These days, it’s second nature to want to record notable events in our video, to stream, to photograph. Sometimes we forget to enjoy the experience.  Last night’s National Symphony Orchestra concert at La Scala lives on only in my memory, and it's a joyous one. 

First, look at the overwhelming majesty of the view from the royal box at La Scala. The NSO in rehearsal.

La Scala

The program was beautifully crafted, opening with Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Carlos Simon’s Wake Up! A Concerto for Orchestra and closing with Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. Both pieces highlighted the NSO’s brass and percussion sections, and both had a message to convey. Simon's call to action is in the title: “Wake Up!” which was musically illustrated with an insistent two-note motif: a musical alarm clock, if you will, with the emphasis on alarm. 

The Shostakovich 5th is a favorite with the NSO since Slava Rostropovich days, and Gianandrea Noseda conducted it as if on fire. It was a joy to watch his every gesture, his swooping dance movements on the podium. Through the music, you could imagine Shostakovich’s despair in the face of Stalinist terrors, and to me it felt like a eulogy for modern times.  Maestro Noseda’s 10 years as principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theater informed his performance, and his joy in conducting the orchestra in his hometown of Milan was palpable. I'm usually quite timid, and it’s not the done thing here to stand up for the ovation, but really there was no other way to express my appreciation. After all, the ovation following the 1937 Leningrad premiere lasted more than half an hour. Eventually, the rest of the audience followed, and we were treated to a tender encore, the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

Gianandrea Noseda’s performances always inspire me to look back and forward. The spirit of Beethoven hovered over the 4th Piano Concerto. Here we were in this opulent and warm concert hall, and I couldn’t help but think of the premiere of this concerto which took place in a marathon concert on a freezing December night in 1808 at the Theater an der Wien. It was Beethoven’s last public performance as a soloist. The soloist, Seong-Jin Cho was the first South Korean to win the International Chopin Competition in 2015, and there was a Chopinesque fluidity to his playing, an inventiveness in the cadenzas (humorously marked “don’t fall off the bench” by Beethoven.) On the contrary, Cho was very much at home on the bench, and shared a wonderful partnership with the orchestra. That same generosity was evident in the riotous applause after his performance. He turned to the orchestra first before his solo bow. His encore was the achingly beautiful Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations.


These impressions of the concert are ephemeral, like the bubbles in my Prosecco, and this is the best I can do to share and remember the experience. I overheard some in the audience saying they’d come from Zurich to hear Maestro Noseda, and that it was a thrill to see him on stage rather than in the pit! (He conducts the Zurich Opera.) Others came to spend a long weekend in Milan from France, Spain, or Germany. Although I’m lucky enough to be able to see the NSO on a regular basis during their season at the Kennedy Center, this was special, and boy was it worth the trip.

Again, Bravi tutti!

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