For the last three years, the National Symphony Orchestra has shifted its outreach focus from the United States -- which it blanketed with American residencies for more than 20 years -- to its own city. The “NSO in your Neighborhood” program brings the orchestra to different DC neighborhoods and audiences that, the assumption goes, don’t have much occasion to hear the orchestra in its Kennedy Center home. This year’s focus is Capitol Hill, which, given the timing, could be taken as a nice symbolic gesture: Congress’s government shutdown has affected the opening hours of the NSO’s home, so they’re bringing their act to Congress (whose members seem all too seldom to avail themselves of the privilege of attending a performance).
In fact, of course, the NSO is not playing at the Capitol in January, but in the general surrounding area, which includes the Atlas Theater and the H Street NE corridor as well as Union Station. And its partners include not the House and Senate, but a range of local organizations, from the Capital City Symphony and the DC Youth Orchestra Program (which combine to provide this area with orchestral music year-round) to venues like the Hill Center and the National Community Church. The free concerts at Union Station will be held on January 11: one at 3 pm, aimed at children, and an evening one at 7, both featuring travel-themed music like John Adams’s “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.” But a number of other events involve smaller ensembles and individuals working in schools and with other organizations to bring music in various forms to various people -- a skill that orchestras around the country are increasingly finding it is worth their while to develop.