For more than 35 years, the National Symphony Orchestra has made listening to magnificent music under a canopy of stars at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts an annual tradition. Music lovers bring their family and friends, spread out a blanket, and lose themselves in the delightful sounds and tranquility of the outdoors.
NSO @ Wolf Trap Festival Conductor Emil de Cou says, "This summer, we celebrate love, joy, and laughter‹a season-long serenade under the stars. The beauty of nature and the symphonic brilliance of the NSO become one on the gentle slopes of Wolf Trap's grassy lawn, offering a great opportunity to share the wonder of music with someone you love."
To begin the concert series, the National Symphony Orchestra is joined on July 6 by conductor Stephen Lord and this year's Wolf Trap Opera Company artists in a concert staging of Candide, Leonard Bernstein's delightfully witty ode to optimism. Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) stars in the role of Candide's tutor, Pangloss. Also performing is the City Choir of Washington, led by artistic director Robert Shafer.
On July 10, the NSO, guest conductor Andrew Grams, and violinist Ilya Gringolts present Tcheers for Tchaikovsky! The 1812 Overture is back with a bang in an evening featuring live cannon effects and favorites from Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker to the stunning Violin Concerto. A Maryland native, Grams recently completed his third season as Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra/American Symphony Orchestra League Conducting Fellow. Winner of the 1998 International Violin Competition "Premio Paganini," Itzhak Perlman prot_g_ Gringolts is "a violinist of great virtuosity...who has the intellect and sensibility to apply it to expressive purpose" (The Daily Telegraph).
On July 11, spend An Evening with Kiri Te Kanawa, the legendary soprano who is making her only DC-area appearance in a concert led by conductor Emil de Cou. The program includes Strauss songs, Puccini arias, and Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne. A familiar figure in the leading opera houses of the world, Kiri Te Kanawa's natural serenity and vocal beauty have graced the world's major orchestras. She was honored as a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1982.
Principal Pops Conductor Marvin Hamlisch leads the Orchestra on July 12 in This Way to Broadway, an evening of favorites from the Great White Way, including hits by George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, and tunes from Hamlisch's own A Chorus Line. As a composer, Hamlisch has composed more than 40 motion picture scores and won virtually every major award that exists for the field: 3 Oscars, 4 Grammys, 4 Emmys, a Tony, the Pulitzer Prize, and 3 Golden Globes.
In Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy) on July 24, Eric Idle and his Spamalot co-composer John Du Prez have schemed up a comic oratorio inspired by Handel's Messiah and Monty Python's hilarious Life of Brian, performed by a cast of thousands (well, an audience of thousands plus the NSO, the Master Chorale of Washington, soloists, bagpipers, and a sheep)! The program tells the tragi-comic story of a man mistaken for the Messiah. This new work for 100 musicians is an attempt to create a new form‹the comic oratorio‹from the Pythons' most admired movie. Idle‹singing baritone-ish‹reprises some of his best-loved roles from this legendary movie that reminds you to "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life."
On July 25, sit under the stars for a first date or an evening of dreamy romance as Emil de Cou leads the Orchestra in Wolf Trap is for Lovers, which he programmed as "an evening of moonlit classics in the tradition of those wonderful old romantic films of the 1940s and 50s." The concert features some of the most beautiful love music ever written, including excerpts from Bizet's Carmen, Debussy's Clair de Lune, music from Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev on Romeo and Juliet, selections from Puccini's La bohme, Ravel's Bolero, and more.
In Broadway ROCKS! from Phantom to Dreamgirls on July 26, conductor Randall Craig Fleischer and four of Broadway's best singers‹Susan Egan (Tony nominee for Disney's The Beauty and the Beast), Capathia Jenkins (The Civil War), Doug LaBrecque (The Phantom of the Opera), and Rob Evan (Jekyll and Hyde)‹along with The Washington Chorus dazzle with great moments from hit musicals, including The Phantom of the Opera, Tommy, Rent, Disney's The Lion King, Mamma Mia, Jekyll and Hyde, The Wiz, Hairspray, Chess, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Dreamgirls.
The Orchestra, pianist Joyce Yang, and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, led by Emil de Cou, perform Beethoven's Best, including the "Emperor" Piano Concerto and the choral Finale ("Ode to Joy") to the Ninth Symphony on July 31. A Van Cliburn Silver Medalist at the age of 19, Yang has been called a "phenomenal artist" by the Contra Costa Times and lauded for her "feisty and even witty" playing by the Dallas Morning News.
The NSO's final two concerts are special "Film & Music" evenings with the Orchestra led by Emil de Cou performing the music live as film clips are shown on giant screens in-house and on the lawn. Says de Cou, "Being born in Los Angeles I have always had a great love of movies, so for me, there is no better combination of mediums than film and live music. We have a great two-day double-bill." On August 1, Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies has its world premiere with big-screen moments from The Sound of Music, Carousel, The King and I, and more. On August 2, Dial "H" for Hitchcock is a suspenseful spooktacular that features excerpts from To Catch a Thief, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, and North by Northwest. "Where else can you go from the Austrian hills to the top of Mount Rushmore all from the comfort of your picnic blanket?" asks de Cou. "This summer at Wolf Trap, the stars will be out in force to sing, dance, and shine!"
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor for Kennedy Center News.