The National Chamber Ensemble never fails to delight, and the “Happy Holidays” concert on Saturday, December 12, 2015, provided a sparkling start to the holiday season, with works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Leroy Anderson, and others. The musicians of the National Chamber Ensemble were joined by guest artists and a group of talented young musicians. Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, was guest host.
Guitarist Andrew Pal joined the ensemble to open the concert with a spirited performance of Mykola Leontovych’s “Carol of the Bells,” specially arranged for ensemble and electric guitar. Tchaikovsky’s Overture to The Nutcracker (arranged by Lynne Latham) and Leroy Anderson’s popular “Sleigh Ride.” The musicians played with their usual mastery and with a verve that filled the intimate Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre with the holiday spirit.
The concert continued with a performance of the Adagio and Rondo Concertante, D.487 by Franz Schubert. Schubert’s only piano quartet, it is a brilliant work not unlike a mini piano concerto. The piece showcases the pianist, and Natasha Dukan played with virtuosity and feeling, supported perfectly by the rest of the ensemble. This was exciting music-making and brought calls of “Brava!” for Ms. Dukan from the appreciative audience.
Next came Hanukkah Festival, a collection of favorite Hanukkah songs in a beautiful setting by Daniel Leavitt.
Twelve young violinists, the youngest aged 9, then took the stage to perform Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto No. 2 in D Major. It was a delight to see young musicians play with energy, confidence, and musicality. Judging from the warm applause and the conversations I heard during the intermission, the audience was impressed and delighted by the performance.
Immediately before the intermission, 13-year-old pianist Avery Gagliano was presented with the National Chamber Ensemble’s first Outstanding Young Artist Achievement award. The NCE, now in its ninth season, has a long tradition of offering outstanding young musicians opportunities to perform. The Outstanding Young Artist Achievement award is a logical next step in honoring the best of young talent.
Ms. Gagliano returned after intermission to display why she was so very worthy of the award. She performed the Etude Op. 10 No. 8 by Frédéric Chopin, L’isle Joyeuse by Claude Debussy, and the opening movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous “Ghost” Piano Trio, in which she was joined by violinist Jorge Orozco and cellist Vasily Popov.
Ms. Gagliano’s performance was a combination of poise, emotion, beauty of tone, and virtuosity. The range of colors she elicited from the piano was remarkable and would have been superb for seasoned pianists much her senior in age and experience.
Ms. Gagliano is a Jack Kent Cook Honors recipient at the Levine School of Music, a Young Scholar of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, and winner of a number of prestigious competitions. She has already performed at major concert venues including the United Nations Headquarters and the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. She is definitely a musician to watch.
The concert continued by looking ahead to the coming New Year with a joyful performance of the Fledermaus Waltzes by Johann Strauss in a fine arrangement for piano quintet by Merle J. Isaac.
Special guest, Tenor Patrick McCoy, was joined on stage by Leo Sushansky (NCE director) on violin, Andrew Pal on guitar, and Natasha Dukan on piano, in a rich and stately performance of “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam. The rest of the ensemble returned to the stage to accompany a carols sing-along set to Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival. Mr. McCoy, singing, clapping, playing the bells, and conducting the audience, led a joyous finale to a wonderful evening, after which the audience and the artists mingled at the reception.
Once again, the National Chamber Ensemble gave a brilliantly constructed and balanced program, executed with mastery and charm. Outstanding programming and high quality performances have been a hallmark of the National Chamber Ensemble concerts since the ensemble’s debut.
The next National Chamber Ensemble concert is “Valentine’s Day: Armenian Musical Treasures” on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, and will feature internationally renowned clarinetist Julian Milkis and the well-known Arlington-based Bowen McCauley Dance. It promises to be a creative and exciting evening. See you there! Purchase your tickets here.