The Kennedy Center


National Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite / Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade

Thursday, May 11, 2017 - Saturday, May 13, 2017

Select dates for the concerts below feature ForeWords and/or AfterWords discussions! National Symphony Orchestra

Gustavo Gimeno leads the last fantasy-inspired program of the season, pairing Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite with Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Organist Paul Jacobs returns in the D.C. premiere of Christopher Rouse's Organ Concerto.

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Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov was expected to have a long, successful naval career like his male ancestors before him. He began on this path, but his focus soon shifted toward composing and—through his early globetrotting with the navy—he was inspired by aspects of culture vastly different from his own. One such piece of folklore that set Rimsky-Korsakov’s imagination ablaze was the enthralling, ancient story of Scheherazade, a Sultan’s wife who told her husband suspenseful stories over the course of 1,001 nights to prevent him from executing her. Eager to experiment with form and narrative, Rimsky-Korsakov created one of his most famous pieces, Scheherazade, based on the thrilling episodes of the Arabian Nights. Using different instruments to depict the powerful Sultan and his brilliant wife, the piece weaves a colorful tale with exquisite orchestration. Gustavo Gimeno conducts the National Symphony Orchestra in this exotic work.

The program also includes Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, performed out of the usual winter season and offering a selection of the splendid, whimsical music that makes The Nutcracker iconic. The suite predates the premiere of the famous ballet it was extracted from, and was a struggle to create because of the composer’s declining health. However, with Tchaikovsky’s discovery of the celesta, a completely obscure instrument at the time, everything changed. Tchaikovsky bought one in secret so that other composers (especially Rimsky-Korsakov) wouldn’t steal his idea. The celesta’s unique sound allowed Tchaikovsky to create unforgettable themes and textures—most famously in the Sugar Plum Fairy movement—which bolstered the music’s appeal to audiences at the suite’s premiere and ultimately helped The Nutcracker survive as a ballet.

Organist Paul Jacobs, “one of [the] pipe organ’s foremost performers” (The Washington Post), also joins the program for an organ concerto co-commissioned by the NSO from Grammy®- and Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Christopher Rouse.

Performance Timing: Part One - 24 min.; Intermission - 15 min.; Part Two - 47 min.


Beginning at 6:45 p.m. before the following performances:
Friday, May 12
Saturday, May 13
Moderated by Ted Libbey

Take a journey into the fascinating stories behind the music led by knowledgeable and engaging artists and scholars! Look for even more of these offerings throughout the season; each ForeWords begins at 6:45 p.m. (the Concert Hall doors open 15 minutes prior), lasts 30 minutes, and is free and open to the public.

Immediately following the Thursday, May 11 performance

Stay after the performance for an insightful discussion with the some of the exciting guest artists and NSO musicians featured on the night's program, moderated by NSO Director of Artistic Planning Nigel Boon, You may even get an opportunity to ask a question! Look for even more of these offerings throughout the season; each AfterWords is free with your concert ticket.

Program & Notes

Organ Concerto
NSO Hechinger co-commission and D.C. premiere