Some orchestra guest conductors and soloists are scheduled years in advance, others swoop in at the last minute like musical superheroes to save the day. March’s NSO Showcase is dedicated to guest musicians from Austria, Britain, Finland, and Baltimore.
When Nicholas Hersh got the panicked call that Jan Pascal Tortelier was unavailable to conduct the NSO, he was indeed just a few miles away with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as he recalls:
“The two concerts that weekend went splendidly, and I felt an incredible connection with the orchestra, who were unfailingly supportive and played their hearts out.
The other twilight zone-esque element of this story is that I had similarly filled in on short notice once before...for a sick Yan Pascal Tortelier, in 2015. I learned later that Tortelier has apparently only missed 3 concerts in his long career due to illness—and I have subbed for two of them!”
In this month’s NSO Showcase, Maestro Hersh leads the NSO in Ravel’s Noble and Sentimental Waltzes. Seven waltzes followed by an epilogue that fades away like a dream...a nostalgic farewell to a romantic past.
Another last-minute substitute on the March program is the young Austrian violinist Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, who in May 2019, joined the NSO and guest conductor Edward Gardner for a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. As a prize-winner at the Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, Tjeknavorian was an excellent choice.
The Concerto begins with what Sibelius called a “marvelous opening idea.” The first movement features an extended solo cadenza in the place of the usual development section. The second movement is an ardent dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Sibelius described the final movement as a “danse macabre,” while British writer Donald Francis Tovey called it “a polonaise for polar bears.”
Like Sibelius, guest conductor John Storgårds hails from Finland, and he came to Washington to lead the NSO in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. At only 48, Tchaikovsky was obsessed with the fear that his genius was abandoning him. He complained to a friend: “Now I am gradually, and with some difficulty, squeezing a symphony out of my dulled brain.”
Tchaikovsky was also “squeezing” an overture on Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the same time. I wonder if his own fear of creative death, and the theme of fate in Shakespeare’s play, might have given this symphony its theatrical character.
Notes found in his diary give us some idea of his intention: “Complete resignation before fate” he wrote, “or before the inscrutable predestination of Providence.” Although Tchaikovsky later insisted that there was no “story” to this symphony, the pervasive motto that appears right at the beginning of the work is like a protagonist who progresses through all four movements, changing character from a funereal, e minor key to a triumphant E major.
Whether they come from around the world or a few miles up route 95 in Charm City, guest musicians enrich our musical life. We hope you’ll enjoy this program dedicated to our elite musical visitors. NSO Showcase airs Monday, March 1 at 9PM ET and is available for streaming on demand here.
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