On a scale of 1-5, it was a 10 star night for the National Symphony Orchestra Thursday evening as violinist Leonidas Kavakos joined Maestro Christoph Eschenbach and the NSO at The Kennedy Center in an evening featuring the music of Beethoven and Brahms, and a surprise encore from Kavakos, who treated the audience to a performance of the Andante from Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 2. What a night it was.
Kavakos is simply one of the best violinists playing in the world today. Long, lanky, and entirely unassuming, he takes the stage to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major with his absolutely stunning 1724 “Abergavenny” Stradivarious violin. He plays every note and phrase straight from the soul, and between his flawless technique and the gorgeous tone of his prized violin, the result is nothing short of spectacular.
The Brahms Concerto is very popular with audiences who love its beautiful themes, explosive highs, gentle softness, and sensuous gypsy-like melodies. Kavakos has the range of emotion and technique to make the most of it all, and his violin never lets him down. In both quiet passages and huge moments of power, every note and nuance is clear regardless of what comes from the orchestra.
The first half of the concert belonged to Kavakos, but the second belonged to Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony Orchestra. With Thanksgiving approaching Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 could not be a better choice. Beethoven loved nature and the outdoors. In the “Pastoral” he shared the sounds he loved in a wondrous way, and Maestro Eschenbach helped the NSO share these sounds with the audience with such a fresh approach that all of us felt that we were riding “over the river and through the woods” on our way to Grandmother’s house for an early Thanksgiving celebration of a lifetime.
For musicians and audiences alike, there is nothing like live performance. Having listened to many, many recordings conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, having read about him, and having seen various pictures of him, I was pleasantly surprised watching him conduct and meeting him in person. Although my impression has never been anything other than positive, I found myself fascinated by his ability to communicate with only his eyes. He looks to his musicians with a clear expectancy that leaves no doubt as to what he wants and when he wants it. When he gets it, his eyes smile with praise and pleasure that lights up not only the stage, but the entire hall. He is not a conductor for the meek or ill-prepared, but for those who are brave and trusting the experience is worth it all. What a performance!
Maestro Eschenbach, Leonidas Kavakos, and the National Symphony Orchestra will perform this concert tonight and Saturday. If I were not scheduled to review performances elsewhere, I would return to attend this concert right over again. It’s that good, and I hope you go.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one intermission.
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eshcenbach, conductor, Leonidas Kavakos, violin, plays Brahms, plays through November 19, 2011, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 444-1324 or 202-467-4600, or purchase them online.