Like any conductor worth his salt, Richard Bales is a showman. Things that happen in his concerts happen for a reason, as befits a good showman.

It was no accident that he chose Ives' "Hymn" for his National Gallery Orchestra to open this season of concerts at the National Gallery. He espoused American music years before it was fashionable, and the quietly contemplative sonorities rang magically through the East Garden Court.

The Mozart Symphony No. 31 and Mehul's Overture to "Henry IV" that followed represented other pockets of the reportoire that Bales has reveled in; the smaller of the great classics, and what might be viewed as "the worthy poor," music that rarely sees the light of day (usually with reason) but that has some appeal and a modicum of interest.

And finally, as a fine dhowman will, Bales chose a masterfully expressive soloist to help round out the evening. Pianist Evelyn Swarthout knows precisely what she wants to say and says it forcefully. The team of Bales and Swarthout projected an impassioned performance of the Chopin Concerto No. 1 that moved with the graceful agility and uncompromising power of a great dancer. It was a fitting curtain raiser to another Gallery season.