BWW Review: PORTRAITS OF AMERICA with the National Symphony Orchestra
With recent political developments making many of us depressed, it's important to remember the good things about living in DC. When I say listening to and watching a concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) should be on everyone's to do list, you should not take me lightly. Any concert featuring this ensemble is guaranteed to leave you impressed and audibly satisfied.
Portraits of America was no exception. Featuring the works of John Williams, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin, this, my friends, is why America is such a great country. The composers represented were -and still are - integral to the development of the distinct sound of American music.
NSO Music Director Designate Gianandrea Noseda started things off by with a very personable welcome to the audience. He then introduced a different version of "The Star Spangled Banner," arranged by Igor Stravinsky. It changes some of the harmonics of the melody while keeping the main theme recognizable enough for the audience. It was a wonderful kick off to the rest of the proceedings.
Next up was a four movement suite of music by John Williams from Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Williams is my favorite film composer and I'll take any chance to hear a concert that features his work. This suite allowed us the opportunity to hear four featured soloists, pianist Lisa Emenheiser, principal trumpeter William Gerlach, principal cellist David Hardy, and Concertmaster Nurit Ben-Josef.
Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" - which came next in the program - is a prime example of what happens when a strong voice and a superb orchestra come together. The result can be breathtaking. The voice was none other than actress/director Phylicia Rashad who served as the narrator for the piece. The narration is based on Lincoln's speeches. Copland's music is truly American, particularly with the way he writes for trumpets. The distinct bell tones rang as strong as the liberty bell and gave huge power to the music. Rashad's narration about arguably one of the greatest presidents ever couldn't have sounded better either.
Some pieces of music just go on and on and never say anything. Leonard Bernstein conveyed in 40ish seconds what many composers can't do in twenty minutes with "Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy." The piece was orchestrated by longtime Bernstein collaborator Sid Ramin.
Keeping with the theme, next on the program was another example of the genius of John Williams. With a suite of music from the Oliver Stone's conspiracy theory epic J.F.K., Williams captures the Kennedy motorcade musically as it comes into Dealey Plaza and the chaos after the fatal shots were fired. The main theme again featured a trumpet solo by principal trumpeter William Gerlach.
Rounding out the program was a sensational performance of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue'. This is a piece written for orchestra and solo piano and the featured pianist Jon Kimura Parker gave one of the best performances I've heard. His passion and musicianship shone through in spades. As if tearing up Gershwin wasn't enough, Parker came back for a solo encore with a killer version of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" by Billy Joel. How's that for versatility?
Portraits of America was one of those concerts that made you proud to be an American and in these messed up political times, we need something to be proud of. Maestro Noseda, guest artists, and the mighty NSO, thank you!!
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes with one intermission.
Portraits of America was performed on January 19 and 22, 2017 in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. For upcoming NSO events, click here.
For a link to the full concert on Medici.tv, click here. The link will work for 90 days only.