Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Mozart in the District

It’s not so much what Gianandrea Noseda says so much as how he says it. The Italian-born conductor speaks with a drawl that makes you want to listen closer and, even over the phone, you can tell which topics he finds blasé and which cause his eyes to light up.

At the mention of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, Noseda demurs and says he’s seen little of the show. But it’s hard not to see some resemblances between him and the charismatic conductor in the series, played by Gael García Bernal. Noseda may not share the character’s penchant for drama, but he speaks about music and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) with a similar passion. He’s also very enthusiastic about bringing the orchestra outside of the Kennedy Center‘s symphony hall and into the community.

Noseda began his tenure as the music director for the NSO this fall, and is conducting a free concert at The Anthem this coming Wednesday, November 15. The performance, which is already sold out, is meant to give listeners an inside look at what to expect from Noseda.

The concert will feature the works of four different composers: Ottorino Respighi, Ernest Chausson, Manuel de Falla and George Gershwin. Aside from Gershwin, none of these composers are well known, Noseda admits, but he does not see this as a problem. He refers to the program as a sort of musical buffet. None of the pieces last more than six or so minutes, so if you don’t like one dish, another is coming shortly; these composers offer a wide range of music, so there’s at least one dish for everyone.

“Someone who wants sweetness or tenderness can find it in some spots of Respighi or Chausson,” he says. “Someone who wants something very rhythmical will find it in Gershwin or Falla.”

He is particularly excited for the Massenet piece from Thais, as it will feature a solo by NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef. The concertmaster is young, but has been with the NSO for some time. Bar-Josef is the first chair violinist, and Noseda describes the position as the sort of right-hand man of the conductor.

“[As a conductor], if you have a good concertmaster, as well as other principals, let’s say 70 percent of your job is guaranteed.”

This prompts me to ask him what exactly it is that a conductor does. Noseda laughs at the question.

“People have the impression that the conductor just waves his hands.”

His job is to first and foremost motivate the musicians, to get them commit to a performance. In practical terms, that entails not only keeping time, but knowing the parts of all the instruments and how to balance them in a live performance. 

“You have to know the music of all the instruments and how to balance the sound, because if you have the trombones play loud, and you ask the violins to play loud, the loudness of the trombones is five times the loudness of the violins,” he says. “So how to combine these things, how to balance – it’s like a dish. If you put too much salt, at the end of the day, you don’t have the taste of the meat, fish or vegetable that you are eating, because it’s salty. Salt is necessary sometimes, but in limited quantity.”

Noseda anticipates that his orchestra’s performance at The Anthem will attract listeners to the Kennedy Center, because for him, the live performance is at the core of what they do.

“[Rather than] explain why music is so important in our society, just come and listen,” he says. “We are not from Mars. We are normal people and want to present the music we love to everybody.”

Noseda and the NSO will perform The Anthem program again on November 16, 18 and 19 at The Kennedy Center. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org