Gianandrea Noseda has returned to the podium of his beloved National Symphony Orchestra, awakening the sleeping giant that is the sound he has crafted as the ensemble’s music director since the 2017–2018 season. It’s a carefully harnessed kinetic energy that entreats you to listen more closely.
After the pandemic shutdown, the jubilation of NSO musicians reunited with their maestro is now here to share. Four filmed concerts are being presented by The Kennedy Center. The first program premieres Friday, March 19, at 6:00 pm as a free stream available until April 15, at which point it will be available on the Digital Stage + subscription platform. Three subsequent concerts will make a reverse course—first available on the subscription site before a free 30-day release over the next several months.
The programs juxtapose classic and contemporary works, reaching beyond the conformity of the traditional white, male, European canon. Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter has stressed the institution’s renewed focus in this regard. “Though our work in this area will never be done and there is much still to accomplish, I am proud of the contributions the Kennedy Center community has made to prioritize it,” she said in a message last week. “Black voices, art, and lives matter.”
The first concert of the series opens with the First Symphony by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a virtuoso violinist and champion fencer who, as head of the Concert de la Loge Olympique orchestra, commissioned Haydn’s six so-called Paris symphonies. Bologne was born in colonial French Guadeloupe to a plantation owner and an enslaved worker, and is considered the first known classical composer of African descent. He even taught Queen Marie Antoinette piano lessons, pre-beheading. The concert closes with one of Mozart’s best-known works, his penultimate Symphony No. 40. Sandwiched between the two symphonies is Jean Sibelius’s “Valse triste,” originally part of incidental music the Finnish composer wrote for his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt’s play Kuolema (Death).
An all-strings program premieres on April 15, and includes Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings,” and William Grant Still’s “Mother and Child.” Also featured is Jessie Montgomery’s “Banner” (2014), a rhapsody commissioned by the Sphinx Organization, which promotes young Black and Latino classical musicians, to mark the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Another concert celebrating 160 years of bilateral relations between the United States and Noseda’s native Italy also premieres on April 15.
The series closes with a program airing May 15 featuring Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 (“Miracle”) and the third and final symphony of Louise Farrenc, a French Romantic–era composer and virtuoso pianist who was the only woman in the 19th century to obtain a post as professor at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris. She demanded, and ultimately got, equal pay with her male counterparts. This underperformed work in G minor is a nod to the kind of music German composers had made their own in the early 1800s, and in doing so both commands consideration on the same footing and bucks the prevailing operatic trend of her time. Most of her women contemporaries who composed wrote lyrical pieces. Robustly energetic, Farrenc’s symphony moves from a frenzied Allegro movement to a clarinet melody in the slow second chapter delicately accompanied by brass and woodwinds, a flighty, multilayered Scherzo and a highly melodic Finale.
For all the legendary energy and charisma Noseda brings to these programs, they can’t make up for one critical element of music-making that remains conspicuously absent during the pandemic: the audience. The Kennedy Center, which briefly reopened to a few limited, cautious, in-person performances late last year, is once again dark after a regional spike in coronavirus cases. No reopening date has been set for now. These four streamed concerts were recorded under strict sanitary conditions, with about a third of the orchestra performing at any given time.
This NSO concert series kicks off March 19, 2021, with a free stream available until April 15, when it will move to the Kennedy Center’s Digital Stage + platform. All three subsequent programs will first air on Digital Stage +, two on April 15 and the final one on May 15. Following their initial showings, the concerts will be available free of charge for 30 days.
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA SPRING 2021 FILMINGS
Released for FREE Online on March 19 at 6 pm for 30 days; on Digital Stage + as of April 15
J. Bologne “Chevalier de Saint-Georges”: Symphony No. 1
Sibelius: Valse triste
Mozart: Symphony No. 40
Program 2: All-Strings Program
Released on Digital Stage + on April 15 and released to the public for FREE on May 21 for 30 days
Jessie Montgomery: Banner
Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik
W. G. Still: Mother and Child
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings
Program 3: featuring Italian & American Music
Released on Digital Stage + on April 15 and released to the public for FREE on April 30 for 30 days
Celebrating 160 years of bilateral relations between Italy and the United States
Bruno Maderna: Music of Gaiety
Copland: Quiet City
Stravinsky: Dumbarton Oaks
Respighi: Antiche danze ed arie Suite No.3
Verdi: String Quartet (for string orchestra) – movement 1
Released on Digital Stage + on May 15 and released to the public for FREE on June 11 for 30 days
Haydn: Symphony No. 96, “Miracle”
L.Farrenc: Symphony No. 3