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How violist Jim Kelly would spend a perfect day in D.C.

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In D.C. Dream Day, we ask our favorite people in the area to tell us how they would spend a perfect day in the District.

Musically, the viola tends to play a collaborative and supportive role in an orchestra. It’s not the star of the show; it helps enhance and flesh out the overall sound. It’s a role that violist Jim Kelly, president and CEO of the National Philharmonic, is happy to play.

“What we thrive on is the collaborative effort of supporting the melody, but when we do get the melody, we love it,” Kelly says of violists. “Violas rule the world. There are a lot of us in arts management because we work well as a team.”

Kelly, 45, embraced that role in 2019 when the National Philharmonic was on the brink of financial collapse. He stepped in to lead, rallying his fellow musicians, presenting a vision to the board and raising funds to keep the Montgomery County-based orchestra alive. He’s since had to weather a pandemic while trying to embrace social issues and reach younger and more diverse audiences.

“I’m trying to dismantle how classical music is just for the elite and you have to be prim and proper to enjoy it,” Kelly says. “It’s about presenting new works with old. It’s about representing women composers and BIPOC composers. It’s about representing new and upcoming artists and also artists that are from our area.”

The Connecticut native fell in love with classical music when he was 5, spending Saturdays with his grandmother. “We would listen to the Met broadcasts, and I was in charge of bootleg taping them for her,” he says. He picked up violin — the same instrument his late grandfather played — in third grade and added viola in high school, where he also studied violin repair.

A stint working retail for Gucci brought him to D.C. in 2001; soon he was auditioning for orchestral roles. His retail and repair backgrounds would pay dividends when he picked up a job at Potter Violins in 2004. Kelly is now co-owner of the music shop, which moved from Bethesda to Takoma Park in 2015.

“My life revolves around music, and it seems like the perfect life for me because I never feel like I'm working,” Kelly says. “I do it because I love it. I love the DMV area and making music here. And I love bringing people together. None of that feels like work.”

The Shepherd Park resident’s D.C. dream day reflects that passion for music, the arts and community.

I am woken up very kindly by my husband, Mark, who always brings me my iced Americano — three shots of espresso and water over ice. I spend my morning drinking my coffee and loving on my three dogs. I have two Australian labradoodles, and my old man Stuey is a 14-year-old cockapoo who is by my side every moment of the day. Shortly thereafter, my housemate comes upstairs; she’s a very close friend and lives in the in-law apartment. During the pandemic, we bought this house with her help, as a way of transitioning to a space that my mother could move into. She comes up and debriefs with us on her outings the day before, which are always fun and interesting, and usually out of my comfort zone. Then my mother will join us and it becomes the cast of “The Golden Girls.” I would be Dorothy.

The next thing I would do is a tour at Glenstone with our friend Eileen. We go often because I love the environment, I love modern art — I love everything about that place. It slows me down: the walk between buildings, the nature, all of that. That’s where I dream of the National Philharmonic becoming a partner with Glenstone and bringing music and art together for an extraordinary experience. After absorbing the art, we’ll sit at the cafe for an Earl Grey tea.

A perfect day for me is shopping for shoes. I would make my way down to CityCenter and start looking at designer shoes. That is a real guilty pleasure, and anybody that knows me knows I don’t spend a lot on clothes except for shoes. I have a carefully curated collection: well over a hundred, not everyday shoes, but special occasion shoes. Louboutin is my favorite.

From there, I’m going to go back to Dupont Circle. I don’t like expensive restaurants. I tend to like things where friends can sit and chat for a while. So Eileen, Mark and I would go to Annie’s Paramount Steak House on 17th Street to people watch and catch up with more friends. I love the steak salad with french fries, extra crispy. There’s always a cast of characters that come through that are interesting to watch while you’re sitting and laughing with friends.

Music is always important to me. I love Laura Colgate, our concert master, who also is one of the co-founders of the Boulanger Initiative, and I love her chamber music curation. I would love to go hear some new works that I wasn’t familiar with by women composers and watch her play with my friends. It could be anywhere, but we have been doing them at the Mexican Cultural Institute. It’s a beautiful environment on the inside with beautiful tiles. Hearing my friends play chamber music makes me really happy.

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I really love Le Diplomate and would probably go there for a drink and their mushroom tart. I only drink things with bubbles, so it would be some sort of cava or prosecco. There is a hearty bread that comes to the table with cranberries in it, and every time I have it, I not only ask for another basket but I buy a loaf of it to take home, which I will probably eat within 24 hours.

We’re going to go out for drinks afterward at JR’s Bar. I’m a people person, but I don’t go often because I usually have too much to do, so when we go it’s a treat, and it’s all about hanging out with friends.