On Monday, Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Orchestra drove into Washington, D.C. along Route 7, through spectacular Virginia scenery. When we got within city limits, Gerry, our bus driver (who by this time had become a member of the family), gave us a 45-minute guided tour of some of the main sites of the city.
After we checked into our hotel nearby Dupont Circle, the Orchestra was thrown a “Welcome to Washington” party by Board member, Jerry Voight, and his wife, Jean Fordis, at their apartment near the National Cathedral. The musicians were joined at the party by Board members Teresa Darragh and John and Paula Gambs, Alan Benaroya (who had flown in from San Diego for the concert on Wednesday), and a number of Jerry and Jean’s colleagues from the law firm Finnegan, Harrison, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, including Joyce & Larry O’Rourke.
It was also a special surprise and treat to see New Century Principal Bassist Tony Manzo and his wife Rachel Young, both of whom were to leave on tour the next day with Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony Orchestra. Tony was unable to join this New Century tour because of his commitments to his “other” orchestra, but since he so much missed being with everyone, he invited the New Century musicians to his home in nearby Chevy Chase the next day for brunch!
Tuesday was a free day in Washington, D.C., and the Orchestra spread out through an unusually warm city to explore. Pictured below, Nadja took in the sights, including the Washington Monument, and Violinist Karen Sor and Violist Lynne Richburg visited the Library of Congress.
That evening, a number of New Century members dined with some fellow musician friends in D.C. Pictured below is the entire New Century Viola Section, with two violist friends who live in D.C., Uri Wassertzug and Jen Ries!
Wednesday brought one of the tour’s most important concerts, our Washington debut at the Music Center at Strathmore in nearby Bethesda. Originally a turn-of-the-century mansion, the Music Center at Strathmore opened in 2005 with an exquisite 1800-seat concert hall, plus an extensive education complex. The hall puts on concerts by the Baltimore Symphony, the resident National Philharmonic, and also a variety of concerts offered by presenting organizations, such as the prestigious Washington Performing Arts Society, which presented New Century.
The hall is a gleaming, wooden gem, with walls and floors of red birch, and a stage floor of maple. A canopy of 43 acrylic acoustical panels above the stage are controlled by computer, and can be adjusted to optimize the sound for the size of the ensemble on-stage. Additionally, felt panels behind the walls in special sound chambers can also be raised and lowered by motors to dampen or brighten the sound. Lastly, velvet curtains can be moved up and down to dampen an especially loud show, like a rock concert. According to Jon Foster, the Production Stage Manager, when used in tandem, the sound delay can be adjusted by as much as two seconds!
Once Nadja and the Orchestra took the stage, there was an extended sound-check to allow Nadja time to prepare the Bach Violin Concerto in A minor (it’s only performance on the tour was in Washington).
Before the performance, Nadja, Dawn, cellist Michelle Djokic, and bassist Kristin Zoernig, visited the rehearsals of five different ensembles (three of which were all-strings) of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras. The New Century musicians guided the young musicians (ranging from 4th- 10th grade) through the movement they were working on, offering practical suggestions combined with humor, insight and inspiration.
Finally it was time for the concert!
Despite heavy rain, there was a huge audience. The Mendelssohn was an elegant, fleet-footed opener, and then, after a little time to allow wet patrons an opportunity for late seating, Nadja performed the Bach concerto with even greater passion, spiritual depth and meaning, than ever before. The audience listened with rapt attention – you could hear even the slightest inflection and most subtle nuance of Nadja’s glowing performance. After an extended ovation, the Orchestra performed the Bachianas Brasileiras #5 that Clarice Assad has arranged so beautifully just for New Century.
After intermission came the heart-wrenching Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, and again the Orchestra outdid itself, particularly in the late solos by Nadja, Principal Violist Anna Kruger and Principal Cellist Susan Babini, each of whom received a well-deserved chorus of cheers from the deeply impressed audience.
Charles Downey of the Washington Post noted that: “The conductorless approach gives the musicians a greater stake in what they play and how they play it. Their warm, meltingly cohesive sound was a testament to how closely they listen to one another. They rarely overplay, allowing important inner voices to rise easily to the top of the knotted tangle of 23 string parts in Strauss’s Metamorphosen.”
It was an auspicious debut in Washington: an extraordinary concert in a beautiful and acoustically excellent concert hall before a discerning, musically knowledgeable and appreciative audience.