The Leonard Slatkin era of the National Symphony Orchestra has ended and the Iván Fischer era will begin on November 1st, with three nights of an all-Beethoven program. On a whim, I caught one of the exiting conductor’s final performances, and have to say that I’m glad I saw him before he left. It’s been a number of years since I darkened the door of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. I think the last time I was there was to see the Kronos Quartet performing something from the last hundred years.
What struck me on this evening, with its rather safe program of Schuman, Williams, and Brahms, was that the symphony experience, in general, or the NSO, in particular, had something that hippy-rock and socialist-leaning punk always promises but so seldom delivers: a sense of community. Think about it: rock is all about the individual—the solos, the preening—and an orchestra, by contrast, is an enormous musical entity that is working together as an enormous musical entity—and not a bunch of individuals—to advance the work of the composer. The audience is implicated in this as well. Some of this music is so quiet that if the listeners didn’t sit still and keep their traps shut—you know, sublimate their individuality—the concert wouldn’t be a success.
I’ve been to a number of recent shows, such as Joanna Newsom and Vashti Bunyan, that were quite quiet in parts and those parts were almost always spoiled by the sound of conversations or clanking glass or general shuffling about. Granted, some of this has to do with the alcohol and the setting. And some of it has to do with the price (people take things more seriously when they have to pay a bit more). But some of it has to with the music itself.
Which is just a long-winded way of saying that if you’re not already aware of the NSO‘s hipper qualities, you might want to give Fischer a shot.