Music at the National Gallery of Art "will go on much as it has in the past after my retirement," Richard Bales assured friends and admirers Thursday night at a concert and dinner given in his honor at the Arts Club of Washington.
Bales will retire in August after 42 years as music director of the National Gallery and will give his final concert as conductor of the National Gallery Orchestra a week from Sunday.
The concert Thursday (open to the public as part of the club's revised policy) featured guitarist Charles King in a program of mostly Spanish and Latin American music, beautifully performed except for a momentary memory lapse in a Bach prelude.
The guitarist's left hand worked with exemplary agility and precision in the complex fingerings of the music of Albe'niz (originally composed for piano but obviously inspired by the guitar) and particularly in the evocative "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" of Francisco Tarrega.
His right hand controlled perfectly the complex rhythms and subtly varied textures of the brilliant Cancion and Danza No. 1, by Antonio Ruiz-Pipo and the Danza Paraguaya of Agustin Barrios. In an allegro by Bach, he evoked effectively the special sound of the lute for which the music was originally written.
In a brief impromptu talk and in conversation at the dinner following the concert, Bales said that a colleague had once advised him: "Don't wait to retire until you are too old to walk up a gangplank." He said that his successor at the National Gallery "will be named before long."
He also reminisced about his career as a composer, a conductor and a student of Serge Koussevitzky in a private class whose other members were Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss and Thor Johnson. "Koussevitzky's classes would run from 4 to 7," he said, "and when I went home at 7 I was too tired to do anything but sleep. He used to make us practice everything, the entry, the bow, the greeting to the orchestra and walking to the podium.
"Once, when I had finished greeting the imaginary orchestra and was walking to the imaginary podium, he stopped me. 'No, wait,' he said. 'You must look every man in the eye, and if one doesn't look back at you, fire him -- he's no good.' I never fired an orchestra member for not looking me in the eye, but I will never forget the way he taught me."