Metro Weekly

The NSO offers a September to remember with multiple concerts to kick off the season

The Season Opening Gala, Labor Day Concert, and a Concert of Remembrance start the NSO's 2021-2022 season

Ben Folds — Photo: Courtesy of the artist

On Saturday, Sept. 25, days after the official start of fall, comes the official start of the 2021-2022 season of the National Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. The Season Opening Gala Concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall will be capped by a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s tour-de-force Scheherazade that will put the rich colors and majesty of the symphony on full display.

All told, it will be a full September to remember at the NSO, as the organization gears up for its return to live, in-person performances with several concerts paying tribute to anniversaries, both celebratory and somber. After a pandemic-prompted hiatus in 2020, the NSO will revive its free outdoor Labor Day Concert on Sunday, Sept. 5.

Traditionally held on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building, this year’s festivities will give the citadel of American democracy a much-needed holiday of its own. West Virginia Symphony’s Larry Loh will instead host and conduct the NSO from the picturesque REACH Plaza at the Kennedy Center, joined by special guest artists including Ben Folds, the singer-songwriter who also serves as NSO Artistic Advisor, and saxophonist Charlie Young.

A wide-ranging celebration of music by American composers, the program includes selections from Duke Ellington, new Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon, Jessie Montgomery, and Michael Abels, bookended by an arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner” and John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” (In case of inclement weather, the concert will take place in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall.)

Later that week, on Friday, Sept. 10, Noseda will lead a special Concert of Remembrance to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and reflect on the ongoing pandemic. The free performance in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall will feature the world premiere of James Lee III’s An Engraved American Mourning, a work commissioned by the NSO and inspired by a quote from former President George W. Bush.

The program will also include music by American composers Aaron Copland, Still, and Simon, vocal selections from Bernstein rendered by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, classic patriotic hymns featuring “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, and remarks by notable participants. Additionally, health care professionals and first responders from the Washington metropolitan community will be in attendance.

The following week sees a 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert featuring the NSO and a smorgasbord of “preeminent artists of our time” at the Kennedy Center. Renée Fleming, Ben Folds, Punch Brothers, Keb’ Mo’, Christian McBride, and Rachael Price will be featured at this Tuesday, Sept. 14, musical tribute, directed and choreographed by Josh Bergasse with inspiration from the Leonard Bernstein-led program that christened the Concert Hall in 1962.

All events take place at the Kennedy Center, except where noted, and require adherence to the institution’s Vaccination and Mask Policy. Call 202-467-4600 or visit

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