The National Symphony Orchestra's recording of John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 was one of the great successes of Music Director Leonard Slatkin's tenure, winning the ensemble its first (and, so far, only) Grammy Award, as the best classical album of 1996. On Oct. 6, 7 and 8, almost exactly a decade after the piece was last played in Washington, Slatkin and the NSO will present Corigliano's symphony once again.
Much has happened in the intervening years: The Kennedy Center has been rebuilt; more than a quarter of the NSO players have retired or moved on to different positions within the orchestra; Corigliano has won a Pulitzer Prize, and Slatkin, then the NSO's music director designate, has announced that he will relinquish his Washington duties by the end of the 2007-2008 season.
Of all the new American works -- good, bad and indifferent -- that Slatkin has brought to town, the Corigliano retains a special pride of place. Written between 1987 and 1990, this eloquent and often frenzied musical response to the AIDS epidemic is a big piece in every way -- almost 45 minutes long and scored for a gigantic orchestra, complete with unusual additions such as noisemakers and an offstage piano. I remember it as a harrowing experience, both emotionally accessible and intellectually challenging. How will it hold up today? We'll find out next month.