National Symphony Orchestra violinist Nurit Bar-Josef steps up a gear for Principally Mozart’s first car concert



When Nurit Bar-Josef gives four concerts driving the Festival of primarily Mozart orchestras this week at the Del Mar Exhibition Center, it will be several premieres for the accomplished violinist.

This will be the first time that the principal violin of the National Symphony Orchestra has visited San Diego, the first time that she will give a concert in a car and the first time that she and members of her orchestra have teamed up for performances with members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York, whose first violin is David Chan, a native of Del Mar.

Bar-Josef will be one of the featured soloists for Thursday’s performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B minor and the sole soloist for Saturday’s performance of The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. She will be returning here in June for five concerts by the Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra. They will be held outdoors, in a non-drive-through format, at an undisclosed location in San Diego County.

“Due to the (competing) performance schedules of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Orchestra,” noted Bar-Josef, “we would never have the chance to give concerts together like this without the pandemic ending our (concert) seasons. ”

This week will be the first time Bar-Josef has performed live, rather than online, for more than a handful of listeners – anywhere – since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic there is more than one a year. And this will be the first time in 13 months that she will travel to and from rehearsals by car, rather than her usual human-powered mode of transport.

“My husband and I live in Maryland and, before COVID, I used to cycle to my rehearsals at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, unless it was in the evening,” said Bar-Josef, who didn’t was only 26 when she was named Principal Violin Principal of the National Symphony Orchestra in 2001.

“It’s anywhere from 15 to 20 miles round trip, depending on how long I ride if I have the time and the weather is nice, or if I just need to let off some more steam.” , she continued. “I do this trip three to four days a week. Then on weekends or days off I will usually do the 27-30 mile loop that cyclists tend to do in this area. I guess it’s about 100 miles a week during a normal work week with good weather and no evening reps. Sometimes when I’m rolling, the music we’re rehearsing this week goes through my head, or I think of my (violin) fingerings. “

A devoted musician year after year, Bar-Josef is certainly not a good-weather cyclist.

“I try to ride in all seasons,” she said. “I’ll continue to ride in the winter if it’s in the 1920s, unless it’s really windy and it’s a lot colder. I won’t be driving if it’s wet, icy or after dark.

Bar-Josef brings one of his violins, but not his bike – a four-figure Pinarello Prince – to San Diego. Could Mainly Mozart provide a bicycle for his visit here?

“In 33 years, I’ve never been asked this question before, but I will definitely find out! said Nancy Laturno, who co-founded Mainly Mozart in 1988 and launched her groundbreaking drive-through concert series last summer.

“Musicians tell us if they like to play golf or tennis, but I don’t remember being asked to answer a request for a bike. We want our guest musicians to have fun and feel they can establish a home away from home here.

Bar-Josef had considered taking a bike ride in San Diego. “But we have a pretty busy schedule,” she said, “and I come over there to work.”

(Photo by Erich Heckscher)

“I am so excited! “

For Bar-Josef, the opportunity to perform anywhere on stage with some of her fellow musicians in front of a live audience – in cars or otherwise – has been one she has dreamed of for a year.

“I haven’t performed at the Kennedy Center for an audience since early March of this year,” she said, speaking from the Bethesda home she shares with her husband, bassoonist Erich Heckscher.

“I hadn’t even come back in the Kennedy Center until a few weeks ago. And it was only with a reduced number of masked and socially distant members of the National Symphony Orchestra to shoot video performances that are starting to air.

“Other than playing for some non-COVID patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, I haven’t played anywhere in the past year. We all know what music can do for the soul. I am so excited to come to San Diego!

Originally from the Boston area, Bar-Josef started playing the violin in first grade. She was greatly inspired by the records her parents played for her, featuring instrument legends such as Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Itzhak Perlman, Fritz Kreisler and Pinchas Zukerman.

