Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Nat. Phil. Celebrates Bernstein & Beethoven With Pianist Michael Brown


Nat. Phil. Celebrates Bernstein & Beethoven With Pianist Michael Brown

One of Leonard Bernstein's most iconic compositions will be paired with the legendary Ludwig van Beethoven's most celebrated work in "Bernstein and Beethoven: Part I" on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at 8 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore. As a continued celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, world-renowned pianist Michael Brown will join Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski and The National Philharmonic in performing Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 ("The Age of Anxiety"), a genre-defying work that combines elements of symphony, concerto, and program music and is inspired by the dramatic poem The Age of Anxiety by W.H. Auden. After an intermission, Gajewski will lead the Philharmonic in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. This timeless work is one of the most performed, recorded, adapted, and abused of all the works in Beethoven's canonical repertoire. A pre-concert lecture will take place between 6:45-7:15 p.m. From 7-7:30 p.m., families can explore orchestral instruments with Philharmonic musicians. The concert will feature a members-only encore question-and-answer. Ticket prices are $42-$78, and young people 7-17 are free. Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 301.581.5100.

The literary, musical, and expressive content of Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 encapsulates the entire human journey, from cradle to grave. The poem (and the symphony) opens with three men and a woman gathered in a bar where, prompted by drinking and leisurely talk, they discuss the human existence and predicament, our constant search for meaning, our hopes and aspirations, the failure of many of our projects to materialize, the inevitability of death, and the ultimate loneliness that besets each one of us. Through this story, Bernstein's composition demonstrates nuanced and multilayered musical writing, with a great variety of instrumentation and textures deployed throughout the symphony.

Perhaps the greatest composer who ever lived, German-born Beethoven (1770-1827) is one of the most important composers of Classical and Romantic music. Beethoven's iconic Symphony No. 5 is said to depict Beethoven within the music using the moto "take fate by the horns" to make the music do his bidding. The range of associations attached to Symphony No. 5 touches on every aspect of music, culture, and society. In fact, the BBC used it to preface its broadcasts during World War II, and its rhythm is the Morse Code for the letter "V."

Winner of a 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Brown has been described by The New York Times as a "young piano visionary" and "one of the leading figures in the current renaissance of performer composers." Selected by Sir András Schiff for his "Building Bridges" series in 2016-17, Brown made debut solo recitals in Berlin, Florence, Milan, Frankfurt, Antwerp, Zurich, and New York's 92nd Street Y. Recent highlights include debuts with the Seattle, North Carolina, Flagstaff, and Maryland Symphony Orchestras and the New York Youth Symphony in Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium. Brown joined the roster of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's CMS Two program in 2015 and performs with the Society in Alice Tully Hall and on tour. Recent commissions of his own compositions include a Piano Concerto for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and works for the Look & Listen Festival, Bargemusic, Concert Artists Guild, and Lincoln Center's Great Performers. A native New Yorker, Brown earned dual Bachelor's and Master's degrees in piano and composition from the Juilliard School. Brown is a Steinway Artist.

Perhaps Leonard Bernstein's most uplifting composition is paired with one of the most significant compositions by musical master Ludwig van Beethoven's in "Bernstein and Beethoven: Part II" on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 8 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore. As a continued celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, The National Philharmonic Chorale will join Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski in performing Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, composed during a period of great emotional and creative distress. After an intermission, Gajewski will again lead The National Philharmonic Chorale in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. This groundbreaking composition is referred to as his "Choral" symphony, and belongs to that rank of artworks about which any form of critical commentary inevitably falls short. Gajewski will be joined onstage by performers Esther Heideman, soprano; Shirin Eskandani, mezzo-soprano; Colin Eaton, tenor; Kevin Short, baritone; and Enzo Baldanza, boy soprano. A pre-concert lecture will take place between 6:45-7:15 p.m. Ticket prices are $42-$78, and children ages 7-17 are free. Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 301.581.5100.

Emotionally struggling with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in whose memory he wrote the elegiac Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish"), Bernstein found himself having to again cope with death after the murder of his friend, fellow composer Marc Blitzstein. Chichester Psalms was a result of a commission from Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral in England, asking for a set of Psalms to be performed during the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival, which united the cathedrals of Chichester, Winchester, and Salisbury. Bernstein conceived the Chichester Psalms in a more optimistic, life-affirming, and altogether more serene way.

Perhaps the greatest composer who ever lived, German-born Beethoven (1770-1827) is one of the most important composers of Classical and Romantic music. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9's cultural meaning is all encompassing, having acquired an iconic presence in the most diverse societies and being enlisted as a vehicle of a bewildering array of political and social causes.

