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An Exclusive Interview with the National Symphony Orchestra

For the first time in almost twenty years, the National Symphony Orchestra will perform a free concert in the Great Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, led by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. We had a chance to talk with Vaughan Bradley-Willemann, the NSO’s Manager of Community Engagement, about this special event.

  1. What inspired you to partner with the Basilica for this concert?

The NSO strives to make symphonic music accessible to everyone in Washington, D.C. and reach new audiences, and we’re very excited to continue our partnership with the Basilica. The NSO and Basilica have worked together twice in the past several years to present chamber music concerts, but it’s been almost 20 years since the full orchestra performed in this space. Even though we’re geographically less than five miles apart, we hope performing at the Basilica can make the NSO accessible to those who may not be able to come see us at the Kennedy Center.

  1. The NSO partnered with the Basilica in the past for concerts- how do you think the orchestra has evolved since then?

The last time the full orchestra performed at the Basilica was in July of 2000 with guest conductor Takao Kanayama at the podium. Since then, the orchestra has worked with two Music Directors, with Gianandrea Noseda as our newest, as he completes his second season with the Orchestra this spring. The NSO is extremely lucky to be under the direction of Noseda. He has a fresh, approachable demeanor and is eager to get the NSO out into the D.C. community, having already led concerts at The Anthem and Union Station.

  1. What piece in the program is the NSO’s favorite and why?

This is such an exciting program with great variety, how could anyone choose just one piece?! It will be amazing to hear the slow movement of Saint-Saëns’s “Organ Symphony” played on the Basilica’s pipe organ. There are also some really lush, orchestral works like “Venus” from Holst’s The Planets, and, Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. There’s definitely something on the program for everyone.

  1. Are there any challenges for the orchestra that come from performing in a venue like the Basilica as opposed to the Kennedy Center? Are there any special opportunities?

The Kennedy Center Concert Hall was built with performances in mind, so it is always different for our musicians when they perform away from “home”. Besides the actual performance, the biggest challenge we’ll face is one the audience won’t see, and maybe won’t even think about. It takes our crew a tremendous amount of work to move all of our instruments, chairs, music stands, and rolling trunks full of instruments to perform somewhere other than the Kennedy Center. One thing that makes the concert at the Basilica especially challenging is the fact that the NSO crew will have to carry all this equipment up and down stairs!

  1. What do you hope the audience will take away from their experience attending the concert at the Basilica?

Our hope is that the audience will hear this performance and realize that classical orchestral music is for everyone. We realize that tickets and parking can be expensive at the Kennedy Center, so by offering this concert free of charge, and in a different part of the city, we hope that everyone will join the NSO and Basilica in what should be a fantastic evening of music!

  1. What can you tell us about the members of the NSO? How many hours each week does the orchestra practice?

By contract there are 96 musicians in the NSO, so you can imagine the different personalities and backgrounds these musicians have. Even though they have come from all over the U.S. and abroad – our musicians win jobs in the orchestra via a competitive audition process – they all have a great love of orchestral music in common. For a classical concert, the NSO will have five rehearsals over the course of three days, followed by three concerts. Our pops concerts have a shorter amount of rehearsal time, but each week is different, so our musicians have to stay on top of their game.

  1. How often do they perform?

The NSO has a very busy schedule, performing around 150 concerts each year. Aside from the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the NSO can be heard at The Anthem on the Southwest Waterfront; Wolf Trap National Park during the summer months; on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day; and at a variety of venues around D.C. as part of our community engagement programs.

The National Symphony Orchestra: Community Concert at the Basilica will be held Friday, May 31 at 7:00 p.m. For more details, view the event page. 

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