As a child, National Symphony associate conductor Emil du Cou had few opportunities for exposure to classical music.
His was not a family that made outings to concerts, operas or ballets. For him, classical music was elevated, seemingly beyond reach. Only later did he come to understand that the music wasn't to be enshrined, but enjoyed.
It's a message he tries to deliver every time he steps in front of his symphony.
The National Symphony is touring South Carolina as part of its American Residency program. Each year, the National Symphony selects one state and mounts an extended tour, performing and offering educational programs. On Friday, Mr. de Cou will lead the orchestra at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center.
He said taking the orchestra on the road is fulfilling because it takes the music off its pedestal.
"I mean, we play in a monument, literally," Mr. de Cou said of the symphony, which makes its home at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. "And while I think that's great, even a great concert hall like that has a bit of a stigma. I mean, great music should be able to bypass the brain and hit the heart."
The program the National Symphony is touring with was designed by National Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin with the idea of showing the depth and breadth of both the ensemble and repertoire. Among the pieces are a selection from Mozart's Magic Flute , Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition .
"It's (Pictures ) sort of a musical tour through an imagined art gallery and one of the great standards for a symphony orchestra," Mr. de Cou said. "It's nice because it shows a lot of sounds and techniques. It's something that really gives an idea of what an orchestra can do."
Mr. de Cou said the enormous task of putting a 100-piece orchestra on the road is made worthwhile not by concerts played but information imparted.
"I think of it like a circus," he said with a laugh. "But the major thrust of it is always education."
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WHAT: The National Symphony
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: The University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center
COST: $17-$40; (866) 722-8877 or www.uscatix.com