National Philharmonic President & CEO Jim Kelly shares what excites him most about D.C.’s classical music scene — and why viola trumps violin any day.
We spoke with 11 of D.C.’s performing arts professionals to learn more about how they set the scene. Check out the rest of the roundup here.
Follow any string through the DMV’s classical music scene and it will likely lead you to Jim Kelly. The musician, business owner and arts leader heads up the National Philharmonic at Strathmore Music Center, while playing with and hiring for Maryland Lyric Opera and the American Pops Orchestra. He also co-runs Takoma Park’s esteemed Potter Violins.
What drew you to the viola?
My degrees are actually in violin performance. During undergrad, I played a summer festival in Italy. One concert, I had to play the viola, which I also studied, last minute. I will never forget playing the viola part in Dvořák’s “American String Quartet No. 12.” The viola is the quintessential collaborator in the orchestra, connecting the violin’s melody and the cello’s baseline. I’m a collaborative person. It’s a perfect fit.
What’s coming up at the National Philharmonic?
I’m really excited about playing Florence Price’s “Piano Concerto in One Movement” with soloist Michelle Cann. Price’s writing is so melodic. The Washington Chorus is joining us in the fall for our first collaboration ever. Eugene Rogers, their artistic director, has brought a focus on social justice to their work. We’ll perform the Washington premiere of composer James Lee III’s “Breaths of Universal Longings” and Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez’s “Cantata Criolla.” I’m excited to dig into these new works.
What possibilities in D.C.’s classical music industry excite you most?
The classical music industry needs to be disrupted in a way that promotes equity, access, and marginalized composers and players. And there’s a history of classical music being very uptight in the U.S. We need to break that down, help people feel comfortable. Come in jeans or a ball gown, however you want to dress. Show enthusiasm whenever you want. Music is music. Mozart relates to Beyoncé. It can all provide a shared transcendent experience.
National Philharmonic’s 2023-2024 Season starts October 14 with “Gershwin, Price, & Beethoven.” Find all their concerts and programs at nationalphilharmonic.org and follow them on Instagram
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