Brand-new bio of the National Symphony (Wash., D.C.)

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Wallingford
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Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:31 pm
Location: Brush, Colorado

Brand-new bio of the National Symphony (Wash., D.C.)

Post by Wallingford » Sun Sep 19, 2021 2:20 pm

Golden Years of the National Symphony Orchestra: Stories and Photographs of Musicians and Maestros
by Joanne Haroutounian (Author), William Haroutounian (Photographer)



I had put away $20 a month for Amazon's preorder for the brand new history of the NSO—in my parlance, that’s OUR National Symphony Orchestra, of Washington D.C.

This history’s the second one of its kind, issued for the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; and at sixty bucks (tax included) it’s a modest coffee-table tome (244 pages, 6.9x1.2x9.5”). No dustjacket—a drawback for those of us who like using the flaps as a bookmark.

It also coincides with the orchestra’s own ninetieth anniversary.

The bio’s authored by the husband-and-wife team of William and Joanne Haroutounian, he a 53-year veteran violinist of the NSO and their official photographer, she the writer who throughout the book turns the spotlight over to her spouse’s contributions—hundreds of them, I swear to God—as well as countless stories from his former colleagues.

I almost never experience any non-fiction book holistically (in fact, in my old age I’ve even frequently succumbed to the temptation to sneak a look at a novel’s ending). I hop, skip and jump, till finally finishing it. In this case, I gazed through a good number of photos, mainly of the guest conductors and soloists who appeared over the ages. A real thrill, in this book’s case: all dynamic photos. I then pored over the index to get a complete idea of the stars, then and now, who appeared with the NSO. Turns out that the orchestra didn’t have to defer to any other ensemble when it came to prestigious guests, in its whole lifespan.

(Just as an example, I was gratified to see mentioned—and pictured—most of the conductors of whom I’m an avid collector: Ormandy, Szell, Beecham, Fiedler. But I was put off, just before finishing the book, that the 1972 appearance by African-American maestro Dean Dixon wasn’t even alluded to. And NSO joins the lengthy list of US ensembles who were never led by Toscanini or Furtwangler.)

It’s been a rule of thumb that there’s no US orchestra that is solvent, but the NSO, almost from the start, didn’t have that significant a number of financial tussles. The first two directors, Hans Kindler and Howard Mitchell, kept the orchestra on an even keel in terms of securing good soloists and making recordings, and high profile in general. In fact, I think the authors gave them short shrift, particularly Kindler who often was at the end of his fuse (I collect both him and Mitchell). Kindler apparently had a basic lack of technique, being unable to communicate his baton moves and body language to his players. To my ears, though both men’s recordings are unexceptional, they nonetheless are adequate, delivering the goods. The orchestra wasn’t hurting for tours in its history, with Mitchell being able to get the ball rolling.

Dorati’s seen in a very favorable light, doing much to advance the orchestra, and with a special emphasis on his humanity. Quite a turnaround from his coverage in the London Symphony’s portrayal of him in their centenary tome (2004), where he’s revealed as a podium autocrat on the order of Toscanini or Szell.

Generous space devoted to the Slava saga; he was always ready to kiss anyone.

This book had about a month-long delay in its release.

It’s a very easy read, with an emphasis on humorous anecdotes—practical joke playing and quips of razor-sharp wit abounded with these folks.
Good music is that which falls upon the ear with ease, and quits the memory with difficulty.
--Sir Thomas Beecham

Wallingford
Posts: 4706
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:31 pm
Location: Brush, Colorado

Re: Brand-new bio of the National Symphony (Wash., D.C.)

Post by Wallingford » Thu Sep 30, 2021 5:16 pm

Here's a review of the NSO concert I attended in '99 when still living in Seattle:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/ ... cee2f0465/
Good music is that which falls upon the ear with ease, and quits the memory with difficulty.
--Sir Thomas Beecham

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