At NSO, German composer leads French music - and his own

Matthias Pintscher
The Washington Post

By Anne Midgette

The National Symphony Orchestra has had several music directors — including its current one, Christoph Eschenbach — who were performers before they were conductors. If we can embrace a cellist-conductor, or a pianist-conductor, then a composer-conductor shouldn’t be an anomaly.

Yet artists who do more than one thing are often dogged by the suspicion that they are not as good at one thing as they are at the other. Matthias Pintscher, 44, is one of Germany’s leading and most prolific composers. So it was striking on Thursday night, when he made his debut with the NSO, to see that he can also hold his own when he conducts.

Pintscher has already demonstrated his conducting prowess in this region, having led, for instance, a concert at the National Orchestral Institute in 2011, which I didn’t attend but which according to some who did was a highlight of that year. Still, the NSO’s model of a composer-conductor is John Adams, who is definitely a composer first.

Opening with the Fauré could be taken as a sign of seriousness as well. It’s an unflashy and delicate piece, unlike the bombastic curtain-raisers of tradition, and Pintscher led it with graceful restraint. It was the “Daphnis et Chloé” that really got my attention, and that, in part, because of its moments of pure, earthy fun. Ravel’s ballet is long, filled (as is the composer’s wont) with solo textures that reflected off Pintscher’s music, and the NSO’s winds still sound as if they’re struggling in places. But Pintscher dug into the big moments with a kind of down-to-earth delight.

Read the full review here.