The month of January was named after the two-faced Roman god Janus. He was the one responsible for doors opening and closing, transitions and duality. WETA Classical’s January NSO Showcase program reflects Janus’ many aspects.
For example, the program opens with a pair of contrasting works illustrating the duality of Janus: Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Mozart’s ebullient serenade, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. In typically sarcastic fashion, Brahms told a friend he wrote the Tragic Overture because “I simply could not refuse my melancholy nature the satisfaction of composing an overture for tragedy.”
Looking to the past, NSO Showcase pays tribute to the late American pianist Nicholas Angelich who passed away last April at the age of 51. Our January NSO Showcase features a performance by Angelich from February 2019, when he was making his NSO debut as soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. His playing earned accolades from The Washington Post: “thoughtful, sensitive, and slightly subdued, he gave a subtle and lovely performance... The audience appreciated him greatly.” The NSO’s Music Director, Gianandrea Noseda, praised him as well: “He’s a deep soloist ...the knowledge of the music is supreme, and I think he can play everything, anything. The Schumann (Piano Concerto) requires fantastic fingers as Nicholas has, but also full understanding of the music.” His passing is a sad loss for the music world.
The program ends with Dmitri Shostakovich’s 6th Symphony. It’s hard to imagine a more “two-faced” work. “I have set myself a task fraught with tremendous responsibility,” Shostakovich announced, “to express in sound the immortal image of Lenin as a great son of the Russian people and as a leader of the masses.” The symphony didn’t turn out as advertised, however: “In my latest symphony, music of a contemplative and lyrical order predominates. I wanted to convey in it the moods of spring, joy, and youth.” There was no hint of Lenin in the finished product. By the time the 6th Symphony premiered in 1939, Stalin’s “Great Terror” had been threatening Russians for 3 years, sending many to prison camps and even execution. Shostakovich himself had been severely reprimanded for his opera The Nose, but he had regained precarious favor with his Symphony No.5. Thus, deciding on the theme of a new symphony was literally a matter of life and death. The symphony opens with a long, serious, even heroic first movement that gives way to a grotesque Scherzo movement and a circusy finale.
We hope you’ll enjoy January’s jam-packed NSO Showcase. According to the poet Ovid, the god Janus was honored with wine, frankincense, cakes, and other goodies. I believe Janus would be pleased with this musical offering—and would agree that January’s NSO Showcase on WETA Classical is a harmonious kick-off to a year of wonderful music from the National Symphony Orchestra.
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