Photo: courtesy of the NSO

National Symphony Orchestra Brings Holiday Sweaters & Classical Music to The Anthem

It could be argued that ugly sweaters are one of the best traditions of the holiday season. From Santa riding a unicorn under a peppermint moon to “Let’s get lit” menorahs, it’s impossible not to have a good time in an ugly holiday knit. Looking to bring some of that fun to the classical music world, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will showcase its Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert on December 11.

Hosted at The Anthem once again, the second-ever themed concert will see the NSO dressed in their best unsightly sweaters as they play holiday tunes both popular and traditional. Audience members are also encouraged to don their favorite ugly holiday pullovers.

“This isn’t your uptight, stuffy concert hall kind of deal,” says Nick Hersh, the NSO’s conductor for the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert. “It’ll be a really exciting and powerful show, but it won’t be as loud, say, as you would get for a true rock show.”

Further separating themselves from some of the “stuffier” aspects of classical music, playing at The Anthem has allowed the NSO to perform in a more relaxed setting and reach an audience who might not have seen the symphony orchestra otherwise. It also makes this performance one-of-a-kind for the DC area, Hersh says, as the combination of a world-class orchestra playing holiday tunes in a more accessible venue like The Anthem can be hard to come by.

“It’s great fun to be there [at The Anthem],” Hersh says. “I always really enjoy when the audience can do things like take a beer to their seats, which is not something you generally get to do at a hall like the Kennedy Center.”

The attire and venue may be different from the symphony orchestra’s usual style, but Hersh is quick to point out that the audience can expect the quality of the orchestra to hold up to the NSO name.

The audience can also expect a wide variety of music, ranging from classical to more traditional holiday pop songs. The orchestra will play a medley that features seasonal favorites like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” to name a few.

“What we like to play is familiar holiday tunes, and use arrangements of them in a way that really features the orchestra,” Hersh says. “You’ll hear familiar carols but beautifully orchestrated, and we’ll also play some classical standards that have come to be associated with Christmas.”

For example, this year’s show will have a “main course” featuring several pieces from Duke Ellington’s album The Nutcracker Suite, the jazz musician’s take on the classic score from Tchaikovsky. Hersh says this is one of his favorite arrangements from the show as it takes the beauty and familiarity of the original pieces and spikes them with high-energy jazz.

There will also be a choral component performed throughout the show – a new aspect of this year’s concert – featuring DC a cappella group The Capital Hearings. Hersh mentions that the moments the a cappella ensemble come onstage to perform will be a great chance for concertgoers to sing along as well.

“I was learning all the words to the songs [for last year], all those songs I knew essentially the opening words for, but I had to really delve in and learn all the words to, like ‘Frosty the Snowman,’” Hersh exclaims. “Honestly, there’s a lot of stuff I forgot!”

In addition to working with The Capital Hearings, Hersh hopes that the NSO can continue to partner with other local musicians on the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concerts to come, and continue to reach out to audiences of all kinds.

“This is really a concert for anyone, nondenominational of course, and it’s just a really fun time. You’ll clap when you want to clap and you’ll have fun just like you would at any other concert. So if you haven’t seen a symphony, this is really the kind of concert you want to try out.”

Put on your favorite ugly holiday sweater and catch the NSO Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert at The Anthem on December 11. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets start at $15. For more information about the NSO, visit For more information about The Capital Hearings, visit their website at

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0020;


Natalia Kolenko

Natalia is a George Mason University alum who studied Journalism and Environmental Science and Politics. She combines her background in news reporting with her love for music, art, and culture to write pieces on a variety of topics. Addicted to travel, X-files, and concerts.