So inspired, in fact, that she knew at the age of 9 that she wanted to devote her life to the violin. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and Juilliard, she became assistant principal violinist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops in 1998. Three years later, the National Symphony Orchestra chose her as first violin, a role which called upon Bar-Josef to be the musical liaison between the conductor and the members of the orchestra.

“The most important responsibility I feel of the first violin is to set the tone, not only for the first violin section, but for all the strings,” she said, “and to do it with a feeling. of confidence that helps to wear the section. That’s not to say that the section doesn’t have its own, but a solo violin in general shows what the conductor wants the music to be.

Concerts behind the wheel of Bar-Josef’s Del Mar will be preceded by performances on Mondays and Tuesdays at UC Irvine’s Barclay Theater. The 750-seat hall will have a capacity of 50 socially distant spectators. Both performances of Irvine are private matters for members of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

“We couldn’t have presented this group of stars to our audience without the help of Principally Mozart,” said Tommy Phillips, President and Artistic Director of the Philharmonic Society. “Their pioneering commitment to bringing music to our Southern California audiences is an inspiration to all of us as we go through these unique moments together. ”

The unique moments since the coronavirus shutdown in March 2020 with live events across the country and around the world have led to a continuing series of pivotal predominantly Mozart. Last summer, the intrepid and innovative nonprofit became the first major classical music organization in the country to host drive-thru concerts, which it presented in Del Mar until October. The success of these performances led other concert promoters to follow suit and inspired the San Diego Opera to launch their 2020 in-car production of “La bohème.”

In February, Mainly Mozart returned for four more concerts at the wheel of Del Mar, each drawing a sold-out audience. Advance ticket sales for this week’s four concerts are 25% higher than for February’s concerts, which each drew a crowd of 350 wagons full of listeners, according to Laturno.

“Things are changing so fast,” she said.

“Since we started doing drive-through concerts last July, we’ve been making assumptions and leaps and bounds based on what we think is true and what we think people will accept. Our drive-through concerts have become so popular that even after the pandemic is over and we return to our indoor performances, we will continue to do drive-through concerts because our audiences enjoy them so much. “

Laturno is now overseeing preparations for the five Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra concerts which will take place in June. They will take place outdoors, in a non-drive-through format, at a San Diego County venue that is still being finalized. The seats will be socially distanced in pods. State and county health guidelines will be closely followed

“We will adjust the distances accordingly between individual spectators and between musicians on stage,” said Laturno.

“And we will build a new dramatically oversized stage to accommodate as many socially distant musicians as possible. It might not sound like much, but it is. It’s a very, very big deal and we want to get it right. ”

Mainly the Mozart Orchestra Festival

All April performances are at 7 p.m. and feature members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Chan. The concerts last 75 minutes each, without an intermission.

Thusday: “String Favorites”, with an opening performance by members of the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra Suzuki and Beginner Strings, joined by members of the Metropolitan and National Symphony Orchestras

Friday: “Dazzling winds”

Saturday: “Concerto Evening”

Sunday: “All-Mozart”

June 11-19: Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra, conducted by Michael Francis, with interpretations of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn

Or: Del Mar Fairgrounds West Parking Lot, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar, for all April concerts. June location to be announced.

April tickets: $ 49 per vehicle for section B parking; $ 100 per vehicle for section A parking. Tickets for the four concert series cost $ 175 for section B parking and $ 350 for section A parking. VIP tickets, available only to members of the Mainly Mozart Amadeus Club, range from $ 500 to $ 1,500 and include three to 12 tickets per membership.

June tickets: Single tickets $ 100 for an individual VIP seat and $ 500 for a table for four; $ 120 for a group of up to four people in the A section seats; $ 60 for a group of up to four people in Section B seats. Tickets for the five concert series cost $ 400 for an individual VIP seat and $ 2,175 for a table for four; $ 500 for a group of up to four people for section A seats and $ 250 for a group of up to four people for section B seats. Most Mozart’s Club Amadeus packages range from $ 500 to $ 1,500 and include three to 12 VIP tickets per membership.

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