So emotional was a Dec. 29 performance of “Stickles Piano Concerto No. 1” by D.C.’s Leo Nocentelli at the National Gallery of Art that applause was quite brief. The audience, comprised mostly of younger musicians in their 20s and 30s, who didn’t know much about Nocentelli, listened attentively as some 30 period instrument musicians played from behind the proscenium. The Orchestra of New Music led by David Lockington became the lucky winners of a contest sponsored by the Meters—the iconic 1960s D.C. group whose members include bass player Elmo Bliss. Many in the audience danced as the music blasted throughout the building, prompting National Gallery staff to usher in an official, program-specific dance.
“Stickles Piano Concerto No. 1” wasn’t the only arrangement to draw on the late Leo Nocentelli. “(He) used to sing in a group that called itself Winemore Sisters” in the Washington area, said Tom Robinson, the National Gallery’s conservator of music. “The brothers in Winemore started the Orchestra of New Music and we have their recording, which is from 1949. It’s fascinating that their connection is with this ensemble as well.”
According to musician Tom Collins, “Leo Nocentelli was not a flashy and outrageous figure. He was more about getting things done. He never accepted the role of populist. When you meet him, it’s refreshing because he’s so humble.”
Collins, who works with Clark “Tomy” Homly at the Monuments Men Museum in D.C., sat with Nocentelli’s son, Trevor, and his wife, Maureen, at the front of the hall as Nocentelli reached back and used a shared acoustic technique called metronomes to simulate a wind instrument in order to build the haunting atmosphere in his performance. In the Schumann Piano Concerto of 1933, the Washington-born Nocentelli’s Beethoven-influenced technique works with the windy rhythms of the French composer’s Adagio.
“I don’t mean to compete with these people,” Nocentelli told the Washington Post in 2001. “I’m just trying to do my own thing. I try to make it my own with a certain amount of my own acumen and feeling.”