The National Chamber Ensemble, one of northern Virginia’s foremost professional music groups, is gearing up for its third concert of the season on February 4.
The ensemble has a reputation for taking performances far beyond musical sound. The group is grounded in the philosophy of engaging with the audience through interaction. The performers want to make the music more deeply understood, which they do by presenting the historical and cultural contexts in which it was written. “This interactive approach makes for fun concerts that are user-friendly and very welcoming, where the performance itself is a warm and fun experience,” artistic director Leonid Sushansky explained. “At least, it’s more fun for me!”
In past concerts, this element of audience-performer interaction has played out largely through dialogue. Mr. Sushansky is a master at weaving storytelling into musical performances, giving listeners strategically interesting facts – what he calls the ‘”dirt behind the music” – to help them connect more deeply with what they hear.
The concert on February 4, however, will take it a step further. Mr. Sushansky plans to bring the audience on a visual journey to another era – a concert for the czar in early 20th-century Russia. The concert will integrate ballet, multimedia images, scenery, props and even costumes. “This is the only time you’ll ever see the ensemble in tails!” he joked, referencing the ensemble’s usual casual performance attire.
The stage will literally be transformed into a turn-of-the-century St. Petersburg palace. The integration of visual components – particularly dance – into a classical music concert is a strong Russian tradition, one that Mr. Sushansky remembers as a child growing up in St. Petersburg. And it is the re-creation of this context that he hopes will give listeners insight into what the musical scene of early 20th-century Russia looked like.
That context is the reason why the concert program isn’t limited to Russian composers. “Russian culture at that time was very eclectic but also pretty well rounded,” he explained. Concerts included anything that was in vogue at the time. The audience will hear Dvorak, for example, as the Czech-born composer was very popular in Russia, frequently playing in St. Petersburg. Variations of Handel’s works were also trendy, explaining the 18th-century German’s place on the program.
The highlight of the concert, though, will be an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s iconic Swan Lake, performed by teenaged dancers from Ballet Nova, a ballet company and school in northern Virginia. One goal of the National Chamber Ensemble is to collaborate with local nonprofits and arts organizations, providing opportunities for talented youth to perform with professional musicians.
The National Chamber Ensemble is comprised of internationally-renowned artists, all of whom are based in the greater Washington D.C. area.
Tickets are on sale now, and can be purchased online or by phone from the box office at the Artisphere urban arts center ($28/regular, $15/student). The concert will take place at the Artisphere Spectrum Theater in Arlington, VA.