Orchestra Spotlight:
National Symphony Orchestra

About the Ensemble

The National Symphony The National Symphony (click to enlarge)

Click the Day 4 button above to view the NSO's postcards from their recent Residency in Kansas.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Washington (NSO) was founded in 1931 by Hans Kindler (a cellist). The goal was to create an orchestra worthy of the nation’s capitol. We still want to be the orchestra of our great city, but we also strive to live up to the “national” part of our name.

There have only been a handful of music directors for the orchestra: after Hans Kindler came Howard Mitchell (a cellist), then Antal Dorati, Mstislav Rostropovich (another cellist!) and our current Music Director, Leonard Slatkin. The orchestra is currently seeking a new music director, as Maestro Slatkin is leaving at the end of the ‘07-‘08 season.

In 1971 the NSO moved to its current home, the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and in 1986 became officially affiliated with the Kennedy Center, a financial move that benefited both organizations.

There are several things that make the NSO unique among American orchestras. You might have seen us on TV for our annual Memorial Day concert at the Capitol, or our annual 4th of July concert, our most visible national presence. You might not have heard about our yearly American Residency, sponsored in part by the US Department of Education. The first Residency took place in Alaska in 1992, and the NSO has continued with this project each year since. In March 2007 the orchestra will visit Kansas, our 18th state, and I’ll be sending “postcards” to Polyphonic, highlighting some of our activities while we’re there. During the nine days we will be in Kansas, we have about 120 activities scheduled – from orchestra concerts to chamber music concerts, master classes and clinics, workshops, lectures, and in-school presentations.

Another project unique to the NSO is Leonard Slatkin’s National Conducting Institute. Each year the NSO devotes significant time to working with young conductors chosen by Leonard. The conductors work with members of our staff to learn about the responsibilities of a music director, whether it’s understanding marketing, choosing programs for the orchestra, or talking with the board about finances. We have rehearsals and concerts with the conductors, with both Leonard and the musicians providing helpful feedback to them.

These are exciting times for the NSO. There's a lot going on here in Washington, and we are a vital part of it.

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