The National Symphony Orchestra is suiting up — markedly, not literally — for their third annual ugly sweater holiday concert on December 8 at The Anthem. Led by conductor Emil de Cou, the show is set to totally deconstruct the typical concert hall experience — with festive fabrics moving in perfect harmony with the symphony orchestra members’ calculated movements.
Emil de Cou, who currently works as the music director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, has been involved with the National Symphony Orchestra since 2000.
“It feels like home when I come back to work with them, especially for a fun program like this,” de Cou says with a smile.
He’s also especially excited to come back to the District, as he currently spends most of his time out West. He mentioned he’s so excited, in fact, he’s planning to come a day early and leave a day late.
“I love Washington,” he says. “[It’s] one of my absolute favorite cities; it feels like a second home.”
But that excitement isn’t stemming singularly from a moment of homecoming — de Cou is buzzing for the concert itself. This is de Cou’s first go-around with the new Washington holiday tradition. Nicholas Hersh, associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, conducted the ugly sweater concerts in 2018 and 2019.
The ugly sweater concert, on paper, is a relaxed, family-friendly holiday-themed concert where visitors and performers alike don their favorite Christmas sweaters, ugly or otherwise. Beyond that, though, concert experiences like this make classical compositions a more accessible experience.
“These kinds of shows are very purposely casual and the musicians are 100% in agreement — nobody wants to have a stuffy concert.”
As someone whose current connection to classical music consists of Google searching how to pronounce Tchaikovsky and not entirely knowing what proper vocabulary to use to describe said music (arrangement? composition? concerto?), I mentioned this sounded like the perfect jumping-off point for folks intrigued by the world of classical music. De Cou agrees.
“I love the idea of the orchestra playing outside of the Kennedy Center and doing something that’s approachable,” he explains. “With a venue like this, people are supposed to dress silly from the get-go. I purposely made this program eclectic and approachable for all people.”
De Cou mentions how this concert isn’t just for folks like myself who are looking for an introduction to the genre. He says there’s something for everyone — including the experts and concerto connoisseurs.
“If you’re a classical music expert, you can come and hear something you probably haven’t heard before live,” he explains. “If you’ve never heard a concert before, you’re going to have a ton of fun hearing everything from Duke Ellington to Leroy Anderson, to a silly bassoon trio playing Christmas songs.”
De Cou also hopes this concert can be a light within the dark: a moment of reorientation and reconnection with the arts as we eagerly lurch toward a post-Covid-19 era.
“Especially coming out of this horrible time, these 22-plus months, you realize how much more important music is to everybody — especially around this time of year,” de Cou says. “You see the importance of something that’s been deprived from you. And [music] is not just entertainment; it’s a part of our fiber. It’s part of our ourselves as human beings. One of the greatest gifts that has been given to mankind is the arts, especially music.”
And sure, after these unprecedented past 22-plus months, what feels more fitting than strolling up to a National Symphony Orchestra concert in my favorite Christmas sweater (the one with the velociraptor with the Santa hat) and sweatpants?
So for music lovers, families and children — really anyone who’s looking to get into the full-fledged holiday spirit — look no further than the National Symphony Orchestra’s Ugly Sweater concert.
Dig up your favorite undesirable Christmas sweater and catch the NSO Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert on December 8 at The Anthem. The Show starts at 7:30 p.m. From the Kennedy Center: Tickets may only be purchased in person at the Kennedy Center Box Office or by calling Instant Charge at (202) 467-4600. Your order confirmation should be taken to The Anthem Box Office on the evening of the performance, where it will be exchanged for Anthem reserved seat tickets. Proof of vaccination against Covid-19 is required for entry.
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