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The National Symphony Orchestra

OrchestraAlthough we haven’t made a formal New Year resolution, one of items on our 2010 to-do list is to broaden our cultural quotient.  We took our first steps in this direction last Thursday with a visit to attend the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC.  The Kennedy Center is on the banks of the Potomac River and is a beautiful place with sumptuous halls and theatres is the sole reason why DC might feature of a list of “culture-hotspots” in USA.

Those of you who know me are probably chuckling at the idea that I was attending any musical program, much less a symphony orchestra.  I must admit, given that fact that I am tone-deaf, I was a bit intimidated when I saw the array of musical instruments that were going to be used. The stage filled up slowly with musicians finding their spots and tuning up or practicing their parts.  The conductor, Michael Stern, walked in shook the hand of the concertmaster (who was one of the violinists) and immediately launched into conducting the first piece of the day – a 20 minutes of Symphony No 1 by Samuel Barber.  By reading the program booklet I learnt that the “Symphony in one movement is a synthetic treatment of the four movement classical symphony  and based on the three themes of the initial Allegro non troppo, which retain their fundamental character”.   The music was pleasant,  I remembered a talk by some music group in my college days who defined music as “nothing but organized noise”— that definitely struck a chord with me.

After 20 minutes, the music ended with a bang, the conductor bowed, the audience applauded, the orchestra got up in one movement and bowed again, audience continued to applaud, the conductor shook the hands of the concertmaster and bowed again and then walked off the stage, then walked in again to the center of the stage, bowed again and then walked off again.  There was a short break and the orchestra members rearranged themselves a bit, while a grant piano was rolled in.  The pianist, Emmanual Ax,  and the conductor, Michael Stern, walked in a few minutes later,  shook hands with the concert master and then launched into Beethoven’s piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat major.  This was about 28 minutes and I liked this best of the three pieces that were played—mainly because I enjoyed the melody of the piano  in contrast to the rest of the sounds.  But mostly I spent the time watching Michael Stern wave his baton vigorously and wondering if the process could be automated with flashing light bulbs in front of each player or section that could indicate when to start or stop the music.

After this piece was over, the conductor and the pianist followed the previous pattern of bowing, shaking hands, bowing again in a group, walking out in the middle of the applause, walking back in, bowing some more and then walking off again.  The last piece of music was 45 minutes long— Symphony No.2 in D. Major by Jean Sibelius.  The music was no doubt pleasant and as I listened I waited for a big “A-ha” moment where the secrets of the universe would be revealed to me via a sublime musical moment but alas,  there was no such enlightenment for me.  As we walked out of the concert, the rest of the audience were knowledgeably discussing the music “ I have never heard so many flourishes before”, proclaimed one lady.  And, I didn’t even know what she was talking about, although it was a pleasant evening!

However, we rounded off the evening by attending another symphony – and I understood every note of this one.  This was also a three piece symphony at the Willow restaurant in Arlington, VA. We had the restaurant week menu and the first course was an especially luxurious Butter Poached Lobster Agnolotti, where there was complete harmony between the rich notes of the sherry-lobster sauce and the cauliflower puree Agnolotti.  The tempo increased substantially in the second piece: a complex creation of excellent cod served over a base note of  potato risotto with flashes of shredded zucchini resonating through the dish and Clam Fennel Sauce: I can attest that there were no  flat notes at all. The symphony ended in a big flourish with a Lemon Brulee Gingersnap Tart — a textured creation with the crispy tart, with the tangy lemon brulee, all topped with the creamiest blackberry icecream with white chocolate sauce.  Take a bow, Willow restaurant & Chef O’Grady— you deserve an ovation !

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  1. Anonymous says

    Lovely parallels in between the food and the music!

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