The National Symphony Orchestra meets its audience at The Anthem


With fanfare and the reflection of a 19th century composer on fate, a National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) has returned to his relaxed second home in The hymn off the Anacostia River on Sunday (October 24, 2021).

The ONS concerts at The Anthem aim to make an otherwise staid institution more accessible to the general public, especially the youngest. Photo by Jordan Grobe / Courtesy of The Anthem.

NSO concerts in this place more used to Foo Fighters, Lorde, Bob dylan, and Glass animals aim to make an otherwise stable institution more accessible to the general public, in particular to the youngest. There wasn’t much headbanging or dancing this time around, but the spirits and spirits were up to the task as the twenties and thirties sipped drinks while enjoying Carlos Simon’s The block and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Tickets were only $ 15 to $ 30 and also included an opening set from the gypsy jazz group Hot Club of Baltimore with vocalist Alexis Tantau. Echoes of Edith Piaf The crowd faded to echo NSO musicians, who ditched their concert attire in favor of casual clothing more in tune with the industrial-chic venue.

The musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra have abandoned their concert attire in favor of casual clothing more in line with the industrial-chic place. Photo by Jordan Grobe / Courtesy of The Anthem.

Bassist Jeffrey Weisner was visibly ecstatic when he introduced his colleagues. “It’s been too long and we’re excited to be making live music again,” he said, urging the audience to come and see the orchestra in the traditional concert hall just three miles away. “Let me tell you, there’s no way you can’t look fantastic when wearing your dress tails, so if you want to see us play more stuff in even fancier clothes, the music live is also back at the Kennedy Center, so please come along. “His pitch for the next program of this week by Ravel Daphnis and Chloe and a co-commission by Angélica Negrón from Puerto Rico? It is “one of the most beautiful, and I dare say sexy, music in the classical repertoire,” Weisner said. The proof will be in the number of additional seats obtained during these performances.

The Anthem, which features a 46-foot ceiling height and a 22,875-square-foot main seating area, is part of a $ 60 million multi-purpose residential, commercial and restaurant development on the waterfront. Southwest Washington Sea. Photo by Jordan Grobe / Courtesy of The Anthem.

The orchestra then shifted into high gear for a scorching, albeit brief, study by Carlos Simon, the Kennedy Center’s new composer-in-residence. “Yes, we actually play music of living people,” quipped guest conductor Nicholas Hersh.

The block (2018) is a musical response to an eponymous six-panel work created in 1971 by African-American visual artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988). Bearden’s cutout and mixed media collage showcases aspects of Harlem apartment building life in and around neighborhood institutions, including a local church, barber shop, and grocery store. Likewise, Simon’s work opens dramatically with timpani, bird-like winds and shimmering strings that evoke the sun rising over the neighborhood before a chorus of horns like so many cars passing in the street. and various successive episodes end with a dramatic climax. It’s a dense, multi-layered party, much like Bearden’s work.

The ONS, led here by energetic guest conductor Nicholas Hersh, returns to the anthem two more times this season: for its annual holiday concert “The Ugly Sweater” on December 8, 2021 and April 8, 2022 for Symphony No. 5 by Prokofiev and Helix by Esa-Pekka Salonen under the baton of Roderick Cox. Photo by Jordan Grobe / Courtesy of The Anthem.

“You can imagine Harlem in the 1970s listening to this piece,” Simon told spectators just before the performance. “So I try to integrate that into the room, that excitement, that energy, that vibrant nature. You will hear it throughout the orchestra; you will hear it in the brass – it’s almost like a marching band – and you will hear it in the strings as well as in the woods. The Atlanta native’s lineup was also the first on the ONS season opener schedule last month.

To take listeners on a journey, Tchaikovsky’s penultimate symphony was a particularly suitable choice, however popular it might be. But where Simon led the audience on a very evocative path, this time the journey was more intangible, philosophical. Composed in 1888 as Tchaikovsky struggled to come to terms with his homosexuality, the symphony is cyclical in nature, opening up to a haunting theme on the clarinets that successive sections of the orchestra take up and transform throughout. The aria described by Tchaikovsky as “a total resignation before fate, which is the same as the impenetrable predestination of fate”, first presents itself in the funeral and languid key of E minor and continues its own harmonic journeys before ending. end in a triumphant one. walks in the brilliant key of E major.

The two pieces presented require crisp precision and the cavernous hall acoustics designed to host rock concerts with a crowd of up to 6,000 people did not play in favor of the orchestra. With a ceiling height of 46 feet, a main seating area of ​​22,875 square feet, cement floors and metal balconies, the flexible footprint room is very resonant despite high-tech acoustic treatment and a flexible electroacoustic system. Instruments needed to be amplified and some notes lingered a bit longer or sounded hollow than they would otherwise. Things like page turns, which usually went unnoticed, were more audible. Likewise, the amplification gave more intensity to moments like the heartbreaking horn solo of the second movement. Hersh thanked the musicians in silence, clenching his fist against his chest before launching into the third movement and its waltz melody.

Hersh compared Tchaikovsky’s symphonies to Picasso’s self-portraits, noting how the two artists’ creative output has evolved over time while raising existential questions. “I cannot promise you that you will have the answers in the meaning of life,” Hersh said. Turning to the musicians he was conducting for the night, he added, “But if we do our job right, without pressure, you could be a little closer, just an iota closer. And that is why, my friends, you come to the symphony.


The ONS is returning to The Anthem twice this season: on December 8, 2021, for its annual holiday concert featuring musicians in festive “ugly sweaters” (tickets $ 15 to $ 30 are available in line) and April 8, 2022, for Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 and that of Esa-Pekka Salonen Helix under the baton of Roderick Cox (tickets from $ 15 to $ 30 are available in line).

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required to attend. More information is here.

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