The National Symphony Orchestra danced its way--at least metaphorically--through its free concert last night at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre. The program, led by the orchestra's assistant conductor, Takao Kanayama, was titled "Music From Around the World!" and it sampled the distinctive dance styles of the United States, Japan and several European countries.
In a sense, the program was like a banquet made up entirely of desserts. Every item on it was delightfully familiar to lovers of classical music--as an outdoor concert on a warm summer evening should be--with one exception: the first movement of the "Ballata" Symphony of Akira Ifukube, who is perhaps best known perhaps as the composer of the "Godzilla" soundtrack.
Like the rest of the program, Ifukube's music was brightly orchestrated with a strong ethnic flavor and vigorous rhythmic profile--music to inspire instant enjoyment. It provided a strong contrast to the selection that immediately followed, the "Hoedown" from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo," which is an automatic first choice if you can program only one American dance piece.
Much of the ethnic music was composed by citizens of the respective countries: Dvorak's Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 1; the "Blue Danube" waltz and "Thunder and Lightning" polka of Johann Strauss Jr.; and the slow, stately, quintessentially French Pavane, Op. 50, of Gabriel Faure. But the pavane was, strictly speaking, an immigrant, a form that France had taken from Spain and made its own. Like many other selections, it demonstrated that music--even ethnic dance music--is an international language.
Other items on the polyglot program included a Polish dance by a Russian composer, the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin"; Hungarian Dances (No. 5) by a German composer (Brahms); two Spanish dances by a French composer--Bizet's Habanera from "Carmen" and Farandole from "L'Arlesienne"; and two French dances by a German composer working in London, the Bourree and Minuet from Handel's "Royal Fireworks."
Kanayama, who spoke briefly before each selection, showed not only an ease with many classical ethnic dance styles but also a fine knack for varied, imaginative programming within a light classical framework. The orchestra took a few moments to pick up momentum in the "Onegin" Polonaise, which opened the program, but responded well to the rest of the music's color and vitality.
There will be concerts tonight, with music of Gershwin, Saint-Saens, Rimsky-Korsakov and others, and tomorrow night, with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and shorter works by Rossini, Doppler and Brahms.