I’ve been critical of the National Symphony Orchestra in the past, and part of that criticism is fueled by a sense of alienation from the music they too often play. If you love classical music, and the orchestral repertoire, the state of programming at most orchestras today is depressing. Too many nights are devoted to music that is overplayed and under-interpreted. For people new to classical music, or occasional orchestra goers, this isn’t a problem at all, and it’s hard for a critic to say “do something new” without seeming a bit too airily dismissive of the large segment of the audience that is happy to hear Beethoven because it is new and thrilling (and it is thrilling, of course). It is the classic dilemma of the hardcore fan, whether the subject is music, art, film, comic books or barbecue. The more passionate you are, the less the mainstream organizations serve your needs and desires.
Which is why I’m very happy to say that the next few weeks at the National Symphony Orchestra are filled with music that I’m very interested in hearing, including Dvorak’s Stabat Mater on March 22-24. By far the most promising program in the The Music of Budapest, Prague, and Vienna series is the one this week, devoted to Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” and “The Miraculous Mandarin.” The former, an opera with libretto by the great Hungarian author and film theorist Bela Balazs, is one of the absolute masterpieces of 20th century music, and a thrilling piece in concert (as it will be performed by the NSO) or on stage.
And so, if you’re only going to one NSO performance this Spring and want to be sure that it will be a fascinating evening, go Thursday (at 7 p.m.) or Saturday (at 8 p.m.). And wait for those magical, terrifying existential doors to open.