The National Symphony Orchestra aims to host a fun night at The Anthem, all while educating audiences about orchestral music.
The last time I went to The Anthem, a sweat-soaked Matty Healy of The 1975 crawled through a smashed television set. Somehow I can’t imagine an orchestra conductor in tux and tails sharing the same stage. Neither does D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) seem a natural fit for The Anthem, where the summer roster includes Sylvan Esso, The National, T-Pain and Death Cab for Cutie.
But with Trivia Night!, the NSO isn’t trying to be another Anthem act. Nor will the orchestra be replicating even its own usual act: musicians in concert black, patrons listening politely, a conductor in between.
The latter can feel transactional, according to Justin Ellis, NSO’s artistic administrator.
“I come as an audience member, I sit there quietly, I listen to a show, I applaud at the appropriate times, and then I leave,” he says.
Ellis’ team needed an event that fit the venue’s vibe without watering down the elegance and formality that make an orchestra feel magical. Their solution was Trivia Night!, an evening like any other trivia night in D.C. — just with a live orchestra playing the music about which teams will answer questions.
If you’ve ever attended an Anthem show before, the space itself will look different. The orchestra will be fanned across the venue floor surrounded by high-top tables. Instead of a musical opening act, local comedians will kick off the evening. Then teams will answer questions that tie in with the music being played. For example, “Name the film in which this John Williams score appeared,” and “Which band won the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Sweden in a particular year?”
The rounds will feature special segments on Ludwig van Beethoven, whose 250th birthday happened in 2020; George Walker, a D.C. composer and the first Black American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music; and William Grant Still, known as “The Dean of African-American Composers.” The prizes, too, are worth the trip down to the Wharf: tickets to an Anthem show of your choice, tickets to the Symphony, V.I.P. lounge access, drink tickets and discounts, among others.
For the organizers, Trivia Night! is about helping D.C. audiences understand how much orchestral music is already embedded in their lives. “[It’s] not that we’re trying to teach people things, but more that we want people to realize how much they know,” Ellis says.
Their goal is that the next time you hear the ubiquitous “Fanfare for the Common Man,” you’ll remember that Aaron Copland composed it to support the war effort after the U.S. entered World War II. Or that the next time George Walker’s name comes up, you can speak to his history and our city’s collective legacy.
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