivacious performance.

Organist Cameron Carpenter.

Organist Cameron Carpenter. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

The evening ended with Saint-Saëns’ Finale from Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 Organ Symphony with Cameron Carpenter on the organ. While the piece itself was impressive as is typical of the National Symphony Orchestra, perhaps the most exciting element was the use of the Rubenstein Organ, played by Julliard-trained Cameron Carpenter. Nothing can quite compare to the grandiose sound of a full organ, and his spirited enthusiasm pushed audiences to the edge of their seats during the performance and up on their feet afterwards for a rousing standing ovation.

Although the Season Opening Concert Ball may be over, the National Symphony Orchestra’s season is just beginning. With everything from Emmy, Golden Globe, and Tony Award nominee Matthew Morrison performing alongside the NSO Pops to an organ recital from featured soloist Cameron Carpenter, there is truly something for everyone in the 2013-14 season of the National Symphony Orchestra.

Running time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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National Symphony Orchestra Season Opening Ball Concert featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Christopher Eschenbach, and Cameron Carpenter played for one night only on Sunday, October 29, 2013, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Concert Hall. For future events, go to their calendar of events.


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