His influence in both jobs can be detected this month as the center offers a multi-week celebration, The Music of Budapest, Prague and Vienna.
His involvement in the festival includes several programs with the NSO and appearances in more intimate settings as pianist. The latter included Monday's night's memorable performance as accompanist for baritone Matthias Goerne in Schubert's "Winterreise."
On Monday, he will again be at the keyboard when violinist Dan Zhu plays the complete sonatas of Mozart.
"He is a wonderful Chinese violinist I discovered a few years ago," Eschenbach said in an interview. "These days, nobody plays Mozart sonatas so beautifully."
Thursday and Saturday will find Eschenbach on the podium leading the NSO in an all-Bartok lineup that includes the eerie one-act opera "Bluebeard's Castle," with Goerne in the title role. Mezzo Michelle DeYoung sings the role of Judith, the latest wife who learns, to her detriment, what lies behind the seven doors of the castle.
"'Bluebeard' works very well in concert, since ...
nothing really happens," Eschenbach said with a smile. "But we will do a little with lighting to show the audience when another door opens. For me, the doors open to Bluebeard inside; each door is really a door to his heart."
Next week, Eschenbach and the NSO offer a full-length opera, Beethoven's "Fidelio." The cast includes Simon O'Neill as Florestan and Melanie Diener as Leonore. The Choral Arts Society of Washington will also be featured.
"Some operas come out very effectively in concert versions," Eschenbach said. "One listens to the music more. And the orchestra part in this opera has so much in it. It is said that 'Fidelio' begins like a light opera, and 20 minutes later, after the quartet, the opera begins. But that is not true. The beginning is full of excitement, too.'
In opera houses, it has long been a tradition to stretch out the second act with the playing of the "Leonora" Overture No. 3, a practice Eschenbach frowns on. "But we are playing the overture here, because it's not in the opera house," he said.
Later this month, Eschenbach turns to a work that does not turn up in concert halls very often, Dvorak's "Stabat Mater." The NSO will be joined by the Washington Chorus; soloists include Anne Schwanewilms and Nathalie Stutzmann.
"I will be honest -- I have never conducted it," he said, "but I always wanted to. I have been looking for the right occasion and here I found it. I have loved this piece since my childhood, when I first heard it when I was 12 or 13. It is a wonderful piece, not so complicated, but an outpouring of very honest and deep religious emotion."
The conductor will also lead the NSO in programs devoted to Hungarian dances by Bartók, Kodály, Liszt, and Brahms on Friday; music of the Strauss Family on March 16 ("For me this music is very, very near," Eschenbach said); and pieces by Dvorak and Janacek on March 23. Eschenbach will also participate in a free chamber music concert with members of the orchestra on March 24.
Eschenbach gives every sign of settling into his work at the Kennedy Center and with the NSO.
"The orchestra has been opening up like a flower," he said. "It's showing its real strengths."
PHOTO BY MARGOT SCHULMAN