Review: National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Gala Concert offers spectacular night of music

The National Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO) opened its 86th season on Sunday evening, September 25 in the Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center. The celebratory concert was conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, NSO Music Director and Music Director of the Kennedy Center and Steven Reineke, NSO Principal Pops conductor.

The opening piece, Antonin Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture, Op. 92,” was filled with splendor and grandeur. The orchestra demonstrated their mastery of each nuance of Dvorak’s work and seemed to capture the composer’s intent for this beautiful piece.

Gifted pianist Lang Lang joined the orchestra for Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor,’ Op. 1.  It was delightful watching him as he seemed to embody each note and passionately and lovingly hit each key. Lang Lang and the NSO seemed to become one as they went through each movement. A United Nations Messenger of Peace, Lang Lang spoke loudly through his music and left the audience both in awe and inspired.

Lang Lang at NSO
Internationally renowned pianist Lang Lang performs with the NSO and music director Christoph Eschenbach during the first half of Sunday’s NSO gala concert at the Kennedy Center.

After intermission, the music turned to celebrating the historic opening of the Museum of African American Heritage and Culture (NMAAHC) on the National Mall on Saturday. The celebration started with the fanfare on “Amazing Grace,” Riveting with a strong percussion sound, the song was the perfect launching pad for what lay ahead in the second half. It’s composer, Adolphus Hailstork, was in the audience and was greeted with resounding applause by the audience, indicating their love for such a fine piece of musical artistry.

Jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon sang “Bridges” with a pulsating beat. She managed to pull the audience in to the song that was filled with hope. Freelon’s husband, Phil Freelon, the lead architect in the construction of the NMAAHC was in the audience, making her performance even more compelling. Freelon smoothly delivered Duke Ellington’s classic “Black Butterfly” taking it to its ultimate crescendo.

A Capella and Grammy winners, Take 6, commanded the stage with Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Take 6, easily one of the premier vocal groups, captivated the audience with their improvisational sound arrangements and rich harmonies. Harkening to their gospel roots and reflecting on the opening of the NMAAHC and the NSO’s opening night, the group added a contemporary flavor to “Bless This House.” Their harmonic voices accented by the orchestra was nothing short of amazing. They ended their set with “Smile.” They pulled out all the stops as their voices became percussive and wind instruments as they had some good-natured fun along the way with one another.

Take 6 at NSO

Jazz singer and vocal group Take 6 perform with the NSO and Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke at Sunday’s NSO gala concert at the Kennedy Center. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

The soulful crooner, Brian McKnight delivered on “When I Fall In Love.” Full of charm, McKnight also performed his classic romantic hit, “Back at One” to delight of many in the audience. He jokingly told the men they were free to use the lyrics on the ladies.

Brain McKnight sings at NSO
Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Brian McKnight performs with the NSO and Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke at Sunday’s NSO gala concert at the Kennedy Center. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

The finale was the premiere of “We Are All America” with orchestral interpretation. Commissioned by the NSO in celebration of the NMAAHC, Grammy winner Mervyn Warren created the stirring piece. An accomplished film and television composer, songwriter and producer, Warren created the new masterpiece under the direction of Steven Reineke, Principal Pops Conductor.

“We Are All America” was filled with a beautiful mix of genres. There was the rhythm of the African drum, contemporary sounds of American anthems, jazz, blues, funk, coupled with a Broadway-style presentation neatly ensconced with classical flair.:   One could almost envision the scenes that unfolded as the lyrics were song. As a film composer Warren not only created a song, but certainly intentionally created one that would creates imagery that connects the music to the experience.  The song touched on so many aspects of the American tableau with the underlying theme that we one:

We Are All America! One nation, One team; Indivisible, One dream.”

NSO Concert finale "We Are All America"
Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, Take 6, composer Mervyn Warren, vocalist Brian McKnight, Steven Ford Singers, and the WPA Children of the Gospel Choir join the NSO and Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke for the finale of its Gala season-opening concert on Sunday, September 25, 2016 at the Kennedy Center.The second half of the program was a salute to the opening of the National Museum of African American history and Culture, which opened this weekend. (Photo credit: Scott Suchman)

Warren was joined onstage by Freelon, Take 6 and Brian McKnight, The Steven Ford Singers and Director Steven Ford, The Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir and guest vocalists from the Children’s Chorus of Washington, DC under the direction of Michele Fowlin and Stanley J. Thurston.

The NSO delivered a spectacular opening night and was a great intro to what lies ahead for the 2016-2017 season.

Leave a Reply