In May and June, the National Symphony Orchestra presents the Beethoven and American Masters Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Maestro Gianandrea Noseda will conduct four programs of Beethoven Symphonies paired with works by trailblazing American composers George Walker and William Grant Still. The concerts will be recorded live for the NSO’s record label.
Here on WETA Classical, May’s NSO Showcase program will celebrate two of the NSO’s previous releases, featuring Beethoven’s first and third symphonies and George Walker’s Sinfonia No.4, all recorded in 2022.
NSO Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, reflecting on the challenges of performing and recording Beethoven’s nine symphonies, said:
Beethoven’s power can be a shadow or a light that embraces all of the centuries. His music has freshness and strength, and an openness that never stops to shock, attract, and overwhelm me. Listeners will experience the bold statement of the Symphony No.1 and the bolder statement that is Symphony No.3. Both are immense works and herald the beginning of our journey to climb this musical Everest.
From the very first chord of his first symphony, Beethoven declares a new musical era in 1800, bursting onto the scene like “a smelly hobo invading an elegant 18th century palace,” to quote conductor John Eliot Gardiner. His Imperial Highness, Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor detects that “there is something revolutionary in that music.”
The third symphony follows in 1805. Disgusted by Napoleon’s imperial pretentions, Beethoven famously changed the title page dedication of the symphony from “Bonaparte” to “Sinfonia eroica. Composed to honor the memory of a great man.” Reflecting the ideals of the Enlightenment, the pomp and circumstance of French public funerals, the evolution of the “Sturm und Drang” movement, the charm of rustic simplicity, and the heartbreak of his own deafness, Beethoven crafted what is considered the first Romantic symphony. As his friend Ferdinand Ries wrote: “I believe heaven and earth will tremble when it is performed for the first time.”
In addition to Beethoven's first and third Symphonies, May’s NSO Showcase on WETA Classical features George Walker’s 4th Sinfonia, also from a 2022 recording on the NSO label.
George Walker was born in 1922 in Washington, D.C. A prodigy, he broke many racial barriers and became the first Black musician to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1996.
A prolific and successful composer, his works have been widely performed. He died at the age of 96 in 2018, and to celebrate his centennial in 2022, the NSO embarked on performing and recording the complete cycle of his 5 sinfonias.
Sinfonia No.4 is titled “Strands" because it features “strands” from 2 spirituals which are skillfully woven into this spirited and colorful one-movement work.
The NSO’s Beethoven and American Masters Festival continues through June 3rd at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, performing Beethoven’s 6th, 7, 8, and 9th symphonies as well as works by William Grant Still and George Walker. Check out Nationalsymphony.org for more details.
Learn more about the life and music of George Walker
Learn more about the life and music of Beethoven
Stream tens of thousands of hours of your PBS and local favorites with WETA Passport whenever and wherever you want. Catch up on a single episode or binge-watch full seasons before they air on TV.