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The National Philharmonic at Strathmore: Blocks Unbusted

By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post • September 18, 2007

Saturday night's concert by the National Philharmonic was billed as a "Symphonic Blockbuster," but a good crowd turned up at the Music Center at Strathmore anyway, hoping for the best. To little avail, alas. The program -- titled "National Voices" -- was one of those unimaginative, play-it-safe affairs, with not one, not two, but three sagging old warhorses trotted out.

Sandy Cameron
First up was Sibelius's "Finlandia" from 1900, painted in broad strokes by conductor Piotr Gajewski with much heroic crashing, little subtlety and a pale sort of grandeur. Smetana's much-loved "The Moldau" got a similar treatment.

Then there was Aaron Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" from 1942. It's a war-effort piece in which a speaker reads excerpts from Lincoln while the orchestra plays Copland's soaring Americana. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett brought a low-key approach to the speaker's role, and the most interesting aspect was the irony of Lincoln's words: "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves."

Maybe it's just that "nationalist music" has become an outdated idea; the most exciting music these days is written by composers (Tan Dun, for instance) who leap among musical cultures with imagination, wit and cheerful disregard for national borders. At any rate, it was the only non-nationalistic piece on the program, Sibelius's Violin Concerto, that saved the show. And much of the credit goes to the brilliant 22-year-old violinist Sandy Cameron, who played this rhapsodic work with passion and engaging, thoughtful intelligence.

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 08:51AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | Comments3 Comments

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Reader Comments (3)

I can't believe the prices the "National" Philharmonic charges for its concerts, either...
September 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLindemann
True -- good orchestra seats are $59, the same as upcoming Kennedy Center concerts by the NSO. But in their favor, they do seat kids 7 to 17 for free ... and I think that's their regular policy, not just the occasional thing the NSO does --

September 23, 2007 | Registered CommenterStephen Brookes
I have to say, the conductor of this ensemble is just awful. He has simply no idea what is going on, and did not understand any of the music on that program at all. I hope they have the good sense to replace him. Thank goodness of that incredible violinist!
September 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterConcerned Fan

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