When film director Stanley Kubrick needed music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, he sent his 19-year-old assistant to the local record store with instructions to buy as much classical music as he could fit in a station wagon. Kubrick settled in with these piles of LPs (it was the Sixties) to choose the music that would go with the film. It’s a testament to his genius that he recognized that the sunrise that opens Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra would be the perfect accompaniment to the dawn of man depicted in the film.  

The 32-year-old Richard Strauss was so enthralled by Friedrich Nietzsche’s book Also sprach Zarathustra, that he decided to set it to music. Zarathustra is a prophet who meditates on a mountaintop for 10 years, then descends to impart his knowledge to mankind. Nietzsche’s work is a collection of 80 parables, each ending with the words “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Strauss said he strove "To convey in music an idea of evolution of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of development, religious as well as scientific, up to Nietzche’s idea of the Superman. The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to the genius of Nietzsche.” 

Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra will be featured in the second half of this week’s NSO concerts, conducted by Simone Young. The program opens with Kaija Saariaho’s Orion, celebrating the mythological hunter and mortal son of Neptune who was transformed into a constellation after his death by Zeus. Orion’s celestial journey is outlined in the 3 movements of the piece: “Memento Mori,” “Winter sky,” and “Hunter.” 

Following Orion, Simone Young will lead the NSO in one of my favorite Mozart piano concertos, the No.9, written in 1777, when the composer was 21 years old. I have loved it for its rhythmic verve ever since I saw it performed at the Kennedy Center many years ago by pianist Orli Shaham. Abounding with youthful energy, the concerto seems to live up to its nickname “Jeunehomme” which means “young man.” In fact, Mozart described the concerto as “the one for Jenomy.” Biographers interpreted this as misspelled “Jeunehomme.” Finally, in 2003, it was discovered that Mozart’s dedication was to Victoire Jenamy, the daughter of Mozart’s friend Jean-Georges Noverre, a dancer and choreographer, for whom he composed the music for the ballet, Les petits riens soon after the Piano Concerto No.9. 

Lise de la Salle joins the NSO as guest soloist in the Concerto. A favorite of Washington audiences, she eloquently describes the magic of music and live performance: “music is sound, sound is vibrations, and experiencing through the body the power of these vibrations is irreplaceable. Being on stage to perform music is about sharing, feeling, vibrating, being in communion with the public. It is about giving and receiving emotions, energy, love...it’s about feeling touched and hopefully touch the audience sitting just a couple meters away.” 

And the Piano Concerto No.9, so full of irrepressible joy, is guaranteed to touch the audience. 


Simone Young, conductor 
Lise de la Salle, piano 

Kaija Saariaho: Orion 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jeunehomme” 
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra 

April 18-20, Kennedy Center Concert Hall 

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