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National Symphony Orchestra
After Friday afternoon's torrential downpours, the threat of more rain kept all but the dedicated and optimistic away from that evening's National Symphony Orchestra concert at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre. Indeed, as conductor Sarah Hatsuko Hicks introduced herself and the program, titled "An Outdoor Celebration," a gentle shower began to fall. Fortunately, the weather soon cleared, and the concert rewarded the audience for its perseverance.
Personal charm can be a great inducement to keep one's seat at precipitation-imperiled concerts, and Hicks delivered enthusiastic and articulate patter from the podium, although she often hurried to the end of anecdotes that would have been more amusing at a leisurely pace. Hicks and the NSO also lost their footing occasionally in the poppier portions of the program: The brass hits in an arrangement of "In the Mood" sounded like pulled punches, and the final pages of Sousa's "The Washington Post March" thrashed a bit instead of strutting properly.
Yet Hicks drew engaging performances from the NSO in classical pieces that depicted the great outdoors. She found the rambling rhythm in "On the Trail" from Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," gave a vivid sweep to an abbreviated version of Bedrich Smetana's "The Moldau," and showed herself a born Straussian with a deliciously lilting "Blue Danube" waltz.
The final two pieces on the program, Debussy's "Clair de Lune" and a selection from John Williams's score for "E.T.," conjured (wildly divergent) visions of the moon, and if that body was invisible behind the cloud cover, the finely shaped, heartfelt performances were enough to send any listener's heart soaring toward it.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone