(WASHINGTON)—The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will release an album of George Walker’s five sinfonias, conducted by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, on September 8, 2023. The recording project celebrates NSO’s connection to Walker—the first African American composer to receive a Pulitzer Prize and a D.C. native—and honors his centennial, which was in 2022.
These recordings were taken during the live performances in January 2022, and May and June of 2023 in the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The physical booklet also contains portraits taken by Frank Schramm during the last 14 years of the composer’s life. On the release of this CD, the first that encompasses all five of Walker’s sinfonias, Gregory Walker, George Walker’s son, said, “The National Symphony Orchestra’s unprecedented recording offers an opportunity to experience my father’s compositional evolution in context for the first time. Peter Laki’s text, Frank Schramm’s photography, and, of course, the committed artistry of Maestro Noseda and the musicians make a compelling argument for this music’s enduring significance.”
“The sinfonias of George Walker have been an extraordinary musical discovery for me,” said Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. “They are concise in expression, rigorous in structure, and they have their own unique sound world. I am certain that these performances confirm that George Walker is one of the great composers of recent times.”
A native of Washington, D.C., George Walker was a child prodigy. He enrolled in Oberlin Conservatory at age 14 and received his Bachelor of Music degree with highest honors at the age of 18. He subsequently studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and composition with Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he became the first Black student to receive the Artist Diploma (in both piano and composition) in 1945. This accomplishment marked the beginning of a steady procession of “firsts” that has followed Walker throughout his career, including the first African American composer to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1996. Walker published over 80 works, which comprise music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, piano, string quartet, voice, and organ. He composed his first sinfonia in 1984 (revised in 1996), and his last in 2016, two years before his death. Although short in duration (all under 16 minutes), they use the full force of the modern orchestra, including voices in No. 5. Dr. Mickey Terry, who edited a critically-acclaimed, multi-volume African American Organ Music Anthology, said, “George Walker is an American composer of genius, one who repeatedly reveals his affinity for elegant structures. We now have the opportunity to experience this quality and deepen our appreciation for Walker’s writing through this very special recording cycle of his five sinfonias.”
The Walker album continues the legacy of the NSO’s rich recording history, which began in the 1970s. In recent NSO history the orchestra released two recordings on its new label, starting in 2020 with a pairing of Copland’s Suite from Billy the Kid and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” Walker Sinfonias Nos. 1 and 4 were previously released digitally in October and June of 2022. The NSO plans to release the complete set of Beethoven symphonies in February, 2024. For its achievement in performances and recordings, the NSO was nominated for the 2023 Gramophone Orchestra of the Year Award.
ABOUT GIANANDREA NOSEDA
Gianandrea Noseda is one of the world’s most sought-after conductors, equally recognized for his artistry in both the concert hall and opera house. Since 2017, he has served as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Noseda became general music director of the Zurich Opera House in September 2021. An important milestone will be two complete Ring Cycles in 2024 in a new production by Andreas Homoki. Since April 2022, his performances of the Ring operas have been praised by critics and in February 2023 he was recognized as “Best Conductor” by the jury of the German Oper! Awards with a special citation for his Wagner interpretations.
Noseda has been principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra since September 2016. In addition to regular appearances with the LSO at the Barbican and on tour, he has an extensive discography on LSO Live. He and the LSO are in the midst of a multi-year project to record the complete Shostakovich Symphonies along with other works.
Noseda’s artistic leadership has inspired and reinvigorated the National Symphony Orchestra. This artistic partnership continues to flourish with a new recording label distributed by LSO Live. Current projects include the Five Sinfonias of George Walker (a Washington, D.C. native), and a Beethoven cycle, both of which saw their first releases during 2022. Noseda’s critically-acclaimed discography counts more than 70 recordings on a range of labels including Chandos and Deutsche Grammophon.
As part of his commitment to working with the next generation of musicians, in 2019 he became music director of the Tsinandali Festival and Pan-Caucasian Youth Orchestra in the village of Tsinandali, Georgia.
Noseda has conducted the world’s most important orchestras and at the leading opera houses and festivals. Some of his significant roles with international institutions include leading the BBC Philharmonic from 2002–2011; principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from 2011–2020; principal guest conductor (Victor de Sabata Chair) of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 2010–2014; and principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre from 1997–2007.
From 2007 until 2018, Noseda served as music director of Italy’s Teatro Regio Torino where he ushered in a transformative era for the company matched with international acclaim for its productions, tours, recordings, and film projects. His leadership resulted in a golden era for this opera house.
A native of Milan, Noseda is Commendatore al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, marking his contribution to the artistic life of Italy. He has been honored as Musical America’s Conductor of the Year (2015) and International Opera Awards Conductor of the Year (2016).
ABOUT THE NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The 2023–2024 season is the National Symphony Orchestra’s 93rd season, and Music Director Gianandrea Noseda’s seventh season. Noseda serves as the Orchestra’s seventh Music Director, joining the NSO’s legacy of distinguished leaders: Christoph Eschenbach, Leonard Slatkin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Antal Doráti, Howard Mitchell, and Hans Kindler. Its artistic leadership also includes Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and Artistic Advisor Ben Folds.
Since its founding in 1931, the NSO has been committed to performances that enrich the lives of its audience and community members. In 1986, the National Symphony became an artistic affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where it has performed since the Center opened in 1971. The 96-member NSO participates in events of national and international importance, including the annual nationally televised concerts on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, live-streamed performances from the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on medici.tv, and local radio broadcasts on Classical WETA 90.9 FM.
The NSO builds on its recording legacy with its eponymous label that launched in 2020. Since launching, the National Symphony Orchestra has garnered praise for its ambitious recording projects including the orchestra’s first complete Beethoven Symphony cycle and the release of the first-ever cycle of George Walker’s Sinfonias, both led by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda.
Additionally, the NSO’s community engagement and education projects are nationally recognized, including NSO In Your Neighborhood, an annual week of performances in schools, churches, community centers, and other unexpected venues; Notes of Honor, which offers free performances for active, veteran, prior service, and retired members of the military and their families; and Sound Health, a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its affiliated organizations. Career development opportunities for young musicians include the NSO Youth Fellowship Program and its acclaimed, tuition-free Summer Music Institute.