Ahead of the National Symphony Orchestra’s annual performance at the National Memorial Day Concert, broadcasted live on PBS each year, musician Glenn Garlick shares some memories of playing at the U.S. Capitol. Watch this year’s National Memorial Day Concert live at 8 p.m. on PBS. Check local listings.
I have been in the NSO since 1980 so I have played a lot of Capitol concerts. My memories of early concerts on the Capitol grounds are mixed…I am not sure which were Memorial Day, July Fourth or Labor Day. It seems to me that in the beginning we did not differentiate the holidays so much. Rather, we played a concert of generally light classical music for anyone who wanted to attend, with a lot of American classics (Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin) mixed in.
One problem with an outdoor concert is that Nature sometimes takes over and spills a lot of water on everyone. One such concert was due to be conducted by our then-Music Director, Mstislav (Slava) Rostropovich. Rain was predicted for the evening and our management was in constant contact with the weather service to determine if we should cancel the concert or try to fit it in before the storm arrived. The concert was scheduled for 8:00 p.m. and, if the weather service was correct, the storm would sweep through at 8:00. But, the prediction was that at 8:00 there would be about 20 minutes of very heavy rain followed by a beautiful, cool evening. Our manager, Henry Fogel, announced to the crowd that heavy rain was on the way, but if they could last it out and stay, we would still play. A huge cheer went up from the crowd and everyone hunkered down and covered up as much as possible.