Conductor: Elizabeth Schulze
Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 - John Chen
After a week of scorching heat and decreased activity, it is with much anticipation that I was heading back to the Kennedy Center yesterday evening for a very special Millennium Stage. Still free and still at 6:00 pm, the performance this time would take place in the concert hall and feature the 58 budding musicians (from 31 states and 3 countries) participating in the National Symphony Orchestra's Summer Music Institute alongside some members of the orchestra. As every year, their enthusiastic supporter maestra Elizabeth Schulze was there to present, assist and, of course, conduct. A little Wagner and full-fledged Tchaikovsky sounded just want the doctor ordered for a Friday night, so there I was, among a very eclectic crowd, all ready for the musical feast.
Wagner's prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg contains just the right combination of expected power and less expected lightness, thus providing the music students with the perfect opportunity to show off their range under the watchful eyes of their mentors, who were playing along right next to them. It all went down very well, thanks to no small part to Elizabeth Schulze's dynamic direction.
Seeing Tchaikovsky's piano concerto No 1 on a program never fails to set my heart aflutter, and this time my being there would also encourage a local talent in the person of John Chen, a seemingly unflappable 16-year old from Leesburg, VA, who is currently studying at The Juilliard School after winning a bunch of awards and performing in various prestigious venues. And if yesterday's remarkable feat is any indication, this is just the beginning of a brilliant career. Solidly back by the NSO musicians, he whole-heartedly plunged into the sink-or-swim challenge with plenty of energy and sensitiveness. Even the wild clapping after the first movement, which he sweetly acknowledged with a quick get-up-and-bow, did not break the mood of what remains a true masterpiece of the Russian Romantic répertoire. More wild clapping (legitimate, this time) and a standing ovation saluted the shyly smiling young man and brought this short but wonderful concert to a resounding conclusion.