Christoph Eschenbach's enticing inaugural season as National Symphony music director
It's an unusually enticing lineup, which only has me wishing more than ever that DC and Baltimore were better connected by mass transportation (I am so tired of that drive, but unable to resist a lot of musical activity there).
Eschenbach tends to divide critics into pro and anti camps, primarily because of the individuality of his music-making. I've always been in the pro column, ever since hearing him conduct music of Berg with the New World Symphony ages ago, and each subsequent experience -- even when I've been less impressed with his results in a work here or there -- has reaffirmed my belief that he's one of the most interesting, incisive and inspiring conductors around. So I'm eager to hear what he achieves with the NSO, especially in his adventurous first season.
The opening gala Sept 25 is all about star power -- Renee Fleming and Lang Lang are the guests, both of them vocal Eschenbach fans -- but a program that includes
A fair amount of contemporary works dot the programming all season, including, as part of the Kennedy Center-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, the world premiere of a piece by Peter Lieberson for narrator and orchestra, using as texts some of Kennedy’s speeches. Eschenbach will also lead the U.S. premiere of a violin concerto by Augusta Read Thomas and the first NSO performance of Osvaldo Golijov's "She Was Here."
Eschenbach will be on the podium for such blockbusters as Messiaen's "Turangalila Symphony," Bruckner's Sixth and Mahler's Fifth. The Messiaen work will be part of the Kennedy Center's celebration of India; the NSO's contributions also include a sitar concerto by Ravi Shankar and Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony (texts by Tagore), both led by Eschenbach.
When the music director is not on the podium (he's got 10 weeks of the season), there's still a lot of attractive, under-exposed repertoire -- Tchaikovsky's "Manfred," Prokofiev's Sixth, Walton's Cello Concerto, et al. -- along with bread-and-butter works. All in all, a season that bears a strong stamp and promises much.
You don't have to wait until the fall to sample Eschenbach's artistry. He makes his first appearance with the NSO since the 2008 announcement of his appointment next week, leading Verdi's "Requiem." Seems a little odd to say "Howdy, Washington" with a musical Mass for the Dead, but, hey, it sure is a great attention-getter.
SUN FILE PHOTO