Monday, January 9, 2012

National Symphony Orchestra at Wonderland: awesome


It's not every day a world class symphony orchestra performs at your local dive bar -- but that's what happened on Sunday, when the National Symphony Orchestra put on a free chamber performance at Wonderland.

The performance was part of the NSO in Your Neighborhood series, where the orchestra performed at various venues in the neighborhood, like Bell School, Wonderland, BloomBars, and more. The series is almost over, but there's two more shows on Monday, at the Dance Institute of Washington on 14th and at the Jewish Community Center on 16th.

I had a chance to visit Wonderland for the show, and was really glad I did. The upstairs was almost at capacity when I arrived, and there was a diverse crowd -- many people older than your usual Wonderland patrons, a few young kids with parents, a lot of 20- and 30-somethings, some dressed up  and some not so dressed up (me included, unfortunately.)

NSO at WonderlandThe group performing consisted of four musicians on the violin, viola, cello and bass respectively: Glenn Donnellan, Ruth Wicker Schaaf, David Teie, and Jeffrey Weisner, accompanied by three dancers: Kelly Moss Southall, Gregg Corbino, and Maura Gahan. Southall explained in a Q&A after the show that he lived in the neighborhood, which was cool to hear. You may also have heard Donnellan's name before, as he often performs with a violin he made out of a baseball bat.

The backstage, if you could call it that, was the area past the bar with the coolers, and it was pretty funny to see a violinist warming up there. Before the show I overheard some people talking, who said there should be classical music in dive bars all the time. That sentiment was something I heard repeated a few times throughout the day. Then one of the musicians thanked the crowd and mentioned the NSO's Tumblr, and the show was on its way.

They played a variety of music, from some that sounded more avant garde to an Irish song on the fiddle, accompanied by step-dancing, to a couple of other classical numbers and one by Apocalyptica, a classical/metal group. The dancers performed during a few numbers with some costume changes and the occasional prop. (See below for a slide show of photos from the afternoon.)

 It was pretty wild to watch classical musicians on the stage usually filled with DJs or trivia hosts, with the big Common Share sign behind them. The usual bar noises like clinking ice and silverware seemed magnified by the quiet audience.

The Q&A afterwards was a nice idea, especially since many people in attendance were probably new to classical music. One of Wonderland's owners, Rose, asked how the small stage, which had a few tables piled up and other things behind it, affected the performance, and one of the musicians quipped that it felt like home. Other folks asked about the NSO in Your Neighborhood series in general, and the musicians said it was great and that all the venues were full -- nice to hear. They also made the point that if you liked them, there are 95 more musicians like them at the Kennedy Center. A NSO staffer  mentioned a discounted ticket program for people under 30, which is really cool. They also asked that if people enjoyed the show to post on the NSO's Facebook page, as that will help let them know that these kinds of events are appreciated. 

I really enjoyed the performance. Aside from being a nice way to spend a weekend afternoon, it's a great idea -- it exposed a lot of new people to classical music and brought a lot of people to the neighborhood who have probably never visited before. That's a good thing, as folks can see that while Columbia Heights may not be "toney," there's certainly a lot going for it. After the Q&A, one of the NSO staffers told me that a musician talked about how cool Wonderland was, and that he hoped to come back. I feel the same way -- I hope the NSO and the concertgoers come back soon.

1 comment:

  1. It was a great and unique event! Thanks to all who were involved


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