2019 | Entertainment & Events

New National Philharmonic Season Features Literature, African-American Themes

In Strathmore concerts, orchestra continuing focus on education

National Philharmonic music director and conductor Piotr Gajewski

Via Jay Mallin

The National Philharmonic will celebrate African-American composers, American literature and Beethoven’s birthday among other themes at its upcoming concert season at Strathmore in North Bethesda, the orchestra announced.

The season kicks off in September with a performance of Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto” featuring the Eroica Trio. The year wraps up at the end of May with another all-Beethoven concert, including the National Philharmonic Chorale.

The Beethoven shows bookend the season to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2020, National Philharmonic music director and conductor Piotr Gajewski said.

Gajewski studied under American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. He also serves as principal guest conductor of the Silesian Philharmonic in his native country of Poland.

Gajewski said while he looks forward to all 14 concerts on the 2019-20 schedule, February’s “Black Classical Music Pioneers” show sticks out as a highlight.

The performance features works from several noted African American composers, including Florence Price, the first African American woman to be wide recognized as a symphonic composer, and George Walker, the first black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

“In the history of symphonic music, African American composers have been overlooked in many ways, so we’re working to change that,” Gajewski said.

Soloist Melissa White will perform in the concert, a Grammy winner and the main violinist in the 2019 horror film “Us.”

The orchestra will celebrate storied writers such as Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot in April with the concert “Music + Prose.” Grammy-winning cellist Zuill Bailey will perform a musical meditation featuring four different Hemingway works, and soprano Danielle Talamantes will sing local composer Henry Dehlinger’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” based on Eliot’s poem.

“The whole concert is American music around famous literary works,” Gajewski said.

Recent Walt Whitman High School graduate Alistair Coleman will debut the newly-commissioned Concerto for Cello and Orchestra as the National Philharmonic works to showcase young talent, Gajewski said.

Coleman is part of the orchestra’s Young Composer-in-Residence program and is now studying at The Julliard School in New York City.

The National Philharmonic is entering its 14th season at the Strathmore, performing for nearly 40,000 each year, the orchestra said in its announcement. The orchestra will continue its commitment to education by offering free concerts to every second grader in Montgomery County Public Schools, complimentary pre-concert lectures and master classes with guest soloists.

The orchestra is the only one in Maryland to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America grant, which assists organizations in reaching underserved communities, National Philharmonic President Leanne Ferfolia said in a statement.

“We are proudly providing free concerts to various Montgomery County public middle schools, and the principals of these schools couldn’t be more thrilled to collaborate in presenting a multi-cultural program of music,” Ferfolia said in a statement. “These schools have budding young musicians and our work with them will continue to foster their growth.”

Tickets for children between ages 7 through 17 are free and can be purchased online, in person or by phone.

The orchestra will host Meet the Musicians events on Sept. 22 and Jan. 19, where young patrons can check out instruments and talk shop with members of the company, according to the release.

Tickets can be purchased through subscriber packages online or over the phone, and customers can pick and choose the concerts they would like to see.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com