Fabio Mechetti was a double maestro last night at the Kennedy Center. His primary role was as conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in five orchestral excerpts illustrating the program's theme, "The Virtuoso Orchestra." In addition, he acted as master of ceremonies for this "Meet the Orchestra" concert, which used a modified classroom approach to familiarize the audience with the NSO and the music that he drew from them.
Orchestral virtuosity, as Mechetti made clear, means that a performer must excel as a team player, a section member and as a solo voice. The strings were the focal point. Mechetti and the NSO used Smetana's Overture to "The Bartered Bride," the second movement of Schumann's "Symphony No. 2" and the opening Allegro from Brahms' Violin Concerto to prove his point.
The NSO displayed virtuosity and then some in Smetana's lively Overture. Mechetti told the audience what to listen for in Schumann's Scherzo, and the strings promptly delivered, whisking through the intricate passages of sixteenth notes while retaining a seamless ensemble sound.
Violinist Jennifer Gordon turned in a performance revealing the perils that confront a soloist who takes on a work like the Brahms Violin Concerto. The triple and quadruple stops came off raggedly, and there were some intonation problems, but she played the lyrical lines with a strong, graceful tone.
Violist Eric de Waardt brought the darker, more brooding color of his instrument to the fore in a convincing account of the Lento from Bloch's "Suite for Viola and Orchestra" before the final group virtuoso effort, the scherzo and finale from Dvora'k's "New World" Symphony.