Before making her debut as Pamina in Mozart's Die Zauberflote at the Metropolitan Opera, Heideman won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the Licia Albanese Competition in 2000. Hailed by Opera Today for her "pleasing and pliant voice," Iranian-Canadian Eskandani recently made her Metropolitan Opera stage debut as Mercedes in Carmen. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including first place at the Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competition and fourth place at the Licia Albanese-Puccini Competition. A Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army, Eaton has been a prominent member of the world-renowned U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" for 19 years, and is currently Group Leader of the esteemed vocal ensemble The Army Voices. Internationally, he was a member of the crossover classical tenor trio known as Vai DaCapo, and he performed for sellout live audiences throughout Germany and recorded concerts that aired on PBS. Short's most recent and future engagements include parts in Porgy and Bess, La Fanciulla del West, Le Cid, and The Rake's Progress. He has sung in more than 20 operas at the Metropolitan Opera, and performed with numerous companies, including the Los Angeles Opera, Washington National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Staatstheater Stuttgart, and the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. Boy soprano Baldanza is in the sixth grade at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. He has been a member of the National Cathedral Boy Choristers for two years. He recently performed the treble solo in Chichester Psalms with the National Symphony Orchestra June 2018.

Bernstein (1918-1990), was an American conductor, composer, and pianist, most famous for his film and Broadway compositions. Playing piano from age 10, Bernstein received musical training at Harvard University, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. In 1943, he was appointed assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and led the orchestra from 1945-1947, later serving as musical director from 1958-1969 and touring internationally with the orchestra. Among numerous other works, Bernstein is the musical genius behind iconic scores including West Side Story, On the Waterfront, and concert performances celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1983, Maestro Gajewski was selected from more than 150 applicants as a Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellow at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, along with only two other young conductors. Maestro Gajewski had the opportunity at 24 to spend the summer studying alongside the world's most famed conductors, including Bernstein who, himself, had studied at Tanglewood decades earlier under the prominent conductor Serge Koussevitzky.

"Tanglewood provided many unforgettable experiences, but none more poignant than a program where each of the three Fellows conducted a work on the first half and Bernstein conducted the second half," reminisced Maestro Gajewski. "The venue was the legendary outdoor Tanglewood Music Shed (now Koussevitzky Music Shed), packed to its 5,000-seat capacity, with thousands more sitting on the lawn. For this 24-year-old, it was quite an evening," he said.

Maestro Gajewski is one of a select group of American conductors equally at home in nearly all musical genres. He is the music director and conductor of The National Philharmonic at the Music Center at Strathmore, and a sought-after guest conductor. He was a student and disciple of the late Leonard Bernstein, and is described by The Washington Post as an "immensely talented and insightful conductor, whose standards, taste and sensitivity are impeccable." With one foot in the United States and the other in Europe, as Principal Guest Conductor of the Silesian Philharmonic (Katowice, Poland) and frequent guest at other orchestras, the jet-set maestro's seemingly limitless repertoire, most conducted without a score, amazes critics and audiences alike.

Led by Maestro Gajewski, The National Philharmonic is known for performances that are "powerful," "impeccable," and "thrilling" (The Washington Post). In July 2003, the National Chamber Orchestra and Masterworks Chorus merged to create The National Philharmonic, an ensemble with more than 50 years of combined history, bringing high caliber musical performances to the Washington area. The National Philharmonic took up residence at the state-of-the-art Music Center at Strathmore upon its opening in February 2005. Now, more than 250 performances later, and with far-reaching educational programming, The National Philharmonic is the largest and most active professional orchestra based in Montgomery County. It is also the only classical music organization in the Washington-Metro area that offers free tickets for children ages 7-17. The National Philharmonic recognizes this young audience as the classical music lovers of the future, and hopes to encourage future generations of concertgoers through this free-ticket program.

A February 24, 2019, review in The Washington Post by Patrick Rucker notes The National Philharmonic's "distinctive personality," adding, "The vibe in the audience is that everybody onstage is happy, and maybe a little proud to be there, and the music sounds that way." In fact, National Philharmonic's "distinctive personality" is part and parcel of the world class acoustics of the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert hall, orchestra, and chorale together create this world-class sound. The National Philharmonic's Strathmore Concert Hall home is an integral component of its artistic success. In fact, it is because of this success that the Philharmonic was recently recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts.

As the Music Center at Strathmore's orchestra-in-residence, The National Philharmonic showcases world-renowned guest artists in time-honored symphonic masterpieces conducted by Maestro Gajewski, and monumental choral masterworks under National Philharmonic Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson.

To purchase tickets for the performances and for information about the Philharmonic's upcoming season, please visit or call the Strathmore Ticket Office at 301.581.5100.

Related Articles View More Washington, DC Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You