‘Inside the Music’: An Interview with National Chamber Ensemble Artistic Director Leo Sushansky by Jane Coyne

One of the things I love the most about living in the Washington, D.C. area is that the music never ends, nor does the opportunity to meet the wonderful musical artists who perform here. Among them is National Chamber Ensemble’s talented and innovative Artistic Director Leo Sushansky. I attended my first National Chamber Orchestra performance in March, and was so impressed with what I heard and what I experienced that I called Leo to learn more.

Violinist Leonid (Leo) Sushansky,
Violinist Leonid (Leo) Sushansky.

Leo, I so enjoyed the last National Chamber Ensemble concert in March. What do you have in store for your final concert of the 2012-2013 Season?

Our last concert, which takes place on June 1st at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre at Artisphere, will feature The Three B‘s. No, it’s not the Better Business Bureau, but the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, three of the world’s greatest composers, very much tied by a common cultural thread.

The concert features one of the favorite works by Bach, the Brandenburg Concerto No.3. Also on the program is Beethoven’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 4, with one of our favorites, Carlos Cesar Rodriguez at the piano. We will be performing a special arrangement of the work for piano and string quartet, a big piano concerto presented in a more intimate arrangement. The final work in our concert will be the Piano Quintet by Johannes Brahms, a masterpiece full of emotional intensity and virtuosity. As always, the concert will be followed by a wine and cheese reception to which all are invited.

Pianist Carlos Rodriguez.
Pianist Carlos Rodriguez.

Can you tell us a bit about Carlos Rodríguez?  He is a wonderfully versatile musician!

He really is amazing. Carlos has been a longtime collaborator of mine. He is one of the most versatile pianists I know. We met while still in school and have performed together many times. He brings passion, virtuosity, and excitement to a performance. Whether he’s playing a Rachmaninoff concerto with an orchestra, performing for a dance company, collaborating with a renowned singer, or doing chamber music, he brings the same level of commitment and energy to all.

Who are the musicians who will comprise the quintet?

The National Chamber Ensemble is a society of internationally acclaimed musicians who live in the DC Capital area. For this concert, in addition to myself and Carlos Rodriguez, we will be joined by the wonderful violinist Jorge Orozko, who is a faculty member at the Levine School of Music, as well as being a conductor of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra. Our cellist Lukasz Szyrner, from Poland, is the winner of a number of international competitions and a member of several ensembles and orchestras in the area. Uri Wassertzug, our violist, is a member of the Washington National Opera Orchestra.

The National Chamber Ensemble concerts are so much fun! Your programming is truly creative, and the atmosphere you create is very welcoming. Would you share a bit about your vision and mission?

As the ensemble’s Artistic Director, I truly feel like Willie Wonka sometimes, creating fun adventures for the audience and the musicians. The National Chamber Ensemble has redefined the meaning of chamber music with six seasons of programming featuring different genres, including jazz, tango, ballet, opera, guitar, and Spirituals, in addition to the standard classical fare. We also try to combine the visual theatre experience with the concert experience, making the audience experience even more enjoyable. At times, the musicians share fascinating, short anecdotes about the composer and music, giving the audience another perspective on understanding the performance. We try to give the connoisseur as well as the first-time concertgoer an exciting musical experience.

I’m curious to know what you have programmed in the 2013-2014 season.

I am so excited about our upcoming season. The creative juices are flowing! On November 9 our season will open with another genre we haven’t touched yet. The concert is titled Jewish Musical Treasures and will have extraordinary music of Jewish culture. We will be doing a premiere of a work for violin, clarinet and piano called Trio on the Roof. The work is based on the musical Fiddler On the Roof. For this concert the renowned clarinetist Julian Milkis, the only student of Benny Goodman will perform. Also joining us is Cantor Michael Manevich, a renowned musician and cantor of the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington DC.

Our holiday concert in December will as before invite outstanding young musicians to join us for some wonderful holiday music. The performance will include some classical masterpieces as well!  As is our custom, the concert will conclude with a caroling sing-along. This concert is always such a joyful experience for all!

In February, Schubert and Champagne will feature the favorite chamber music of the great composer Franz Schubert with American pianist, teacher, author, broadcaster, and painter David Dubal joining us as guest host. The author of several books, including The Art of the PianoEvenings With Horowitz, and The Essential Canon of Classical Music. Dubal wrote and hosted The Golden Age of Piano, an Emmy Award-winning documentary, produced by Peter Rosen. Of course, a champagne reception will follow the performance.

In March, for the birthday of Vivaldi, we will be presenting our Extraordinary Four Seasons concert with a giant screen above the ensemble. The family friendly concert feature The Four Seasons as never before, with fun demonstrations, multimedia images telling the whole story, and our guest host Doug Kammerer, NBC Channel 4 Chief Meteorologist, reading Vivaldi’s Sonnets of the Four Seasons. When he says a cold front is coming in Winter, you can believe him!

The 2013-2014 Season will end with a Mothers Day Concert with pianist Burnett Thompson, who is equally well known for his jazz and classical performances, on May 10. This fun concert will feature music of  classical American composers in the first half of the program, and American jazz in the second — a wonderful way to treat moms to a fun and classy evening!

National Chamber Ensemble.
National Chamber Ensemble.

We conclude all National Chamber Ensemble concerts with receptions that are open to all. We feel our receptions are a wonderful way for audience members to meet the artists, socialize, make new friends, and have a fun evening!

Tickets and Information: The Three B’s, National Chamber Ensemble’s final concert of the year, will take place at 7:30pm on Saturday, June 1, 2013 at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. Purchase tickets online.

Directions: This event is being held in the Spectrum Theatre. The Spectrum Theatre is a separate building from Artisphere. It is located NEXT DOOR to  Artisphere, 1611 North Kent Street, in Arlington,, VA, and is also identified as The Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. It’s a 2-block walk from the Rosslyn Metro Stop on the Orange and Blue Lines.


National Chamber Ensemble’s website.
Leo Shushansky’s website.



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Jane Coyne
Jane Coyne has been involved in the arts for all of her life. As a singer, she has toured the country as a soloist, appearing at major venues throughout the United States, performing with musicians including Duke Ellington, Johnny Coles, Paul Gonzalves, and Tyree Glenn, and she has appeared in many musical theatre productions. She has managed the careers of a number of a number of international conductors and composers and previously served as the vice president of the National Philharmonic at Strathmore, executive director of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, and associate director of Washington’s Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts. Jane directs the National PTA Reflections Program (one of the largest arts education programs in the country). She is also one of the founding directors of Young Artists of America, and manages the career of her son, composer and violinist Joshua Coyne.


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