We have season tickets to the National SO. I am in charge of this in
the household, which means that before the beginning of a season, I get
to determine which concerts my wife and I are going to attend. Fortunately,
the NSO makes it very easy to pick and choose which concerts will be on
our schedule, so I can micro-manage our season to my heart's content.
In the five years we have held tickets, I have not attended a majority
of the concerts that were originally on my plan. This year was no
different: I think I swapped out of five of the seven concerts originally
But the flip side of this is that the planning process takes place in
the summer, and by this time of year I forget which ones I've scheduled,
other than the true highlights. Sure, I could get on the NSO Web site
and find out what concert I'm attending on a given night, but where's
the creativity in that? So for the concert we attended last Thursday
night, I tried something new: I deliberately went to the Kennedy Center
with no foreknowledge of what would be performed.
The first piece on the program started in utter silence. Guest conductor
Manfred Honeck waited until there was complete quiet, then gradually,
slowly, brought the piece to life. It was melodic with just a hint of
an edge. It made me think of Korngold, maybe, or something composed
with Hollywood in mind.
Imagine my surprise when, later that night, I found it was by Webern.
"Im Sommerwind, Idyll for Large Orchestra," was composed in 1904 but
before Webern "became Webern." It was straight out of turn-of-the-century
Vienna. He didn't publish it, and it remained unknown until it was
discovered in 1961 and premiered the next year. I am far from familiar
with the "real" works of this composer, but never in a million years
would I have guessed it was by him.
The next piece on the program was a snap to identify: Beethoven PC 1,
played by Ingrid Fliter of Argentina. The Washington Post reviewer
wasn't too excited by her but I thought she did fine. But what is it
with the audience? They applauded after the first movement, which is
understandable. But the applause after the second movement caused us
to miss the attaca beginning of the finale. Get in the game, Kennedy
The composer of the third and last piece on the program was also easy
to determine. There are some composers who are easily identifiable.
Last year, the NSO performed Elgar 2; within the first three bars you
know exactly who composed it. I broke that record the other night:
It seemed like less than five seconds into the piece, I knew we were
hearing something by Richard Strauss. I have to admit, though, I get
my Rosenkavaliers, Alpine Symphonies, Heldenlebens, Symphonia Domesticas,
and Til Eulenspiegels mixed up sometimes, and I am nowhere close to
memorizing or barely recognizing any of them. But after listening to
the whole thing, I was certain it was Ein Heldenleben. And so it was:
Straussian to the core, impossible to imagine it being composed by anyone
I enjoyed this little experiment. It was like entering a room of
people, some of whom you knew and some you didn't. The first one I
"met," Anton Webern, was surprisingly sympatico and friendly, even if
new to me. It was good to see Beethoven again, a known quantity and a
welcome figure. And seeing Strauss was like meeting someone you were
sure you knew, yet couldn't place. When the light dawned, it was like
remembering a pleasant encounter with a person with whom there is
My next NSO concert will be an all-Russian affair; pity I got a look at
the schedule beforehand.
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