Sunday, July 26, 2009

NSO's Summer Music Institute Orchestra - Wagner, Ibert, Prokofiev and Brahms - 07/26/09

Conductor: Elizabeth Schulze
Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser
Ibert: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (Third movement) - Christine Murphy
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No 2 in G Minor, Op. 63 (First movement) - Charlotte Nicholas
Brahms: Symphony No 2 in D Major, Op. 73

This year again promising young musicians from all around the world converged to Washington to learn all about being part of an orchestra at the NSO's Summer Institute in the course of three and a half weeks, and concluded their training this evening with a bona fide concert in the concert hall of the Kennedy Center as part of the daily Millennium Stage. As usual, the program was not available until people were ready to take their seats, but it is generally a crowd-pleaser and this year again, it was attractive and eclectic. A dedicated supporter of music education, maestra Schulze was conducting this temporary orchestra for the ninth year in a row with her trademark communicative energy and good humor.

Wagner's grand Romantic opera, Tannhäuser is based on two unrelated German legends and revolves around the story of a doomed man who can only be redeemed by the self-sacrificing love of a woman. The overture is a whole journey in itself, from the somber pilgrims' hymn to the Bacchanalian celebration of sensual love by the goddess Venus, before dawn comes and brings back good over evil with the return of the pilgrims. Playing with unbridled enthusiasm but still managing to bring out most of the composition's subtleties, the budding musicians grabbed the audience's attention from the very start and did not let go.
My lack of interest in the sound of the flute did not bode well for the second piece of the program, but even I could appreciate the impressive skills of Christine Murphy as she was negotiating the treacherous third movement of Ibert's notoriously difficult flute concerto, never mind that now and then the orchestra got carried away and covered her most delicate passages.
Next on the stage was fast-rising Charlotte Nicholas, who had to master the no less challenging first movement of Prokofiev's second violin concerto. Here again, the young soloist took firm command of the work from its graceful unaccompanied introduction and easily sailed through the minefield it is, displaying plenty of technique and musicality in the process.
To end the program with beauty and élan, there's nothing like a sweepingly lyrical treat such as Brahms' Symphony No 2. Although its first movement is rather stormy, the general mood of the whole piece is unabashedly light and cheerful. This was the perfect vehicle for all the youngsters on stage to revel in it with unstoppable momentum, which more than made up for the occasional lack of sophistication or reflectiveness. They let the sun shine in, and we were all mostly grateful for it.

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