The National Philharmonic has begun its new season which will include great orchestral works from Beethoven to Rachmaninoff, along with Berlioz’s “Requiem” and Orff’s “Camina Burano.” In addition, there will be two world-premieres by American composers—Henry Dehlinger’s “Cosmic Cycles,” presented in partnership with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in May 2023, and Adolphus Hailstork’s “Symphony No. 5” in June 2023.
The spectacular season begins with “Vive La France” with Piotr Gajewski, conducting and Gil Shaham on violin, October 20, 2022 at 7:30 pm at Capital One Hall and again on October 22, 2022 at The Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will include music from renown French composers including Joseph Bologne; Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ “Symphony No. 1 in G Major,” a piece “that rivals Mozart’s work;” Camille Saint-Saëns’ :Violin Concerto No. 3, Op. 61, B minor,” and Louis Farrenc’s “Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, G minor.”
National Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, a student and disciple of the late Leonard Bernstein, continues to thrill audiences with inspiring performances of great music. His large and varied repertoire, most of it conducted without a score, amazes critics and audiences alike. In The Washington Post, he has been hailed as an “immensely talented and insightful conductor, whose standards, taste, and sensitivity are impeccable.” A critic from The Buffalo News observed, “His courtly, conservative movements matched the music’s mood. A flick of the finger, and a fanfare sounded. He held up his palm, and the musicians quieted. It was like watching a race car in the hands of a good driver.”
In addition to his work with the National Philharmonic, Gajewski has guest conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic, the South Florida Symphony, and the Annapolis Symphony; and in Europe, England’s Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Karlovy Vary Symphony in the Czech Republic, and most of the major orchestras in his native Poland, including the Warsaw, Kraków, and Wrocław Philharmonics. From 2013 to 2017, he served as principal guest conductor of the Silesian Philharmonic in Katowice. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he continued to appear frequently with that orchestra, as well as with the Białystok Philharmonic and Warsaw’s Sinfonia Iuventus. Gajewski also regularly collaborates with contemporary composers, and has conducted numerous important world premieres—most recently, the setting of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by Henry Dehlinger and “A Knee on The Neck” by Adolphus Hailstork, with text by Herbert Martin.
Committed to the development of young talent, Gajewski has served on the faculties of The American University, The George Washington University, and The Catholic University of America’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. Since 2007, he has served three times on the jury of Poland’s Grzegorz Fitelberg International Competition for Young Conductors.
At the National Philharmonic, Gajewski launched the groundbreaking “All Kids, All Free, All the Time” initiative, and created summer institutes for young string players and singers as well as masterclasses with esteemed visiting artists. Working with the local school system, Gajewski established the National Philharmonic’s program of annual orchestra concerts for all second-grade students in Maryland’s Montgomery County—more than 13,000 each year.
Gajewski began studying piano at age four. After immigrating to the United States, he continued his studies in the Preparatory Division of Boston’s New England Conservatory, at Carleton College in Minnesota, and at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in orchestral conducting. His conducting mentors, in addition to Bernstein—with whom he studied at Tanglewood Music Center on a Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellowship—include such luminaries as Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, Gunther Schuller, and Maurice Abravanel.
Maestro Gajewski’s many honors include the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit, bestowed on him by the former president of Poland, and a prize at New York’s Leopold Stokowski Conducting Competition.
A true Renaissance man, Gajewski continues to play competitive soccer, holds a law degree and a license to practice law in two states, and from 2007 to 2011 served on the City Council in his hometown of Rockville, Maryland.
Would you rather conduct or play the piano?
I actually made this decision in high school, where I had the opportunity to conduct four musicals in three years! While playing piano always came easy (I started lessons when I was four years old), the many colors of the orchestral sound and, to some extent, the social aspect of conducting a symphony orchestra (making music with 80+ people) were always very attractive. Also, most composers have tended to pour their best efforts into their symphonic works, so there is that!
If you could speak to one composer in the past who would that be? What questions, if any, would you ask?
It’s so hard to pick just one. But today, I will pick Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, whose first symphony will be the very first work we play this 2022-2023 NatPhil Season. And I have plenty of questions to ask him! For starters, how is it that he became one of the leading violin virtuosos and composers of his day, having gotten his start as a black youngster, son of an enslaved mother, on the island of Guadeloupe? What was it like, as a black man, to live and work in Paris in the 18th century? How did his race factor into his opportunities? How was it that he was chosen to oversee the premieres of several symphonies by the famed Franz Joseph Haydn? And what was Mozart like (he and Mozart apparently briefly lived under one roof)?
What one piece of advice would you like to impart to a young musician?
Regardless of whether you are considering a music career or just having fun with music, keep practicing your instrument every day! I’ve met many, many adults who tell me that they wish they had learned to play an instrument as a kid, but I have met none who were sorry that they did.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of being the musical director and conductor of the National Symphony?
That’s easy: working with the great musicians of NatPhil. The quality of our orchestral musicians is off the scale, and they continue to improve. Also, such fabulous people!
Could you tell us how you selected the music for this coming season?
Selecting the music that we play over the course of a season is a bit like putting a puzzle together. Soloists typically come with works they particularly want to perform. Then, I get many, many requests. Of course, there are pieces that are of particular interest to me, as well. Then, sometimes, there are important anniversaries to consider (this season, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninoff, for example). And then it is important that we play a mix of different composers, ones representing different countries and traditions, and different races; and also works by women composers (which up until recently were all but ignored!). It’s also nice to play works from different time periods, including a sprinkling of world premieres.
For our opening concert this season, violinist Gil Shaham suggested Camile Saint-Saëns’ “Violin Concerto No. 3.” And then, I had it in mind for some time to perform Louise Farrenc’s “Symphony No. 3,” a work that is enjoying a rediscovery of sorts (and was suggested by our concertmaster Laura Colgate). Of course, Farrenc was a French woman and Saint-Saëns likewise was French. Then, on my list of works to program I also had a Symphony of Joseph Bologne, and as he spent most of his life working in Paris—a theme of “Vive la France” just emerged out of nowhere! Also, most fortuitously, the opening program now included a very famous violin concerto combined with two, lesser-known, newly rediscovered works—one by a woman and the other by a person of color. Nice balance!
Maestro Piotr Gajewski and the National Philharmonic performed “Vive La France” at the Capital One Hall, 7750 Capital One Tower Road, Tysons, Virginia 22102 on October 20, 2022 at 7:30 pm and October 22, 2022 at 8 pm at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Maryland 20852. There are many exciting performances this season, so please check the National Philharmonic website for more information and to purchase tickets.