An Interview with National Chamber Ensemble’s Leo Sushansky on Their May 10th Mother’s Day Concert

If you are looking for a fun way to celebrate Mother’s Day with the special moms in your life, National Chamber Ensemble’s May 10th concert is not to be missed. Whether or not you are able to spend the day with your own mothers, this concert represents a perfect opportunity to reach out to moms young and old who are not able to be with their own families.

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

National Chamber Ensemble’s final concert of the season, American Classics, will be presented at 7:30 pm on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at Artisphere’s Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, located just two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro, at 1611 Kent Street in Arlington, VA. This family friendly concert is well suited to music lovers of all ages.Tickets are just $30 for adults and $15 for students, and include free parking and a complimentary post concert reception.

I caught up with NCE Artistic Director Leo Sushansky and had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the concert:

Jane: Leo, you have such an interesting concert planned for Mother’s Day. How did you decide on the varied program? 

Leo: I had wanted to do a concert of great American music for awhile and this season the stars aligned and the concert was scheduled to coincide with Mother’s Day. It became a dual event appreciating moms and the great music of this country. Just like the great music of our culture, moms lay the foundations of each person’s own individual culture. So I thought what a great opportunity to celebrate both!

As a Juilliard grad, one might expect you to be focused only on classical repertoire. How did you learn to play so many styles of music? Do you have favorite genres?

It has always been a pleasure to branch out and try music of different genres. Having friends in musical theatre and working with different styles and genres of music gave me curiosity about so many wonderful ways of making music. Variety is the spice of life and getting the opportunity to play so many styles has been a wonderful education in looking at things and approaching music from more than one direction. Playing in different genres is not unlike to speaking or singing with a different accent. It changes the way you tell the musical story but you are still telling and interesting and thrilling story which brings great satisfaction and joy.

Your featured artist in this concert is Burnett Thompson. He has quite a reputation both here and overseas. Can you tell us a little more about him?

Speaking of different genres, Burnett Thompson is an incredible pianist and composer who is equally fantastic with both classical music and jazz. He has worked with many great names in jazz and has recorded many albums in the jazz style, but he has also as a classical pianist worked with many great musicians including members of the National Symphony, great artists such Mstislav Rostropovich and Lorin Maazel. It has been a great pleasure working with Burnett. For a long while we’ve had a mutual friend who had wanted for us to collaborate and that opportunity came two years ago when with NCE we were preparing a jazz program. Our pianist Jeffrey Chappell became indisposed and Burnett Thompson stepped in was absolutely incredible in his performance as well as in his generosity in helping me become better at playing jazz. This performance will be out third collaboration. I can’t wait as this time we get to perform both classical music and jazz in one evening!

You will be performing a wide variety of music, including some by Dick Hyman, who has enjoyed an amazing career. How did you come to know him and his music? 

Dick Hyman is a legend as a jazz pianist and composer. I had heard and loved his music in movies for years. Our wonderful clarinetist Julian Milkis has worked and performed with him numerous times, and in fact we did perform a Hyman work I discovered for clarinet and piano on our opening night in November. I had also discovered that he had also composed a delightful sonata for violin and piano which I had wanted to learn. Mr. Hyman wrote me a very kind note, so I called him and we had a nice conversation about music and he informed me that his sonata had never been performed in Washington DC. So I thought what a great opportunity it was to perform the sonata on our concert featuring great American music both classical and jazz. Seemed like a perfect fit.

I notice that you have invited a young violinist to perform with you in this concert. You frequently work with young and emerging musicians. Can you tell us more about this?

I have been so lucky in my life to get opportunities to perform professionally from an early age thanks to my mother, who often would bring me to perform on her own concerts. Other great musicians have also mentored me and given me opportunities to learn and grow as a musician, and this has been an invaluable education to me as an artist. Now that I am in position to be able to pay things forward, I feel very good about giving these kinds of opportunities and learning experiences to other talented young musicians who deserve to be heard. They say that one performance is worth many, many practice hours. For a young musician to be able to perform on a professional stage with wonderful musicians is an education in rising to a higher standard of performance, and hopefully an inspiration to achieve more in music. In this case we are performing a beautiful duet by Greek-American composer named Andreas Makris, who you may recall was a composer in residence with the National Symphony. It’s a work full of life and joy as well as virtuosity. I had been to the Makris home numerous times and in fact Andreas had generously given me the score to this wonderful duet, which I did have the pleasure  to perform several times with his son Myron. It will be a treat to play it again with my student Sean Ganous. The finale of the Duet is especially fun. It is a dance that reflects the composers own Greek heritage.


Tickets and Information: National Chamber Ensemble: American Classics will be presented at 7:30 pm on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at Artisphere’s Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, located just two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro, at 1611 Kent Street in Arlington, VA. Tickets ($30 Adults/$15 Students) are available online, by phone at 888.841.2787,  or at the door, and include free parking and a complimentary post concert reception.  This concert is expected to sell out, so get your tickets early!


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