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Bach-to-Bach: NSO’s big week for organ and violin virtuosos

Written By | May 12, 2015

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2015 – In case you missed the news, Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) has put together a dynamite week of programming at the Kennedy Center that starts and ends with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for both the solo organ and the solo violin.

But wait! There’s more. Also on tap will be music by Sibelius, Mussorgsky, Brahms, Vierne and an organ improvisation that no one has ever heard before.

Wednesday marks a special organ recital under the auspices of the NSO, featuring renowned French organist Thierry Escaich at the multiple keyboards of the Concert Hall’s still-new Rubenstein Family Organ, a brilliant symphonic instrument whose wide-ranging output is an order of magnitude greater than the earlier organ installed in that space.

And who better to give this instrument a workout than renowned French organist Thierry Escaich? He’ll take center stage at the Concert Hall on Wednesday, May 13 at 8 p.m. to present an unusual program including organ works of J.S. Bach as well as works by Vierne (two movements from his Organ Symphony No. 4) and Stravinsky (excerpts from “The Firebird” arranged for concert organ).

As if this isn’t impressive enough, Mr. Escaich, an active composer, will present three of his own works and will then conclude his program with a brand new organ symphony he’ll improvise on the spot, based on tunes that organ fans have the opportunity to choose beforehand. (See details below.)*

If you haven’t yet had the chance to experience the splendor of this instrument, you couldn’t find a better time than now. Not only will you get a chance to hear one of the world’s top organ virtuosos perform. You’ll also get an incredible bargain on ticket prices, as all seats, even in the orchestra, will be available for just $15.

READ ALSO: Organist Thierry Escaich: Bach, Vierne and improv at the KenCen

Thursday evening, May 14, at 7 p.m., the NSO will return for another series concert, its second featuring the impressive talent of Grammy-nominated Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos.

Mr. Kavakos astounded last week’s regular series concertgoers with his passionate and riveting interpretation of Sibelius strenuous Violin Concerto, which he performed with the NSO under the baton of the orchestra’s music director, Christoph Eschenbach.

Monday, he returned to the Kennedy Center for a special Fortas Chamber Music recital in the Terrace Theater. Accompanied on the piano by Maestro Eschenbach, he wowed the audience once again with an industrial strength program of Bach, Beethoven and Schumann.

Mr. Kavakos’ upcoming appearance this week with the NSO—to be repeated on Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16—will feature him both performing as soloist and conducting the NSO in J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

He’ll pick up the baton again to conduct the remaining works on this week’s program. They include Sibelius’ rarely heard incidental music to “Pelléas et Mélisande” and Ravel’s spectacular orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

All in all, this is an unbeatable week for the NSO, the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and the Rubenstein Family Organ. If you don’t yet have your tickets, there’s still time.

Tickets and information: Tickets for Thierry Escaich’s organ recital on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 8 p.m. are all the same price: $15. Location: The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.

* According to the NSO, “May 13th, organist Thierry Escaich will improvise a work onstage. Votes for suggested themes will be tossed into a hat, with 2 chosen at random. These will be handed to [Mr.] Escaich during his recital.” Want to get involved in the action? Vote for your favorite tunes for Mr. Escaich’s improv organ symphony by visiting the NSO Facebook page. Vote for one of the listed selections, or select your own as a “write-in vote.” Simply type your selection in the comment box and hit return. The results will help determine what musical material Mr. Eschaich will get to work with during Wednesday evening’s performance.

Tickets for the NSO program featuring violinist Leonidas Kavakos range from $10-85. This regular series concert program will be presented in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 7 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16, 2015 at 8 p.m.

For further details and to purchase tickets to either concert event, visit the NSO pages of the Kennedy Center website.

To telephone for tickets: Call the Box Office locally at: (202) 467-4600 or Toll-Free at: (800) 444-1324.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566.

Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17