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Posted at 2:30 PM ET, 01/18/2011

NSO back on the record -- or CD

By Anne Midgette

Christoph Eschenbach arrived at the NSO trailing promises of new prominence and recordings. Six months into his tenure as music director, he’s already starting to deliver. The NSO announced this afternoon that it is going to release a new commercial recording this spring -- the first it has made in ten years.

The announcement ups the ante for this week’s concerts, which center around a new work by Peter Lieberson commissioned for the anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. “Remembering JFK (An American Elegy),” conceived as a kind of counterpart to Aaron Copland’s beloved “Lincoln Portrait,” will have its premiere on Thursday night at the gala concert celebrating the Kennedy anniversary. It will be repeated three times at the NSO’s regular subscription concerts on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, along with Leonard Bernstein’s “Fanfare for the Inauguration of JFK” and Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” and Gershwin’s piano concerto, with Tzimon Barto as piano soloist.

At its premiere on Thursday, the Lieberson work, which sets excerpts of Kennedy’s speeches, will be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Richard Dreyfuss, however, will take over narrating duties for the three subsequent concerts, and he will be featured on the recording.

Edited to add: The recording will also feature a special bonus CD with excerpts of the concert the NSO played for the Kennedy inauguration in 1961.

The recording will be released on Ondine, a label with which Eschenbach has a long relationship and has recorded with many of “his” past orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestra National de Paris. He has 19 recordings in Ondine’s catalogue, starting with an account of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra that he recorded with the Philadelphians in 2005.

It’s big news these days when any orchestra starts recording with a label. In the glory days of the 1980s and early 90s, most orchestras still had label contracts, and the NSO recorded extensively with Teldec, RCA, and other labels, winning a Grammy in 1996 for John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1. But as the shrinking demand for classical recordings, or a glutted market, led to a marked decline in sales, and recording costs continued high, labels started dropping orchestras one by one. In recent years, many orchestras have begun recording on their own in-house labels -- like the Chicago Symphony or the San Francisco Symphony. Others have formed alliances with labels to release recordings for download, as the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic did with Deutsche Grammophon for the series “DG Concerts" on iTunes.

But a genuine label recording has become something of an exception these days. The NSO’s last recording, on Decca, was of Michael Kamen’s piece “The New Moon in the Old Moon’s Arms.” It came out in January, 2001 -- slightly more than ten years before the release of the forthcoming album, which is scheduled to be available as a CD or download by May, 2011.

Lieberson, by contrast, isn't hurting for recordings. His fantastic "Neruda Songs," written for and recorded by his late wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, was one of the standout recordings of the last decade, and was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize.

By Anne Midgette  | January 18, 2011; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Washington, news  
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I really don't blame the record labels for ditching the orchestras - there's really nothing left to record - nothing that's any good. Composers have abandoned the audience and have tried to compose music the way a painter might try to paint by the numbers or the way a mathematician would figure out a math problem. I have not seen Barto for years and years - I hope he does well. Best wishes.

Posted by: pronetoviolins | January 19, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

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