Monday, December 17, 2007

Musician Spotlight: Richard Parnas

Let’s face it: musicians tend to live pretty cool lives.The recent success of video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band proves that people love the thrill of creating something to be heard by others (even if it only means hitting four multicolored buttons in a sometimes uncoordinated fashion.).

Richard Parnas, Principal Viola player for the ASO, is no exception. Parnas grew up in Saint Louis, MO eventually moving to Philadelphia to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. Although he entered on a violin scholarship, the draw of the viola made him switch instruments the first week of school. Indeed, he believes that a “person always knows whether he prefers violin or viola.” After spending four years in the Navy and one season with the Saint Louis Symphony, Parnas began a 35 year career at the National Symphony Orchestra as Principal Violist in 1955. In 1992, he became Principal Violist for the ASO and has held the post for the last 15 years.

Throughout the years, Parnas has seen his share of memorable performances including playing William Walton’s Viola Concerto with the ASO, soloing at Carnegie Hall and performing at the Library of Congress with the Julliard Quartet. Perhaps most incredibly, he was part of the National Symphony’s string quartet that performed 3 concerts a year at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in return for the use of its Stradivari instruments. According to Encyclopedia Smithsonian,

“Antonio Stradivari was born in 1644, and established his shop in Cremona, Italy, where he remained active until his death in 1737. His interpretation of geometry and design for the violin has served as a conceptual model for violin makers for more than 250 years.

Stradivari also made harps, guitars, violas, and cellos--more than 1,100 instruments in all, by current estimate. About 650 of these instruments survive today.”

These concerts continued for 10 years and not surprisingly, Parnas favorite piece he has played was Harold in Italy by Hector Berloiz who composed it specifically for the Stradivari viola.
Parnas has played a spectrum of music under conductors who favored the classics to those that preferred the contemporary. However, in the future, he believes orchestras will have to “mix up the seasons with some modern pieces along with the Beethovens and the Mozarts” in order to be successful. To this end, Parnas is looking forward to playing Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis with the ASO in 2008. Written by modern English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams, the piece features “really nice parts for the violin and viola.”

Thus, Parnas’ musical career, rich with rare experiences, has passed both state lines and time lines. And while you may not see a situation like this play out on the next Guitar Hero, we still think it’s pretty rock and roll.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Post Holiday Concert Update

Thank you to everyone who made our annual Holiday concert a success on Sunday. A special thanks goes out to our Co-Chairs, Angels, Santa's Helpers and businesses that helped make this a night filled with lots of singing and eating! The Orchestra combined with the Trinity United Methodist Choir, Emmanuel Choirs, and Alexandria Choral Society's Children's Choir, truly made these radio favorites come to life in an intimate setting.

Santa even tore himself away from the workshop to make a special appearance! We're flattered that he would come all the way from the North Pole just to see us perform and make the event extra special for all the children.

The tunes spanned from old to new with a standout being "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Though we all know Charlie and his dog, Snoopy, do you need a refresher on Sallie, Marcy, or Franklin? Check out The Official Peanuts Website to relive childhood memories or learn something new.

Can you guess who our favorite character is?

Hint: His favorite composer is Beethoven.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Holiday History

This first snowfall is making us even more excited for our annual Holiday concert this Sunday, Dec. 9 at Trinity United Methodist Church at 3pm. You might not realize it, but some carols have lengthy and interesting histories.

For example, did you know that "Greensleeves" is an old English ballad that can be traced back to at least 1580 and may be about Anne Boleyn? Moreover, this classic has been referenced everywhere from William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor to a recent episode of The Office. (Wikipedia)

Or that "Jingle Bells" originally began as a Thanksgiving song? (

Or that, according to, the popularized version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is quite different from the original? (this song will not be featured at the ASO concert)

Check out the links below to buy tickets and learn more about some favorite holiday carols!

Links of Interest
Buy Tickets

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Blustery Day

There's no other word besides blustery for today. Of course, that word is probably most associated with beloved children's book character Winnie the Pooh. While Pooh may not be Whitman or Dickenson, A.A. Milne imbued him with a lot of wisdom. One of the best is his explanation that:

"Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you."

At the ASO, we hope that our art is something that grabs you, that pulls you in, and leaves you fufilled but still wanting more. Though "hums" may find you while listening to a jazz cd in your car or reading about Impressionists at your local book store, we hope that you'll come out to the Schlesinger Concert Hall. Let the arts find you in the atmosphere, the music, the educational lectures, and the company of people who share the same passions you do.

If your passion is holiday music, please don't forget about our holiday concert this Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3pm at the Trinity United Methodist Church. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at or via phone at 703-548-0885.