All posts by Gregory Hughes

Capitol Concert Memories: Glenn Garlick

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.

As predicted, by 8:00 sheets and sheets of rain poured down on the Capitol. By 8:10, several hundred people had formed a conga line and were dancing in the rain. We in the orchestra, standing on the stage under our tent and doing our best to protect our instruments, saw a portly gentleman rush from the side of the stage, throw off his shirt, and join the conga line. It was Slava, our music director! He had heard about this audience that was dancing in a rain storm to wait for a concert and he could not stop himself from joining in the spirit. He later said to the orchestra that he wanted such people at every concert, who would wait through a downpour to hear music.

As time went on the first two Capitol Concerts (for Memorial Day and Fourth of July) began to take on more definition. July Fourth was always a celebration of our birth and history as a nation, but Memorial Day became more focused on our servicemen and women and veterans. Also included, a moving and often heart-wrenching segment dedicated to those who had lost their lives in service to the country.

In the meantime, the audience size expanded enormously. Estimates for the first Capitol Concert in 1979 ranged from 8,000 to 22,000. Now the crowds are more likely to be in the hundreds of thousands. It is said that 700,000 people flock to the various celebrations in the Capitol for July Fourth, and it is easy to imagine that similarly large crowds come for the Memorial Day celebration.

Erich Kunzel (1935 – 2009), director of the NSO Capitol Concerts from 1991 until 2009, once remarked that the United States seems to have two anthems. Our national anthem, “Star Spangled Banner,” is a stirring reminder of our birth as a nation. It is notoriously difficult to sing because of its wide range and operatic leaps. In fact, the most successful performances at the Capitol Concerts have been by opera singers like Harolyn Blackwell. The lyrics, Kunzel noted, were also addressed to the battles that marked the birth of our nation with words like “rockets red glare” and “Bombs bursting in air.”

The other American song that usually appears in proximity with the anthem is “America the Beautiful,” to remind of our country’s unique beauty and spirit.

My memory of beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies predates my time in the NSO. I served in the Marine Band from 1971 to 1975 so I was one of the musicians who played for the special dinner celebration held at the White House in May 1973, when President Nixon welcomed home the freed prisoners of war from Vietnam. It was a emotional ceremony as our servicemen and their families expressed their gratitude and joy at coming home.
Memorial Day is a day for such celebrations, for servicemen who have come home, for families who are reunited, and also for the more sober remembrance and salute to those who will not come home, or who return with injuries that affect lives and livelihoods.

The NSO Memorial Day concert on the mall pays tribute to our servicemen around the world, and sends a musical message to the men and women of our armed forces that we know about and appreciate their service.

NSO Tour in Russia: Friday in St. Petersburg

NSO musicians wait on the platform at one of Moscow’s train stations to board the fast train to St. Petersburg on Friday.

NSO Principal viola Dan Foster chats with Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter during the train ride to St. Petersburg on Friday.

NSO musicians consult a map of St. Petersburg to determine their plan for the few free hours they have in the city.

NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach chats with NSO artistic director Nigel Boon during the train ride to St. Petersburg.

NSO tuba Stephen Dumaine takes in some of the scenery on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg Friday. Photo by Scott Suchman.

NSO flute Alice Weinraub and Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef make their way along the train platform after arriving in St. Petersburg Friday.

Stagehands deliver instrument trunks to the St. Petersburg Philharmonia on Friday after arriving there that afternoon.

A Rostropovich Festival poster at the Philharmonia’s stage door lets passers-by know that the NSO would perform that night.

NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach leads a rehearsal on Friday underneath the giant chandeliers if the Great Hall.

NSO production manager Daryl Donley works backstage during the rehearsal in St. Petersburg.

Maestro Eschenbach and the NSO take a bow at the start of Friday night’s concert in the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonia.

Maestro Eschenbach begins Friday night’s NSO concert with a full house listening intently.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is the soloist with the NSO Friday–their final concert in Russia together this week.

A standing-room-only crowd enjoys Friday’s NSO concert in St Petersburg.

The NSO’s second violins perform Friday.

NSO trombonist David Murray adjusts his tie at intermission backstage in Friday night.

Backstage tools on tour always include plenty of paperwork, a stopwatch, and trunks as tables.

Maestro Eschenbach and the NSO take a final bow in St Petersburg on Friday. Next stop: home!

All photos by Scott Suchman.

NSO Tour in Russia: Thursday in Moscow

Fresh flowers surround Slava’s headstone at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery.

On Thursday, some NSO musicians took advantage of a free morning to pay tribute to Slava at his final resting place.

Also buried at at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery is Dmitri Shostakovich, one of Slava’s closest friends.

NSO musicians pose near a statue at the cemetery honoring another great Russian musician, violinist David Oistrakh.

A newly unveiled statue of Slava marks Rostropovich Square in Moscow.

NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach and cellist Alisa Weilerstein consult the score for Elgar’s Cello Concerto during rehearsal on Thursday afternoon.

NSO violist Bill Foster reminisces as he spots himself in a picture with Slava in a display of historic photos.

Maestro Eschenbach leads the NSO in rehearsal on Thursday in Moscow.

 Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 was one of Slava and the NSO’s signature works; Maestro Eschenbach leads it on Thursday evening in the Orchestra’s final concert in Moscow and in Friday in St. Petersburg.

