Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35 - Nurit Bar-Josef
Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
Those past two years have gone by awfully fast and now we are faced with the cruel reality of Ivan Fischer's last program with the National Symphony Orchestra as their principal conductor. Although his other numerous engagements have kept him from being here more than a few times a year, he has been an extraordinarily popular presence on the Washington, DC musical scene, and for good reasons. His vast knowledge of the classical repertoire and his unwavering commitment to sharing his passion, not to mention his undeniable talent in bringing the world's most memorable symphonies to life, have made him a particularly welcome figure on the podium.
This week, his last concert series may not be very edgy, but how drool-inducing! Scheherazade's pure and simple melodic power and The Rite of Spring's ferociously ground-breaking score sounded just like the perfect Russian recipe to make those farewell performances memorable, and the packed auditorium was more than ready for it.
After a badly-timed thunder storm and two car accidents kept some musicians and patrons from getting to the Kennedy Center on time, delaying the start of the festivities by over 20 minutes, the attractive first notes of Scheherazade finally made themselves heard and took us all without further ado to the Oh so exotic Near East. A former lieutenant in the Czarist navy, Rimsky-Korsakov was a well-travelled man by the time he came around to writing his most famous work. Inspired by The Thousands and One Nights as much as by its composer's own foreign journeys, Scheherazade prettily evokes the endless wonders of life in the Orient with big sounds and vibrant colors. On Thursday night, Ivan Fischer led the orchestra in a detailed, high-impact rendition of it, the most climatic peaks being drastically contrasted by some beguiling violin solos courtesy of the NSO's ever-classy concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef. Her couple of short dialogues with the delicate harp exquisitely stood out and brought lovely touches of gracefulness to the crowd-pleasing journey.
After this compelling but, all things considered, fairly traditional musical fairy tale, we were on to Stravinsky's once scandalous Rite of Spring, the one that sparked what has probably been the most notorious riot in music history at its première with the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1913. Part of the fierce reaction probably had something to do with Nijinsky's not exactly conventional choreography, but there is no doubt that the avant-garde nature of the score also was definitely more than even those worldly Parisians could take. The bold stirring up of melody, harmony and form was obviously too much to take in one night, however, this organic homage to pagan rituals and its devilishly difficult, irregular beats has since become a classic with orchestras and audiences around the world. On Thursday, the winning combination of Ivan Fischer's infectious energy and the NSO's particular fondness for Russian works (Spasibo, maestro Rostropovitch!) resulted in a breathlessly virtuosic performance that more than appropriately concluded Ivan Fischer's much too short tenure with the NSO.