classical music

NSO gets contract to record JFK concerts, new work

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

National Symphony Orchestra music director Christoph Eschenbach has kept his promise and brought a recording contract to his new orchestra. This week's concerts, complete with a newly commissioned work honoring John F. Kennedy for the 50th anniversary of his inauguration as president, will be recorded and released on the Ondine label in May.

It will be the NSO's first new CD release in 10 years.

The announcement Tuesday ups the ante for this week's concerts, which center on a new work by Peter Lieberson, "Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)." Conceived as a kind of counterpart to Aaron Copland's beloved "Lincoln Portrait," Lieberson's work will have its premiere Thursday night at a gala concert celebrating the Kennedy anniversary. It will be repeated three times at the NSO's regular subscription concerts Saturday, Sunday and Monday, along with Leonard Bernstein's "Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy," Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" and Gershwin's piano concerto, with Tzimon Barto as piano soloist.

The recording will also feature a bonus CD with excerpts of the concert the NSO played for the inauguration in 1961.

On Thursday, the Lieberson work, which provides a musical setting for excerpts of Kennedy's speeches, will be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Richard Dreyfuss will take over narrating duties for the three subsequent concerts, and he will be featured on the recording.

Eschenbach has a long relationship with Ondine. His 19 recordings in the label's catalogue include several with orchestras for which he was formerly music director: the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Paris.

It's big news these days when any orchestra starts recording with a label. In the glory days of the 1980s and early '90s, most orchestras still had label contracts, and the NSO recorded extensively with Teldec, RCA and other labels, winning a Grammy in 1996 for John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1. But as the shrinking demand for classical recordings or a glutted market led to a marked decline in sales, and recording costs continued to be high, labels started dropping orchestras one by one.

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