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January 19, 2011

National Symphony returns to recording arena with Eschenbach, American program

Yes, I know the classical music recording industry died, like, 10 or 20 years ago. But tell that to all the companies that keep releasing products . Or the orchestras that keep getting back into the act after a hiatus.

Latest case in point: the National Symphony Orchestra, led by its new music director Christoph Eschenbach, is about to make its first recording in a decade, launching a relationship with the Finnish Ondine label.

The recording will be done during live concerts at the Kennedy Center commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration; the NSO performances are Saturday through Monday. The release date for the CD is already set: May 31.

The program includes Peter Lieberson’s "Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)," with Richard Dreyfuss as narrator. The first performance of this NSO commission will be given Thursday with Morgan Freeman narrating, part of a multi-genre, long-sold-out celebration of Kennedy's presidency.

 Filling out the Ondine disc will be Leonard Bernstein's

"Fanfare for the Inauguration of JFK" and Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story," and Gershwin's Concerto in F major, with pianist Tzimon Barto, a frequent Eschenbach collaborator.

Eschenbach has been a featured artist on the Ondine label for some time; his nearly 20 releases include performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris, among others. The conductor's first NSO recording project is partly supported by the NEA.

Giving this new product extra appeal is a bonus disc that will contain excerpts from the NSO's concert on Jan.19, 1961, in Constitution Hall given in honor of the president-to-be. The program, at the request of the Kennedys, offered a good deal of American fare. Howard Mitchell led the orchestra in such works as Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (with the fabulous Earl Wild as soloist), a choral piece by Randall Thompson and an NSO commission for the Inaugural Concert, John La Montaine’s Overture "From Sea to Shining Sea."

As longtime Washingtonians are fond of recalling in detail, the city was hit with a whopper snowstorm on Jan. 19, 1961. Naturally, that caused a lot of problems for the concert -- latecomers, including the Kennedys; various no-shows (the concertmaster never made it, nor did now legendary violinist Mischa Elman, who was to have been a soloist) -- but the old on-with-the-show spirit prevailed.

The concert was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting Network, and it will be very cool, thanks to the NSO/Ondine partnership, to hear some of that historic broadcast 50 years later.

PHOTO (by Margot Schulman) COURTESY OF NSO

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, NSO

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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