Performing Arts: In Your Neighborhood

by patrickmccoy

The National Symphony Orchestra reached out to new audiences with a series of community concerts. 

The National Symphony Orchestra and guest musicians join conductor Christoph Eschenbach on stage at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium. (Photo by Scott Suchman)

After a series of community concerts, the National Symphony Orchestra culminated its concentrated outreach efforts with a special concert at Howard University in Cramtom Auditorium. The orchestra engaged in small concerts, masterclasses and concentrated activities that were, for the most part, free and accessible to audiences that may not have the opportunity to journey to the Kennedy Center. Opening the concert was the “Overture to Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, which started the evening on a high note.

Also on the concert program was the local premiere of the “Sinfonia No. 4”  by Pultizer Prize-winning composer George Walker, and the still-vibrant, 91-year-old District native journeyed from Montclair, New Jersey to hear the performance. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the orchestra seemed comfortable charting unfamiliar territory with the somewhat atonal composition. Walker’s work was one that evoked a sense of pathos, with the array of rhythmic and musical patterns occuring almost at the same time. The occasional interplay of the themes of spirituals in the midst of the rich sonorities of the various sections of the orchestra created a powerful effect.

Returning to the more ‘tried and true’ repertoire, virtuoso Elena Urioste brought the house down with her fiery playing of Camille Saint-Saëns “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor for Violin and Orchestra.” Eschenbach was with the inimitable violin soloist at every beat, yielding sensitively to the expressiveness of her playing. A welcomed contrast to the instrumental selections was the performance given by Howard University’s acclaimed vocal ensemble, Afro Blue. Of note were the beautiful harmonies and secure intonation in Legrand’s “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” and the beautiful clarity of soloist Shacara Rogers’ voice. Several musical tributes were performed to Duke Ellington, including the performance of “New World A-Comin” by pianist Jason Moran, who is the Kennedy Center’s artistic advisor for jazz. The music seemed to just flow from Moran’s fingers with ease and it was clear that he was in his element.

Eschenbach led the finale the concert with the Howard University Concert Choir in Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow.” The only downside of the evening was that the insufficiently amplified voices of  the choir did not project well above the orchestra in the hall, thus quelling the euphoria of an otherwise inspiring evening.

Recently named among the Forty Under 40 for his contributions to arts and humanities, Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.  He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy  has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our  time, including Renée FlemingDenyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.


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