 NSO Principal Bassoon Sue Heineman at Thursday morning’s rehearsal.

A statue of Tchaikovsky sits in front of the famous Moscow Conservatory.

A Rostropovich Festival banner hangs above the entrance to the Great Hall at the Moscow Conservatory.

Maestro Eschenbach leads the NSO in its second and final performance in Moscow.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto with the NSO on Thursday in Moscow.

NSO Principal Harp Adriana Horne performs in Thursday night’s concert in Moscow.

Maestro Eschenbach and the Orchestra take a final bow after Thursday nights concert in Moscow, which featured Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony.

Enthusiastic concertgoers greet Maestro Eschenbach backstage after Tuesday’s concert. Next stop: St. Petersburg.

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, NSO viola Bill Foster, Olga Rostropovich, NSO Music Director Christoph Eschenbach, and cellist Alisa Weilerstein attend a post concert reception hosted by the Rostropovich Foundation.

All photos by Scott Suchman.

NSO Tour in Russia: Wednesday in Moscow

Rostropovich Festival founder, director, and Slava’s daughter, Olga Rostropovich, with Maestro Eschenbach, welcomes the NSO to Moscow and to the festival on Wednesday morning at the start of rehearsal.

NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach conducts the first rehearsal of the tour on Wednesday morning at Moscow Conservatory — a musically important venue where many of the great Russian composers and musicians (among them Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and of course Rostropovich) performed, taught, and conducted.

NSO Cellist Glenn Garlick takes a moment to listen to rehearsal on Wednesday during a piece he doesn’t play.

The view from the stage into the famed hall during Wednesday’s rehearsal.

Taking an orchestra and its cargo on tour takes a lot of coordination; here, a touring logistics book sits ready with all of the necessary paperwork.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein rehearses Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto with the NSO in Wednesday.

NSO Principal horn Abel Pereira makes sure his instrument is ready backstage before the the first concert of the tour on Wednesday.

It’s clear from the historic photos around the Hall who the festival celebrates this year–photos of Slava are everywhere as concertgoers wait for the house to open.

Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef waits offstage for her entrance before Wednesday’s concert begins.

Maestro Eschenbach and NSO take a bow as the first concert of the tour begins in Moscow on Wednesday night.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein gives her all in a performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, which the composer wrote for Slava–a close friend–in 1959.

The capacity audience applauds the NSO and Alisa Weilerstein after their performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 on Wednesday night.

NSO violists Lynne Levine and Eric deWaardt relax backstage during intermission Wednesday night.

Christoph Eschenbach and the NSO on the famed stage of Moscow Conservatory.

Audience members listen intently to Schubert’s Ninth Symphony on Wednesday night.

Members of the NSO cello section–many of whom were hired by Slava during his time as music director–perform on Wednesday evening.

Members of the NSO wind section focus on their parts during Wednesday’s performance.

Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter leads a toast to Maestro Eschenbach and Alisa Weilerstein at a post concert reception Wednesday night.

NSO Tour to Russia: Tuesday in Moscow

A poster for the Rostropovich Festival promotes the upcoming NSO concerts in Moscow. 

Press materials await pickup at Tuesday’s press conference at the TASS news agency in Moscow.

Photographers get their shots of the participants at the press conference. 

Speakers take their seats at the press conference on Tuesday at TASS. (L-R: translator, NSO violist William Foster, Festival founder Olga Rostropovich, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter, NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef, and press event moderator).

NSO violist William Foster reminisces with Slava’s daughter, Olga, about working with Slava when he was NSO music director (1977-1994).

NSO concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef talks about Slava’s impact on the Orchestra and how his influence is still felt today.

A writer from a Russian magazine directs a question to the NSO’s William Foster at Tuesday’s press conference.

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter answers a question from the press at Tuesday’s press conference.

NSO cellist Steven Honigberg coaches a quintet of young Russian musicians in a masterclass on Tuesday afternoon.

NSO cellist Steven Honigberg demonstrates a musical point for a Russian bassist in Tuesday’s masterclass.

US Ambassador John Tefft and Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter chat during a welcome reception at Spaso House on Tuesday evening.

Ambassador Tefft and his wife Mariella greet Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter (L) and Olga Rostropovich (R) on Tuesday evening.

NSO Principal Viola Daniel Foster and NSO keyboardist Lisa Emenheiser perform a short recital of music by Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff for the guests at Spaso House on Tuesday.

Olga Rostropovich (L) and Deborah Rutter chat with NSO Music Director Christoph Eschenbach after the performance at Spaso House.

A tiramisu cake honors Slava’s 90th birthday, which would have been Monday, March 27.

A replica of the Kennedy Center’s bust of John F. Kennedy by American sculptor Robert Berks sits at Spaso House in Moscow.

Moscow’s famous Red Square is lit up at night.

NSO musicians use the underground street crossing to walk back to the hotel after Tuesday’s reception.

All photos by Scott Suchman.

Loading Out: NSO Tour to Russia

Today the NSO embarks on a 3-concert tour to Russia as part of the Rostropovich Festival’s celebration of Slava at 90. These concerts mark the first time an American orchestra has participated in the festival. Three concerts—two in Moscow, one in St. Petersburg—feature repertoire from the Salute to Slava programs in Washington. Stay tuned for many more updates from abroad!
 All photos by Scott Suchman.